5 steps to help a newborn baby sleep in a bassinet

5 steps to help a newborn baby sleep in a bassinet

A baby lies on his back in a white bassinet

Why won’t my newborn baby sleep in the bassinet? 

We all have that image of newborn babies sleeping peacefully in a bassinet. We assume that they’ll spend most of the day there and only come out for a nappy change or a feed. 

The reality is often quite different. 

Most new parents find that their newborn babies won’t sleep in their bassinet, or at least won’t sleep for long. So why is this?

Babies expect to be in contact with adults

First of all, our babies expect to be in contact with an adult most of the time. They have immature nervous systems and rely on adults for co-regulation of their nervous system. They often will only truly relax and sleep well when they are in contact with an adult. Newborn babies are born helpless and rely on us to meet all their needs. When they are lying in a bassinet, their primitive survival instincts may stop them from settling fully. 

Newborn babies have short sleep cycles

Many newborn babies can only sleep for 30-50 minutes at a time. They may link a sleep cycle if they are in contact with you, but often if they are in the bassinet they may stir at the end of a sleep cycle and start fussing/crying. 

Newborn babies have light sleep 

They spend at least half of their sleep in light sleep. They might groan, grunt, wriggle for most of the time that they are asleep. There is nothing wrong with them when they do this! It’s just light sleep. 

Newborn babies don’t have an established circadian rhythm 

The circadian rhythm is what helps us stay awake during the day and sleep at night. Newborn babies don’t start to develop a circadian rhythm until closer to 8 weeks. Up to that point, you’ll probably find that they sleep and feed in short cycles. Initially, this cycle may be as short as an hour, and within that hour they feed, sleep, maybe open their eyes and look at you for a few minutes, and then feed back to sleep! As they get older these cycles get a bit longer, often 2-3 hours in length.

However, in terms of them sleeping for longer, more consolidated blocks at night time, that may not happen until closer to 8 weeks (if it happens at all – it doesn’t always!) Therefore, if you are trying to get your baby to sleep in the bassinet at night time, it may just not happen because your baby isn’t ready to sleep for longer blocks at night time. 

Some babies sleep better in a different “container”! 

Most babies prefer to sleep in a bassinet or Moses basket than a cot. The bassinet just feels a little bit more contained. However, if they really won’t settle in a bassinet, then it may be worth experimenting with other sleep spaces to see what works best. Just bear in mind the guidelines for safe sleep

A caveat: It’s ok to embrace contact sleep

OK, so clearly this tip isn’t going to help them sleep in their bassinet! At least not in the short term. However, sometimes accepting that your baby needs contact for sleep is just the easiest thing to do. It won’t always be like this. If you can snuggle up on the sofa with your newborn baby and enjoy some contact naps, then do it! If you can co-sleep safely, then do that too. You’ll probably find that everyone gets more sleep. 

This doesn’t have to be a long term solution. You can gently start to help your baby sleep in the bassinet over the next few weeks by following the next steps below. But give both you and your baby a chance to adjust after the birth. So this little paragraph is just here to remind you that you don’t HAVE to get your baby to sleep in a bassinet at all. It’s perfectly ok for them to contact sleep. 

A baby wearing a dark blue outfit is lying on his back in a bassinet. An adults hands are resting on his abdomen

The steps you need to take

So, what five steps will help a newborn baby sleep in a bassinet? 

1 Keep your baby’s nervous system chilled out 

Newborn babies dysregulate easily because they have an immature nervous system. It’s our job to co-regulate them. Parents can co-regulate their babies by feeding them, sucking and swallowing is very soothing. It’s one of the reasons why newborn babies want to breastfeed so much! Holding them, rocking, carrying, helps too. So don’t skimp on the holding in between naps. 

Also, don’t be afraid to take your baby outdoors – often the world outside provides a rich sensory experience for babies that keeps them very calm and regulated. When babies are calm they sleep better. 

