A step-by-step process for how to transition from co-sleeping to crib. Move your baby out of your bed and into his/her own. The method I used, without crying, to move both of my babies into their own sleep space by 3-4 months.
Note: This will be easiest at around 3-4 months, but the strategies can work at most ages. Babies just tend to be less adaptable as they get older so you may get more resistance with an older baby/toddler/child, but it is possible.
Co-sleeping is a controversial issue today. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in its 2022 updated recommendations, continues to identify co-sleeping as one of the causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (Moon, Carlin, Hand), but according to one NPR article (2018), more than 1 in 4 moms are still co-sleeping (Doucleff).
On the other side of that, Anthropologists like Mckenna (2020) (Safe Infant Sleep), actually recommend co-sleeping with newborns. In her article, “How Cosleeping Can Help You and Your Baby,” Divecha (2020) states: “When parents and babies sleep together, their heart rates, brain waves, sleep states, oxygen levels, temperature, and breathing influence one another.” Meaning that during this vulnerable time of a baby’s life, being close to his/her mother actually helps him/her survive.
From the anthropologist’s view of things, co-sleeping with a newborn actually reduces the rate of SIDS (noting that the rate is lowest in countries where co-sleeping rates are highest). So if you are co-sleeping, practice safe co-sleeping (see those recommendations here), by keeping blankets and pillows away from your baby and keeping them on their back. Breastfeeding also helps reduce the risk of SIDS and is recommended if you’re co-sleeping.
How to Transition from Co-sleeping to Crib
If you’ve decided it’s time to transition your baby from co-sleeping to crib, I can help you do that the gentle way. I started out co-sleeping with both of my babies and transitioned my first to his crib at 3 months (a little early but it just worked out that way) and my second fully to his bassinet at 3-4 months and then to a crib at 8 months.
After reading and watching videos about other moms in similar situations letting their babies cry for hours, I decided to make my own way without just letting my baby cry.
If you’re ready to transition your baby from co-sleeping to crib without crying, I have the solution for you in this post. I will warn you, the quick fix is to let your baby cry. The way to do it without crying is very slow in comparison.
But first, let’s cover a few things.
The Benefits of Getting Your Baby Out of Your Bed
Sleep is so important. You don’t know that more than you do when you become a mom and face constant sleep deprivation. Once your baby is old enough that he/she isn’t waking through the night for feedings, you’re going to get a lot more sleep if they’re in their own room.
Your baby/child also will benefit from not being constantly disrupted. Think about all the times that your baby/child potentially gets woken up by you or your significant other.
I also believe that there need to be certain boundaries set between parents and children. You may think this seems harsh for a baby, but realize that a baby only knows what you teach them. If you teach them that it’s normal to sleep in your bed, that’s what they will expect. If you teach them that they have a sleep space and you have a sleep space, that’s also what they will expect.
So it’s a rule not in the sense of punishment or reprimand, but a clear norm that needs to be set. The older kids become the more these norms affect them. It can be more difficult to change a norm than it is to just set it up to begin with.
If you are married, it’s possible that having your baby/child in bed is affecting your marriage.
Personally, I know I function so much better as a person and as a mom when I can put my kids to bed at a reasonable time, have a few hours to myself, and get a good night’s sleep.
I also think my kids sleep better in their own space. Both sleep 10-12 hours at night and aren’t disrupted by me or my husband through the night like they were when they were in our bed. They sleep better and I sleep better.
Why Should You Use This Method?
If you search the internet or YouTube, you will find a lot of information on sleep training. Personally, I am not a big fan of the term because I think it lumps what should be small changes throughout different stages of development into a quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solution.
For example, when you read about the Ferber Method online, such as in this article from Parents, it is explained as a method of sleep training. If you read Dr. Richard Ferber’s book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problem, you actually find that this method is used to address a specific sleep problem that some children have.
I was shocked to find this because this is a method that is now being praised and applied to EVERY situation. I’ve heard pediatricians recommend it (even push it) on Youtube and moms discuss using it as a way to get their baby to sleep through the night at only a few months old.
All variations of a cry-it-out method, are essentially a rip-the-Band-Aid-off method to deal with a sleep association (not to address sleeping through the night).
My method focuses on sleep associations without resorting to letting your child cry for hours. In this method, we are going to gradually remove one sleep association at a time, while also creating new, sustainable, sleep associations that will help your baby sleep on his/her own.
I will warn you, that this is going to take time and patience. Your child will not be sleeping in their own room tomorrow, but you will see progress as you go and you will eventually get them there.
