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Newborns babies spend a significant amount of time sleeping and it’s VERY frustrating when they won’t sleep in a bassinet. You might love those newborn snuggles as a new mom at first, but after a while you’ll be craving some hands-free time to take care of everything else in your life! In this article, I’ll be discussing why getting your baby to sleep in a bassinet is so important, why your little one might be struggling to sleep in their bassinet, and what you can do about it.
Why getting your baby to sleep in a bassinet is so important
- Safety. Bassinets are the safest place for your newborn baby to sleep as they are designed with safety in mind to prevent the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies sleep on their backs on a firm mattress without any pillows, blankets, bumper pads, or soft objects. Bassinets often have breathable sides and a firm, flat mattress, which meets safety standards to ensure your baby sleeps comfortably and securely. Having your newborn sleep in a safe sleep space like a bassinet reduces the risk of sids, accidental suffocation or injury.
- Gradual transition to a crib. While bassinets are ideal for the early months, they also help with the transition to a crib. Starting your newborn baby off in a bassinet helps them get accustomed to sleeping in their own space. As they grow older and become more independent, you can gradually transition them to a crib.
Why your newborn baby won’t sleep in the bassinet
I can’t tell you how often I work with families whose babies will only sleep in their parents’ arms. Here’s why this can happen:
The startle reflex
Newborns have a startle reflex, also known as the Moro reflex, which can cause them to jerk their arms and wake up suddenly. This reflex is an evolutionary response that served a protective purpose in the womb. When placed in a bassinet, the open space and lack of confinement can trigger this reflex. This is very disrupting to their sleep and makes it difficult for them to settle down.
Need for security
Babies are used to the cozy and secure environment of the womb. Transitioning to a spacious bassinet can be overwhelming for them. They may crave the closeness and comfort they felt in the womb, leading to restlessness and difficulty settling down in the bassinet.
Newborn babies have very short wake windows and can only be up for a short period of time before they begin to get tired and need to go back to sleep. If they’re up for too long and become overtired, it becomes MUCH harder for them to settle and fall asleep.
If your little one has acid reflux or gas, it will be uncomfortable for him to lay on a flat surface. This makes sleeping in a bassinet much more challenging for a younger baby.
Babies are quick to form associations between certain actions or environments and falling asleep. If a baby consistently falls asleep while being held in their parents’ arms, they may develop a strong association between being held and and the act of falling asleep. As a result, being placed in the bassinet will feel different to them as it lacks the familiar sensations of being held. This will likely cause them to resist and protest the bassinet.
So what now? How do you get your newborn baby to sleep in the bassinet?
It can be INCREDIBLY frustrating and exhausting when your newborn baby will only sleep in your arms. You love snuggling with your adorable newborn, but you also need a break! Here are some helpful tips you can implement to get your little one sleeping in their bassinet.
Create a safe sleep environment conducive to good quality sleep
The first step in getting your newborn baby sleeping in a bassinet is to create a calming and relaxing sleep environment. Start by setting up the bassinet in a quiet corner of the room, away from any distractions or loud noises. Use blackout curtains or shades to keep the room dark during nap time. Invest in a white noise machine or a fan to provide a consistent, gentle background noise that mimics the sounds of the womb.
Additionally, always remember to swaddle your newborn baby when it’s time for them to sleep. Swaddling addresses your little one’s startle reflex by creating a secure and cozy feeling, mimicking the warmth of the womb and helping to soothe them to sleep. Check that the room temperature is on the cooler side, ideally 19-22 degrees Celsius, as recommended by the AAP to decrease the risk of sids.
Ensure the bassinet is equipped with a firm, flat mattress and a fitted sheet. Eliminating any loose blankets or pillows to reduce the risk of suffocation.
And lastly, offer your baby a pacifier to help activate their “calming reflex”. When your newborn baby is relaxed and comfortable, it’s MUCH easier to get him to settle in their bassinet, out of your arms.
Establish a bedtime routine
Creating a bedtime routine helps signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Keep the routine simple and relaxing. For example, you could start with a warm bath, followed by a gentle massage. Dim the lights and engage in quiet activities such as reading a bedtime story or singing a lullaby.
