It is perhaps only when having a newborn that people realize how important it is to get peaceful, healthy sleep.
Sleep is crucial for healthy babies and happy parents, but it can be a difficult, stressful experience to transition a baby to a crib.
Sleep training takes time and consistency, but here are the best ways of transitioning your baby to a crib.
Transitioning Your Baby to a Crib
Safe Sleeping for Newborns
Newborn babies generally sleep in a bassinet or bedside sleeper.
It isn’t safe for babies to sleep in bed with their parents, and a bassinet allows them to sleep nearby, where parents can easily reach and calm them during the night.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:
- Babies should sleep on a firm surface with a fitted sheet and no other bedding
- Keep the room 68-72°F, so that the baby can sleep comfortably without additional clothing, and avoid overheating
- Babies should be placed for sleep on their back for at least their first year
- Sleep in the same room (but not the same bed) as their parents for at least the first six months, but preferably the first year
The AAP also notes that, once breastfeeding has been firmly established, letting babies fall asleep with a pacifier has been shown to reduce the incidence of SIDS.
When to Transition Your Baby to a Crib
Studies show that, once a baby has reached six months of age, their sleeping habits become more difficult to change.
For most babies, the best time to transition is when they are:
- Over three months of age, when the baby is less dependent on nighttime waking and feeding
- Less than six months of age, when transitioning becomes more difficult
How to Transition Baby to a Crib
The most important principles when transitioning your baby to a crib are:
Babies get better sleep, and transition more easily, when there is a well-established bedtime routine.
The more consistent you can be with the routine, the more easily they will sleep.
Try to Have Baby Fall Asleep the Same Way They Wake Up
In other words, if a baby gets accustomed to falling asleep while being rocked or held, and then they wake up in a crib, they will want to be rocked and held back to sleep.
If your baby is used to going to sleep immediately after feeding, they will wake up and want to be fed back to sleep again.
If you can help a baby fall asleep in a crib (rather than placing them there when they are already asleep), they will get used to falling back to sleep in the crib when they wake.
Keep a Bed-Time Journal
Sleep training can be very difficult, and full of setbacks. Keeping a written log of your bedtime experiences helps you be more consistent, and can help remind you of your progress and boost your mood when you’re feeling low.
Gradually Transitioning Baby to Sleep in a Crib
When you are ready to transition baby to a crib:
Set Up the Crib in Your Room
The AAP recommends transitioning to a full-size crib where your baby will sleep for years.
If your baby is accustomed to falling asleep while being held or rocked, it may be a good idea to wrap the crib sheet around your body and wear it for a while, so it smells familiar when you first introduce your baby to the crib.
Place the crib beside your room, where the bassinet was.
Establish a Bed-Time Routine
It is extremely important to establish a consistent routine and to not feed your baby to sleep.
After about 6 weeks, babies begin to build sleep associations, and if you establish a habit that sleep always follows feeding, they will wake and want to feed many times throughout the night. Instead, establish a calming routine that transitions them to sleep. For example:
- 1 hour before bed: feed the baby
- 45 minutes before bed: bathe the baby, change diapers, lotion, etc.
- 30 minutes before bed: move into the bedroom. Snuggle, burp, read, and do calming activities
- 15 minutes before bed: dim the lights and wait for your baby to be very sleepy, but not yet asleep
- 5 minutes before bed: baby should not yet be asleep when they are placed on their back in the crib. You may pat or stroke their head or stomach as they fall asleep in the crib
It may take a week or two, but the baby will eventually learn to sleep in this manner. You will probably have to pat or stroke them back to sleep as they wake in the night.
Over time, reduce any patting or stroking of your baby as they fall asleep so that they fall asleep without being touched.
After a week or two, when less touching and patting is needed to help the baby sleep, start gradually moving the crib away from your bedside.
Start by just moving the crib a few inches away, then a few feet, then across the room. When the baby is 6-12 months old, move the crib into the nursery.
Transitioning your baby to a crib can be a slow and frustrating process, but it’s easier when you develop good habits early, and then make gradual progress.