How to get your baby to sleep in a crib

Updated Jan 22, 2024
Baby won’t sleep in the crib: Reasons and tips to get baby sleep in crib

It’s all too common: you’re desperately trying to reach the television remote with your toes because you’re trapped underneath (and afraid to wake) the crib-phobic baby sleeping on your chest. We’ve been there and understand the struggle. Some babies don’t like their cribs and find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep in them. Try not to be discouraged — we’ve got solutions for you! 


How do I introduce a crib to my baby?

Can a newborn sleep in a crib?

My baby won’t sleep in the crib. What should I do?

5 tips and tricks for getting your baby to sleep in a crib

When to stop using a crib


How to get baby to sleep in crib FAQ

It’s never too early to introduce your baby to the crib and determine when to move baby to crib. Even if you decide to use a bassinet or other safe sleep space initially, you can help your baby acclimate to the crib during non-sleep playtime.

Offer some daily playtime in the crib for 5 - 10 minutes to help your baby view it as a happy place. Sing songs or play peek-a-boo, and practice leaving for short periods of time to help build feelings of security in the crib. 

Yes! Your newborn can sleep in a crib from day one if you choose. Just like a bassinet, you should always follow safe sleeping guidelines. A crib mattress should be firm, the fitted sheets nice and snug, and the mattress completely free of any blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or bumpers.

If your baby refuses to sleep in a crib, it's typically because they are used to falling asleep outside of their crib, e.g. in their parent’s arms or in a stroller.

Other reasons your baby doesn't want to sleep in a crib may include:

  • Separation anxiety

  • Teething

  • Illness

  • Sleep regression

Start by giving your baby opportunities to fall asleep in the crib. When it's time for bed, leave your baby in the crib awake after a calming bedtime routine. Bedtime is often the easiest time of the day to introduce a change to routine, especially if you’ve made sure your child is fed, comfortable, and had plenty of snuggle time. 

Give your baby the chance to work out how to fall asleep in this new space. Stay close by and pat your baby or rhythmically “shhhh” to help lull them to sleep. Try not to be discouraged if they struggle at first. How easily a baby accepts a change in routine will depend on many factors, including their age and temperament. You can always try again the next night.

It sounds counterintuitive, but overtired children generally have a much harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. Laying a solid foundation for healthy sleep habits can make it much easier for children to accept changes to their sleep routines (i.e., sleeping in the crib instead of on you or when to stop swaddling). Cover the basics to make sleep easier: follow an age-appropriate schedule, use a consistent bedtime routine, and set up a safe sleep environment.

It’s common for babies to fall asleep in their parent’s arms and then protest when they wake up in the crib. We can’t blame babies for being upset when they awaken in a different (less snugly) location! Giving your baby regular opportunities to fall asleep in the crib can help them learn how to fall back to sleep easier in the crib as well. 

Can you master a new habit (like drinking enough water or sitting up straight) in one day, or even in one week? Probably not, and neither can your baby. Establishing healthy patterns takes practice. Continue to work with your baby to sleep in the crib, and expect it to take some time. Don’t give up if it’s challenging at first. Your baby can do this!

Despite your best efforts, there will be times when your baby will resist sleeping in the crib, especially if your baby is under 6 months old. Newborns and younger infants often need more help sleeping. You might decide that 15 - 20 minutes is enough time to practice in the crib before picking your baby up and helping them to sleep in your arms. 

If your baby falls asleep while you’re holding them, lower them into the crib without letting their head tip backward. The goal will be to place your baby’s lower half on the mattress first, while gently cradling their head to help prevent the feeling of falling. That falling sensation leads many babies to wake while being moved into the crib. 

Think there’s something more going on? Be sure to consult with your pediatrician if you think your child is having trouble sleeping in the crib due to discomfort from reflux or another medical condition.

While inclined sleeping surfaces were commonly recommended for babies with reflux in the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends always placing your baby to sleep on a flat, firm surface to reduce the risk of sleeping-related infant death. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making the transition to a toddler bed once they’re 35 inches tall, which typically happens between 18 - 24 months. The biggest reason? Once they've outgrown their crib, they can try to climb out, increasing the risk of falls and injuries. This typically happens when the crib rail is about chest level.

However, many toddlers do not attempt to climb out. For those who are comfortable in their crib and aren't inclined to climb, transitioning to a bed around 3 years of age often proves more successful.

Before reaching 3 years old, most toddlers lack the self-discipline to stay in a bed without physical boundaries. As a result, if the transition to a bed happens before this age, it's common for toddlers to frequently get up during bedtime and in the middle of the night.

While we can’t wave a magic wand and get your baby to instantly sleep well in the crib, we can see progress with enough patience and practice. If you feel like the process is more difficult than it should be, and you and your doctor have ruled out medical issues, it might be time to call in your reinforcements. Choose Huckleberry’s Premium membership. Our sleep experts will design a customized plan to help you achieve your sleep goals.

How to get baby to sleep in crib FAQ

Q: How do I get my baby to sleep in a crib for naps?


Give your baby the chance to fall asleep in the crib each day. Start with the first nap of the day, which tends to be the easiest if your child is taking multiple naps. Place your baby awake in the crib after a calm pre-sleep routine, and stay nearby to pat them to sleep if necessary. Continue to practice until your baby gets used to falling asleep in the crib.

Q: How long will it take for my baby to get used to sleeping in a crib?


This will vary depending on your child’s age, sleeping habits, and consistency in using the crib. Some babies adjust right away, while others will need a few weeks.

Q: How can I get my baby to sleep in a crib without a swaddle?


If you’re transitioning away from the swaddle gradually, you can start by placing your baby awake in the crib at bedtime without the swaddle. If your baby isn’t showing signs of rolling, you can then re-swaddle after the first waking of the night. As your baby gets used to falling asleep without the swaddle, you can remove it for the entire night, followed by naps.

Q: How do I get my baby to sleep in a crib without crying?


Overtired babies tend to cry more at sleep times. To limit crying, ensure that you’re following an age-appropriate sleep schedule and give your baby some non-sleep playtime opportunities in the crib during the day. Some babies will initially cry when placed in the crib, no matter what you do. You can always take a break to calm your infant down and try again.

Q: Can I train my baby to sleep in the crib?


Sure! You can gradually expose your baby to the crib and offer opportunities to sleep there. If you want a faster transition, either because there are safety issues or it suits your family better, you can also sleep train in the crib.

Q: How long can I leave baby in crib if not napping?


This depends on a number of factors, including the age of your baby, whether they've previously sleep trained, their mood, and your comfort level. For newborns and young babies, you might be comfortable with allowing them 15 to 20 minutes to practice in the crib before you pick them up and help them fall asleep. If your baby is 6 months or older, you might allow them 30 - 45 minutes to work on falling asleep before taking a break and trying again.

Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.