Why Your Baby Hates His Crib (and What To Do About it)

Why Your Baby Hates His Crib (And What To Do About It) ~ http://incredibleinfant.com

After 45 minutes of rocking, singing, and sighing, he’s finally stopped crying and you THINK *quick prayer* he’s asleep.

Well, here goes nothing.

Moving like a geriatric sloth, you inch over to the crib and stand on your tippy toes, leaning over the bars as much as possible.

He snorts.

You freeze.  One leg in the air in an absurd pirouette.

Ever. So. CAREFULLY you set the tiny package into the crib, take a deep breath, and prepare to high five your mime-cheerleading spouse.


You grit your teeth and quickly pretend you didn’t (because “good parents” never feel frustrated at their helpless babe, right?).

This KID sleeps everywhere else.




WHAT THE WHAT is wrong with this kid?

Benedict Cumberbatch Solves the Mystery

You know who can fix this?

Benedict Cumberbatch. 

The world’s greatest Sherlock.  (Sorry, Rob — but the world needs you as Iron Man.)

My good friend Benny would quickly deduce that your baby doesn’t hate the crib because the sheets are too scratchy.  Or the mattress is too firm.  Or because that crib set is hideous. 

Instead, he would watch where and how your baby sleeps, and then figure out what it is about those positions that soothe so much.   Then Sherlock would simply recreate those positions inside the crib.  Elementary.

Following that lead, here are three 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.

*puts on thinking cap*
*blows feather out of face*
*flips on whale music*
*adjust springs* 


*spray of confetti*

How to Solve the Wide Open Space Problem

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:

  • Swaddled her tightly.  She was a veritable Houdini at getting out of her swaddler, which was frustrating.  In hindsight, this straight jacket zipped swaddler would have been perfect.
  • Put her on her tummy.  I know this isn’t recommended, but children sometimes don’t fit into the “should” molds, and a tired mother will try an-eee-thing.  Nowadays, you can alleviate SIDS worries with an angelcare breathing monitor.
  • Use a blanket against her cheek.  You have to be careful with this one, since you shouldn’t have anything inside the crib in the first 6 months of life.  We would tuck the blanket under the mattress, so just a teeny-tiny corner could touch her hands and cheek.  That way she could feel enough of the cloth to snuggle with, but not accidentally cover her mouth.

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 recommend you put babies to sleep on their tummy, and why crib bumpers are usually frowned on.  (I, however, am always the rebel, and think using crib bumpers is a smart sleeping strategy.)

How to Solve the Acid Factory Problem

Ever lay flat on your back with heartburn?


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:

Let him sleep in a rock-n-play or 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.

Create a slanted seat in the crib.

How do you do this?  By using a pillow, a handtowel, and some hair ties (or rubber bands).

What’s that?   

You want a how-to picture?  

It will cost you a Facebook Like.

Now that you’ve paid up, *ahem* follow these steps:

  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.

Note: Your crib sheets will be much tighter than these. I was using a bed to demonstrate.

Subscriber Lisa K., shared with me a product called “Snuggle Me”.  It’s a fancier, more comprehensive way of doing what I just described.  It’s brand-spankin’ new, so you’ll only find it here.

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 taken straight out of my favorite sleep coaching book.

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.

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!*

Deduce and Conquer

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.


How does your baby like to sleep?


  1. We did the rolled towel thing for my son who was born with an airway defect and laying on his side made it easier for him to breathe while sleeping. Once he learned to roll oever (at 2 1/2 months, crazy kid!) he preferred to sleep on his tummy and has ever since. The U-shaped towel thing is brilliant to keep the kid from sliding down an incline.
    Also, Good Night Sleep Tight is our favorite sleep book too. We just did the “shuffle” this week for our now 7-month-old boy and it has been a rough few days but he is almost sleeping through the night again, hallelujah! I cannot recommend her book enough.

