The transition from co-sleeping to the crib by helping your baby learn to sleep independently can be an intimidating thought. Yes, it is a big change for your baby. (It is also a big change for you!) Finding a way to navigate this transition that feels comfortable for your family is essential to a successful transition.
There are many reasons families choose, either intentionally or unintentionally, to co-sleep. No matter what those reasons are, there may come a time when co-sleeping no longer is working for your family. If this happens, it can be time to make a change to ensure the whole family is getting the sleep they need.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore effective, gentle strategies up to sleep training methods to help you make a smooth transition from co-sleeping to the crib. We’ll cover everything from preparing the sleep environment to things you can do to set yourselves up for success to methods for handling this transition from cosleeping.
Preparing the Crib and Sleep Environment
Before you begin the transition process, it’s essential to create a comfortable environment that is conducive to sleep for your baby. Here’s how:
- Crib Safe Sleep Guidelines: Ensure your crib meets safety standards and is free of any hazards. For babies younger than 12 months, there should be nothing in the crib with them.
- Darkness: You have probably heard this one, but it is important. Make the room as dark as possible. This helps your child’s body work optimally as darkness signals to their body clock that it is time to sleep (at night), serves as a sleep cue because your baby knows they sleep when the lights are out. Additionally, darkness limits visual stimulation so your baby can focus on sleep. This is especially important for very alert and aware babies! Hint: If your baby is not used to sleeping in a dark environment while co-sleeping, practice sleeping in the dark before you transition away from co-sleeping!
- White noise: Some sort of ambient noise has been shown to be helpful for sleep (for adults, too!) The recommended sound level is about 50 decibels.
- Room Temperature: Keep the room at a comfortable temperature for sleep – not too hot or too cold, ideally between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit or 20-22 degrees Celsius.
- Familiar smells: Wear the crib sheet on your body to make it smell like you as this is a comforting smell for your baby.
Acclimate Your Baby to Their Crib
If your baby has never been in their crib, or it has been awhile, it can be helpful to familiarize your baby with their crib. The goal is to help them have a positive association with the crib.
While you do not want your baby to associate their crib with playtime, for a few days as you get ready to transition you can put your baby in their crib for a few minutes and read a book about bedtime, play peekaboo (this one is GREAT!), sing a few songs, or something else your baby enjoys.
If they cry or get upset, take them out of the crib and try again later.
Getting Ready for Transitioning From Co-Sleeping to the Crib
Your reasons to move away from cosleeping, your baby’s personality and temperament, your parenting style and comfort levels can impact the strategy you use to transition from cosleeping to crib sleep. This typically results in a gradual cosleeping transition or a faster transition using common sleep training strategies. Here are some steps to take before you start the transition from cosleeping to the crib:
Determine if There are Other Sleep Associations Present
You may have heard the term sleep association or sleep prop or something similar before. So what is a sleep association?
A sleep association is something that your baby feels like they need or something that would make it easier to fall asleep and fall back to sleep if they wake up. Without those things or set of circumstances it feels very difficult to fall asleep.
(Even as adults we have these! For example if you sleep with a fan on, think about a time you were trying to sleep and it was completely quiet. It may have felt a bit weird or difficult to fall asleep.)
You may hear people say there are “good” sleep associations and there are “bad” sleep associations. There are NO bad sleep associations. There are things that “work” for families to get the sleep they need and things that may need to change if they are hindering a family’s ability to get the sleep they need. (I put “work” in quotes because every family’s definition of what is working is different.)
Common Sleep Associations
- Nursing or feeding
- Walking baby around
- Driving baby around
- Contact sleeping
- Patting/Back rubbing
- Being held
- White noise
- Lovey (babies over 12 months old)
- Thumb/finger sucking
Evaluate Your Baby’s Sleep Associations
When you transition from cosleeping to a crib, you are working on removing cosleeping from one of the things your baby feels like they need to fall and stay asleep.
In order to get your baby sleeping well in the crib, you likely need to think about if there are other sleep associations hindering achieving your goal around crib sleep. (I will define ‘well’ here as falling asleep and staying asleep with the exception of possibly one feed at night, but every family has a different definition.)
The first thing to evaluate is if the sleep association is something that can be present or recreated by your baby independently. If yes, then great! Those things are going to continue to help your baby sleep well in the crib. If the sleep associations you identify require a parent or caregiver’s active involvement, those can be an obstacle to getting your baby sleeping independently in their crib.
Once you determine this, then you can start to develop a plan to help your baby fall asleep without those specific sleep associations.
Making the Transition From Co-Sleeping to the Crib Smoother
Weaning your child from co-sleeping can be emotionally challenging for both you and your baby. Making sure you take steps to help it go smoothly is going to help all of you through the transition easier.