Incorporating a feeding session into the bedtime routine can also help promote sleep. Ensure your baby is comfortable and relaxed while feeding, but try to avoid feeding them to sleep to prevent dependency on feeding for falling asleep.
And of course, try to end the bedtime routine by placing your baby in the bassinet. This way he learns to expect to sleep in the bassinet when it’s bedtime.
Encourage frequent daytime naps
Ensuring your newborn is napping frequently throughout the day is essential for teaching them to sleep in the bassinet. Newborn babies need multiple naps throughout the day to meet their sleep needs and prevent overtiredness. Otherwise, it’ll be much more challenging for them to fall asleep at night. Being mindful of your baby’s wake periods and sleepy cues as well as ensuring he’s not up for too long, is crucial. If a baby becomes overtired, he will naturally become more restless and struggle to fall asleep without tons of assistance.
**If naps are a struggle for you and your newborn, grab a copy of my free nap guide that has my top 5 tips for lengthening naps!**
Maximize your baby’s daytime feeds
It’s important to ensure that your newborn baby is eating well during the day in order to sleep well in the bassinet at night. Newborns have small stomachs and require frequent feedings to meet their nutritional needs. When a baby doesn’t eat enough during the day, they may become hungrier and more restless in the middle of the night. This can lead to more frequent night feedings to compensate, as well as more difficulty settling down in the bassinet. A well-fed baby is more likely to feel satisfied and comfortable, which allows for longer and more restful stretches of sleep in their bassinet.
To maximize your newborn’s daytime feeds, make sure to always feed your baby on demand throughout the day, as opposed to sticking to a strict schedule. Watch for early hunger signs, such as rooting or sucking motions. And initiate feeds promptly to prevent your baby from becoming fussy and irritable.
Lastly, feed your baby at the beginning of their awake times as opposed to right before it’s nap time. This way, they’re given the opportunity to eat until they’re full as opposed to eat until they can’t keep their eyes open and fall asleep halfway through their feed. This helps us maximize your baby’s daytime intake of milk so that they don’t need to eat more at night than necessary.
Try to get your baby down “drowsy but awake” once a day in the bassinet
Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to do any kind of behavioural sleep training at this age. They’re too young for that right now. That being said, many newborn babies can learn how to fall asleep on their own (or somewhat on their own) in the bassinet when the right conditions are in place and when given a chance.
You can try this by putting your little one down somewhat awake in the bassinet with their pacifier. See what happens- he might surprise you! Give him a few minutes to fuss and try to figure this out.
if he starts to cry, you can try rocking the bassinet or putting a firm hand on his chest. Alternatively, if you have a bassinet attachment for your stroller, you can place him there and push the stroller to help him fall asleep. Try to gradually reduce the amount of motion you offer him to fall asleep over time.
I only recommend attempting to get your baby to sleep in the bassinet for bedtime or for the first nap of the day as these sleep times tend to be the “easiest” to accomplish this. As the day goes on, naps tend to get tricker and require more help since external sleep pressure becomes weaker as the day goes on. This is why I don’t suggest trying to put your little one down in the bassinet later in the day.
The more practice your newborn baby can get at falling asleep independently, the better he’ll get at it! And knowing how to sleep independently means there’s a MUCH higher chance you’ll avoid potential sleep problems down the road.
How I got JJ falling asleep by himself in his bassinet by 2-3 weeks of age
In case you didn’t know, I’m a mom of 3 who are all great sleepers. But that wasn’t always the case since it was my non-sleeping middle child who inspired me to become a sleep consultant, completely by accident (fun fact, I worked as a lawyer beforehand!) When I gave birth to JJ (baby #3), I had already helped thousands of families get their little ones sleeping like champs. But I finally had my OWN baby I could apply everything I had been teaching to!
And BOY did it pay off to actually know what I was doing the third time around! Good sleep habits were a thing by DAY 1 around here. And by the time JJ was 6 weeks-old, I had him sleeping 8 hour stretches nighttime sleep consistently! In his bassinet! And that stretch only got bigger over time!
How did I do it?
