Whether it’s the middle of the day or the middle of the night, there’s nothing sweeter than a sleeping baby. The snuggles, their little sounds, and — maybe most importantly — the chance for parents to grab some sleep of their own. Nothing could be better.
While a sleeping baby may be every parent’s dream, a baby that refuses to sleep in their bassinet is most new parents’ nightmare! A fussy baby and sleepless nights make for an unhappy house, so what do you do if your little one won’t sleep in their bassinet?
If you find that your baby isn’t sleeping well in their bassinet, there could be a variety of causes at play:
- Your baby is hungry. Little stomachs empty quickly and need to be refilled. Especially during periods of growth and cluster feeding, you may find your baby wants to feed instead of sleep.
- Your baby is feeling gassy. It’s hard for a little one to stay asleep when they need to burp or pass gas.
- Your baby has a dirty diaper. Just like with a gassy stomach, it’s hard for babies to fall asleep and stay asleep if they’re uncomfortable.
- Your baby is too hot or cold. Check your baby to make sure they aren’t sweating or shivering. It’s best if their room is between 68 and 72°F (20 to 22°C).
- Your baby doesn’t know whether it’s day or night. Some infants have trouble discerning their days from their nights. By keeping lights on during the day, extending awake times just a tad during the day, and introducing bedtime sleep routines, you can help train their internal clock.
- Your baby’s startle reflex is waking them up. Swaddling is a good option for young babies, but note that it’s no longer safe when your baby is learning to roll.
Your baby was living in the womb, a temperature-controlled, cozy environment just a few days, weeks, or even months ago. That environment is very different than the bassinet you’re asking them to sleep in now.
Making their bassinet resemble their prior environment can make it more familiar and comfortable for them as they sleep. Be sure to consider the following factors and strategies:
- Temperature. Check their temperature, as well as the room temperature. Your little one may have a hard time sleeping if they are too hot or cold.
- Daylight. Try blackout curtains or other ways of making the room extra dark. Your newborn is used to a very dark environment and lights can be stimulating! A muted nightlight can enable you to see in the middle of the night without turning on any overhead lights.
- Sounds. Find a sound machine that appeals to you and your baby. This noise can make a bassinet feel more like the womb, which was filled with water noises and muffled heartbeats and voices from the outside.
- Swaddling. Until your baby is around 2 months old, swaddling them can help them feel more secure. Reflexes and the feeling of being in an open space can startle them awake. There are many ways to swaddle. If you’re worried about getting it right, Velcro sleep sacks can be well worth the investment.
- Positioning. If your child has gas or signs of reflux and extra burping with feeds isn’t doing the trick, you might consider keeping them upright for 20 to 30 minutes after feeds. Do not use sleep positioners or wedges to position your baby while sleeping.
- Massage. Baby massage can potentially help your little one fall asleep faster and have a more relaxed sleep. In addition to the benefits of touch, some believe that it can aid digestion and nervous system development.
- Starting early. Try to help your baby learn to fall asleep in their bassinet early on. You can feed or cuddle them until they are sleepy but still awake, and then place them in the bassinet to fall asleep.
You can expect your newborn to sleep around 16 hours a day. While this will only come in 1- to 2-hour chunks, they’ll most likely be ready to sleep if they’re not feeding or being changed.
As your child gets older, they’ll start to sleep in slightly longer chunks and need a little less sleep. By the time your child is around 3 to 4 months of age, they’ll need closer to 14 hours of sleep and may have dropped a nap or two during the day.
This trend will increase until your child is down to just two naps and a longer night’s sleep, typically around 6 to 9 months of age.
It’s a good idea to establish bedtime routines at an early age. These can not only signal your little one that it’s time for a nice long sleep but also be soothing when your child hits sleep regressions later on.
Bedtime routines don’t need to be super elaborate. They may just involve a bath and story, or even a simple song. The predictability and calm, quiet routine are what matter most!
Remember that your attitude goes a long way in encouraging your child to sleep. If you stay calm and relaxed, they’re more likely to feel that way, too.
For newborn babies, there are many things you can do to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related injuries.
- Sharing a room with your baby is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) until 1 year of age, or at least 6 months of age.
- Always put your baby to sleep on their back on their own sleep surface — not in your bed.
- Remove pillows, blankets, toys, and crib bumpers from your baby’s sleep area.
- Make sure that your baby’s bassinet or crib has a firm mattress with a well-fitting crib sheet.
- When your child is ready (typically around 4 weeks if you’re breastfeeding), offer a pacifier as they fall asleep. There’s no need to reinsert the pacifier if it falls out after they are asleep, and remember not to attach it to any cords or chains.
- Make sure to keep your baby’s space at a comfortable temperature while they sleep. Swaddling and too many layers of clothing may lead to overheating.
- Avoid smoking in the home around the baby or in rooms in which baby sleeps.
- Once your baby is showing signs of trying to roll over, make sure to stop swaddling them for sleep. This is so they’ll have access to their hands if they need to roll over.
- Breastfeeding your baby can also reduce the risk of SIDS.
It’s important for everyone in your family that your baby gets a good night’s sleep in the safest environment. While it may not be possible to wave a magic wand or sprinkle some sleeping dust to make them fall fast asleep in their bassinet, there are things you can do to set them up for restful sleep.
If you find yourself getting frustrated with your little one, remember that it’s OK to walk away for a few minutes to collect yourself. Don’t be afraid to also reach out to sleep support groups for new parents in your community for additional advice and support.
Remember: This too shall pass. Sleep disturbances are common but always temporary. Give yourself and your baby some grace as you navigate your new life together. Soon, you’ll both be sleeping again.