Does your newborn prefer getting shut-eye in your arms, the stroller, or a car seat? With this guide, you can transition to the crib for deeper, safer slumber.

By Shaun Dreisbach
Updated July 02, 2020
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There's a reason parents devote so much time to selecting the right crib: It’s where your little one gets much-needed sleep that helps their growth and development. Unfortunately, though, some babies scream and cry whenever you set them in their crib. They might only sleep soundly in your arms, the car seat, or the stroller. It’s important not to give up, though, because a crib is the safest place for your infant to recharge. 

"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. And since studies have shown that babies get less sleep and wake more often when they're not in their crib, you have a serious incentive to act now. Learn more about your baby’s preferred slumber habits, and get pointers for how to get your baby to sleep in the crib. 

If Your Baby Only Sleeps in Your Arms...

"Young infants understand the world in a very sensory fashion, which is why they find the warmth and softness of your arms so soothing," says Polly Moore, Ph.D., director of sleep research at PAREXEL Early Phase in Glendale, California, and author of The 90-Minute Baby Sleep Program. "In fact, research shows that a baby can tell if she's being held by one of her parents or someone else. She knows what Mommy feels and smells like."

How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib:

Make the crib feel more Mom-like, says Dr. Moore. "One reason a baby gets upset when you try to transition him to the crib is the drastic change in temperature. He goes from the heat of your body to a relatively cold bed," she says. However, never place a blanket, pillow, or lovey in the crib with your baby because they greatly increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

If your baby's under 3 months, swaddle them, feed them, and ease them into the crib. For babies who are beyond the swaddle, try a sleep sack. If your cutie still protests, stand next to the crib for a few minutes with your hand on their tummy to soothe them, Dr. Mindell adds. "A belly rub is fine, but avoid picking her up. It will confuse her."

If Your Baby Only Sleeps in the Infant Carrier...

A carrier or sling is a bliss-inducing trifecta. "First and foremost, there's the chest-to-chest contact. That kind of kangaroo care is very calming for infants," says Dr. Mindell. "Add to that the warmth and smell of your body and the motion from walking around." Plus, if your child has reflux, the upright position can make for a happier, less fussy baby. Gravity helps keep stomach acid down; lying down does the opposite. 

How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib:

The best way to wean your baby off the carrier, according to Dr. Mindell, involves a few tears. "It's easiest to start with bedtime. Put her down in her crib when she's awake, but sleepy," she suggests. "Then check on her as frequently as you wish, say, every five to ten minutes. The goal is for her to fall asleep on her own." And when the crying starts? "Remind yourself that a baby who sleeps is a happier baby," says Dr. Mindell. Once bedtime is going well, put your baby down awake for one nap during the day but keep the others as usual, so they don't become cranky or overtired. Master that siesta first and then tackle the next.

If Your Baby Only Sleeps in the Swing or Car Seat...

Swings and car seats both involve motion, which is calming in and of itself, says Dr. Mindell. The movement is often similar to what it was like in your belly, and your baby might like the confined, secure space.

How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib:

"Start by eliminating the movement," says Dr. Mindell. "Put her in the stroller but don't stroll it. Pop her into the swing but don't swing it. Buckle her in the car seat but don't drive anywhere." When your babe is used to that, put them in the crib when they're tired but not completely exhausted. "Each step will probably take three or four days, so it's a process," Dr. Mindell says. "But be consistent. And try these steps only when you're ready. If you keep changing the routine, you'll confuse Baby and prolong the whole thing." 

If naptime sobs have you on the verge of tears, check on your baby after a predetermined amount of time and say, "I guess naptime is over! You must not be sleepy." Once they showssigns of tiredness again, you can try the routine once more.

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