Wondering how to get baby to nap in the crib instead of your arms, the swing, or co sleeping? Get tips to help your baby sleep in the crib!
I was desperate.
My newborn took long naps… but only in the swing. Any time I tried to put him down in the crib, he’d wake up screaming (or only sleep for a few minutes before waking up).
Another favorite way he’d nap was when someone was holding him. So, of course, I tried holding him as he started to drift off, planning to put him down once he was in a deep sleep. But he’d gotten so used to being held that he’d wake up as soon as I’d put him down.
He slept in the crib every night but refused to nap in it. And while I welcomed the long naps in the swing, baby wrap, or even in my arms, I knew that this wasn’t a sustainable way to get him to sleep.
How to get your baby to nap in the crib instead of your arms
For many newborn moms, getting babies to actually nap in the crib feels like an impossible task.
Perhaps you don’t mind holding your baby to sleep, but you’d rather not make a habit of it and deal with problems down the road. Maybe you’re going crazy because you can’t take naps yourself or get anything done.
Or maybe you know she’ll have to nap in the crib at daycare when you go back to work after maternity leave and would rather she get used to it now.
So, how do you get her to nap on her own in the crib? And what should you do if she only sleeps when held?
Rest assured, you’re not alone, friend. The newborn stage can be frustratingly unpredictable. What works for one nap completely flops for the next. And often, “success” only happens after consistent effort and routine, and even then, you can still end up right where you started out of nowhere.
Plus, most newborns aren’t equipped to consistently put themselves to sleep until they’re a few months older. For the most part, it’s okay if she sleeps in your arms—it’s a temporary stage.
Still, that doesn’t mean you give up and stop trying, including learning how to get your baby to nap in the crib instead of your arms. By trying several of these tips, I was finally able to get my son, even as a newborn, to sleep in his, without crying it out.
Sure, we had our off days where we resorted to our old go-to methods. And it wasn’t until I finally sleep trained him once he passed the newborn stage that he consistently slept in his crib. But in the meantime, when you’re in pure survival mode in these early months, every tip is worth a try.
Hopefully you’ll be able to get your baby to nap in the crib longer, too:
1. Put your baby down (waaay) before she fusses
One common misconception many first-time moms make is waiting until the baby is fussy before putting her down for a nap.
Here’s the thing: fussiness is usually a sign that your baby is already overtired, making it that much harder to put her down in a crib. Instead, you want to catch her when she’s still pleasantly sleepy and ready to nap, not when she’s fussy and fighting sleep.
Free download: Do you struggle with getting her to nap without crying? Her awake time just might be affecting how well she sleeps or not. Join my newsletter and get One Mistake You’re Making with Your Baby’s Awake Time and discover one mistake you may be making with her awake time.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did—help her fall asleep with this one simple trick! Download it below:
2. Elevate the crib mattress at an angle
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
One of the reasons your baby struggles to sleep in the crib is the flatness of the mattress. Unlike being held in your arms or slightly upright in a swing, a mattress is completely horizontal, making for an unfamiliar sensation.
A simple trick? Elevate the crib mattress at an angle.
This allows her to sleep slightly upright as well as avoid any GERD or reflux issues that happen from lying flat on her back. I bought a simple crib wedge like this that I placed on top of the mattress and beneath the sheet:
3. Add a crib mattress pad
Yet another challenge with sleeping in a crib is the stiffness of the mattress. Compared to your arms, your bed, or even a thick blanket on the floor, sleeping on a crib mattress isn’t exactly the most comfortable.
One solution is to place a crib mattress pad over the crib and beneath the fitted sheet. While subtle, this extra padding and cushion can help make the crib more comfortable for your baby:
4. Give it a few minutes
I’d feel so defeated each time I heard my baby fuss a mere few minutes after I had just put him down. Other times, I’d scoop him up if he so much as opened his eyes after his head hit the mattress. Somehow, I equated his being awake as a failure on my part.
I later learned that giving babies a few minutes to settle can be all it takes to get them to sleep in a crib. For instance, be aware of your baby’s different cries. If she sounds like she’s simply fussing or whining, don’t feel compelled to pick her up right away. Instead, give her a few minutes to settle.
And if she happens to open her eyes when you put her down—especially when she’s not crying—don’t take that as your cue to start rocking her to sleep all over again. Instead, give her the time to fall asleep lying down. (After all, we don’t always conk out the minute our heads hit the pillow.)
In doing so, you’re giving her an opportunity to learn, however gradually, to self-soothe, rather than expect you to pick her up at the slightest stir.
5. Soothe with a mobile
Many moms swear by crib soothers and mobiles as a way to help their babies fall asleep in their cribs. If your baby takes to relaxing sounds, a mobile can be a fantastic solution, one that’s only available in a crib.
