A baby is expected to start sleeping alone in their crib as early as one month after being born. For new parents, who spoil their first-born from the moment they open their eyes, it can be really difficult to leave a child to sleep in a crib without constantly physically interacting with it. What if your baby won’t sleep in the crib?

It can become frustrating to adopt a new schedule for feeding time and bedtime itself, because toddlers don’t distinguish day from night during the first couple of months of their life, but we also have to take into consideration that, regardless of the occasion or time, babies can sleep only from 90 minutes to five hours at a time before waking up and demanding attention for one reason or another.

For many parents, delaying putting their baby into a crib is a common practice, as guilt and neediness on their side may become hard to bear, but if it goes on for too long – your baby might get too attached to sleep in your arms, and sleep-training may become close to impossible.

If you already procrastinated adjusting your little one to sleeping in a crib, and your own methods didn’t work, you probably asked yourself – are there any common techniques one can use to ease the process?

Warmth

If your baby is still too small to have too many pillows and blankets inside the crib due to suffocation risks, try using a sleeping pad or swaddle. One of the main reasons babies feel uneasy when sleeping on their own is because they get used to cozy-up in the warmth of their parent’s hands, as skin-to-skin interaction and heat-transfer instinctively help the little one feel safe enough to doze off with the sandman.

Do not attempt to put additional items of clothing to achieve this effect, or abnormally increase the heat of the room. It can be both dangerous, but also discomforting, as babies do not want to be feeling hot, or burdened, they just want the feeling of being held.

It may additionally help if the parents carry the baby in the pad or swaddle for some time so that it absorbs some of their smell, so the baby will find it harder to tell it’s not being held anymore once they are asleep and laid down in their own bed.

Set-up a routine

As babies, especially newborns, find it hard to set their biological clock at first, because they spend 9 months in the womb seemingly unbothered by outside occurrences, during which their mother, whilst carrying the baby, personally sets when it’s time to be still and when it’s not.

After birth, their caretakers should do it for them. As easy as it may be for you to initially adapt to the baby’s needs and just let them sleep whenever. You should bear in mind that this can create more problems for their health in the future.

Set bedtime in your house for a specific time in the evening, every evening at the same time – preferably, when it’s dark outside. Keep the atmosphere in the house sleep-friendly during this time: dim lights, limited activity, low sounds. If feeding time occurs during set sleeping time, limit interaction and stick to just fulfilling the obligation.

Try to postpone additional interaction until dawn and then wake the baby up in the morning and keep them active for a bit, before allowing them another peaceful mid-day nap after a couple of hours. This will help the baby adjust to the fact that sunrise means get-going time, and that sunset means going-to-sleep time. Most babies need only seven days of strict routine to become used to it.

Limiting contact

Unfortunately, you will have to gather your courage for this step, and a couple of tears will come along the way, as well. There is a reason as to why babies find it easy to sleep in carriers, car seats and swings – they all involve some type of motion, which in their little heads translates as ‘comforting by mommy and daddy’.

It’s hard to imagine that you’re actually trying to get your child used to feeling safe without you, but bear in mind that babies who get proper sleep are generally happier and healthier, so you’re doing your little one a favor in the long-run. The process may be slow and take weeks or months of step-by-step adjustment, but you know what they say; quitting won’t speed it up.

Baby won't sleep in the crib
Image by FotoRieth from Pixabay

If your baby is really needy, you can get a rocking crib, or even a self-rocking crib, so that your child gets used to the fact that there is still motion involved in their own bed – even if direct physical contact is not.

For starters, you can rock the crib by yourself, and even touch and comfort your baby while it’s in bed, but don’t lift the baby and move it around, as this can confuse them. Eventually, you can limit your hand involvement in the process, and slow down the rocking as the days go by until eventually, your baby can sleep in a perfectly static bed. 

Setting the mood

Many babies get baffled and frightened when the light in the room suddenly goes off, and it becomes a quiet, dark and lonely place. This is why you need to slowly adjust the baby to their new nighttime routine when you want them to easily sleep in their crib undisturbed. Instead of suddenly turning off the lights, you may want to dim your lights down at first, or even buy a night-light or ceiling projector, which will make the room feel friendlier for your baby.

A music box or musical mobile inside the crib itself might replace your voice, but this can be distracting for you if the crib is close to your bed and you cannot sleep with music playing in the room. A white-noise machine may be a good solution for this. Babies don’t like loud noise, but they do like it if you talk to them, sing and/or hum, because this in their primal instinct helps them not feel abandoned if there is at least some sort of comforting sound surrounding them.

Wake the baby before sleeping time

This step may seem cruel and the most difficult one to do, but if all else fails, you may want to help your baby adjust to the idea that sleeping in their bed by themselves is easier than sleeping on your arms and with you around.

Don’t scare your baby, shake them or yell at them, but nod them ever so slightly oddly so that it’s difficult for them to peacefully go to sleep, or if they’re already asleep try and softly wake them up. Newborns can sleep up to 17 hours a day, which means they like to doze-off pretty often.

The baby will become cranky and demand to sleep, which is when you will put them in their crib and let them sleep alone, and they will be more than happy to accept sleeping alone over not being able to sleep at the mercy of your hands. Over time, even if you stop your practice, the baby will get used to sleeping without interaction and will demand it regardless if you comfort them in your arms beforehand or not.

Put your own needs aside

Wanting to admit this or not, a large number of parents feel some personal comfort and pleasure from being needed by their own child, and the thought of them becoming independent raises anxiety, fear, and frustration of becoming an unnecessary factor in the child’s life way too soon, so parents continue to engage in such a way that it provides set-backs for any potential progress.

As parents, you need to push your own needs aside and not allow yourself to be selfish. Put your child’s well-being on the first spot; realize that any procrastination on your baby’s way to independency may cause more frustration in your relationship as the time goes by.

Your role as a parent who gave life to and/or raises a child is to help them become an independent, socially-competent individual, and your role should only be in guiding your child and assisting them in the activities they have the potential for. This process starts from birth on.

Babies are born unable to survive or do just about anything on their own, but they grow and learn fast, and helping them do things by themselves faster gives them further room for development sooner.

This is not to be confused with tough love and abandoning your child, but finding a solid middle ground in which they know they can rely on you if they need to whilst not overusing this advantage to become spoiled. Sleeping alone is the first of many of the steps to come, and the more you look into what’s good for them, the better the future outcome will be.

Hopefully you parents learned a few tips on how to deal with the situation when your baby won’t sleep in the crib!