If you’ve searched this topic, it’s pretty safe to assume you’re not getting a lot of sleep, so we’ll be as clear and engaging as possible. Also, caffeine. Or perhaps maca if you’re breastfeeding. And if you’ve searched this topic in desperation in the middle of the night, please come back in the morning: this is gonna take some time.
It also requires a clear mind, because there are some decisions to make. Many, in fact—some on the fly, in the middle of the night.
Sometimes parenting just feels like an endless series of decisions, right? And none of them seem easy. We’ll try to make this process as simple as possible.
Too Many Options
Trust your (fully informed) instincts: once you’ve done a solid amount of research, choose what feels right for your own values.
You need to feel good about the method you choose: Swaddling or letting it all hang out? Cry-it-out, or not?
But also be prepared to be flexible, and try a few different tools/methods, sticking with each one long enough to know if it is or is not working.
There are several steps to making the transition to a crib, and each of them can take as long as one to three weeks. Yikes!
But hold on to the optimism in that statement: can take as long as. Some babies make the transition literally overnight.
There are also as many options as there are babies in the world, so please do your best to be fluid, creative, patient, attuned to your little one and to yourself—and be realistic.
Basically you’re teaching your child to self-soothe, and to find their own way to dreamland, which are important skills indeed that will serve them well for the rest of their long lives.
When To Start Transitioning Your Baby To The Crib
Some parents make the crib the place to be from even just a few weeks in, although most recommendations are for between three and six months.
However, the later you begin the process, the more challenging it will be, because baby likes routine – and this transition ain’t routine.
Perhaps little bambino has outgrown their bassinet; or the cosleeping that was so adorable at 5 weeks is now keeping everyone up all night, because baby wants to chat about the stock market. (You’ve definitely left it a bit late in that case.)
Maybe you’re going back to work in a couple of months, and need to be confident about your ability to get a full night’s sleep.
Or maybe you just have a feeling it’s time.
Just keep this in mind: “After babies hit the 6-month mark, their napping and nighttime habits become harder to change,” says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of “Sleeping Through the Night”.
Elizabeth Pantley, author of “The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns”, recommends you should try putting your sleeping baby in their crib at least once a day and every night, right from the beginning.
Again, this approach is one of many.
When NOT To Start Transitioning Your Baby To The Crib
- anytime before, during, or right after a vacation
- when you’re about to introduce a new caregiver
- before, during or right after a move
- before, during, or right after any other big change
Hah! Is there even a one-week span in a baby’s life that doesn’t involve a monumental change? Nope.
But you know what we mean: just try to make things as uncomplicated as possible.
Whether your starting point is a bassinet, a pack & play, a rock & play, or a co-sleeping arrangement, we’re going to focus on the end goal: A Crib of Their Own. (Cue Virginia Woolf.)
The crib itself should meet all of the relevant safety standards (i.e. Consumer Product Safety Commission), including a firm mattress.
And, as goes their slogan: #BareIsBest. Nothing goes in the crib but the baby. No blankets, pillows, toys, bumpers: nada.
Also #BackIsBest, but you already knew that: Always place your baby on their back for sleeping.
A Quick Overview Of The Next Decisions
– Will you start the crib in your bedroom, and then move it, or
– start the crib in baby’s own room, and possibly join them in there?
– Let the baby ‘cry it out’, or not use that method?
– Use surveillance tools (that one’s easy: it’s a hell yes); and which ones?
And decide how will you get your wee one used to the crib—ideally they’ll get to the point where they look forward to it.
How To Start Transitioning Baby To The Crib
If your bedroom happens to be spacious enough to incorporate the crib comfortably, this is something to consider. Especially if your child is under 6 months old, and/or you have some attachment issues and aren’t quite ready for nights apart.
However, if you and your child are disturbing each other’s sleep (which is very common), it’s worth considering the full transition to their own room.
This does eliminate the later challenge of having to move the crib out of your room, which will add time and effort to the process.
If you are planning to start the crib and new room simultaneously, you can consider creating a comfortable place for you to sleep in that room as well, so you can both transition to nights apart more slowly.