Here are five things to do that will to make the process smoother:
- Have a plan: Create a plan that you, your partner and other caregivers feel comfortable with implementing consistently. Trying to make a plan or make decisions in the middle of the night typically doesn’t go all that well.
- Have an approximate timeline of when you need or want your baby fully sleeping in the crib: Your plan will look very different if you needed this to happen yesterday compared to someone who feels comfortable if it takes a month or two to make the transition. Matching your plan to these goals helps you have realistic expectations.
- Layer sleep associations: Before you officially start the transition from cosleeping to crib sleeping, you can start to layer sleep associations. This means using many sleep associations at one time. The goal is to be able to use some of those sleep associations during the transition to make it less of an abrupt change. Bring any sleep associations that don’t require parental involvement into the current situation. This allows your child to associate these with sleep so they have those in place before you start to remove the other unsustainable sleep associations. You can also layer other sleep associations that can happen in the crib (such as patting or back rubbing).
- Focus on connection: Sleep is a separation. The opposite of separation is connection so make sure you are focusing on being present and connecting with your baby, especially in the 20 minutes or so leading up to bedtime and during your soothing bedtime routine. Fill their connection cup before sleep!
- Consistency: Stick to your plan and be consistent with the transition process, even when it’s challenging at times. (Change is hard!)
Gradual Transition from Cosleeping to Crib
This is a big change for both you and your baby. Approaching it gradually, or at least taking some gradual steps before starting sleep training, can help parents successfully make this transition. With a gradual approach, there can be more flexibility and more personalization of your family’s plan. This allows you to feel more comfortable so you can be consistent while helping your baby learn to fall asleep differently.
Here are some steps to consider as you make your plan to gradually transition from cosleeping to crib:
- Start with Naps: Begin by having your baby nap in their crib during the day. This helps them get accustomed to the crib environment. To start, you can place your baby down asleep for naps in their crib.
- Work on having the first stretch of nighttime sleep in the crib: Move your bedtime routine to your baby’s room (if they will be sleeping in a different room). Put your baby down asleep to start or soothe them to sleep in a different way while they are in their crib.
- Half crib, half cosleeping: For any wake ups before you go to bed, try to soothe in their room and return to sleeping in their crib. Once your baby wake ups and you have or are going to bed, you can return to cosleeping. Gradually increase the time your baby sleeps in their crib each night.
- Camp out: Instead of having your baby come to your bed, try to sleep on a mattress on the floor in their room. You can soothe with your voice or touch when they wake to try to get them back to sleep in their crib with you close by for comfort and support.
During a gradual approach it is important to remember that until your baby is working on falling asleep more and more independently, it is very likely that there will be wake ups that require soothing.
Sleep Training After Co-Sleeping
If the gradual transition is not something that works for your family, sleep training can be a tool to help you reach your sleep goals. Sleep training or sleep learning is term for helping your baby learn to fall asleep independently. There is a wide range of strategies you can consider as you make your plan.
Here are some sleep training strategies to consider:
- Gradual Extinction: This is also commonly known as the “Ferber Method” after Dr. Ferber. Using this strategy you allow your baby to cry for increasing intervals before returning to the room offering comfort.
- Gradual Fading: A parent present method where you sit by your baby’s crib, gradually moving farther away each night until they learn to sleep independently. Typically with this method you leave once your baby is asleep and come back when they wake up during the night. This works best with babies who are comforted by your presence and you want to be able to respond immediately to any crying or protesting.
- Pick Up/Put Down Method: This method involves picking up your baby when they cry and soothing them until they are calm but not asleep, then returning them to the crib. This typically works best for babies under 5-6 months, who are not naturally super alert and aware.
- Camping out: Another parent present method where you sleep on the floor in your baby’s room throughout the night to start and then gradually reduce your presence as you baby is getting more comfortable with falling and staying asleep in their crib.
- A responsive phased approach: A gentle method that involves very gradually peeling back each sleep association, little by little until your baby is sleeping independently. This is similar to some of the steps I described above for a gradual transition.
This is not a comprehensive list of all the strategies you may find out there. Find something that works for your family!
Navigating the Transition From Co-Sleeping to the Crib
Transitioning from co-sleeping to the crib is a significant milestone for both parents and children. Remember that every family is unique, and the transition process may take time. With patience, consistency, and the strategies outlined in this guide, you can help your child develop the skills to sleep independently while maintaining a loving and secure bond.
This transition can be daunting. I get it! It’s a big (and likely emotional) change for all of you. Expert support through the transition process can be a differentiating factor in what progress and success looks like. That is exactly what I do when I work with families one-on-one, help them create a realistic and comfortable plan and then support them each step of the way. Reach out today by scheduling a free sleep evaluation call to learn more about working together to help you get the sleep you all need!
Cheers to healthy, happy sleeping!