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How Do I Get My Newborn Baby to Sleep in a Crib?

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Article by:

Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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Newborn baby being put in crib awake with parent's hadn't on their chest to help them fall asleep

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Sleepy newborn snuggles are the best. BUT, it can also feel defeating if your newborn will only sleep in your arms. Is this you? Does your newborn cry whenever you put them down? Maybe your baby doesn't ever seem to sleep in the bassinet or crib? I can help.

My newborn baby wakes up and cries every time I put them down. Why? anchor

I know that this can be so frustrating. You’ve gotten your newborn to sleep, and you lay them down. Immediately, their little eyes pop open, or, even worse, your baby suddenly begins to cry. Why does this happen? Well, newborns often wake when laid in the crib because of the major shift in environment. They were snuggled tight in your warm arms, and now they’re on a cool, flat surface. It simply doesn’t feel the same.

So what can you do? Check out these ideas for when your baby wakes up as soon as you lay them down.  

Expert Tip: Make sure that your baby is truly awake before intervening. Newborns are active sleepers. In short, this means that they move and make noises when they are sleeping. Sometimes, we jump in thinking they’re awake when they’re actually sleeping.

What can I do if my newborn baby will only sleep in my arms? How can I get my newborn baby to sleep in their bassinet or crib? anchor

Here are my best tips for helping your baby sleep in their crib or bassinet:

1. Find their sweet spot for sleep: Double check that those daytime wake windows are age appropriate, and be mindful of sleepy cues. A baby who isn’t quite ready for sleep or is overtired often struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep. Finding their sweet spot can help make sleeping in the bassinet or crib easier. 

2. Establish a bedtime routine. A bedtime routine is one way to cue your baby's brain that sleep is coming. Even before your baby begins to recognize the routine, the calming effects can be helpful in keeping your baby from becoming overstimulated. Bedtime routines don't have to be complicated. They can be as simple as feeding, diaper change, pajamas, swaddle, sing a lullaby, and place your baby in the crib.

3. Consider swaddling: Swaddling your baby with their arms in and snug can replicate that cozy feeling your baby gets while in your arms. It can also calm the moro reflex that can startle them awake. Swaddling can be a helpful tool even with babies who seem to hate the swaddle

Safety Tip: When your baby shows signs of rolling, it’s time to transition out of the swaddle

4. Reduce any distractions: Keep the room dark for sleep. As newborns become more alert and aware, light can be distracting and stimulating. Do your best to get the room as dark as possible (use code Cara for 10% off) for both nights and naps. Consider adding a sound machine (use code CARA20 for 20% off) to help reduce any noise that might wake them up. 

5. Double check for physical needs: When a baby is rarely content, there may be a physical need (like hunger) or discomfort (like reflux or gas) that needs to be addressed. Always offer feedings according to hunger cues and be sure to work closely with your doctor to rule out any medical concerns.

6. Feed during awake time: We want your baby to get good, full feedings during the day. Sometimes, when babies are sleepy eaters, they snack all day. This snacking can make it hard for them to get the calories they need to start sleeping well.

7. Practice, practice, practice: For many babies, being able to fall asleep and stay asleep in their bassinet or crib takes practice and time! Please hear me- there’s nothing wrong with holding your baby for some of their naps, but it can be helpful to practice laying them down awake for bedtime and at least one nap a day. (Even 5-10 minutes of practice each day can make a big difference.)

8. Find a plan that works: Sometimes, a few quick tips simply isn’t enough. In my newborn class, I’ll walk you step-by-step through the strategies you need to set your days and nights up for success, read your baby’s cues, work towards longer stretches of night sleep in the crib or bassinet, and love the newborn stage. You don’t have to do this alone.

Expert Tip: Sometimes a pacifier falling out can startle and wake your drowsy or sleeping baby. If you’re seeing your newborn wake as soon as the pacifier falls out, consider holding it in your baby’s mouth for a few minutes as they try to fall asleep. 

How do I get my newborn to stop fighting sleep?anchor

When I hear that a newborn is fighting sleep, I often find that it’s because they are either overtired or not quite tired enough for sleep. Check out these newborn wake windows and sleepy cues to help find your baby’s sweet spot for sleep. 

Newborn sleepy cues and wake windows

Does it feel like you are in the sweet spot, but your newborn is still fighting sleep? I can help. In my newborn class, I’ll give you the tools and resources you need to calm a fussy baby, troubleshoot when you're struggling, have confidence as a parent, and set your days and nights up for success. And there's no crying involved! I want you to LOVE the newborn stage.

Is it normal for my newborn to wake up every hour all night? anchor

Many newborns do wake in the middle of the night for needed feedings. Waking in the night is not a sign that something is wrong. However, if your newborn is waking every hour that can be a sign that something is off during the day or at bedtime. Some of the same tips that help your baby sleep in the crib or bassinet will help them sleep longer stretches at night, so they’re not waking every hour.

Why is my newborn awake for hours at night?anchor

Perhaps you have a baby who doesn’t wake frequently throughout the night, but when they do, they seem ready to party and can stay awake for hours! In most cases, I find that this means that we need to take a look at your baby’s daytime. Many newborns actually have their days and nights confused. They’re sleepy during the day and ready to be awake at night. Consider this: babies only need so much sleep in a 24 hour period, so if they’re getting a huge chunk of it during the day, they won’t need as much sleep at night. 

Are you wondering how to create a flexible daytime routine for your baby? I have baby sleep schedules for every month. I can help you find a routine that sets your days and nights up for success.

How do I get my newborn back to sleep after a night feeding?anchor

Some babies wake so completely during a night feeding that drifting back to sleep becomes difficult. If this is what you're seeing, consider these tips:

  • Minimize light- Use the least amount of light possible during those night feedings. I recommend using a red light as it is less disruptive than a blue or white light. (You don’t need anything fancy; you can simply switch out the bulb.) The same goes for your phone during those feedings. Keep the light dim and aimed away from your baby.

  • Make diaper changes quick and calm- You’ll want to do a diaper change if your baby has a wet or dirty diaper, but try to keep the lights low and your voice soft. We want everything about this time to still feel like the middle of the night. If possible, do the diaper change before (or even in the middle of) the feeding.

  • Avoid unswaddling, when possible- If your baby will still take a good full feeding while swaddled, keep them wrapped up throughout the feeding. However, for some babies, unswaddling is the key to a full feeding in the night. In this scenario, consider reswaddling for the last few minutes of the feeding so your baby can easily drift back to sleep after the feeding is over.

How long can I let my newborn cry it out? anchor

I understand why you might be asking this question. When it feels like you simply can’t ever lay your baby down– maybe your baby is frequently fussy or bedtime always leads to tears-– you may be wondering what options you have. But I want to tell you: You don't have to let your newborn baby cry-it-out in order to get the sleep you both need. Instead, you can have a plan to gently work on newborn sleep skills without any crying at all.

Expert Tip: If you’re feeling overwhelmed and at the end of your rope, laying your baby down in the crib can be the safest option for you both. Try this method for calming yourself down so that you can help calm your baby down. 

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

If you're overwhelmed, exhausted, or just not sure where to start. I was there too. Let me show you everything you need to confidently handle sleep so your whole family can thrive!

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