    • Yeah, so, at 10 months he doesn’t sleep anymore….Hellllp! We were doing so good. :( To be fair, we’ve had a lot of disruptions and changes lately, but we are all so very tired.

  2. Really great article! I started introducing my son to his crib at around 6 weeks (this kiddo is super long and the bassinet wasn’t his favorite place to be anyway!) I put him in his crib often, even played in there with him so he’d get accustomed to it.

    We do use a wedge under the mattress because he has “Silent GERD” (Thank you Heather for explaining that one!) and we also try to vary his sleeping environment (lights on, lights low, light off, background water noise, no noise, etc.) trying to make sure he can sleep in different conditions so he’s not expecting only one way to sleep. Sometimes we even put him in the crib before he’s asleep and let him drift off on his own. Hopefully that will eliminate the hold and rock me till I’m sleep.

    We discovered his need/love of the swaddle between week 3 & 4. My son needs the swaddle to get a restful sleep and it has helped keep him secure in his crib as well. I’m not great at blanket swaddling because Elias managed to get the blanket over his head as he wrestles in his sleep! So, we opted for those swaddle sleep sack numbers and they work like a charm!

    Thanks Heather! Love your articles! You need a Mommy Talkshow & Hotline!

    Lisa Nelson

  3. Amy Powers says:

    Hey Heather! I don’t know what I would do without your website! I need to transition my very large 4 month old from the bassinet to the crib, but I’m afraid to do so when he still has to be swaddled. He is very strong and can Houdini himself out of any swaddle, but his morrow reflex is still very much there so he still needs to swaddle to sleep. Should I just wait it out until his reflexes aren’t as bad or do you have any advice as how to wean him out of his swaddle?

  4. I am trying to transition my 8 week old from a swing to her crib. She has only slept in her swing since she was born. Just last week, she was averaging 6 hours a night 10pm – 4am. We are swaddling her and putting her in her crib with a full belly. She HATES her crib! She will sleep for 2- 3 hours max before screaming her head off. We feed her, and she still refuses to sleep. Any advice?

    • Yvonne, are you weaning her away from the swing? Try slowing the speed down over several days…then letting her sleep in the swing when it isn’t on for a few days…then sleeping on an incline in the crib (see above)… I would give that a go and see what happens. xo Heather

      • Hi Heather, we haven’t had the swing on for weeks! I think she just likes the coziness of it? any other advice besides the swaddle?

        • Try the swaddle, but also try propping up the mattress and using the “u” trick. Perhaps it’s the incline that she likes so much. Does she like sleeping in her carrier?

  5. This may be a crazy question, but my son is almost 5 months and he doesn’t seem to know how to lay his head down and lay on his cheek, is that common? He will only put his hands by his eyes and kind of lay face down. I’ve tried to help him turn his head so he could see laying on his cheek would let him rest his neck a little bit during tummy time, but he fights me and won’t do it. He also doesn’t lay his head on my shoulder; it’s like he doesn’t know he can do it? So getting him to try to sleep for a little bit on his tummy is practically impossible because I don’t want him sleeping with his face down in the mattress.

    • Kim, it could be he’s really curious about everything and just doesn’t want to put his cheek down, but I would give your doctor a call and get his opinion on it, just to be sure.

  6. Hi Heather,
    I have the same issue as a previous poster Yvonne, about the swing. My son has been sleeping in the swing since one month and we’ve weaned him off the swing moving but he loves his swing.
    We’ve tried putting him in the crib but he also hates it.
    So i’m following your suggestions putting a wedge under the mattress and the U towel thing.
    I’ll keep you posted and thanks for your great insight.
    yvonne, whatever happened with your daughter?

    • Yes, please keep me posted Vanessa! Another suggestion is to begin putting him the crib for a “happy playtime” during the day with books and toys, for about 15-30 minutes. If he protests being in the room alone, sit next to the crib and read or something while he’s playing. This way he begins to see the crib as a pleasant cozy place to be, which could make it easier at night.

