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

Some kids take to the crib like a duck to water. Others. . . not so much.

So how do you help those kids learn to sleep independently? How do you get your baby to sleep in the crib?

By becoming Buttercup Cumbersnatch Buffalo Custardbath

…Sherlock.

By becoming Sherlock.

3 Probable Reasons Baby Hates Crib

Here are three very likely 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.

How to Get Baby to Sleep in Crib:
Test Your Baby’s Preferences

My 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:

These are NOT steps.  These are suggestions we used to see what form of comfort our Elena would react to best.

Sleep in the Crib 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.

Sleep in the Crib 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!)

Sleep in the Crib 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

Safe Crib Sleeping: Avoiding SIDS in the Crib

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!

Getting Baby to Sleep in the Crib When
He Has Acid Reflux or Colic

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).

  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.

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!*

Figuring Out Why
Your Baby Hates the Crib

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!

We Love Citations

Recognizing Acid Reflux/GERD in Infants. Healthline.com
Colic. MayoClinic.org

Have You Read These Yet?

We  honesty!  This post contains affiliate links that provide extra money for our mutual coffee habits addictions. Click here to learn more.

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

  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!

  2. 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!

  3. Alessandra, I’m glad you found that little towel trick helpful! There’s a huge milestone shift at this age – you should start to notice your baby becoming more alert during the day – less of a newborn and more of a baby. I would try slipping in there and doing a dreamfeeding at around 4:45 for a few days and see if that helps. A dreamfeeding is pretty much letting him sleep right through the feeding. No diaper changes (unless it’s poopy and just has to happen), talking, lights, anything. You want him to think the whole thing was a dream and go back to sleep. Do that for 2-3 days and then stop and see what happens. It’s possible he’s a bit hungrier because he’s going through this growth spurt.

    If you’re still struggling, I would encourage you to check out a Sleep Session. This let’s us read through your assessment and get on the phone with you for an hour – talking through what you’ve done, and helping you work through a Sleep Plan to be implementing over the next few weeks on your own.

    Or, if you’d rather we walk through the entire process with you, we do have a comprehensive sleep coaching program that has a 110% money back sleeping guarantee. Click here to see how we can guarantee your baby’s sleep improves.

  4. Hi there, great website! I used the towel method under the sheets and wedge incline to transition my baby from the rock n play to the crib, it definitely helped! My 4 1/2 month old doesn’t sleep for long stretches at night, and we are all exhausted, don’t know if there are any tricks we haven’t thought of.. I’m able to put him down for most naps and at night drowsy but awake, sometimes he’ll cry a little when I put him down but I can usually soothe him without picking him up. Most nights though I can put him down without a struggle and he’ll fall asleep on his own. Problem is he wakes every 3 – 4 hours, I wait to see if it will escalate. Sometimes he’ll go back to sleep on his own, but most times it escalates.

    I try to soothe him during these night wakings without picking him up, but it’s always an epic fail! I wind up having to pick him up and either feed him or rock him back to sleep.  It’s torture at 5 and 6 am because he’ll wake up and even if I feed him he still needs to be rocked back to sleep – if he’s up in the 6 hour he’s crying but if we can get him back to sleep he wakes very happy at 7:15 – 7:30, so I know he still wants to be sleeping during his 6 am wake up…

    Is he at an age that he could be sleeping longer stretches? Or still too young for that? We are oh so tired!

    thanks in advance!!

  5. Nikki,

    Firstly, it’s very common for there to be some sleep regressions when Mom goes back to work. She’s craving more Mom time, so she’s waking up more at night. Secondly, there’s a growth spurt around this age which can also be playing a factor. I would perhaps slip in a dreamfeed at around 10-11pm at night, to see if that can help.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself for “Giving up”. This is the season where it’s okay to just do whatever works. She’s still soooo little. If you’d like to get a second pair of professional eyes on her daily schedule and help you know where to make some adjustments, Amy and I would love to help you with a Sleep Session here.

