As a first time mom, I had the same fantasy that we all do: an angelic baby with cute little pajamas on, sleeping soundly in her beautiful crib with no effort from either of us.
Boy, was I wrong.
Our reality is getting up at all hours of the night to comfort a screaming, overtired baby.
After consuming an obscene amount of coffee the next day to compensate (and feeling grumpy and wrong), we are overjoyed when our baby falls asleep anywhere: a car seat, a bouncy chair, a baby carrier, or in our arms. A friend of mine used to drive her son around for hours to try to help him get to sleep.
My daughter started out in a bassinet by our bed, and that worked fine for a little while until the first couple growth spurts when she wanted to eat every twenty minutes.
I had the best of intentions when I started letting her sleep beside me; I was nursing and felt that we would both sleep better this way. I came to love my “Baby Cuddle Time” – that is, until she rolled off the bed at 3 AM one morning.
Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt, but I was livid with myself.
I took this fall as an opportunity to boldly venture into the world of transitioning my baby to her crib, and the following are a few tips that helped.
I’m sure I’m not the first one to tell you that babies thrive on routine. They rely on us to teach them good sleeping habits, and it’s very confusing to them if we don’t establish a bedtime ritual to tell them, “alright, this is where you sleep now.”
You don’t have to do a three hour production every night that includes a bath and full spa-grade body massage; just find out what works for your baby and stick with it.
I was never a routine sort of gal, but after trying everything else, I decided to try a simple ritual to tell her that it’s time for bed. My little lady is now happy to lay down after I change her diaper, dim the lights, and read her a short story. Most nights, with the exception of teething time, she’s asleep before I even slip out of the room.
Babies like to know what comes next. Being consistent will sometimes involve a few tears from both of you, but try and remember that a crib is the safest place for babies to sleep, and this will be good for both of you in the long run.
Make the crib feel like you are there.
If your cutie will only fall asleep in your arms, try to create the same environment in their crib. An article in Parents magazine explains the three common ways that babies fall asleep (in your arms, in a baby carrier or sling, or in a swing or car seat) and how to break them of the habit.
One of the suggestions was to “make the crib more Mom-like”: try warming the crib with a warm towel or hot water bottle, because a cold bed will almost always wake baby up. Always remove the towel or hot water bottle before you place baby in the crib.
Your baby knows and craves your smell, even when he is asleep. Try sleeping on his crib sheets for a few days before you try transitioning him. You can also try placing the t-shirt you wore that day, or even a used breast pad near him when you put him down so he feels like you are not too far away.
Swaddling helps, too. If you have a really young baby, their uncontrollable flailing can wake them up. Swaddle her in a blanket that smells like you. If she is already too big for that, sleep sacks are a lifesaver (especially for blanket-haters like my daughter). Either of these methods will help keep them warm, plus limit movement for a more peaceful slumber.
Get them used to the crib.
Your baby needs to know that their crib is a safe place. It will be impossible for them to associate it with comfortable sleep if you just chunk them in there and run.
- Move the baby’s crib to your room: once he gets adjusted to sleeping in his own space, you can transition the crib to his own room.
- Bunk in her room: If your baby’s room is big enough, you can sleep on an air mattress or a cot for a few nights.
- Hang out in his room for awhile: Pull a chair up beside his crib, then gradually move it farther away each night. Then sneak out once you see he can fall asleep on his own.
- Try just naps first: This is one I wish I would’ve done. Put them down in the crib for a few weeks for their nap. Once they get used to that, the crib at bedtime is no big deal.
One thing that helped in my case was short “play dates” with the crib. I would set Max in there with her favorite toys, and she would be so distracted by those that she didn’t notice where she was. Now she knows it’s okay for her to be in there.
If you try this and your sweetie falls asleep, make sure to gently remove the toys from the crib for safety (and to make sure he doesn’t set the loud ones off in the middle of the night!).
When we were first trying to get Max to sleep in her own room at night, my husband and I would put some soft music for her on our wireless speaker (the Beatles were her favorite). Right now I am trying a free White Noise app I downloaded on my tablet to help her relax for her naps, which I think is working just as well. She slept almost three hours the first day I tried it!
