In the first hazy days of parenting, your baby sleeps wherever: in your arms, in a bassinet, in a sling, in a swing. But there comes a time when you’re ready for your precious bundle to nap in her crib. Here are some expert tips to make the transition as smooth as possible for both baby and you.
Infants start to make associations around three to four months of age, says Jennifer Garden, an occupational therapist and owner of Sleepdreams in Vancouver. This is a good time to start introducing crib napping. But, she says, some babies still aren’t ready to be that far away from their mom or dad. Depending on your baby’s temperament, you may want to wait a few more weeks before moving your baby from bassinet to crib. Just remember: Whether they're in a crib or bassinet, the Canadian Paediatric Society and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend keeping your baby in your room for the first six months.
The room should be dark and cool—between 16C and 19C is ideal for sleep. It should also be quiet. “I often hear parents say, ‘Oh, I was told during the daytime it should be bright and busy and loud,” says Garden. “But that’s just for the first month, while your newborn is learning the difference between day and night.”
“I wouldn’t advise just plunking your baby down into a new sleep space and expecting that it will all go well,” Garden says. Instead, start with a small naptime routine, similar to the one you do at bedtime, but shorter. This way, your baby will start to get the idea that sleep is coming. Garden recommends changing her diaper, and doing some rocking and singing in the room where she’ll be napping.
When your baby is up, keep her busy with things like tummy time on the floor. Watch for signs of drowsiness, then start the routine and put her down in the crib. “If you hit everything right, she should be able to get off to sleep,” Garden says. For babies under six months, she suggests trying it a couple of times if it doesn’t work on the first go. But after that, if your babe isn’t falling asleep, put her to sleep however you normally would, then transfer her to her crib. For babies over six months, you may want to leave her to fuss for a bit to try to encourage her to fall asleep on her own.
Bum first, head last, says Garden. “You know that game where you trust your friend to catch you if you fall backwards? That’s the feeling babies experience if you tip them upside down to put them in their crib.” So lower her into the crib, feet first, placing her bum down and then lay her head down. Once your baby is in the crib, you could lay your hand on her stomach or rhythmically pat her—either of these things will help her settle.
“It takes about three weeks to change human behaviour,” says Garden, pointing out that you’re not only changing your baby’s behaviour but yours too. If you stick with it, after about three weeks, the crib will become your baby’s norm, and even if she does have a one-off nap somewhere else, it shouldn’t set her back.