Sleep Location Transitions: Getting your little one from one sleep environment to another!
Sleep environment transitions often give families a lot of grief. Some common transitions that parents want to begin are baby sleeping in arms to sleeping in their own crib, co-sleeping to sleeping in crib, sleeping in bassinet to sleeping in crib, crib to toddler bed and a younger toddler going from their own room to a siblings room.
All of these situations are unique and need to be approached with care. A change in your baby’s sleep space is a big deal! Imagine if you all of a sudden had to sleep in a different room with a different bed and you had to use a different pillow. I can bet that this would not be an easy change for anyone as an adult and with little ones it is the same thing. Gradual transitions tend to be easier on infants and children and I find that they are also easier on the parents. In many cases if we are going from one room to another such as co-sleeping or bassinet to the crib in baby’s room or going from their own room to room sharing with an older sibling we are not just changing beds. There are now going to be different light levels, different smells, different textures, sometimes different temperatures and a different amount of space around them. These stimulants usually don’t affect adults as much as so we don’t notice all of those little things but to an infant or toddler these changes can make or break a transition.
This blog is going to talk about the common transitions that occur for all ages.
1. Bassinet In Parents Room to Crib in Baby’s room
This tends to be the most common transition because many babies start out in a bassinet beside their parent’s bed for the first couple weeks/months of life. I am a firm believer that entering this big new world is a huge adjustment for your baby. The only person that your baby really knows is you and so keeping them close for that first couple months is completely natural and helps them transition from womb to world.
Now, as babies get older they tend to become very noisy sleepers… VERY noisy sleepers! All of this normal noise is known to wake parents up a lot in the night or makes it really hard to fall asleep. When we have a new baby beside us it is normal to sleep lighter to make sure we hear them and so often our sleep is disrupted even more than it needs to be because of all the grunting, stirring, snorting, sleep cries, whimpering, ect. After a couple of months you may begin to notice that your baby is also having some longer sleep stretches here and there and so this combined with the noisy sleeper might get you thinking of moving them to their own room so everyone can enjoy their own sleep space.
** EVERY FAMILY IS READY FOR THIS AT DIFFERENT TIMES and so DON’T feel rushed to move your baby to their own room if you are not ready. When you are ready here are some tips!!
First step is to set up the room they are sleeping in now with some sleep cues that you can transfer over to their new bedroom to reduce the amount of changes in the environment. Black out the room (babies love this because it reminds them of being in the womb), use white noise (also reminds them of being in the womb) and introduce a room spray. Use these 3 things for a week before you are ready to make the move.
Second step is to move the bassinet and all those sleep cues you developed in the first step over into the new room. You are going to black out their room, use white noise and use the same room spray for sleep in the new environment. Now your baby is still feeling comfortable in the new room because they have their same bed and room spray (smell), same noise (consistent sound) and same darkness level (light stimulation). Place the bassinet right beside the crib. You can stay at this stage until you are ready to do the next step but typically 3-5 days is a good amount of time.
Third step is to continue using the white noise and room spray, continue having the dark room but now you are going to be putting your baby in their crib for nights. There is a higher sleep drive at night and so I find doing nights first makes less resistance. They are really ready for sleep following a full day of stimulation.
Following a few nights you can then begin with naps!
For each of these steps your baby might need some soothing to the first couple days to help them adjust and that is totally fine!! Young babies are so much more tuned into the stimulants in their environment and so it is expected for them to need a little help.
2. Swing to Crib Transition
I say time and time again that if you have a young baby (0-4 months) use the swing for sleep if it works!! If your baby is sleeping fine in their bassinet or crib then that is great but if you are having troubles putting your baby down or they will not sleep for longer than 30 minutes then try the swing. When your baby is in the womb they are in constant motion. This tends to be when they sleep and then when you are trying to sleep at night they are awake because there is nothing lulling them to sleep anymore! The swing is your friend and you can use it until it loses it magic which typically occurs between 4-5 months. It is not recommended to have your baby sleeping in the swing all night and so I would start with naps or even the first spurt of night sleep as they will often wake for their first feed before you go to bed.
If you are using the swing I always encourage families to put the swing in the room you want your baby to end up in. This way when you are ready to transition from swing to crib the room environment is already the same!!
First step. Introduce a dark room, white noise and try a room spray. I know many swings have a nice lullaby on them but this is not as effective as a solid and rough sounding noise machine. These sleep cues will help set up environment consistency.
Next step is to start slowing the swing down so your baby isn’t sleeping on high speed all the time. Going from swing to crib is hard because it is going from motion to no motion so eliminating this first can help. Every couple days turn the swing onto a lower speed and see if your baby can fall asleep still.
Now that the swing is on low or maybe not even moving you can transition to the crib. When this is done your baby might need some help falling asleep the first couple of days and so put them down in crib and then if they need help offer some soothing over the crib to bridge the swing to crib transition. You can gradually reduce the soothing you provide every couple of days.
3. Sleeping in Arms to Crib
One of the most common sleep disturbances I hear from parents is that their baby will only sleep in their arms. The moment they try and put their baby down…. SURPRISE, they are awake! In some cases the parent can get them to sleep and then put them down but sleep periods are significantly shorter and so usually parents hold them just to enjoy the longer nap. This is so frustrating and I HAVE BEEN THERE!!
I’m going to break this transition into 2 parts. One part for newborns and a second for older babies.
A. Newborns – Birth – 4/5 months
At this age babies like anything that reminds them of being in the womb. This includes mothers smell, movement, loud noises and very dark. I’m telling you…replicate this and you will see improvement!! If you are having troubles of your baby waking up as soon as you put them down or sleeping for very short periods of time then:
Use a swing in the room you want your baby to end up in.
Get a white noise machine/app – rough noises are best because the womb is loud from all the blood flow! Vaccuum cleaners, loud fan or just white noise static is best.
Darken the room
Place a breast pad or used t-shirt/cami close enough for them to smell
When you are ready then do the swing to crib transition outlined above!
** Notice how these steps replicate the womb!
B. Older infants – 4/5+ months
Your little one is now passed the swing age and so you need to do a holding to crib transition. This one is a little harder because as your infant gets older they are able to understand more and right now they want to be held! Your baby is not “spoiled” because you are holding them to sleep. It is a natural learning process to protest change or protest anything that is unfamiliar. Up until this point your baby’s sleep cues are being held and so we want to set up new cues to help replace this.
First step is to set up sleep consistency in the room you want them to end up in. We are transitioning to crib which means you are still going to hold your baby for the first step but you will be doing so in their room. This way the environment is being set but still with your support. During the first step you are also going to set up sleep routines, introduce white noise and black out the room. The routine, white noise and blacked out room are the new cues that are going to be replacing the “holding” cue and will help your baby sleep more soundly.
Second step is to have them fall asleep with you but with no soothing tactics such as feeding to sleep or rocking to sleep. The reason we do this is because right now your baby is falling asleep with you but when you try and put them down they wake up because something is different. If they can fall asleep on you but without an additional sleep cue this will make the holding to crib transition much easier because we won’t be eliminating other associations as well.
** If you want to continue feeding/rocking/ect your baby to sleep then please do this. When your baby falls asleep you will then place them in the crib at this point and if they wake right away you will try and soothe them back to sleep. In this situation sleep may not lengthen as it could possibly be a sleep association causing the shorter sleep periods.
Next step once they are falling asleep without any other props while with you is to put them in their crib following the routine you have set up and then lean over the crib and provide constant soothing until they drift off. Even though it seems like lots of work it is still a win if they are falling asleep in the crib versus on you! At this point they are not falling asleep on you anymore. You are putting them in crib drowsy or awake.
The steps following this would be to gradually put them in the crib more awake and with less soothing.
** This is a gradual transition and so YES it will take time. If you want to just jump into it then you can choose to put them into their crib for sleep periods and use a sleep coaching method to help them sleep in their crib.
