How do I transition my baby from co-sleeping to sleeping in her own crib or room?
This can be a tough transition – babies can become quite used to what they have at bedtime when they fall asleep! Getting her used to a different environment at bedtime will probably take some time, practice, and consistency.
The thing that will best help her to sleep overnight in her crib will be to help her learn to fall asleep on her own in her crib, in all likelihood without even having you in the room as she falls asleep. Before you get there, though, you need to set things up so she will be as successful as possible and so that things will go as smoothly as possible. Remember, falling asleep at bedtime is a skill that we all learn how to do. We get used to certain things around us that help us drift off to sleep, and when those things aren’t there, it can be tough. Think about it: if you sleep somewhere other than your own bed, or without your favorite blanket or pillow, it is probably tough to do at first.
That said, start by setting a consistent bedtime routine (3 to 4 activities) that begins at an age appropriate bedtime (~7:30 p.m., no later than 9:00 p.m.) that ends in the room where you would like your baby to sleep (crib in your room, crib in her room, etc.). Also, make sure feeding is the first step of the routine instead of the last to avoid any associations between feeding and falling asleep. If you already have a set routine, then I suggest simply starting to do the routine in her room instead of yours (or at least out of your bed) and then holding her until she falls asleep. If you have never done a consistent bedtime routine before, then you can certainly do a few nights of the routine in your room so you are not changing too many things at once, then after a few nights you can go ahead and move it into her room.
Once you have a set bedtime routine and set bedtime that you are able to do in her room (or where you would like her to sleep), you can start working on changing how you end the bedtime routine. For some babies, it might be enough to create a consistent bedtime routine with feeding occurring at the start of the routine, doing the routine in her room, and ending the routine by holding her until she falls asleep. Most of the time, though, helping her learn to fall asleep on her own in her crib is the way to go. To change the way you end the routine, you can take one of two main approaches. For the first main approach, simply put her down awake in her crib after the bedtime routine, leave the room, then return as often as you would like and give her a consistent verbal response like, “goodnight, I love you.” Do this consistently until she falls asleep. She may cry or resist this change for a while, but responding consistently is really the key to helping her at this point. Also, sometimes the second night is harder than the first, but then things tend to get better in the nights after that.
The second approach is a bit more gradual. Instead of going right to putting her down awake, make small changes every several nights that more gradually fades your presence – or decreases the amount you need to help her to fall asleep. So, instead of holding her to sleep, go ahead and put her down awake in her crib and pat her until she falls asleep for several nights. For the next few nights, stand in the doorway and provide those consistent verbal responses. Then, you can go ahead and leave the room, returning as often as you wish to give her a consistent response. It will take some consistency and practice, but you can do it!
Finally, if she wakes during the night, do what you typically do to get her (and you) back to sleep as quickly as possible, although note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies sleep in a crib or bassinet. Be sure, though, to move all soft bedding and pillows away from her in your bed, and that she is monitored so that she does not fall out of a bed without rails.
About Dr. Erin Leichman