The trick is to put her in the crib awake but ready to sleep. Allow her to watch the mobile when she’s drowsy so that she can associate it with falling asleep.
Tip: Stick to using the mobile as a soothing device, not for entertainment. That way, she knows that the mobile signals sleep time, not play.
6. Copy your bedtime routine for naps
Does your baby fall asleep in the crib just fine at night? Part of that could be the soothing bedtime routine you have in place.
To help her sleep in the crib during the day, follow a routine similar to your bedtime one. For instance, I did the same rituals for naps (other than giving them a bath and changing into pajamas) as I did for bedtime, including:
- Changing into a new diaper
- Reading books
- Singing songs
- Drawing darkening curtains
- Turning on white noise
These activities can signal to your baby that, just as she sleeps at night in the crib, so too can she sleep in it for naps.
7. Put your baby down drowsy with a pacifier
Some babies take to sucking on a pacifier to fall asleep. See if you can help yours take advantage of the soothing sensations of a pacifier with taking a nap in the crib.
Once she’s drowsy but still awake, lay her down in the crib. Then, insert a pacifier in her mouth so she has something to soothe herself with even if she’s out of your arms.
8. Put your baby down swaddled and in deep sleep
As much of a fan as I am about putting a baby down drowsy but awake, it doesn’t always work. And considering that you’re in the throes of the newborn stage, sometimes you do what you have to do, including trying the exact opposite.
Start by swaddling your baby so she feels snug and less likely to flail her arms and wake herself up. Then, hold and rock her slightly in your arms until she’s completely asleep before putting her down in the crib. Even if she’s lying in the crib, the sensation won’t feel as odd because she’s tucked in a swaddle.
9. Decrease the difference in sensation
Babies can startle awake when they’re put in a crib because being in your arms and being in the crib is so different.
Instead, decrease the difference in the sensation between the two. For instance, you can:
- Warm your baby’s sheets with a hot water bottle or heating pad (test the temperature first)
- Keep your hand behind her head and neck for a minute after putting her down
- Keep your hand over her tummy for a minute after putting her down
- Bend over the crib and keep your chest touching hers for a minute before standing back up
- Move slowly as you walk to the crib
10. Use a sleep suit
Some babies don’t take to swaddles and get frustrated they can’t suck their hands or else try to maneuver themselves out of them.
One solution is to use a sleep suit. This allows your baby to feel snug and contained, but still have her arms and hands free to suck. It’s also a fantastic transition to ease her out of a swaddle she might be fast outgrowing.
11. Create a conducive sleep environment
The right environment can help your baby not just sleep in the crib, but take long naps as well. As I say in my book, How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Being Held:
“When your arms are no longer an option and a stroller is too unrealistic to rely on all the time, the right environment can help him sleep on his own.
Think of the optimal sleep environment as giving him a leg up toward better sleep. Why make sleep harder with difficult sleeping arrangements when you can make simple changes to help him doze off easily?”
Start by getting darkening curtains to block out light from outside. Don’t worry—the room won’t be completely pitch black in case you’re worried she’ll confuse night with day. But it can help her sleep better when the room is darker than usual.
Then, turn on white noise, either using a white noise machine, fan, heater, or an audio app. This will prevent her from being startled awake at sudden noises.
And if you start the routine in the room set up for sleep, transitioning her to the crib will be much easier than starting from a different room and moving to the new one.
12. Stay consistent with your efforts
Caring for a newborn is a balance of giving your baby a chance to sleep in the crib, while helping her when she can’t.
The key is to constantly give her that chance, each and every time. After all, when else will she learn to sleep in the crib when she isn’t given the opportunity to?
Think of daycare sleeping arrangements where, because there simply isn’t any other option, those babies somehow learn to sleep in a crib.
The same can be true for your baby. She’ll begin to associate the crib with sleep, and will simply get used to it the more consistent and repetitive you are with putting her in it.
“Did that just happen?” I had to ask myself one day, when I tried to put my baby to sleep in the crib. I rocked him in my arms but he kept arching his back, straightening his body, peering over behind him and otherwise saying, “I don’t like being held like this.”
Then I thought, Maybe he doesn’t want to be rocked to sleep. So, I put him down in his crib with my hand on his tummy. A few minutes later, he was still awake, but getting sleepy. I needed a break so I just stepped outside. I checked on him three minutes later and, lo and behold, he was asleep.
Did he just fall asleep in the crib?
I didn’t want to jinx myself, especially with his naps, but count my lucky stars, my baby actually did.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your 3 Month Old Won’t Nap
- How to Create a 4 Month Old Nap Schedule Using Real Life Examples
- Baby Not Napping? Here’s What to Do
- How to Get Your Baby to Take Longer Naps
- How to Stay Calm when Your Baby Won’t Nap
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get One Mistake You’re Making with Your Baby’s Awake Time—at no cost to you: