When a newborn doesn’t sleep in the crib or bassinet, it could be because she’s gotten used to falling asleep in another place. Some of the most common spots where she may drift off include in your arms, on your partner’s chest or in the car seat. She might also be in the habit of falling asleep while riding in a sling or front carrier or as she sways in the baby swing.
As delicately as you transfer her from your embrace (or wherever she's dozed off) and into the crib, the hand-off may be short-lived. Since a good portion of newborn sleep is spent in the REM or active sleep state, marked by twitching limbs, sighs, cries and even brief waking, once she rouses and realizes she’s not sleeping where she started, she’ll likely fuss.
In the first weeks of their new life, think about where they’ve been for the last nine months or so. On the inside, they were surrounded by white noise, calming movement, and warmth. They always had a satisfyingly full belly and felt comfortable and secure.
Suddenly taking those things away and expecting them to drift to sleep calmly in a solid, empty crib and on their own seems like a lot to ask.
If we’re talking older babies or toddlers, they have preferences, and those preferences often involve the comfort and security of their caregiver being present and available at all times. Since little ones aren’t known for their logic or patience, getting them to sleep in the crib is an exercise in frustration.
While letting the baby co-sleep with you or not is a choice that concerns you, your family and your child's needs, understanding why your baby is crying in his crib may be life-saving! Indeed your child does not yet have the means to express his feelings, needs or fears. Tears and cries are the only way for him to make you understand that he is not well. Here are some possible causes that can cause babies’ cries :
- The anxiety of separation. Remember that you are two and that baby has to sleep alone. Some psychologists believe that very young infants consider their mothers as an extension to their bodies (the so-called mother-baby dyad), and being apart is unimaginable for some babies. Later on, babies become aware of their bodies, but separation anxiety persists. It usually eases up by the age of 2.
- Baby is sick
- Baby has nightmares or night terrors - he needs reassurance. Between 0 and 9 months, it's very hard to tell the difference between dream and reality. Waking up from a nightmare can be very scary!
- Baby feels insecure. A strange object or a disturbing sound in the nursery can make your little one feel anxious and prevent him from falling asleep.
- Significant events during the day can cause stress for your baby and prevent him from falling asleep. Those events can seem insignificant for you, but your baby, a missed nap, a 3 hours trip or meeting new people can be a source of distress.
If possible, try to identify why the baby refuses to sleep in his bed. If he tends to wake up often in the middle of the night after a nightmare, it may be that something is bothering him. You must be present for each nightmare or a night terror because your baby needs you!
Also, check that no noise disrupts the baby's sleep at specific times, like the neighbour listening to loud music. A baby monitor with a good sleep tracker can help you more easily identify such sounds, such as REMI, for example!
Baby Nursery FAQs
If you're laser-focused on instilling good sleep habits and teaching your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep without too much intervention, then yes, the experts say to put your baby in their crib fully awake and teach them to fall asleep independently.
Babies love to be held, touched and reassured that you're there, so settling in a cot on their own can often be difficult for them. Your baby's missing your touch and attention, and they're letting you know about it (NHS, 2019). From their first hours of life, babies will cry when separated from their mothers.
In this method, Marc Weissbluth, MD, explains that babies may still wake up to two times a night at eight months old. However, he says parents should start predictable bedtime routines — letting babies cry 10 to 20 minutes to sleep —- with infants as young as 5 to 6 weeks of age.
The key is to put your child to bed drowsy but awake (preferably starting between six to eight weeks for healthy, full-term babies) so that she'll learn to self-soothe and get herself back to sleep each time she wakes up.
A cold, ear infection, rash or other ailments can disrupt your baby's sleep and make her not want to be put down in her crib. New milestones. Rolling over, sitting up and babbling are just a few of the exciting tricks your baby may be trying to master in the crib at night. Sleep regression.
Reasons Why Your Baby Hates Crib
They're Not Used To It
If your little one has been sleeping in your bedroom and you're transitioning him to his room, there could be drama from your little one. He's not used to the room, and it's probably not as cozy as his previous arrangement.
