How to get your baby to sleep in a crib

When you were expecting a baby and shopping for a new crib, you likely assumed it would be used primarily for sleeping. You probably had visions of laying your swaddled newborn down in the beautiful new crib at naptime and nighttime, where he or she would peacefully and comfortably snooze while you got caught up on your own sleep, or laundry, or showers, and all of those other activities that don’t mix well with new babies.

But then your baby comes home, and reality sets in. You discover that the term “sleep schedule” is a bit of an oxymoron, as newborns have a habit of doing exactly the opposite of what you expect and hope that they’ll do. That can translate into flip-flopped days and nights, where the baby sleeps most of the day and is ready to party (with you, of course!) at night. Or it could mean short stints of sleep that leave you feeling groggy in your waking hours. You might spend all hours of the night listening to your wide-awake baby’s noises on the monitor, trying to decipher whether they warrant another half-asleep stumble to the nursery or whether you should ride it out.

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Maybe you decide to move your baby into a bassinet in your room or a co-sleeper in your bed, so you can easily nurse at night and then stay close to your little one all through the night. But eventually, when the time comes to return your baby to the crib, your peaceful routine might get thrown out of whack. Or perhaps your newborn sleeps best in a swing, stroller, car seat, sling, or even resting on your chest, but the second you try to move your baby to the crib, all bets are off.

It may feel like you’re helpless and powerless in the crusade to get your baby to sleep in a crib, but there are some strategies that can help you regain some control:

Introduce the crib for daytime play

By letting your little one relax and play in their crib for a few moments during the day, you’ll reinforce the fact that it’s a safe, comfortable place. Then, when sleep time rolls around, the crib will feel more familiar and welcoming.

Use a swaddler or sleep sack

Newborns aren’t yet accustomed to the sensation of lying in a large, open space. Swaddling your baby or zipping him or her into a sleep sack will help simulate the comfort and protection of the womb (and your arms). This will also ensure that your little one stays warm without the safety risk of using blankets and other bedding in the crib. Once your baby can roll over, you can ditch the sack and just use a snug sleeper.

Transition slowly

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Don’t expect your baby to make the leap to crib-sleeping overnight. Instead, start with short, gradual stints over a period of days or weeks. Over time, the crib will become a more familiar environment. Some parents have reported success by temporarily moving the baby’s crib into their bedroom, then moving it back into the nursery after a regular sleep pattern has been established. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep in the parents’ room (separately from the parents’ bed) for the first six to 12 months of life.

Stick to a routine

Repetitive actions have a soothing effect on babies by letting them know what to expect, and over time will help trigger the hormones that are conducive to sleep. Create a regular routine for bedtime and naptime that sets the stage for what’s to come. Some common pre-sleep triggers might include trading the main lights for a night-light, singing or playing a lullaby, offering a bedtime feeding or bottle, and rocking baby until your little one’s drowsy.

Fine-tune temperature, lighting, and sound

For comfortable sleep, the nursery should be cool (but not cold) and dim, with only a night-light or low-wattage lamp. Many parents use a fan or white noise machine to provide background noise that proves more effective for sleep than complete silence.

A regular sleep schedule is important for your baby’s development and well-being—as well as for your own health and sanity — but it can sometimes be hard to come by at first. With some persistence and patience, it is possible to transition your baby to the crib for more restful sleep. If you’re still struggling with sleep issues after trying these strategies for a few weeks, it’s best to speak with your pediatrician to address any underlying concerns.

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