    This way we can look over and analyze your Sleep Logs and perhaps give you some pointers on what she might be needing, and what are some gentle things you can do to shape her current sleep. Click here to learn more about these one-on-one sessions.

    I hope this can encourage you, Nikki!

  6. I have a 3 month 2 week old baby girl. Since she was 2 months old she was able to take day time naps in her crib with hardly any fuss. We put her to sleep drowsy if not awake, swaddled arms out, a pacifier (sometimes), and lovey and she is able to put herself to sleep. She takes 3 1.5 hour naps and a quick 30min nap 1.5-2 hours before bedtime at 7pm. Now that she is 3 months and I’m going back to work we wanted to transition her to her crib for night time sleep. We started that over a week ago and it has been a losing battle. After our bedtime routine we put her down and she is able to put herself to sleep, but then every 30-45min she is up crying and won’t have anything to do with the crib. After hours of crying and soothing and multiple nights, my husband and I gave up. She is now back in our room in a pack and play and sleeping like before at night and daytime naps are still unaffected and no problems with the crib.

  7. Melissa, helping a baby to learn how to fall asleep alone (without requiring mom and dad to do anything), is a huge first step in healthy sleep habits. The name of the game when they’re newborns is SURVIVAL, right? We do whatever we need to do to help everyone sleep. Now that he’s older, though, he can learn how to self-soothe and fall and STAY asleep on their own. I would recommend taking a look at our one-on-one Sleep Sessions. There are several different ways to help your baby get used to the crib, and learn to fall asleep on his own. Talking through those methods, and learning more about your parenting style and his temperament, we can do a much better job in making a recommendation that will be easiest and most effective for you to use. This way we can see the big picture and make the best recommendations for YOUR family. In your situation, I would recommend looking at it. This way we can give you several tools to put into your parenting toolkit moving forward!

  8. Our 8 month old will now not sleep in crib, but only on mommy, either on the breast or on my lap.  We put him down so slowly into crib I do not even know how he knows 🙂 He SCREAMS as soon as he is put in crib, and falls instantly asleep on mommy.  What are our steps? Thank you 🙂

  9. I’m glad you’re enjoying the website, Emily! Sounds like you have a few sleeping goals to work on….

    1. Transitioning him into the crib and away from the Rock and Play with as little disruption as possible.
    2. Helping him to fall asleep on his own (and stay that way!)
    3. Introducing self-soothing techniques
    3. Gently weaning off unneeded nighttime feedings
    4. Working to even out his naps

    Since you have more than one thing to work on here, I would encourage you to consider working with me and Amy in the Super Sleeper Coaching Program. We can help you tackle all of those issues, by doing a comprehensive consultation and 4-5 weeks of Follow-Up calls. Plus, we offer a 110% Money Back Guarantee to parents, so you know we are as serious about your success as you are. 🙂

    This would allow us to look at your full family’s assessment, read through your sleep logs, and then discuss with you several coaching methods, and which ones to use when – depending on your parenting preferences and your baby’s personality. Read more about the Super Sleeper Coaching Program.

    I wish I could be more specific, but there are so many things here, all in a certain order, that my response would end up looking a lot like a novel. Talking one-on-one with you, would take all the information and make it more effective, since we can hear the finer details that can be easily overlooked in a typed response, but end up being really important in the long term plan.

  10. My 4 month old has been sleeping in a rock and play since about 3 weeks (he was in a cradle prior). It’s been amazing for us, hands down one of the best purchases we made. But it’s time to transition out of it. He pushes with his legs and even with being buckled in it seems like he will push himself right out! I’m just not as comfortable with him in it anymore. Since he was about 8-9 weeks we started him sleeping in his crib for his daytime naps to get used to the crib. Those naps last anywhere from 30-60 minutes. (He has never been a good napper though). During the day I’ll put him in his crib to play while I draw up a bath, or if I’m folding laundry, etc. Usually he plays in his crib just fine. The problem just seems to be at night. When I first put him down he might sleep for an hour or two. (Side note – since about 8 weeks, he has slept for 8-10 hours a night in the rock and play). But after that, no matter how zonked out he is in my arms, the second I put him down in the crib he wakes up screaming. If I put him in the rock and play he is out. I have tried putting him down when drowsy but he hasn’t figured out good self soothing yet. I can’t figure out what it is bout the night time sleeping that he doesn’t like with the crib.

