We all know the phrase “Slept like a baby.” Although babies sleep soundly once they’ve fallen asleep, getting them to that point can be pretty difficult — especially if they would rather sleep in Mommy or Daddy’s lap.
There can be many reasons that your little one is having trouble falling asleep (see our article on why our babies fight sleep), but letting them sleep in your lap isn’t always possible.
Although sleeping in your arms can be a great way to bond while your baby is napping (and gives you a reason to put on your compression socks and prop your feet up), it’s also important for your baby to learn how to sleep in their own bed.
This is especially important at night. After all, Mom and Dad need their sleep too.
Some babies are easy to please: As long as they’re full and have a clean diaper, they’ll sleep pretty much anywhere. Other babies may not take things so well.
How can you get your little one to sleep in their crib? We’ve got nine tips for you to try.
When Should My Little One Start Sleeping in a Crib?
Whenever we think of a baby's bed, we usually think of them in their own room, sleeping in a crib. But did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies share a room with their parents until they’re at least six months to a year old?
Sharing a room (but not a bed) will make it easier for parents to take care of their babies when they wake in the middle of the night. Plus, once your baby’s eyesight gets better, they have visual confirmation that you’re around.
Although you can put a crib in your room, you may not have the space — and that’s okay. Bassinets are often used for newborns to sleep in since they are smaller and more compact.
However, encouraging a baby to sleep in a bassinet comes with many of the same challenges as getting them to sleep in a crib.
Bassinets also usually have a weight limit or an ability limit. This can vary from bassinet to bassinet. Typically, general milestones suggest\ that your baby should start sleeping in a crib when they can push themselves up onto their hands and knees.
You might also want to consider moving your little one into a crib when you’re ready for your little one to start sleep training, although this process can be started as early as four months.
Can Newborns Sleep in a Crib?
You might be wondering if a bassinet is absolutely necessary. If you don’t want one, you don’t need one. Newborns can sleep in a crib as long as it has a firm mattress.
Some parents prefer to keep the crib in their room so that they don’t need to go far to care for their baby late at night. Bassinets are usually used since they don’t take up as much space as a crib, but they aren’t always necessary.
What Is Sleep Training?
Sleep training is when you’re teaching your little one how to fall asleep on their own. It’s intended to help babies to learn to self-soothe so that they don’t need to be rocked or nursed to sleep.
Most experts recommend starting around four months. This is when they start developing a sleep-wake cycle, also known as a circadian rhythm.
Ultimately, it depends on what your little one is ready for. Some babies will do better starting earlier, while other babies might learn better later.
Sleep Training Methods
There are a few methods that you can use:
The cry-it-out method is just putting your baby to bed and letting them cry until they fall asleep. The cry-it-out method was once a gold standard but has since been replaced with the graduated extinction method.
Other methods will have intervals where you check in on your little one every few minutes until they fall asleep, like the Ferber method.
The Ferber method usually suggests soothing without picking your baby up, but other methods encourage picking your baby up long enough for them to calm down and then putting them down again.
You can also remain in the room until they fall asleep, soothing them without picking them up.
Some babies will respond well to methods like the Ferber method, while other babies might get more upset. Since all babies are different, you may need to experiment with sleep training methods to find the one that works best.
How Can I Help My Little One Sleep in Their Crib?
Whether you’re sleep training or your little one needs to move up from a bassinet, here are nine tips that you can use to help your baby become comfortable sleeping in their crib.
1. Find the Right Sleep Training Method for Your Family
If you’re sleep training, you’ll want to find a method that works for you and your little one. Some babies need to be left on their own to learn how to do something themselves, but other babies do better with some comfort every once in a while.
Since you don’t want your baby to depend on you to help them fall asleep as they get older, try to keep any interactions short and to the point. If your little one is hungry or has a dirty diaper, though, they will need those needs met first.
If your baby is sick or teething, it’s best to give them as much comfort as they need so they can feel better and sleep as much as possible.
2. Pay Attention to Your Little One’s Cues
Sometimes, babies may not be ready to go to sleep, so they won’t accept being put down in the crib. Usually, you can tell that your baby is getting sleepy because they’ll yawn and rub at their eyes and face.
You might also notice that the skin around their eyes gets red and splotchy, and tired babies can be grumpier than well-rested babies. Every baby is different, too, so you may want to study your little one to figure out their “I’m sleepy” cues.
