Whether you’ve had your baby sleeping in a bassinet, a swing, or even in your arms, eventually you have to figure out how to get a baby to sleep in a crib. Some babies might take to their crib like a fish to water, but the transition to sleeping alone in a crib is difficult for many babies (and parents). Some babies insist on being held and rocked endlessly. Others might never let you leave the room. But learning how to get a baby to sleep in a crib is the first step toward creating healthy sleep habits that last for life.
There are no easy shortcuts to teach you how to get a baby to sleep in a crib. But we have some tips on making the transition to sleeping in a crib a little smoother. It takes time and patience, but with enough of both, you will eventually have a baby that happily sleeps in their own crib.
Pick the Right Time
While there’s never a “right” time to start learning how to get a baby to sleep in a crib, there are times that are better than others. The transition can take a few weeks, so make sure you and your co-parent don’t have any big changes coming up such as a new job or a move to a new house.
Expect there to be times that you and your co-parent will lose out on sleep. Your baby may cry and fuss in an attempt to get out of the crib and back in your arms.
Keep the Crib in Your Room
Sometimes, the crib isn’t the issue, but that baby is away from mom and dad. Being alone and in the dark can be scary for babies. If you aren’t already sharing a room with your baby, consider putting the crib in your room for a few months while you focus on how to get a baby to sleep in a crib. This might help them feel more comfortable and safe, which will allow them to adjust more quickly to the change.
Once your baby acclimates to the crib, consider putting up a screen during nap time or at night. This will help your baby adjust to the idea of sleeping alone and allows them to start learning how to self-soothe. However, they will still be able to smell you and hear you. For some babies, that's all they need to go back to sleep.
While there’s no “right” time to move the crib out of your room, you should try to do it before your baby is eight months old. That is about the time babies start to notice when they are alone. This could cause them to fight not only the crib but being in their own room and away from you. This will lead to even more problems transitioning your baby to a crib. Before you move the crib out of your room, spend some time with your baby in their room engaging in quiet and enjoyable activities like feedings, reading, and rocking.
Create the Right Environment
Part of how to get a baby to sleep in a crib is to make the crib a place that baby associates with sleep, not play. Clear toys and books from the crib so they aren’t tempted to start playing when you put them down. If there is a mobile on the crib, consider removing it as it could distract the baby from sleeping.
Light tells your baby it’s time to play, so keep daylight hours (except nap time) reserved for things like playing and eating. Darkness (or dim lighting) tells the baby it’s time to sleep. Use soft lighting (like a nightlight or a dimmer switch) in the baby’s room. Consider putting blackout curtains or shades on the windows. Turning the lights down during the bedtime routine will also help teach your baby that it’s time to sleep.
Babies sleep better when they are cooler, so keep the room temperature between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure your baby isn’t wearing heavy pajamas or clothing that could cause them to overheat and wake.
Where you place the crib is also important. Don’t put the crib near a vent that could suddenly turn on and create a disturbing draft. Also, try not to place the crib near a window. It could be too drafty or too noisy for your baby to sleep. If you can’t eliminate outside noises, try a white noise machine to drown out distracting noises and to create a comforting sound.
Swaddling helps some babies feel more comfortable in the crib. Because newborns can’t control their own reflexes, they can startle themselves awake. Swaddling them helps prevent their limbs from suddenly jerking, waking them from their peaceful slumber. Some babies prefer to be partially swaddled. They like to keep their hands and arms free of the swaddle, but have their legs bundled up.
If neither swaddling method satisfies your baby, you could try a sleep sack. A sleep sack is a wearable blanket that gives your baby the feeling of being swaddled. But, unlike swaddling, your baby's arms and legs are free to move around. Experimenting with different types of swaddling is a good way to help you learn what your baby prefers and will help you figure out how to get a baby to sleep in a crib.
Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Just like adults, babies need to wind down before bed. Suddenly announcing it’s time to sleep, taking them away from whatever activity they were doing and plopping them in the crib is not a smooth transition to nap or bedtime. This could result in a fear of bedtime or even the crib. It is best to create a consistent routine that starts about 30 minutes before bedtime so that your baby knows it’s time to get ready for bed.
Some routines include a soothing bath then reading a book together. Other routines could include a diaper change, rocking in a rocking chair then singing a lullaby. As long as it’s consistent and the baby knows what to expect every time, the transition to crib sleeping should become easier each day. They will start to settle down and fall asleep faster.
Know When Your Baby is Getting Sleepy
Just because the clock says it’s bedtime, doesn’t mean your baby is ready to go to sleep. Instead of watching the clock, pay attention to when your baby is starting to feel sleepy. Babies often signal they are drowsy by rubbing their eyes, yawning, and becoming less active. They might even lose interest in what they are doing. When you see these signs, it’s time to head to the crib and start the bedtime routine.
Don’t wait until your baby is too tired. If they are already irritable, fussy or even crying, they’ve probably gone from tired to overtired. It might be more challenging to get your baby to sleep when he or she is in this state, but it is possible.
While the baby is falling asleep but still awake, place them in the crib but don’t leave the room. Stand by the crib or sit next to it. This reassures them that you are there and helps the baby relax and start falling asleep. As they drift off, you can start to leave the room, but make sure you leave before they are completely asleep. This way, they learn how to fall asleep without you.
Let Your Baby Self-Soothe
The hardest step for any parent is allowing your baby to cry it out and learn how to self-soothe. While many advise letting the baby fuss a little before you pick up your little one to reassure them, this can be too difficult for some parents. Before you start trying to figure out how to get a baby to sleep in a crib, decide which self-soothing approach you are going to take and then stick with it.
However, if your baby seems more upset than what you were expecting, make sure the baby isn’t sick or teething as this can cause fussiness unrelated to the transition. It may thwart your plans until it passes but once the baby is feeling better, you can try again.
Stay the Course
Be consistent during this transition. Not only are you changing your baby’s behavior, but you are also changing yours. It can take almost three weeks for the changes you are making to start sticking. Once you’ve established a routine, keep with it until your baby is happily sleeping in the crib. It may take longer than you think, but consistency is the key to success when you are learning how to get a baby to sleep in a crib.
And if you backslide, don't worry. You can always start over and re-establish the routine.
Final Thoughts on How to Get a Baby to Sleep In a Crib
Teaching your baby how to sleep in their own crib is an important step toward teaching healthy sleep habits for life. Establishing these habits now will help ease the transition to a toddler bed and then to a big kid bed. Having a familiar routine makes it easier to fall asleep anywhere.
Each baby will respond to these tips in their own way. You may also find that some of the strategies that work now don’t work later. However, this doesn’t have to be a long or difficult process. As long as you stay consistent and pay attention to what is and is not working, you will find your baby off to dreamland faster and faster each night.