Don’t rush in.
Lots of new parents make the mistake of rushing in to comfort their baby when they hear the smallest whimper. It took me a few months to learn that my daughter “talks in her sleep”, but I was eventually able to relax enough to wait it out to see if she was really waking up.
Remember that your cutie is getting used to this new environment. You’ll come to understand his different cries and learn when he is just dreaming or when he truly needs something.
Tracy Hogg writes in her book, “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer”, that we should “observe without intervention. Babies go through a predictable cycle each time they fall asleep. Parents need to understand this so that they don’t rush in [at every little sound]. Rather than interrupting a baby’s natural flow, we need to step back and let the baby fall asleep on his own.”
Being Tough is Rough.
Sometimes you have to flex your patience muscles. If all your baby’s needs are met, and there is no medical reason for her to be crying, you may just have to let them fuss for a few minutes. You don’t have to go to the extreme; try to check on them in 5 to 15 minute intervals for reassurance.
Just try not to stimulate them: keep the lights low, don’t talk to him, and try not to pick him up from the crib. You want your baby to be able to soothe herself enough to fall asleep without your help.
Dr. Charles Schaefer wrote in an article on Parents.com: “Get over the worry that ignoring your baby while he cries will do psychological harm.” I know it’s heartbreaking, but sometimes it’s the only way for them to learn. “Babies older than 5 or 6 months are naturally going to be more upset because you’ve changed the rules on them,” says Dr. Schaefer.
If you have a younger baby, the process of setting up a routine will be even easier. Pamela High, M.D., emphasizes, “with younger babies, parents always think the crying is going to go on longer than it usually does. Infants under 5 months often last only for 15 or 20 minutes.”
Take a Break.
It won’t do either of you any good if you lose your patience. Sometimes it is best to take a step back from the situation if you start to feel stressed. I can’t tell you how many times I had to take a break from the action and take a shower or step outside while my daughter wailed away in the next room. Most of the time, she was asleep before I came back.
It’s agonizing to hear your child cry, but if you need a break, you need a break. Have your spouse, a relative or a friend watch your baby so you can take a hot bath or a walk to avoid having a meltdown.
Babies know when we are stressed, so it may just make her crankier if you are anxious. Try to relax, and don’t forget that the crib is not only a safe place to sleep, but a secure hangout spot for them if you badly need a breather and don’t have anyone else to watch them.
It’s better to take ten minutes to take a hot shower or listen to some music than lose your patience and feel horrible about it later.
Being consistent once you decide on a routine is key, but only you know your baby best. All babies are different, and no matter how many books you read or how much research you do on the subject, you are going to have to find out what works best for you.
I used to only be able to get Max to sleep in her car seat, that was perched on the dining room table. After that, my husband and I figured out that she could sleep two to three hours in what we lovingly nicknamed “The Nap-Nap Chair”: a vibrating bouncy chair set up in the bathroom complete with the ambiance of our bathroom fan and shower running (please don’t judge..or tell your environmentalist friends).
Read up as much as you can on the subject and take a little away from each book or article you read. Try different things and eventually you will find the right “Sleep Concoction”. We as mothers are always trying to teach our children, but we are always learning as well. You may have to experiment quite a bit before you figure out how this transition will work with your baby.
You Can Do This.
Admittedly, I’m no expert (this is my first time too). My daughter sleeps in her crib all night now, but transitioning her nap from the aforementioned Nap-Nap Chair to the crib has been a little nightmarish.
I’m still trying to figure out how to let her know it’s okay to take a nap in her crib. But every day gets better, and she’s been taking longer and longer naps in her crib for almost a week now.
Babies change so fast. Don’t worry that your child will still be sleeping with you until he goes to college. Try to cherish those memories of his sweet slumber in your arms or next to you; the time goes by in a blink.
If you feel that it’s time to introduce them to their own space, try to find a bedtime routine that works well for both of you, and it will get easier with time.
No advice of mine should be a substitute for the guidance of a medical professional. There are countless books and articles out there written by the experts on this subject if you need further help. Please feel free to share your tips in the comments below if you have found something that worked for you and your child when transitioning them to their crib.