Well, one of the many things I did was consistently putting him to sleep in his bassinet at bedtime, and I always attempted to put him down awake. At first, he would squirm and then cry quite a bit, so I’d have to pick him up and start the process over. But after a few tries of getting him settled in the bassinet, he’d manage to drift off to sleep.
Now, it wasn’t always smooth sailing getting him to sleep in his bassinet. There were days where he was VERY fussy and wasn’t settling well, or I was feeling too tired to try settling him in the bassinet for more than a few minutes. And that’s okay! On those days, I resorted to rocking him to sleep and tried again the next night.
As time went on, he became more comfortable being placed into the bassinet wide awake with his swaddle and pacifier and would happily put himself to sleep on his own. This meant that he acquired the ability to stay asleep and only woke up in the middle of the night when he needed to eat, which was after 5 hours of sleep during his first weeks of life. This also meant that I could gradually teach him to nap well in the bassinet throughout the day, allowing me some free time to recharge and take care of myself. You can’t put a value number on that one.
Side note- JJ’s amazing sleep as a newborn was the inspiration to create my newborn sleep course! I had SO many moms who wanted to know how to get their own little ones sleeping so well, so I made it as accessible as possible! If you are either pregnant or you’ve got a newborn at home and you’re looking to establish healthy sleep habits from day 1, maximize sleep in the newborn stage, and avoid potential sleep problems down the road, this newborn sleep program is for you!
What if your newborn baby CANNOT fall asleep independently? Can we sleep train newborns?
Now, getting your newborn baby to fall asleep by himself in the bassinet isn’t always possible. If you have a very fussy baby in the newborn stage who is still struggling to adjust to life outside of the womb, don’t make yourself crazy trying to get your newborn to fall asleep on his own. If it’s not going to happen without him screaming bloody murder, don’t worry about it.
The good news is that the vast majority of newborn babies are NOT high needs, fussy or colicky. So if you have an easy-going baby in this age range, try giving her some space to fall asleep by herself and see what she can do. She may surprise you!
That being said, sleep training is NOT something we do for newborn babies. So if your little one struggles to fall by himself whenever you try putting him in the bassinet, continue to help him fall asleep for now. It’s TOTALLY FINE to be rocking and snuggling your newborn to sleep.
When your baby reaches the 4-6 month mark, you WILL be able to do some sleep training and teach him how to sleep on his own and connect his sleep cycles throughout the night. If you’re struggling to get your baby to fall asleep at bedtime, and if you’re still getting lots of interrupted nighttime sleep, sleep training can help!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should my baby sleep in the bassinet for?
Usually, babies can sleep in a bassinet until the 3-6 month-mark. This will primarily depend on the size of your baby and the size of your bassinet. If you have a bigger bassinet, your little one will be able to sleep there for longer. Allow your baby to in the bassinet until he outgrows it.
My baby doesn’t like the bassinet. Is it hopeless?
No! Try the different tips I outlined in this article as every baby is different. Over time, he’ll learn to love his bassinet.
How long will it take my baby to get used to the bassinet?
Give it a few days, up to a few weeks. Be patient- good things are worth waiting for 🙂
Can I place the bassinet in my room?
Absolutely. The AAP recommends having your baby sleep in the same room as you for the first few months.
A quick word about my free Facebook community group
Come join my FREE Facebook community group where you can get your sleep questions answered by experts, get access to free sleep tips and regular Q&As, and where you can connect with other sleep-loving parents of little ones! Can’t wait to personally connect with you there 🙂
To sum up
Firstly, I want to emphasize that you are NOT creating bad habits by rocking your 2 month-old baby to sleep. Your little one is still in that 4th trimester and might need some help falling asleep. That being said, I strongly encourage you to TRY putting your baby into his bassinet awake, even once a day. He may surprise you!
Getting your newborn baby to sleep peacefully in a bassinet is a journey that can definitely require patience, consistency, and a nurturing environment. By creating a soothing sleep environment, establishing a bedtime routine, practicing safe sleep practices, encouraging daytime naps, and monitoring your baby’s sleep patterns, you can gradually help your little one develop healthy sleep habits. It will pay off in dividends- trust me!