    Some things I have noticed….
    – usually he rolls to his side to sleep, he won’t stay that way all night, but that seems to be his comfort spot. He also sleeps on his tummy well…he likes to curl up on my chest and lay his head on my shoulder.
    – when on his back in the crib he constantly startles himself awake, arms and legs flying. I haven’t tried swaddling him cause he didn’t even like that as a newborn. By three weeks we had stopped swaddling him altogether and his arms were never swaddled.
    – he is 4 months and I went back to work, so we saw a difference for a few nights in him just wanting extra cuddles in the middle of the night, but those seem to have passed now. He also started wanting to eat again in the middle of the night for a while, but that seems to have gone also.
    – he does seem to like a blanket to hold on to. In the Rock and play we would have one under his butt that would come up over his feet, but not so much extra fabric that he could pull it over his face. He would always play with the blanket to soothe.

    He simply just doesn’t sleep well in his crib at night and I am really needing to transition him. Would love any advice!!

    Btw – I just have to say – I love your site. So funny and actually helpful!! Thank you!

  11. Establishing the same simple routine every night prior to putting the baby down to sleep is very important. Consistency pays off in the long run. If the training is done correctly the baby should be happy to go to bed (no crying) by night 4. Best of luck!… http:\www.howtogetbabytosleepincrib.com

  12. For Acid Reflux, we built a step that went under the cribs legs to raise up the head of the bed a bit, and then we also tried laying a pool noodle under the mattress to raise up the mattress these were safer options then having something blocking his face because our little one turned into a side/belly sleeper and would flip over to the side once laid in the crib.

  13. Jennifer,

    The first thing I would say is check to make sure that she is getting a FULL feeding when you’re breastfeeding her. This may mean stripping her to her diaper and just wrapping her in a blanket (if she’s too comfortable she might sleep instead of eat). When she pulls away, you want to know she got a full feeding, however long that takes. If you find it’s taking longer that you thought then start her bedtime routine sooner. And I would recommend not letting her nap anytime past 8 or 8:30 so she will be ready for bed by 9:30-10:00. Have you seen this article with schedule suggestions for a 3 month old?

    I think you’re on the right track suggesting a transition from the swing to the crib. I would do this slowly, over a couple of days. Start by moving the swing into the bedroom (good idea, mom!). Put her in it for her morning nap and start the swing (I am assuming that the movement is part of why she likes the swing, I could be wrong). When she falls asleep then go in and turn off the swing. Do this for all three naps that day. The next morning try putting her to sleep in the swing but not turning it on. Do this for all three naps that day. The next day try putting her in her crib with the u shaped swing and elevated mattress (don’t forget to remove the swing from the room, out of sight, out of mind…we hope!).

    One last thing, make sure her nursery is very dark for her daytime naps, so dark you need a night light to see where you are going. 🙂

    Hope this helps!

  14. Mary,

    I recommend you try a Rock N Play. This should be perfect for your little guy since he seems to like an incline. I don’t recommend putting the Boppy in the crib, that could be a suffocation hazard. I think you will do well with the Rock N Play though. You can also use a carrier to help with nap times during the day if he wants to be in your arms all the time. This will help you feel less stuck in one position!

    It could be possible that he has his days and nights mixed up because of your schedule during the pregnancy. However, a lot of babies get mixed up in this way. As he gets older you can help him straighten that out by more interaction during the day. Right now though, it’s just get sleep whenever you can and give him lots of snuggles. These early days are intense but very precious. They will be over before you know it!

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