You may have to make an effort to make his new bedroom feel like home and spend some time there during the day. Use your baby's room for playing, storytime, singing, and cuddling sessions. If the room is a fun place, your baby should be happier spending time there. Just be sure to reserve the crib for sleeping.
They Don't Know How To Sleep In It.
Often, infants are used to falling asleep in their mom's arms while breastfeeding or with a bottle in their mouths. Or, they're accustomed to being rocked to sleep and only placed in their bed when they're already asleep.
While this behaviour is okay during the first few months of a newborn's life, these bedtime habits need to be modified once your infant doesn't need to be fed every couple of hours. However, it's not always easy. Put yourself in your baby's trendy moccasins: if you're used to dozing off to warm snuggles, being laid down on a firm mattress without anyone to cuddle you is quite a transition!
Some babies are prone to acid reflux and colic. When you lie them on their back, they may feel incredibly uncomfortable. If you've ever had heartburn, you can relate.
It Has Negative Associations
It's easy to fall into this trap, but it's not too late to make corrections. The negative associations happen when you use the crib as a timeout or a place to plop your child for a few minutes when you need five minutes of "mommy time" to go to the bathroom without a tiny human attached to your hip.
However, if the only thing your baby experiences in the crib is tears, he's likely not going to relish being placed in there for sleep.
The Crib Is Too Wide
Though it might not seem like it to a grown adult, cribs are giant structures to a tiny human. Remember that your child has most likely gotten used to falling asleep in mom or dad's arms, in a car seat, or on a swing. Being placed in what seems like an infinite and open space can feel disorienting, scary, and sterile.
Getting Your Baby To Sleep In Their Crib
The first step is to do all you can to establish an optimal sleep environment for your baby. Safety is the number one priority, so remember that they need to be put to bed on their back, on a firm surface, with no loose items.
If you have the space, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting up the crib in your room at least for the first six months, preferably through the first year.
In addition to a safe sleeping space, consider the following elements:
- Temperature. Keeping the room cool is key. Overheating is a risk factor for SIDS. It may be beneficial to use a fan for air circulation.
- Dress. To keep your little one comfortable in a cool room, consider dressing them in a sleeper. Ensure that the fit of the sleeper is snug, that there aren't any loose strings that could entangle little toes, and that the weight of the fabric is suitable for room temperature.
- Swaddle or sack. A swaddle or a sleep sack can be added for additional warmth or security. Remember that you should stop swaddling once your little one can rollover.
- Noise. Life in the womb was never particularly quiet. Instead, there was a constant hum of white noise and muffled sounds. You can replicate this using a white noise machine or an app.
- Lighting. Keep things dark and soothing. Consider using blackout curtains to help with daytime sleep. Use nightlights or low wattage bulbs to see when you check on your baby or change diapers.
- Smell. Your smell is familiar and comforting to your little one. You can try sleeping with their sheet, sleeper, or swaddle blanket before use to give it your scent.
- Hunger. Nobody sleeps well when they're hungry, and newborns are hungry often. Make sure you're feeding every 2 to 3 hours, 8 to 12 times a day.
- Bedtime routine. Routine helps allow your little one to understand what is happening. Try to create a routine that you can follow anytime you prepare for sleep — not just for bedtime.
Your routine doesn't have to be extensive or fancy. For example, you can read a short book, feed them, cuddle them, and then put them into their crib, drowsy but awake.
If they startle or fuss when placed in the crib, place a hand on their belly and softly shush or sing to them briefly. Sometimes you may have to repeat the cuddles and put them down on stage. This doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong. You're both learning new things and new things require patience and practice.
Each time your baby wakes during the night, offer them food and cuddles as needed, but return them to the crib as soon as the feed and clothing or diaper changes are complete. Minimize talking, bright lights, or other distractions.
Understand Infant Sleep
It can be so easy to think that your baby is an outlier in not sleeping in a crib. But take heart. This is something many, many parents deal with at various stages in an infant's development. It's also important to understand how babies' sleep cycles work.
Remember, we all have sleep cycles alternating between deep dream sleep and light sleep.
That means babies do and should wake up multiple times in the night. Babies sleep in 50-60 minutes cycles, so consider that waking up is a natural part of this routine. Plus, they need to feed frequently, so waking up isn't a disorder. It's part of their cycle.
