MS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS
Rachel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She works as a nutrition and wellness coach with focuses on infant and maternal nutrition, mindful eating, and weight loss.
If you’ve been using a bassinet or bedside co-sleeper for your newborn – which is completely appropriate and even recommended – your baby will have developed a sleep association with sleeping near her parents. Sleep associations are the conditions repeatedly present at the time of sleep initiation. We all have sleep associations, and babies develop theirs as early as 6-8 weeks. Sleep associations can change, but know that they become stronger with repetition and age, so it’s best to start a transition early on if you know that will be your ultimate goal.
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Exposing your baby to her crib for sleep will allow her to develop a new sleep association. With some time, your baby will associate the crib with her safe sleep environment.
Start by using the crib for nighttime sleep rather than for 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. Take advantage of this biological feature and lay your baby to sleep in the crib for bedtime at first. Hopefully she’ll then get a nice stretch of sleep in the crib to facilitate her new sleep association.
Allow time for a transition
Anytime you ‘ask’ your baby to make a change, remember there will be an adjustment period. Expect the transition to take a few nights and possibly much longer depending on your baby’s age.
Keep the rest of the bedtime routine the same
Try to keep most other things about your baby’s bedtime routine the same, so she’s not grappling with too many changes at once. For example, if your baby is very young and still swaddled, keep her in the swaddle as you let her get used to the crib.
Take age and stage into account
If your baby is younger than 4 months, try a gentle pick up and put down approach. This means laying your baby down in her crib and if she begins to fuss, pick her up to soothe her. Once she’s calm, lay her down again, repeating this pattern until she falls asleep in the crib.
If your baby is older than 4 months when you transition to the crib, it’s ok to maintain a bit more distance. Lay your baby down in her crib and if she begins to fuss, offer verbal soothing or tummy rubbing until she falls asleep – or just for a few minutes until she is calm. You can continue going in every 5 to 10 minutes as she needs until she falls asleep.
If she has a “lovey” or some other item she uses for comfort, this may become an important part of the transition as well.
Regardless of age, provide more support at the start of the transition, and slowly offer less over the days or weeks it takes for her to initiate sleep in her crib independently.
This is a tough transition for baby as well as you, so once you begin this process, stay strong. 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 she is safe in the crib, she is in a loving environment, and that this too shall pass. You can do it!
Moon, Rachel Y. “How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained.” Healthy Children.org. Date accessed 19 Dec. 2009.