In any and every case, the first step is teaching your baby to crave the crib. Some suggestions:
Introduce the crib for gentle, quiet play-time during the day.
Make the crib smell like the primary caregiver, which is baby’s absolutely most favorite scent.
Sleep with the sheets for a few nights before putting them in there, or leave a couple of worn t-shirts in the crib when your baby isn’t in it.
You can also use this scent-collection method for swaddling blankets and sleep sacks.
Find or make a particularly compelling mobile and hang it above the crib for baby to view and enjoy.
Consider warming the crib with a hot water bottle or other very gentle heat source, to make a sleepy baby extra comfortable when they are placed in the crib.
(As always, remove the heat source before placing the baby in the crib—and check the heat level, making sure it’s not too warm.)
Make sure your baby is already comfortable in whichever garment you choose to put them for sleeping.
For example, don’t introduce a sleep sack at the same time as the crib. (But if you do use a sleep sack and it’s all just crazy-cute, send us pics!)
You’ve probably already done this, but it bears some focus in this circumstance: Establish a lovely bedtime routine.
This helps everyone know what’s happening next. Little tiny baby brains like very much to know what’s happening next.
Choose your own routine and rituals, but some standard ones are: nursing/eating; bathing; book/story time; snuggle time; dim lighting; calming music… whatever helps you and your baby slow down and get ready for sleep.
Now consider the environment around the crib, whether it’s in your room, or baby’s own space.
Obviously you’re looking to create that quiet, safe, comforting vibe that makes your child feel relaxed and unstimulated.
Some people like to use white noise machines or apps to create a consistent sound; similarly some babies like the sound of rain, also available on machines or apps.
Make sure the lights are dim, the temperature of the room is warm but not hot: most experts suggest optimal sleeping temperature for babies is between 68 and 72°F (no warmer, or they may overheat (source).
Have you decided whether or not to go all 1984 and surveil?
Do it: Most parents find the ability to see their baby at all times gives them peace of mind. (Just don’t keep this up when they’re in their teens.)
It’s also just plain safer this way. Explore apps, video monitors, sound monitors—whatever will put you at ease. Of course you won’t need this right away if the crib is in your room, but eventually this will become necessary, so please do some research.
Another decision: Cry-It-Out method, or non-CIO?
There is no right answer to this, other than what works for you and your child. It’s a big topic unto itself, and going there now will exhaust you, we promise.
There’s loads of research to support both; the decision is really up to what you feel right doing.
And, like most parenting decisions, it’s apt to change depending on whose willpower is stronger: yours or your baby’s.
This will determine whether you run to assuage every gurgle, or pretend you aren’t hearing the wailing from the next room (or crib next to your bed).
Of course those are exaggerations, but this is another decision you should make in advance.
Let’s Do This!
So, now you’re ready. Or completely overwhelmed—and ready.
These six steps will make it sound very easy to transition your baby to their own crib—and maybe it will be!
Or maybe it will take some creativity, pivoting, patience and time.
But it will get done in the best possible way for you and your family.
- You’ve made all of your decisions regarding all of the elements discussed above, and everyone in the house and engaged in your baby’s day-to-day life knows about them and is onside. (No need to post it all on Facebook: this is just for the people directly involved.)
- The safe and appropriate crib has been procured, built with no leftover bits, and stands proudly in your or your baby’s room.
- You’ve drafted a letter to FutureBaby—i.e. the adult who blames you for all of their problems—and explained that the process of transitioning them from bassinet to crib is not the cause of their fear of clowns.
- Start with quiet play time and/or tunny time in the crib. The crib that smells like you, and is warm and lovely and inviting. Do this for one to three weeks.
- Work up to naps in the crib. Follow your usual nap routines. Do this for one to three weeks.
- When your happy little baby seems altogether comfortable sleeping in the crib, try putting them in there after your usual bedtime routines. This might be successful on the first try, or might take some time. Again, this is where you’ve made your decisions regarding crying- or non-crying-it-out. You might try lingering a bit, hand on your baby’s belly if you feel they need comforting as they drift off.
And voilà: Baby’s moving out. No, not yet: Just growing up a little tiny bit!