A Side Note on Sleeping Through the Night
Sleeping through the night is actually a different issue altogether. But for now, know that these steps may help your baby start sleeping through the night or they might not if there is another issue causing your baby to wake.
This method is specifically for getting your baby out of your bed. I recommend working on that before addressing sleeping through the night. Read about my gentle night-weaning method when you’re ready to work on sleeping through the night.
Remember, there is no catch-all. Teaching babies/children good sleep habits is a long game, not a quick fix.
How to Transition from Co-sleeping to Crib the Gentle Way
Your ultimate goal is to stop co-sleeping and get your baby/child into his/her own space. This may be in your room or theirs depending on their age. I’m going to break this down into smaller goals to work up to the ultimate goal. You can take these at whatever pace works best for you and your child. You may face less resistance if you go slower, but avoid moving so slow that your child gets stuck in one of the steps.
Note: Skip steps as needed based on where your baby is in the plan. For example, if you can already lay your baby down for a nap, skip goal one.
Goal 1: Get Your Baby to Sleep in Your Bed Without You
Step 1: Create a Bedtime Routine
You may choose to start with a nap or bedtime, depending on how many naps your child takes. I recommend creating a routine for both that is fairly consistent. For example, a naptime routine may look like this for a baby.
Or this for a toddler/child.
The Bedtime routine should look similar but may be slightly different since it’s at the end of the night. You may include a bath and probably a feeding for a baby (see examples below).
Regardless of the additions at bedtime, the routines are similar. This helps your child know that sleep time is coming. Start working on a bedtime routine and be consistent.
Step 2: Work at Laying Your Child Down in Your Bed Without You
This step is for you if your baby will not sleep without you. Start with the routine you’ve now established and then do whatever you do to get your baby to sleep–this might be rocking, bouncing, or laying down with your child. Then wait 15-20 minutes after he/she is fully asleep and leave the bed/room.
I understand that this might not be as simple as it sounds. With my first, this meant that I had to rock him until he was asleep, wait 15-20 minutes, carry him into my room, lay down with him on my chest, wait.
Once I was sure he was still in a deep sleep, I’d roll onto my side with him so that he was on the bed instead of on me. Then I’d wait again. When I was sure he was still asleep, I’d very slowly and carefully pull my arm out from under him. Then I’d wait again.
At this point, I’d slowly separate myself from him pausing if he stirred, until I could get out of the bed and leave. If at any point, he started to cry or wake up, I’d go back to the previous step. Sometimes I’d even have to go back and rock him all over again.
It was tedious, but I kept my goal in mind and was persistent. Eventually, I could move out of bed more quickly.
Finally, I got to a point where I could rock him, hold him for 15-20 minutes, and then just lay him on the bed. This seemed like I huge victory at the time. It took me about 2 weeks to get there.
You may be able to simply lay down with your child and wait until he/she is asleep for 15-20 minutes and then leave. At this point, the goal is for them to wake up in bed alone. We are trying to remove you as a sleep association by first getting them used to being in the sleep space without you.
This may be a very slow process and your baby may only sleep on their own for 15 minutes, but that’s ok. Remember the goal and that this is just one step in the process. You may feel like you’re getting nowhere and it’s taking forever, but you should start to see the process take less time and your baby sleeping for longer on his/her own if you stay consistent. If you are at the point where you can consistently lay your child down and leave, great! It’s time to move on to the next goal.
For an older child, you may lay them down leave after 15-20 minutes and then return later to go to bed yourself. That’s ok. Your child is still learning to sleep without you because he/she will wake up briefly between sleep cycles and realize you aren’t there. They may cry at this point at first. You can return and lay with them until they fall asleep again. At some point, they should get used to you not being in bed with them when they wake.
What to do if it Doesn’t Work
If you follow your sleep-time routine, get your baby to sleep, and lay him/her down after 15-20 minutes of sleep and he/she immediately starts crying when you put them down, pause and wait to make sure this isn’t just a sleepy response (sometimes they’ll cry out and then fall right back to sleep). Your baby may settle down on his/her own after a few seconds, but if he/she doesn’t, pick him/her back up and do what you did to get him/her to sleep again. Try waiting longer this time and then lay the baby down again.
Goal 2: Lay Your Baby Down in His/Her Own Space in Your Room
If your child is still a young baby, this may be an easy step, but if your child is older and used to your bed, this may take longer. With mine, once I got him to where I could lay him down on the bed, I could lay him anywhere similar and he didn’t know the difference. This is why we set up that sleep time routine. We are now simply shifting where your child sleeps and removing your bed as a sleep association.