4. Co-Sleeping to Crib
I am asked a lot what my thoughts on co-sleeping are. I am not for or against any sleep choice as long as it is leading to sleep! I look at sleep from a health standpoint and babies (and parents) need sleep to function. With co-sleeping if it is co, meaning together, and sleep is happening then I don’t see a problem with it. If on the other hand it is all “co” and no sleep or poor sleep is happening then it is not working anymore and it might be time for a change.
Here are some steps that can help you through this transition when you are ready:
First, set up positive feelings about the bedroom you want your baby to be sleeping in. Have playtime in the crib and room to get your baby used to this environment.
Move the co-sleeping into the room you want them to be sleeping with. When a baby is co-sleeping they have many close stimulants that are familiar to them. We don’t want to move rooms, move beds and remove the secure parent all at once. Put a mattress on the floor in babies room and co-sleep in here.
As part of first step you want to set up this room environment to include cues that will be there after you are not. Make the room dark, introduce white noise and implement sleep routines if you have not already. You are setting up these environment cues while still co-sleeping to form a bridge between the 2 environments.
Next step is to try and put some space between you two. If enough room bring crib mattress down and put it right beside the mattress you are using. This way baby will be sleeping on their own mattress but still with you near when needed.
Put crib mattress back into crib and at this step you will be putting baby into crib and providing as much soothing as needed to help them adjust to this change. Often times babies don’t even notice as long as the environment cues are there and you are sitting close enough beside the crib for them to smell you.
Continue to reduce soothing if it has been needed or if your baby just needed you to sit beside the crib then you can gradually move yourself further and further from the crib every couple of days until you are able to put them down and then leave the room.
If you have an older toddler then you might want to move in the opposite direction. You could follow these steps:
Set up room cues just like above to create consistency
Move a mattress onto the floor right beside your bed. This will be their special sleep space.
Move the special bed closer to the door
Move the special bed into their room and you can sit beside them as they fall asleep.
Move them into their bed and sit beside them as they fall asleep
Gradually move out of the room every couple of days until you are able to tuck them in and then leave the room.
** In both of the above suggestions consistency is key. When you are ready to do this transition then we want to make sure once they are in their own room sleeping we are not bringing them back into your bed. Move in 1 direction only to help the learning process go more smoothly. Bringing them back into bed with you at bedtime or in the night goes against the transition and becomes confusing for them as they are trying to establish where their safe sleep space is. If they need you in the night go to them and soothe how you like to.
6. Crib to Bed
The lovely crib to bed transition. When to do it and how to do it are common concerns!
When is it time to transition from crib to toddler bed? This is very unique to each family. First and foremost you always need to do what feels best for your family! My recommendation is to wait as long as possible before making the big bed transition. Around the age of 2.5-3.5 is a good time but don’t be afraid to wait even longer if sleep is going well in the crib. Some reasons I say to wait until they are a little older:
Your baby is more developmentally mature and has the verbal skills to understand big bed rules. This can prevent many bedtime battles.
A crib is safer (unless you have a baby who is getting out). In a big bed it is easier for your child to get out and walk around. A younger baby could fall out or get into something that may cause injury.
A young baby thrives off the feeling of security. Crib rails create a confined feeling of safety for a toddler. It is essentially wrapping them up and keeping them safe. When a toddler moves to a bed the walls of the bedroom become the new confined space and this is much larger. Often a young toddler can lose the feeling of security as now the space is so much larger.
Some signs that your toddler is ready to transition from a crib to a big bed include:
When they are talking TO YOU about sleeping in a big boy/girl bed. This is a good indication that they are developmentally ready to sleep in a big bed because they have the verbal skills to communicate this with you.
Your baby is getting out of the crib!
If your baby is 3.5-4 then now is a good time to begin the transition.
