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Why Your Baby Hates His Crib (And What to Do About It)

After 45 minutes of rocking, singing, and sighing, he’s finally stopped crying and you THINK *quick prayer* he’s asleep.

Well, here goes nothing.

Moving like a geriatric sloth, you inch over to the crib and stand on your tippy toes, leaning over the bars as much as possible.

He snorts.

You freeze.  One leg in the air in an absurd pirouette.

Ever. So. CAREFULLY you set the tiny package into the crib, take a deep breath, and prepare to high five your mime-cheerleading spouse.

WAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!

You grit your teeth and quickly pretend you didn’t (because “good parents” never feel frustrated at their helpless babe, right?).

This KID sleeps everywhere else.

Except.

The.

Crib.

WHAT THE WHAT is wrong with this kid?

Benedict Cumberbatch Solves the Mystery

You know who can fix this?

Benedict Cumberbatch. 

The world’s greatest Sherlock.  (Sorry, Rob — but the world needs you as Iron Man.)

My good friend Benny would quickly deduce that your baby doesn’t hate the crib because the sheets are too scratchy.  Or the mattress is too firm.  Or because that crib set is hideous. 

Instead, he would watch where and how your baby sleeps, and then figure out what it is about those positions that soothe so much.   Then Sherlock would simply recreate those positions inside the crib.  Elementary.

Following that lead, here are three reasons why your crib’s a Nuclear Zone:

  • Your baby feels the wide open space is frightening.  He prefers the close touch of your body against his skin.
  • Your baby has acid reflux or colic and laying flat on his back kicks up the acid factory.
  • Your baby hasn’t seen you as much recently and feels anxious when you’re not there.

Now that we have identified the reasons he hates it so much, *hat tip to Benedict* it’s time to reclassify that crib from Nuclear Zone to Nap Central.

*puts on thinking cap*
*blows feather out of face*
*turns on whale songs*
*adjust springs* 

aHA!  

*spray of confetti*

How to Solve the Wide Open Space Problem

Elena hated her crib.  Screamed bloody murder every time we put her down.  Until one day, in a moment of heavenly inspiration, I figured out why.  She’s my cuddler.  She had to be touched at all times.  That was a problem, because my husband and I didn’t want co-sleeping to be a family tradition.  So here’s what we did:

DISCLAIMER!  A very thoughtful mother helped me realize that some parents may think these are STEPS.  These are NOT steps.  These are suggestions we used independently, testing to see which she reacted to best.

Test #1: Try to Use a Swaddle

Some babies HATE swaddlers…some babies love them. If you’ve got a cuddler, try this straight jacket zipped swaddler to help her feel all warm, cozy, and contained.

You don’t want to swaddle a baby who’s starting to roll over, that can be dangerous.  If your baby is starting to roll over and is used to being swaddled, here are some suggestions to wean her off the swaddle.

Test #2: Use a Weighted Swaddle or Sleep Sack

Yes, I realize a lot of people are going to skip right over what I’m typing here and start yelling at me in the comments.

Our Elena HATED being on her back.  She craved that gentle pressure on her tummy provided by sleeping on Dad’s chest, or while nursing.  That meant that every time we tried to put her on her back, we were ushered straight into a Screamfest.  Obviously, this caused me a lot of stress, since that meant we had to put her on her tummy.

Don’t do what we did.  The risk just isn’t worth it.

Instead, I would recommend you pick up The Magic Sleep Suit instead.  Yes, it looks like Randy’s snowsuit on A Christmas Story, but it provides a gentle pressure on the tummy that convinces your baby she’s on her tummy, when she’s really sleeping on her back.  (Look at you! Your first sneaky parent hack!)

If your baby isn’t a fan of swaddling, you can also try the Zen Sleep Sack. It applies a gentle pressure on her tummy, without confining her arms. (Some kids just hate that!)

Test #3: Use a Lovey.

Yep, another one I’m going to be yelled at over.  The best recommendation is to not have anything in your newborn’s crib.  That’s good advice. However, we found that Elena really needed some extra physical assurance in the crib.  She was a very sensitive baby.  (Lots of cuddle time needed. LOTS.)

So we tucked 99.9% of the blanket under the mattress against the springs, leaving just a teeny-tiny corner that would barely touch her hands and cheek. This way she could feel enough of the blanket to touch, but not pull it over her face and mouth (increasing SIDS risk).  It was a corner-touch only. Obviously, as soon as she was old enough to roll around, or pull the blanket, it was removed for a few months.  But for those first few weeks, we found it was a great soother.

As an extra precaution, though, we had a video monitor installed so I could always see her face was uncovered.   😉

Find a Lovey that your child can attach to.  Whether that’s a Nookums or a small stuffed animal, or Grandma’s crocheted blanket. Having something that smells like Mom and Dad will be a huge help.

Want a few more examples of how a good lovey can make a big sleeping difference? Check out For the Sake of Your Sleep: Why Your Baby Needs a Lovey

The likely SIDS culprit is…

One of the most likely culprits for SIDS is something called rebreathing.  Since your newborn can’t turn his head away, any obstruction to his mouth will cause him to breathe in the air he just exhaled.

