How to Get a Baby to Sleep in a Bassinet

Help your baby go to sleep quickly and stay asleep with these helpful tips!

Published January 30, 2023
Baby sleeping in bassinet

They are safe and convenient. Bassinets have been a staple sleeping space for babies since the mid-1800s. With that in mind, why is it that your baby won't sleep in a bassinet? This can be an extremely frustrating problem for sleep-deprived parents - one that leads to unsafe sleeping habits, like bed sharing. How long can a baby sleep in a bassinet? And how can you get them to actually sleep in the space? Rest assured, we have the solutions to help you get some much-needed shut-eye.

How to Get a Baby to Sleep in a Bassinet at Night

Your baby just emerged from a warm and dark place, and they were on their own schedule. Now, they are in a big, bright world and their internal clock may not be synced with yours just yet. In fact, most parents note that it takes two to three months for their new babies to get on any sort of schedule. What this means is that if your baby won't sleep in a bassinet, it likely has little to do with the bed and more with your infant trying to find their rhythm. Keeping that in mind, there are ways to help establish a sleep pattern that better agrees with your schedule.

Get Them on Your Schedule

While this may seem like an obvious answer, how do you actually do it? It starts with you looking at your own routine. What time do you wake up? What time do you go to bed? Newborns will sleep for about 17 hours a day, with half of those hours occurring at night. Thus, if your bedtime is at midnight, then start getting your baby ready for bed at 11PM. This seems exceptionally late, but until they actually have to go to school or daycare, the only thing that matters is the amount of sleep they get, not the exact times you put them down.

Therefore, forget about the 7PM bedtime! That equates to a 3AM wake up call for you, which brings a wake window of about an hour along with the added time it takes you to get them back down. Instead, put them to sleep around midnight or your preferred bedtime hour. You will still have to wake up around 3AM to do a feeding, but this can allow for a dream feed and a quick transition back to sleep.

Another important detail is their last nap of the day. Depending on the baby, you need a wake window of an hour and a half to three hours before bed to ensure that they go to sleep quickly and stay asleep. Once you determine your sweet spot, set timers to make sure you stay on schedule. Wake the baby when needed!

Simulate Your Embrace

Babies sleep best when snuggled up tightly in your arms. Give them this same experience in their bassinet. Swaddle your baby in a muslin cloth before putting them down. This not only lessens the effect of the startle reflex, but research has also proven that swaddling will calm them, soothe their discomfort, and help them sleep for longer stretches. If this is not enough, then also keep your hands on their chest when you put them in the bassinet. This is called responsive settling. When paired with slow shushing or a gentle pat, this can help calm your baby and get them to sleep.

Make the Space More Inviting

Studies show that a baby knows its mother's scent. That's one of the many reasons they prefer laying in your arms to the bassinet. It may seem silly, but throw one of your baby's bassinet bedsheets inside the shirt that you're wearing for a few hours. This will imprint your odor on the fabric, giving the illusion of your presence in the bassinet when you put it back in its place.

Avoid Rocking Them to Sleep

Snuggling with your baby is the best, but if you always help them get to sleep, they will never figure out how to do it on their own. Thus, put them to bed while they're drowsy. If they fuss a little, that's okay. However, always ask yourself three questions before walking away - Are they dry? Are they full? Are they warm? If you answer yes, then you are good to walk away for a few minutes to let them try to settle down on their own. If you answer no, address these issues first.

Tummy Time Is a Gamechanger

Exercise is a proven way to improve sleep. While you little one is not mobile yet, they can get a solid core, neck, shoulder, and arm workout by simply laying on their belly! If you had a healthy full-term baby, you can start tummy time from the moment they come home from the hospital. Just remember to start with small increments of time, slowly increasing your length and frequency over their first few months. Your goal should be to do two to three sessions, totalling ten minutes each day, throughout the first month. This will increase to 20 minutes in the second month and thirty minutes in the third month. The keys to success are saving your last tummy time session for right before bedtime and to always feed them after this activity. This ensures that they get tuckered out and don't get sick in the process.

Try Bath Time & Infant Massage

Before tummy time, parents can also try giving their little one a warm relaxing soak and a massage to help calm their baby before setting them down in the bassinet. Also, try soothing scents like lavender or camomile to help calm them further.

Consider Tummy Trouble

For the babies who haven't pooped in a while or have been extra gassy during the day, another fantastic solution is to help them do bicycle kicks to work out those gas bubbles and relive some of their pain. The process is simple. Lie them on their back and slowly move their legs as if they were riding a bike. You can also help them do reverse situps by slowly pushing their legs into their stomach. Hold this position for 10 seconds and release. Repeat a handful of times.

Make Them More Comfortable

Think about your baby's sleeping environment. Is it bright? Can they hear noises from the other room? Are they too hot or too cold? These factors can impact anyone's sleep. So, dim the lights an hour before bedtime, turn on a fan or white noise machine to drown out distractions, and make sure you dressed your baby appropriately for sleep. Too much and too little clothing can inhibit their rest. You need to make sure that they are like Goldilocks - their outfit needs to be just right. Finally, don't forget that regular blankets are not safe for babies this small and that swaddle blankets are only safe when your baby cannot flip over.

Bassinet Versus Crib

Both a crib and a bassinet are safe sleeping spaces for a baby. The two main differences are their size and mobility. When a baby is born, many parents prefer a bassinet because this cradle can sit right next to the bed, giving mom easy access for feedings. They can also move it from room to room with minimal effort. In contrast, a crib is designed to be a permanent fixture in the nursery that can serve as a child's bed for up to three years. This means that it is notably larger than the bassinet - measuring almost double the length and width.

Signs a Bassinet Is too Small

Most manufacturers note your baby can sleep in a bassinet for the first four to six months of their life. However, it's important to remember that this is an average. Some people produce bigger babies. This can be in terms of weight and length. One of the main reasons a baby won't sleep in the bassinet is because it's just too small. As many parents quickly notice, in the first few weeks of life, their baby's Moro reflex (startle reflex) peaks. This involuntary jerk is enough to wake them up on its own, but when you add in a hard surface that their little hands and feet bang into, you're in for a long night.

Other signs that a baby is too big for this sleeping surface are that they have surpassed the manufacturer's weight limit, they are rolling over, or they can sit up on their own. The last two signs are extremely important for parents to pay attention to because they bring the risk of a fall. At this point, the crib becomes a necessity. Just remember that this transition will differ for every baby. Thankfully, until you reach these milestones, there are easy ways to get a baby to sleep in a bassinet.

Sleep Patterns Change Regularly in Year One

One of the most frustrating parts of the first year of your baby's life is the many changes that occur in their sleep patterns. Their wake windows will lengthen, the amount of sleep they require will decrease, and they will go through a slew of sleep regressions. This means that you will find a rhythm, only to find yourself out of tune within a few weeks. As hard as this may be, try to be patient. The best way to keep your baby on schedule is to pay attention to their cues. It seems ridiculous, but when a baby gets overtired, they will struggle to get to sleep. If they are rubbing their eyes and face, sucking on their fingers, or jerking their arms and legs, it is time to put them down, regardless of their schedule.

How to Get a Baby to Sleep in a Bassinet