Babies also have their own preferences for when they want to get up. Some babies may like getting up at the crack of dawn and going to bed early, but others may prefer to sleep in and go to bed late.
3. Work on a Bedtime Routine
Babies tend to follow routines. You may have noticed that if your baby wakes up too early from a nap, they’ll be a little bit grumpier and might even have trouble sleeping later. Routines can be reassuring.
A good bedtime routine will help your baby recognize when it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. It’s like having a signal that lets them know that “Hey, it’s bedtime.” What you do for a bedtime routine is up to you.
Pick things that are calming and restful, like reading a book, singing a lullaby, taking a bath, etc. Changing into pajamas is another good indicator that it’s time to go to sleep.
4. Keep the Environment Restful
Most of us adults need our environment to be a certain way to help us fall asleep, and babies have the same needs. When putting your baby to bed, you’ll want the room to be dark and free of loud noises.
Some babies may also benefit from a white noise machine; it’s calming and repetitive.
Your attitude will also affect your baby’s ability to fall asleep. If you’re upset or frustrated, it may make it more difficult for your little one to fall asleep. It’s important to be patient and calm so that your little one can feel your soothing presence.
5. Make Sure They’re Comfortable
When you put your baby to bed, they’ll sleep a lot better if their tummies are full and their diapers are clean. It’s also a good idea to make sure that they aren’t too hot or too cold since that can also prevent restful sleep.
6. Put Babies to Bed When They Are Sleepy but Awake
Many people have probably told you that you should put your baby down when they’re drowsy. But what does it mean if they’re drowsy but aren’t falling asleep?
When you’re putting your baby to bed, you’ll want to help them to get to the point where they can barely keep their eyes open. They’re sleepy, but they’re still awake enough so that when you put them down, they’ll associate their cribs with sleep.
Your little one may wake up a bit when you put them down, and they might start crying. If that happens, you can give them a few minutes. Sometimes, babies just need to get themselves settled into a position that helps them to sleep better.
If the crying lasts for more than a few minutes, then you can go in and check on them and help soothe them by patting their back.
7. Help Them Know Mommy’s Still There
Babies with separation anxiety might have more difficulty sleeping in an area away from Mommy or Daddy. Sometimes, all you need to do is sing a lullaby so they know you’re still around, even when they can’t see you.
You can also sleep on their crib sheet before putting it on the mattress so that your baby can smell you in their crib. Other little ones may do better if you pat them on the back or place your hand on their chest.
8. Figure Out a Good Feeding Schedule
If you’re struggling because your baby is waking up at odd hours of the night to eat, sometimes all it takes is to readjust the schedule. If your baby still needs to eat at night, you may want to consider waking them up at a more reasonable time, like 10 or 11 pm.
This allows your little one to be full enough to sleep through the early hours of the morning, but your baby will still probably get up earlier in the morning to eat, like around six o’clock or similar.
9. Not Every Noise Means Your Little One Is Upset
Sometimes, you may hear whimpering or sighing in the middle of the night. Unless you have reason to believe that it’s an emergency, you probably don’t need to go in to check on your baby at the first noise you hear.
If they continue to cry, it may mean they are uncomfortable or hungry — but sometimes babies just make noises and fall back asleep on their own. If you go in, it may disturb their sleep more than if you wait.
That being said, if your baby is crying urgently and doesn’t show signs of stopping or stops suddenly, you may need to check on them and schedule an appointment with a pediatrician. Crying is a baby’s only way of communication, and they don’t have fancy devices to help with discomfort — it’s up to the parents to be attentive and proactive.
Peaceful Nights for You and Your Little One
Teaching your little one to sleep in their crib is a process. It may only take a couple of nights, or it may take a week. Every baby is different, and there are a lot of things going on in their lives as they grow too.
When getting your baby to sleep in a crib, you’ll need to have a lot of patience. It can take a while. It’s important for your little one to learn how to sleep soundly on their own so that, although they can still enjoy hanging out with Mom and Dad, they can also start to learn a little more independence.
If you’re looking for more information about your baby’s development, you can check out our collection of helpful resources.
Helping baby sleep through the night | Mayo Clinic
Sleep and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old (for Parents) | Nemours KidsHealth
When and How to Sleep Train Your Baby | Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials
Cry It Out Method: Is It for You & Your Baby? | Cleveland Clinic