This is largely why it’s not recommended you put babies to sleep on their tummy, and why crib bumpers are usually frowned on.

I say usually, because bumpers have come a long way, baby!  There are ways to use them safely that can make a huge difference in your baby’s sleep!  Read Like Sleeping? How Crib Bumpers Can Boost Your Snooze

Those are good rules, but sometimes I think parents need more than just the status quo.  If we can SAFELY adjust some of these rules for high-needs babies, I think it’s something worth discussing with your doctor.

If this is the first time your child has been IN a crib, having co-slept with you for the past several months, this article from Mr. Storkey can help!

How to Solve the Acid Factory Problem

Ever lay flat on your back with heartburn?  Torture.  If your baby struggles with acid reflux or colic, putting him flat on the crib is going to end in a scream-fest.  Try these things instead:

Use a Rock ‘n Play or Baby Swing

Why wake a sleeping babe?  He can sleep in a rock-n-play bassinet for up to 5 months if absolutely necessary.  The sitting up position will help gravity keep the milk down.

Slant the Crib Mattress

How do you do this?  By using a pillow, a handtowel, and some hair ties (or rubber bands).

What’s that?   

You want a how-to picture?  

It will cost you an Instagram Follow.

Now that you’ve paid up, *ahem* follow these steps:

  1. Place a pillow in between the crib mattress and the wire springs, so the mattress is slightly inclined.  (Slightly! We’re not building a ski ramp.)
  2. Roll up a hand bath towel the long way and secure the ends with hair ties.
  3. Slide the hand towel under the crib sheets and form a “U” shape.
  4. Place your baby’s bottom in the “U” like he’s sitting on a swing.  This will keep him from sliding down the slight incline you have on the crib mattress.
Note: Your crib sheets will be much tighter than these. I was using a bed to demonstrate.

If you don’t want to go through all that hassle, you could just pick up a baby bean bag instead.  It’s especially great for reflux babies.  Just don’t put the bean bag inside the crib, that’s a no-no.

How to Solve the Missing Mom Problem

The third factor Sherlock uncovered was the “I miss my mom!” issue.  Typically, this is seen after mom has gone back to work or had to be away for a few days, but some cuddlers used to being carried all day may feel this anxiety during naps and bedtime.

Stick Around a While

When you put your little one down in the crib, pull up a seat and sit next to him.  Sing or hum, or stroke his hands through the crib slats.  This will reassure him that you’re right there and not going anywhere.

Be prepared to do this a LOT at the beginning.  Eventually, you can sit closer to the door…then in the hall…each step a reminder that you are still there, even when his eyes close.

This sleeping technique is called the Sleep Lady Shuffle, and it’s just one of the many techniques we teach in our private personalized Sleep Sessions.

Mama’s Scent

You have a particular smell.  And your baby’s a bloodhound. He’s tagged that smell as “you” and finds comfort breathing it in.

Take an old T-shirt and use the tuck-in-trick I shared earlier; tuck the T-shirt under the mattress, leaving just a tip close to your baby’s nose.  This smell will comfort him and convince him you’re still there. (If you don’t want to use a blanket or t-shirt, a stuffed lovey can work just as well!)

This “smells like Mama” technique only works with newborns.  Older babies are brilliant enough to notice when you’re not in the room.  *Homer: DOH!*

Deduce and Conquer

These have worked well for other moms.  Test them for yourself, and then use your own Sherlock skills to create your own.  

Over the next 24 hours, watch and consider how your baby is sleeping.

  • Is he sleeping with pressure against his tummy, like in a sling or on your shoulder?
  • Have you been gone a lot recently?  Is there some separation anxiety kicking in?
  • Does he prefer to sleep on his side?  How can you safely recreate that?

Then  manipulate the crib to recreate that environment for a satisfied snooze.

You can overcome this hatred and turn it into a long-lost love. Just patiently woo your baby with these problem-solving suggestions Sherlock has provided!

Have You Read These Yet?

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201 thoughts on “Why Your Baby Hates His Crib (And What to Do About It)

  1. So, I have a 9 month old boy who has always napped in my arms and sleeps with us at night. The problem now is that I can’t get him to sleep in this crib no matter what I do. We are expecting again and need to get issue solved soon. I don’t know what to do. I wait until he’s drowsy or asleep and when I try to lay him down in his crib, he immediately wakes up and cries. He will then stand up or sit up and continue to cry until I pick him up. He cried for almost two hours one day and it broke my heart. HELP!

    1. Shay, usually the best way to work on this is to go slowly, and go through a variety of steps. This way you are gradually making changes that he can absorb. That usually works a lot better than a cold-turkey kind of approach (especially with babies who can cry for 2+ hours!). I would recommend setting up a Sleep Session with Gentle Sleep Coach Amy Potts. You’ll fill out an assessment and then talk together about your specific situation, your baby’s personality, and she can share a variety of methods to help make this transition easier. You’ll talk through everything and she’ll help you write up a personalized sleep plan you can be consistent with. (Because consistency is everything when it comes to these things!) Amy is amazing, she will absolutely get you started down the right path!

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