You did a lot of prep before your baby was born. You spent tons of time getting their nursery ready in the third trimester. You listed all the essential sleep items on your baby registry. You were warned about the sleepless nights from friends and family. You set everything up just the way you should have, but no one told you what to do if your baby just won’t sleep in the bassinet!
How to Get Your Newborn Baby to Sleep in the Bassinet
To start, be sure that your baby is comfortable. You want to be sure that they have been fed, changed and are dressed in an appropriate number of layers based on the temperature of their sleep space.
Next, consider swaddling them to prevent their underdeveloped reflexes from startling them awake. Properly fit swaddles are key for helping some newborns to remain comfortable in their independent sleep space. This swaddle bag by Kyte Baby is great (use this link for 10% off your purchase) because it can transition into a non-swaddled Sleep Bag once baby is able to roll. It also has a zipper at the bottom which helps with middle of the night diaper changes.
Keep working on swaddling if your babe struggles to sleep in their bassinet. It may take time!
When practicing bassinet naps, try to lay them in their bassinet in the morning rather than waiting until the afternoon or evening. As the day goes on, it is more likely that your baby is overtired. Believe it or not, overtiredness actually makes it harder for a newborn to sleep. When a newborn is overtired it will be even more likely that your newborn won’t sleep in a bassinet.
What to do if your Newborn Won’t Sleep Unless Held
If your newborn sleeps great while held and not at all when laid down, know that you’re not alone… Many newborns won’t sleep unless they are held. It is comforting for a baby in weeks 0-12, the fourth trimester, to be held for sleep. Afterall, they are used to the movement, swaying, coziness and snugness of being in-utero.
If your baby will not sleep unless held, you can absolutely hold them! Chances are, you are reading this blog because your arms are ready for a break, you would like to have a moment to shower and that hot meal is calling your name.
Enter baby-wearing! Wrapping your baby in a sling or using a newborn carrier can be a great, hands-free way to let them nap without feeling trapped on the couch holding a sleeping baby. As Sleeper Teachers, we love the idea of parents having time during the day to care for themselves. Baby-wearing is particularly helpful if you have a baby that won’t sleep unless held in the evening. By the late afternoon, witching hour approaches, overtiredness builds and crying increases which leaves everyone ready for a break.
If babywearing isn’t an option in the evening, consider a car ride or walk with your baby in their carseat in order to get a few hands-free moments. Remember that evening naps are trickier, so doing what you can to get baby a nap is more important than how they are napping, as long as they are safe.
Safe Sleep… Always!
No matter the age of your little one, it is imperative that you ensure your baby is sleeping in a safe sleep environment.
ABCs of safe sleep from the AAP: Alone, on their Backs in an empty Crib or bassinet
Safety is paramount for all sleepers, especially during the first few months of life. As Sleeper Teachers, we follow the safe sleep recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The brief overview is this:
1. Use a firm mattress in a crib, bassinet or Pack and Play
2. Place nothing in the crib or bassinet (leave out all bumpers, stuffed animals, blankets, toys)
3. Offer the pacifier at sleep onset
4. Put your baby down flat on their back without added items in their crib or bassinet.
5. Ideal room temperature is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit
If ever in question, remember the ABCs of safe sleep from the AAP: Alone, on their Backs in an empty Crib or bassinet! Without practice, it can be challenging to get a baby to sleep in a crib or bassinet, but no matter how challenging, it is always the safest option.
How to Get Your Overtired Newborn to Sleep in the Bassinet
Newborn babies are VERY easily overstimulated and VERY quickly overtired. When we have a group of people over to visit, or keep baby up too long, the risk of passing the point of exhaustion is high. For this reason alone, preserve some quiet time for you and baby, even if you have guests!
To prevent overtiredness and help your newborn sleep without having to be held, pay attention to the amount of time they are awake between sleep periods. Developmentally most newborns (0 to 12 weeks) are able to stay awake between 45 and 90 minutes. The lower end of this range is primarily used before 6 weeks and the length of time awake stretches with each of the following weeks.
If you are curious about wake windows, check out this post and snag your free wake window guide so you can learn more.
Due to underdeveloped fine and gross motor skills, newborn babies cannot easily show us when they are tired, so sleepy cues are often missing or show up long after baby is sleepy. This is why wake windows are important if you want to learn how to get your baby to sleep in a crib.
If you are finding yourself in a cycle of short naps and small feeds, it can be helpful to break this cycle in order to prevent overtiredness. Depending on the advice from your pediatrician, most babies need to eat about every 2-3 hours during the day to get enough daytime calories. This means that if feeds are happening more frequently, they are likely overlapping with sleep.
If your baby wakes up after a very short nap, consider waiting to feed them and offering a pacifier instead or rocking them back to sleep. This can help them to get a nice stretch of time between feeds and allow for another napping opportunity, too. Breaking the cycle of overtiredness with your newborn is important if you are finding that your newborn won’t sleep unless held.
If You are Wondering How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in the Crib
Like learning to rolling over, learning to walk and learning to read, someone needs to gently and lovingly guide babies as they learn the skill of independent sleep. There are many things our little ones will need to do for themselves, and learning how to sleep is one of the first skills you can help them learn. Understanding newborn sleep is amongst the most important for overall well-being and growth.
It is important for us to remember that independent sleep is a learned skill that can be taught! Independent sleep is a baby’s “ability to fall asleep and return to sleep during naturally occurring sleep cycles, without the assistance of another human being”. Laying a foundation of sleep skills with a newborn looks very different from sleep teaching an infant, toddler or older child. It is important for you to have realistic expectations about sleep for your newborn so that you aren’t disappointed in the progress you make!
Remember that your baby is very new to this great big world, and everything is fluid and constantly changing. If your baby won’t sleep in the bassinet or unless held, practicing putting your baby in their crib or bassinet to sleep is going to be the best way to begin making progress. If you tried last week and haven’t tried again, give it a shot! Use the guidance in this blog to help you to break the cycle of your newborn only sleeping when held.
If Your Baby Won’t Sleep in the Bassinet or Unless Held, We Can Help!
At the Sleeper Teachers, we love supporting families during the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life because it allows us to be proactive in our approach. Rather than “fixing” sleep once baby is 4 months old, we can get started early on by promoting safe and healthy sleep habits. When we work with newborns, we do not get a day-by-day sleep plan in place, but rather focus on sleep education and setting the right foundations early on, so that your little one becomes a great sleeper early on in their life.
If 1-on-1 guidance with customized sleep support is something that you could benefit from, please reach out to us here for a free sleep introductory call with one of our consultants.
Finally, if you prefer a DIY approach to instilling good sleep habits early on, check out our Foundations of Newborn Sleep Guide. The guide will help parents proactively lay a solid sleep foundation for their little one, as well as educate parents on the best practices for newborn sleep (or babies on the way) in the first 12 weeks of life.