Kate is a mother of two boys and also manages a nanny business in the Sacramento area of California.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I'd dream of how perfect life would be when he came into the world. Of course, my baby was going to be the best little eater and sleeper there ever was. Aren't those first pregnancy daydreams the best? Then, the little guy got here and quickly corrected my crazy dreams.
If you're a parent lucky enough to have a magical unicorn baby who does everything with Instagram-worthy precision, then you probably don't need this article. But, if like most first-time parents you're just trying to survive know that you're not alone.
One of the most difficult things we face as new parents is getting our babies to sleep so that we can sleep too. I chose to co-sleep those first few months with my little guy in a bassinet next to my bed. But, when it came time to move him into his crib I was at a total loss on how to transition from bassinet to crib.
To save you some of the stress, here are my lessons learned about how to transition your baby from sleeping in your room to sleeping in their own crib.
Play in the Baby's Room
You'll want to make your baby's room a happy place for them. The baby's bedroom should be a place they're familiar with so that when he's alone in the crib he recognizes where he's at. Otherwise, he's going to be scared when he is left in there alone.
Start With the First Nap
Most of us only co-sleep during nighttime. So, start using the crib during nap time. For the first nap, their urge to sleep is the strongest so it's helpful to start making any changes at this nap. Once your baby is used to sleeping in the crib for the first nap, you can start making the switch for other naps. This will help your baby get used to his crib during naps to make an easier transition when you decide to put him in there for bedtime.
Establish a Nap and Bedtime Routine
Babies and children love routine. It's comforting to them when they know what to expect. At a very young age, your little one will start to get used to the routines in her life and she will come to expect those things. So, a routine before bed sets her up to recognize that the things she does with you leading up to bedtime eventually lead to going to sleep. You are likely already doing a routine, you just might not realize it.
A routine can be as simple as:
- a diaper change
- getting into pajamas
- having a bottle or nursing
- reading a book (even the same one over and over, if it's a favorite)
- going to bed!
Before a nap, you may want to skip the pajama part to make things easier on yourself.
When you go through these steps, your baby will start to recognize that bed is coming. For you really lucky parents, babies may start reaching for the crib when they know that time is coming!
One thing to keep in mind is that a stimulated baby is an awake baby! Avoid doing anything that gets your baby too excited (or giggly...) right before you put them down. Everything leading up to that crib should be soothing and quiet.
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Have a "Sleepy Song"
I found this to be one of the most helpful things for getting our baby to sleep in his crib. We sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" as the very last part of our routine before I place him in his crib every single time.
Help Your Baby Learn to Fall Asleep on Their Own
Imagine you fall asleep in your bed.
Oh yeah, that's a good thought.
You're comfortable, warm, and exactly where you want to be. Then, you wake up on the kitchen floor!
The tile is ice-cold and you can see all of the crumbs under the fridge. This would not only startle you (on so many levels), but it would also probably freak you out enough that you'd be too scared to fall asleep in your bed next time. I mean, if it happened once it could happen again.
This is what babies go through when we let them fall asleep with us and then stick them in their own beds (except for the kitchen floor part, hopefully...).
It's almost like we try to "trick" our babies by letting them fall asleep in our arms and slowly placing them in their beds (moving so cautiously it is like we have a stick of dynamite in our hands). When they wake up, they're not where they think they should be. This causes them to cry for so that they can fall asleep in your arms again.
Ideally, we all should aim to place our babies in their crib "drowsy but awake". As a new mom, I read that phrase over and over in sleep books and websites. "Drowsy but awake" seemed like a joke to me! But, I decided to give it a try because, in theory, it made sense.
To make this more do-able, I decided to take baby steps (no pun intended!). Each time I put my little guy down, I tried to make it so that he was slightly more awake than the last. Sometimes he fussed or cried a little, but I tried to wait a few minutes and he usually worked it out.
Eventually, we made it to the point where I could read him a story until he was sleepy and put him in his crib AWAKE! It felt like a miracle.
The biggest benefit of this is that now he is used to falling asleep in his crib alone. So, when he wakes in the middle of the night or the middle of a nap, he's not surprised to be there. He knows how to go back to sleep... and he does!
Use White Noise and a Dark Room
Your baby spent 9 months in the most comforting place possible - the womb. Babies are happiest when they are put into an environment that somewhat mimics the womb because that's what they are used to.
It may come as a surprise that our little ones love noise. Think about how noisy it is all day long in the womb. They hear your heartbeat, your digestion, your talking, the music you're listening to - it can be pretty loud in there and they love it! So, noise machines will quickly become your best friend.
I also love that I can easily find white noise apps for my phone. So, if we're not at home, I use this noise to create some familiarity in his sleep environment.
It's also pretty dark in the womb so babies actually sleep best in darkness. Consider getting black-out curtains for nap times and avoid using night lights. In fact, darkness helps all of us sleep better, including our little ones.
Since I began by co-sleeping with my little guy, I made sure to apply these ideas to my own bedroom. We slept with a white noise machine and in complete darkness. Then, when we made the transition to his own crib it felt more familiar to him because he was used to the noise and darkness.
Swaddle Your Baby
Another way to simulate the womb is to use a swaddle. Your little one was actually pretty cramped in that small space for the last few months and likely to feel a bit uneasy with her arms and legs free to move around. Swaddling brings most young babies comfort.
Be sure you are using the swaddle only when it's age appropriate. Once your baby can roll, it is not safe to continue to swaddle but you can also look into buying a sleep sack that allows your baby's arms to be free while still keeping them warm while they sleep. Some babies are strong enough to roll as early as 2 months old. Other babies can be swaddled a bit longer. Talk to your pediatrician about safe swaddling and when you should switch to a sleep sack.
Accept That Crying Is Okay
This was the hardest for me. I mean, who likes to hear their baby cry? Unfortunately, crying is a part of life and something that we just need to get used to with a baby around.
Everyone has a different opinion on whether you should actually make your baby "cry-it-out" or not. We are not here to debate that. Instead, I encourage you to recognize the difference between your baby fussing or actually needing you.
I like to think of it this way: if my 3-year-old whined that he didn't want to go to bed, I would tell him that he had to. An infant can't whine or speak. Crying is their form of communication and I respond by telling him that it's time for bed.
A minute or two of fussing may be all it takes and may be necessary to really teach them to fall asleep in their crib.
Give It Time
When you make a big change it's not going to be simple. If you recognize that getting your baby to sleep in her crib will be a challenge that you can slowly work through, you're likely to stick with it longer and have more success.
It will not always go perfectly. Some days it'll feel like your little one will reject her crib forever. Other days she will seem to love it. Be patient and remind yourself that everything is just a phase - and this goes for so many aspects of babyhood. Try to enjoy the times your baby demands to be rocked to sleep because eventually, those days will be just a memory.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Kate Stroud