Ergo, don't beat yourself up if your baby can't stay asleep in their crib. If a baby is not sleeping well, it's neither helpful nor accurate to assume this is because the parents have done something wrong.
Have A Plan About Sleep
The first thing parents need to do is have a sleep plan.
Decide your initial thoughts on co-sleep, which is not recommended until after age one because of SIDs. Will you share a room share? Will your child sleep in your bed until they are 10? What is your initial plan?
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for one year, although not sharing a bed. So consider that in your planning as well.
Make sure your household is on the same page regarding your baby's sleep plan. Of course, you can always change the plan, but she says it helps when there is a road map to follow.
Teach Baby To Fall Asleep On Their Own
Babies love to fall asleep while being held or during nursing. They're cozy and snuggly, and their bellies are full. But inevitably, they need to learn to fall asleep on their own. Reason being?
If they can't fall asleep independently at bedtime, there's not a high chance they'll be sleeping through the night.
Giving a baby opportunities to learn to self-soothe can help prevent sleep difficulties later.
After a routine feeding with the lights on and parents talking about their day, when the baby's eyes start getting heavy, pop them off the breast or bottle and put them in the crib. This way, the baby has to soothe itself rather than be comforted by its parents.
Parents can try placing the young infant down awake to see if they can fall asleep without parental help. Sometimes parents are surprised to learn that their baby can soothe themselves to sleep at a young age, say at two or three months.
Why try this so early? If you take a nine-month-old and put them down awake and they cry for 10 minutes, and you then pick them up, that child has now learned that if they cry long enough, a parent will come.
This will make any subsequent attempts at behavioural sleep intervention more difficult. If you try the same thing with a three-month-old, that learning hasn't necessarily occurred, and you can try the next night again.
Will this magically work on day one? Most likely not. If you can stick with a routine, a baby can quickly learn the drill. But don't expect a full night's sleep even if your baby is an overachiever and quickly falls asleep on their own.
Whatever you need to fall asleep is what you need to do to get back to sleep. Whether that's a pacifier, a bottle, being rocked, being held, or snuggling with your parents, whatever you have when you fall asleep is what you need to return to sleep on your own during the night.
Try The Check-In Method
We think of behavioural sleep intervention, often called sleep training, as a spectrum of behavioural interventions that encourage babies to fall asleep independently.
This can range from a full-fledged cry it out approach where a parent leaves the room and doesn't return until morning to a gentler approach where a parent is in the room, providing some comfort and gradually lessening the amount of comfort over time.
The easiest method? Shrink your check-ins to 5 minutes, then 10, then 15, as your baby slowly starts to settle itself.
Don't go for more than 15 minutes. If this goes on for more than an hour, throw in the towel and try the next night again.
The hardest part of getting a baby to sleep in its crib, which means falling asleep independently, is not giving up. Instead, parents have to make a plan, stick to it, and keep going even when it gets tough. That doesn't mean nixing night feeding or not comforting a baby when they wake, but continuing to try to let the baby self soothe every night.
Parents have a range of options to choose from. And they must choose an option that is aligned with their goals and values.
More Tips To Try
- Consider what they like — maybe motion or sound? If they consistently fall asleep in the middle of a noisy room or while you're riding in the car, look for ways to incorporate those things into their time in the crib. Vibrating mattress pads or white noise machines can replicate the things they find soothing.
- Your routine is your own — it's okay if it isn't what others do. If your baby calms well in the stroller, you can incorporate a short stroller ride into the bedtime routine, even if you're circling the living room. Once they're calm and happy, they move to the crib.
- If your little one suddenly screams each time they're placed on their back, consider whether they are showing other signs that may indicate reflux or an ear infection.
- If they were sleeping well in the crib, but are struggling again, consider whether this could be a sleep regression.
- Don't use the crib as a punishment or for time out.
- Make sure the crib is safe for their age and stage. Keep an eye on their growth and development, and be sure to lower the mattress and keep items out of reach as they grow and change. Don't add items like pillows or blankets until they are developmentally ready.