Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Baby Won't Sleep in Crib? 5 Tips to Help Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib

I’ve worked with hundreds of babies and toddlers that will not sleep in their crib. Parents consult with me and often ask 'why my baby won't sleep in the crib.'

There are many babies that only want to sleep in arms or right beside you.  There are also those that love the feeling of security that comes with sleeping in a car seat, stroller or swing. 

The drive to sleep is biological but the way we sleep is learned.  Even as early as 4-8 weeks of age your baby is learning where sleep happens.  Sleep in arms or on you is so intoxicating for you both, but are you going to be able to maintain a nap schedule/night schedule for a baby that will only sleep on you?  Probably not, it’s never to early to start working on getting your baby to sleep in the crib.  If you have a baby who is less than 9 weeks of age, I teach you how to set up healthy preferences and sleep habits and become a sleep detective to get sleep on track from the beginning.  This is in my online class “How to Gift Your Newborn the LOVE of Sleep.”

Since sleep is a learned habit, you can see how older kiddos who have been co-sleeping with you for months will be more resistant to change compared to a newborn who doesn’t have as much awareness of her environment.

Sleeping in Car Seats, Strollers and Swings

Kids love these because they feel safe and secure and the motion helps lull them into sleep.  I use the analogy of being on a train… the repetitive motion becomes soothing and helps lull your baby into sleep.  In addition there is a feeling of being “tucked in” in that space.  

Sleeping in Arms, the Carrier or Co-Sleeping

Who wouldn’t want to sleep close to their parents?  They are so warm and make babies and toddlers feel safe.  It’s all very flattering really.  What we want to watch for here in the newborn stage is does your baby need to be in arms or the carrier because she has reflux or silent reflux and the upright position provides more comfort?   It can be hard to tell sometimes.  Also kids who are uncomfortable with gas or reflux tend to be needier and want more touch and to be closer to their parents.  

Where is it safe for my baby to sleep?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the only safe space for a baby to sleep is in a crib or bassinet.  So technically swings, car seats, carriers, doc a tots are not safe sleep spaces.  There was a massive recall in 2019 of the Fisher Price Rock and Play due to infant deaths.  One of the risks associated with these products is related to infant suffocation.  Your baby doesn’t have enough coordination and strength in her neck and accidentally closes her airway due to her head position flexing forward to her chest..  The other risk is the re-circulation of carbon dioxide.  If your little one’s face is too close to the side of the doc a tot, the risk is that she breathes in the air she just exhaled and doesn’t get enough oxygen.  Very unpleasant to write about but always important to understand the risks.

So I’m glad you are here reading about helping your baby sleep in a crib because I know you’ve probably tried to get her to sleep in the crib.  Maybe the tears made you uncomfortable and it was easier just to let her be in arms but now it seems hard to maintain.

5 Tips to Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib 

  1.  If you have a younger baby, start working on this now.  

Preferences become stronger with age, and hence harder to break.  Your baby is forming preferences as early as 4-8 weeks so start working on naps in the crib now.

  1.  Work with your baby’s sleep drive.

The drive to sleep is a build up of a protein in your blood that signals your brain that it’s time to sleep.  It is strongest at night so work on getting your baby in the crib at bedtime first.

The first nap of the day is the easiest nap to get a child to settle for, so practice putting her in the crib at nap time. 

  1.   Make the put down as easy as possible.

For babies less than 4 months and those not rolling, you want to swaddle for naps and bedtime to help decrease the startle reflex.  Often when we lower kids into the crib they startle and wake themselves up.  Use a swaddle to help.

When you do the put down, put your baby down feet first, then bum and then head last.  It’s an uneasy feeling to be put down head first and can cause a startle. 


  1. Give yourself 5-10 minutes for something new to work. 

No one wants to hear their little one cry, but what if 5 minutes of tears resulted in an hour long nap in the crib?  Can you stand by her and offer comfort verbally and physically while she’s in the crib.  

For babies less than 4 months, you can pick her up and calm her, and then put her back down when she’s calm.  For babies greater than 4 months of age, I find picking them up to be less helpful as they cry harder when you put them back down as they were hoping to get their usually sleep help. 

  1.  Consider sleep teaching

With babies greater than 4 months, your child has learned that sleeping in arms, co-sleeping or the stroller, is where sleep happens. This is what sleep looks like to her.  Anytime you try and change that she will protest with tears because that is not what sleep looks like to her. She might be confused, mad or just plain tired and wanting what she wants. Sleep teaching is taking away the known way your child offers sleep and offering verbal and physical reassurance to fall asleep.  I teach you how to do this compassionately with the most gentle technique in my online class.

I hope that now you are clear about how to get your baby to sleep in the crib.

If you want more information about your child’s sleeping and sleep timing, you’re welcome to come and take my online sleep quiz.  I’ll ask you some questions about your baby’s sleep patterns, habits and quantity of sleep.  You’ll get a response from me that will identify what looks like it’s working for you but also where you can make improvements and one simple thing you can work on tonight to help with sleep.  You can take the quiz here.

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