It’s time to lay your baby down in his/her own space. This may be a bassinet, a crib, a pack-n-play, or a toddler bed if you’re child is older. Whatever it is, you want it in your room at this point, since that’s where your baby is used to sleeping. Follow your child’s sleep-time routine, get your baby to sleep, wait 15-20 minutes, and then lay your child down in their own sleep space.
Again, this can feel like it’s taking forever and you’re making no progress, but stick with it. Consistency is key and every little bit that they sleep in their new space is teaching them the new rule that this is where they sleep. Try not to give in and put them in your bed. If you stay consistent, your baby/child will eventually get it.
If you’ve reached this point, you have your baby/child out of your bed. That’s a big accomplishment! Remember how far you’ve come and move on to the next goal.
What to do if it Doesn’t Work
If your child is still only falling asleep with you laying next to him/her, but you can leave them after 15-20 minutes, go ahead and lay next to them in their sleep space until they fall asleep. I did this for a long time with my second baby when I was moving him into his bassinet.
I’d lay him down drowsy, but awake and lay on the bed next to him (reaching over and replacing his pacifier as needed) until he fell asleep. I’d leave a few minutes after he fell asleep. I did this for about two months (when he was 3-4 months old) before moving on to the next goal.
If your baby is as young as mine was, you might want to hang out at this step for a while as I did. Younger babies sometimes need assistance falling asleep.
Goal 3: Lay your Child Down in Their Sleep Space Drowsy But Awake
Once your baby is out of your bed and sleeping in his/her own space, it’s time to lay him/her down in the space drowsy, but awake.
This is something that you will have to gauge your child on to see if he/she is ready. Follow your sleep-time routine, set up the space for sleep, put them into their bed, and leave.
If your baby is young and you’ve been doing the steps above for a while, this step may be a smooth transition. Your baby knows what to expect, and will likely just fall asleep.
On the other hand, you may get some protests, especially from an older child. This is the time to remain firm. Remember, you aren’t harming your child. This is good for them and you. They are only letting you know that they don’t like this because it’s out of the norm.
If you have an older child, you may help prep them by telling them what is going to happen. “We’re going to read one more book and then I’ll say goodnight and leave.” “Now, I’m going to leave and you’re going to go to sleep on your own. You’re safe and I’ll be to bed soon.”
They may cry immediately when you lay them down or leave, but this is a protest to see if you are serious. They will often fall asleep after you leave and they realize that you are.
What to do if it Doesn’t Work
If your child does not fall asleep after you leave, and you are not ok with letting him/her cry, you can wait a minute or two and then go back into the room and get them to sleep as you normally would. Continue to try to lay them down awake at each sleep time after this.
With my second baby, this was the step that I stayed on for a long time. I would follow his sleep-time procedure, rock him until he was drowsy (eyes starting to close), then I would say goodnight, lay him down, and leave. (This was when he was 5-7 months).
Sometimes he’d fall right to sleep. Sometimes he would cry for a little bit and I’d go in a few times to replace his pacifier, but he’d fall asleep. Other times he’d cry and get upset after a few pacifier replacements, so I’d pick him up and rock him to sleep, then lay him down and leave.
This is where knowing your child comes in. My first baby could cry for an extended period of time and then fall asleep. I could also rock him to sleep and if I didn’t wait long enough before I laid him down, he’d just pop back up as soon as he hit the crib.
My second baby might fuss a little bit and then fall asleep, but once he was full-on crying, he could cry for hours only getting more and more upset. If I waited until this point and went it, he’d be overtired and almost impossible to settle down and get to sleep.
So with my first, I often found it was better to just let him work it out on his own. With my second, I’d just go in and rock him to sleep. Then I’d go right back to laying him down drowsy at the next sleep time.
Goal 4: Move Your Child to His/Her Own Room
Under 6 Months
If you flew through the first goals and your baby is still under 6 months, you may choose to wait until your baby is 6 months old to move him/her since that’s the AAP’s recommendation (here is their guide for safe sleep explained).
If you do move him/her before 6 months, I found a lot of peace of mind in my Bebcare Baby Monitor with the breathing mat.
As I mentioned, I still had so much anxiety about his breathing that I couldn’t sleep. We got the Bebcare monitor with the breathing mat (an alarm goes off if there’s a change in your baby’s breathing), and it was the only thing that helped me relax enough to sleep.
If your baby is young, he/she will likely transition very easily to a new space, so you should just be able to lay them down in their crib without issue. Remember to follow the routine that you’ve set up.
Over 6 Months
If your baby is 6 months or older and you’re ready to move him/her to their own room, here’s how to do it.
You are now removing your room as a sleep association. Here you are relying on the positive sleep associations you’ve established (your bedtime routine). You want to bring everything that you can with you to the new room to make it as similar as possible.