  7. Help!
    Hi, I have a 5 month old baby girl who’s sleep habits went from great to none in the last month. She now hates her crib at night, she will nap in it during the day and she will go to bed in it around 7pm and sleep in it for a few hours, but once she wakes up… We usually sit or rock her back to sleep lay her down she wakes up…un ending cycle till 4 am… She is swaddled I do have a white noise machine. I’ve tried letting her cry it out it ends in hysterics, I’ve tried laying her down drowsy again hysterics.. We tried the u shape… No go.. So can you please please give me some advice!

    • Celeste, have you read my article on the sleep shuffle? I think you should give that a try. Instead of going in there and picking her up or rock her back to sleep, wait a minute to make sure she’s really waking, and not just going through a partial wakening part of the sleep cycle and falling back asleep. If it’s clear that she’s headed for a wake up, go in and shush her, rub her tummy/back, and sit next to her but try really really hard not to pick her up. First of all, picking her up could wake her up even more, and secondly, going in right away and picking her up could be creating a sleep crutch that she will have a hard time getting past later on. I would only pick her up if she’s moving towards the really upset hysterical cries, and then as soon as she’s calmed down put her down again.

      Another suggestion, regarding the crib, is to start putting her in the crib for 15 minutes in the morning and the afternoon for a fun play time. You can sit next to her, or play with her. The idea here is to help remove any negative associations toward the crib by giving her pleasant happy play moments inside the crib. It helps her see the crib as a place she likes to be in, and not something negative. Try those, Celeste! And let me know if we need to come up with new ideas later!

  8. Hi! I was wondering if you have any recommendation for me, My baby is 2 months old, she is sleeping aprox 5-6 hours in her bassinet from aprox 9:30/ 10:30 till 4 or 5am, but she refuses to take naps during the day, I tried the bassinnet, crib and swing, I’m exclusively breastfeeding her, and Dr said her weight is perfect for her age. Thanks in advance

    • Cristella, I do have some suggestions – but they won’t fit well here. I’m teaching a webinar on nap coaching in a few weeks. I would encourage you to sign up and let me email you the details as soon as they are available (sometime later this week). You can see the sign up form inside my last post on the stress of motherhood. I think it will be very helpful to you! Until then, do whatever you have to: rocking, nursing to sleep, whatever, to get that LO to nap during the day. :-)

  9. Ok, I’m at a loss with sleeping. Since day one things were not ideal. My son came early I didn’t even have a nursery set plus I had emergency surgery after birth in which I couldn’t do stairs & was only allowed to lift the baby. Then he became colicky & had reflux & the only place I could get him to sleep was the bed. Ok, here we are he just turned 1 and is still in the bed, we’ll actually I put the crib as a side car but he still comes & has to lay on me. He is still nursing & still sleeps terribly. He wakes 3-5 times a night has never slept through the night. I am so desperate for sleep. Please some advice, thank you.

    • Jeanine, it is completely possible to make little steps towards better family sleep. It’s not too late. I recently posted a similar comment to Kristine on a different post. You can read her comment and my reply here. Hopefully this will give you a few things to try! Hang in there, friend! Good sleep is on the horizon! :-)

  10. Rmartins says:

    Please help, we have a 7 week old who only naps when in our arms, we’ve tried sush pat approach and pick up and put down for hours on end, but nothing works! Worried that this lack of day time sleep is hampering his development. Any other suggestions?

    • Rita, I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply, somehow this missed my radar until this morning. My first recommendation is to discuss it with your doctor, making sure there isn’t a reflux issue or something else going on. Particularly, have you noticed he prefers you hold him a certain way, like upright? Double check with your doctor that he’s not suffering from a medical issue. That’s the first thing. Then try putting him down when he’s drowsy, but not yet sleeping. Hang in there, I know these days seem to last an eternity, but they will pass faster than you think. Life won’t always be like this. It does improve. Once he gets a little bit older, we can start working on helping him self-regulate his naps. So there is a light at the end of this tunnel. :-)

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