If your baby is getting out of the crib and they are still young then I would work on eliminating this before just transitioning them to a big bed. This is more of a battle of them getting attention and practicing new skills than it is a good indication that they are actually ready for a big bed. Your baby getting out of the crib will still get out of the bed in most cases. The biggest factor with crawling out of the crib though is safety! We don’t want them falling out and getting hurt. Some ways to prevent them or make it harder to crawl out:
Put your baby in a sleep sack. This makes it very hard to get the leg up to crawl out. If your baby is a smarty pants who can remove this then put it on backwards so the zipper is to the back.
If your crib has a high side and low side then put the low side against the wall. This makes it so there is 2 high sides.
Make sure the crib mattress is on the lowest setting.
Remove large blankets, loveys, toys, ect that may serve as a step stool in the crib.
Try a crib tent. This is a zipped mesh cover that they can see out of but makes it hard to get out.
Don’t make getting out of the crib a game. If they get out go to them with very little interaction and place them back into the crib. Say firmly “no climbing” and leave the room again. Leave the door open a little bit and stand out there out of sight but peak in if you hear any movement. If you do firmly say “no climbing” and see what they do. If they climb out go back in and repeat the process. This is all about being 100% consistent with your response. Pick them up, put them back in and leave again.
You have now determined that your little one is ready for the transition. How to go through this transition is a whole other process. Here are some steps you can include in the transition:
Do it at least 3 months before a household change (such as a new baby) or 3 months after. This allows for your toddler to adjust to the change that is occurring and will make it less likely for sleep disruptions.
Start with setting up the big bed in the same room as the crib. This helps them get used to the new bed while still having their safe crib.
Make a big deal about this awesome new bed. Go to the store together and have them pick out the sheets/blankets for the new bed.
Set up the bed in a corner to provide 2 walls if you can. Then add a bed rail on one side to keep the smaller space feeling.
Start with naps. You can encourage daytime sleep to be in the new bed. “I can’t wait for nap time, are you going to sleep in your big boy/girl bed?” Nights can remain in crib for a while as your toddler gets used to the bed.
You might notice your toddler will flip flop back and forth. For example the first couple days they might start in the bed but then ask to go in the crib to finish that nap. After a week or two you can be more firm about extending the nap in the bed but this is a good place to start.
After a couple weeks of naps in the big bed or sooner if your toddler is ready you can start nights in the big bed. I personally kept the crib set up for a security feeling for my kids and then removed it when they were doing well in the bed.
7. Moving in with siblings
There are many circumstances when children need to share a room. For toddlers this often goes better than many parents anticipate because children tend to like having a companion in the room with them and surprisingly it is rare that they will wake each other up due to being noisy.
Some suggestions before doing the move include:
Have them falling asleep well before doing the transition. It is much harder to implement any sleep coaching when there is room sharing but if they both fall asleep well this will make it easier. If there are going to be sleep disruptions it would be at bedtime and the early morning when an individual is more likely to be awakened by noises and so bedtime battles can make this transition very long.
Set up similar sleep cues in both rooms. Have the same level of darkness and use the same white noise so that the room feels the same for the little one who is moving out of their room.
If the older toddler has a good understanding of verbal communication then you can prepare them before their sibling moves into the room by teaching them sleep manners. For example, teach them not to get out of bed and play with their sibling, just turn over if they try and talk to you and if they wake up try and stay quiet.
When you are ready to do the transition following the steps above you can then follow these tips:
Move crib/bed into the new bedroom.
Put the younger child to sleep first as they are more likely to be distracted by the older child. Once they are asleep then the older one can go in and you can put them down.
Often at bedtime the older child is awake longer anyway and so this works out but for naps it is a good idea to put the younger one to sleep first.
This is a big and exciting change and so it might take a couple weeks to settle in. Once it becomes the new normal and not just a “sleepover” sleep can even out again.
All transitions are a big change and so they take time. They are not a race! Timing is unique to each family and so just because one family has a 2.5 year old transitioning to a big bed does not mean that your 3 year old is ready. The most important factor with any transition is doing it when the family is ready!
As with all sleep changes it is crucial to have sleep foundations in place to improve your changes of success! Having a healthy room environment that encourages sleep, sleep routines that cue the body to sleep and appropriate wake times/schedules all help to make transitions easier!
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