Bring the crib, toddler bed, or even the bassinet or pack-n-play (for a short time, then you can switch to the crib once your baby is used to the room) to the new room. Bring the white noise machine, room darkening curtains, whatever you can to this new space so the sleep environment is as close as possible.
Follow the same routine and lay your baby down as you would in the other space. It should be as easy as that. This is where all your earlier work pays off.
If you set the new space up and you get protests or if your baby does not go to sleep in the new space on their own, go back to rocking them or laying with them (whatever you used to do) to get them to sleep for this one time. DO NOT BRING THEM BACK INTO YOUR ROOM.
I know it’s hard and you’re tired, but avoid doing this even once. They need to know that this is where they sleep now and giving in and bringing them to your room tells them that’s an option. Remember your goal–stop co-sleeping. Your hard work will pay off in the end. With consistency and time, your child should learn to sleep in his/her own room.
Congratulations! You did it!
What to Do If Your Child Ends Up Back in Your Room During the Middle of the Night
So you’ve followed all of these steps and your child goes to sleep in his/her own bed but ends up in your bed at some point during the night. This may be because you get them to breastfeed and then just bring them into your bed. Or because they’re older and come into your bed at some point on their own.
Remember that consistency is key. First, try to make sure you’re getting to bed at a reasonable time. This can make all the difference in your resolve. When we’re tired, we tend to give in. Remember your goal is to stop co-sleeping and you don’t want to undo all of your hard work.
When Baby wakes to eat, get your baby up and feed him/her. If your baby is awake after eating, rock him/her until he’s drowsy. Then lay him/her down and leave.
Basically, deal with this the same way as you would before bed. Your baby may protest and that’s ok. If Baby isn’t going to sleep after a bit (you choose how long), go in and help your baby get to sleep.
This is just another scenario where Baby needs to understand the new rules. It may take some time for your baby to learn that this is how it goes now. Avoid bringing your baby into bed with you. Soon, he/she will understand and go back to sleep when you place him/her back in the space.
For a Toddler/Child
The same thing goes for a toddler/child coming into your room.
If they wake you when they come in, take them back to their room. Then lay them down as you would at the beginning of the night, and leave. Your toddler/child also needs to know that this is how things work. You might have to do this a number of times.
It is helpful if your child is under 3, to have them in a crib so this doesn’t happen.
For an older child, you also have the added benefit of being able to tell them what needs to happen. If they wake up, they go back to sleep in their bed. They don’t come into your bed. If you wake up and they’re in your bed asleep, carefully carry them back to their bed. You don’t need to wake them. But you do want them to wake up in the morning in their own bed. This will help them get used to waking in their own space.
This was the method that I used to stop co-sleeping with each of my babies. I’m confident that these steps can work for you too if you’re consistent. I know this is a lot of information on a complicated issue. If you have any questions or any scenarios that I didn’t cover, try the resources I have listed below.
Did you find this article helpful? Then you might also like reading about new sibling transition or the best board books for building a love of reading. If you want more information on parenting, pregnancy, and productivity, please use the form at the bottom of this page to subscribe.
Additional Helpful Resources
Bucknam, R., & Ezzo, G. (2021). On becoming baby wise: Giving your infant the gift of nighttime sleep. Parent-Wise Solutions, Inc.
- This book has a helpful method for improving infant sleep. It gives you the what and why to fill in with the how that I have outlined here.
Ferber, Richard, M.D. (2006). Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. Vermilion.
- This book explains and gives solutions to specific sleep questions. If you have questions beyond what I’ve outlined here, you may find the answers and solutions in his book.
Sleep training: Sleep regression: Sleep schedules. Huckleberry. (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://huckleberrycare.com/
- This is an app that you can use to track your baby/child’s sleep. It also gives you specific sleep-time recommendations based on your baby, which I found extremely helpful. It is a paid app. You can also pay for a sleep analysis. This will give you a plan specifically for your child and your goals.
Doucleff, M. (2018, May 21). Is sleeping with your baby as dangerous as doctors say? NPR. Retrieved August 24, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/05/21/601289695/is-sleeping-with-your-baby-as-dangerous-as-doctors-say
Ferber, Richard, M.D. (2006). Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. Vermilion.
Moon, R. Y. (2022, July 14). How to keep your sleeping baby safe: AAP policy explained. HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved August 24, 2022, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx
Moon, R. Y., Carlin, R. F., & Hand, I. (2022). Sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2022 recommendations for reducing infant deaths in the sleep environment. Pediatrics, 150(1). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2022-057990