How Do I Teach My Baby to Sleep in Their Crib?

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Small baby sleeping in his crib

Read time:  4 minutes

What to know about teaching your baby to sleep in a crib

  • Understand sleep associations and how they can affect this transition
  • Learn how to help your baby develop healthy sleep habits
  • Tips and techniques to get your little one sleeping in their crib

If you’ve been using a bassinet or bedside co-sleeper for your newborn, your little one may have developed a sleep association with sleeping near you. Sleep associations include the environment, routine, and objects present at the time your little one falls asleep.1 Basically your baby is learning to fall asleep under very specific conditions, making it harder for them to fall asleep with a new routine or in a different environment … like a crib!2

While you can work to change sleep associations so that your little one is able to fall asleep in a new space, know that these associations become stronger with age.1,2 For this reason, it’s best to start a transition early on if you know that your ultimate goal is to get your baby sleeping in a crib.

Developing healthy sleep habits will be key in this transition, as well as to help prevent sleep issues in the future.1

Help your baby learn to self-soothe

It’s common to feed or rock baby to sleep before putting them down in a bassinet or crib; however, this makes it so that your baby can only fall asleep when being rocked or fed (a sleep association!). While you can still rock and feed as part of their bedtime routine, aim to put baby down while they are drowsy but not yet asleep. This is an important part of developing healthy sleep habits.3

Self-soothing for nighttime wake-ups is also a key part of the process. Allow your baby to fuss for a few minutes to see if they can put themselves back to sleep.3 Allowing your little one to self soothe will help in the transition to the crib.

Read more: How Can I Help My Newborn Sleep Well at Night

Know your baby’s sleep cues

Understanding your little one’s sleep cues and responding to them promptly will help develop healthy sleep habits by following your baby’s natural sleep rhythm as it develops and changes. Put your baby to bed tired but still awake.3

Your baby’s sleep cues may include:

  • Crying, fussiness
  • Turning away from you
  • Yawning
  • Eye rubbing5

Create or maintain a bedtime routine

Little ones thrive on routine.4,5 Creating a bedtime routine that you use consistently will help your little one know bed time is coming.6 Make sure this routine includes the crib, and stick with it! Your routine may look something like: bath, brush teeth, book, song and/or rock, place in crib drowsy.

If you already have a bedtime routine, you can use that one while transitioning your little one to the crib. This helps reduce how much change is going on at one time. For example, if your baby is very young and still swaddled,7 keep baby in the swaddle as they become used to sleeping in the crib. 

Read more: How to Help your Older Baby Sleep Well at Night

How do I get my baby to sleep in a crib?

Begin the transition with nighttime sleep (rather than naps)

Homeostatic pressure, or the feeling of needing to sleep, is highest at bedtime (as opposed to daytime naps), when the body naturally consolidates its longest stretch of sleep.8 Take advantage of this and begin the process by laying your baby to sleep in the crib for bedtime rather than naps. Hopefully your little one will then get a nice stretch of sleep in the crib to facilitate a new sleep association.

Read more: Setting Up a Safe Sleep Environment

Allow time for a transition

Anytime you ‘ask’ your baby to make a change, remember there will be an adjustment period. Expect the transition of getting your baby to sleep in a crib to take a few nights and possibly much longer depending on your baby’s age.9

Take age into account

Under 4 to 6 months

If your baby is younger than 4 to 6 months, nighttime wakeups for feedings are still a normal part of their development. Helping your little one sleep in a crib at this age will be focused on responding to their physical needs (feedings, temperature, diaper, comfort) while developing good sleep habits.1

At this age focus on: understanding your infant’s cues for sleep, allowing them to self-soothe, and helping them develop day-night differentiation (sleeping more at night than during the day).14 It’s normal for babies to wake up often, fuss and wiggle for a bit, then fall back asleep.15 Let your little one fuss for a few minutes before responding to see if they’ll fall back asleep.

If your baby is well-fed, warm, and their diaper is dry, but they still aren’t able to fall asleep on their own, comfort your little one as needed. As soon as they are drowsy again, place them back in the crib to fall asleep completely.

Over 4 to 6 months

If your baby is older than 4 to 6 months when you transition to crib sleeping, it’s ok to maintain a bit more distance during your comforting sessions. As always, lay your baby down in the crib while drowsy. If baby is not able to self-soothe, offer verbal soothing or tummy rubbing until your little one is calm.1, 11 Keep the room dark and try not to pick up your baby.6 You can continue going in every 5 to 10 minutes as needed until baby falls asleep .12, 13

Regardless of age, provide more support at the start of the transition, and slowly offer less over the days or weeks it takes for your little one to initiate sleep in their crib independently.  Note that babies often don’t have a regular sleep cycle until 6 months old.3

Read more: How Can I Help My Newborn (0-12 weeks) Sleep Well At Night?

Learn more here: What are Typical Sleep Patterns for 4 to 12 Month Old Babies?

Commit

This is a tough transition for both you and your baby, so once you begin this process, stay strong and be consistent. Babies are very smart and will know when they’ve ‘won’ the battle. If you relent and go back to sleeping in the same room, it may be a more difficult transition the second time around. Know that baby is safe in the crib, is in a loving environment, and that this too shall pass.

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond. Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How to manage your baby’s early morning wake ups

How to optimize your sleep, when you can get it

Sharing night-time feedings and duties

Sleep patterns: what’s typical for a newborn?

Transitioning to a new nap pattern

What are sleep regressions?

What are typical sleep patterns for 4 to 12 month old babies?

Which sleep positions are safe for your baby?

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