2 Make night sleep easier

Often, parents embrace contact naps during the day but try to get their babies to sleep in the bassinet at night. What’s happening in this situation is that you’re making day sleep very easy for your baby, but you expect them to be able to sleep alone, and for long periods, at night. 

It makes more sense to start with getting your baby used to the bassinet during the day, and then co-sleep (safely of course!) at night time so everyone gets more sleep. Just start with one or two naps in the bassinet and build in some flexibility. You don’t want to focus on getting them to only sleep in the bassinet during the day. They can sleep in the car, a sling or carrier, or even on a blanket on the floor! There is no “junk sleep”. It’s all good sleep. Go about your daily routine and your baby will sleep when they are tired.  

When you’ve had some success with naps during the day, then you can start working on bedtime and the start of the night. Initially your baby may only sleep a few hours in the bassinet at night time, but with practice, they will start to sleep there for longer. Don’t forget that babies’ should be supervised for sleep for the first six months. 

3 Accept short naps 

We all have a total amount of sleep that we need in 24 hours. We can’t make our babies get more sleep than they need. Often, the baby books worry parents by insisting that naps need to be long during the day. Actually, what we want to happen over the course of the first three months is for your baby to consolidate their sleep at night. Naps then become stepping stones to get you through to night time. They are a means to an end. 

If your newborn baby wakes up after 20-30 minutes of going down in the bassinet, accept that this is all the sleep that they need right now, and pick them up and go do something fun and exciting with them! Essentially, too much day sleep can result in not enough sleep at night. 

Don’t overthink it. If your baby looks tired, help them sleep. If they wake up, don’t work hard on trying to get them back to sleep. Trust that they know how to regulate their sleep needs. Remember: even a short nap in the bassinet is a success! 

4 Experiment with putting them down at different points in their sleep cycle

“Drowsy but awake” doesn’t work for most babies. Instead, it usually makes more sense to feed them to sleep and then experiment with the best time to put them down. Often, feeding them regulates their nervous system, calms them down, and they naturally drift off into sleep. You may have read that you should wait for 15 -20 minutes and transfer them when they are in a deeper sleep. If you do this, you may find that they only sleep for 10-20 minutes in the bassinet before they wake up. The reason being they have already spent the first half of their sleep cycle in contact with you!  

Perhaps try putting them down as soon as they fall asleep. You may find that giving your baby a bit of extra support (patting, shushing etc) as they are falling asleep helps as you transition them to the bassinet. Continue patting and shushing as you place them in the bassinet and wait for a minute or two before slowly removing your hand. 

If you do this at the start of a sleep cycle, you may find that they sleep for another 30 minutes or so in the bassinet. If you can manage to pat/shush at the same time as the following steps, they are more likely to stay asleep as you transfer them:

  • Hold their hands across their chest – this inhibits the startle reflex
  • Sit them down first, wait a few seconds
  • Lie them on their side, wait a few seconds
  • Slowly roll them onto their back, wait a few seconds
  • Slowly release their arms, wait a few seconds
  • Stop patting, wait a few seconds
  • Stop shushing! 
This video shows you how to transfer your baby into the bassinet without waking them up: 

5 Make the bassinet more inviting

Some ideas that you might like to try: 

  • You may want to play white noise, or a sound machine that plays womb sounds. 
  • You can also get little devices that make the bassinet vibrate, like this this one: https://amzn.eu/d/ea1q8ei
  • Sleep on your baby’s sheet, or tuck a tshirt you’ve been wearing over the mattress so that your baby has a familiar scent. If you are breastfeeding, you could express a few drops of milk onto the bassinet sheet.
  • If your baby is very sensitive to temperature changes, you could consider gently swaddling them in a cot sheet, and then slowly unswaddling them once they are in the bassinet and tucking the sheet securely over the mattress.

Do you need some support?

The steps outlined above are designed to give you a gentle, no-cry plan to help a newborn baby sleep in a bassinet. If you feel you need more support, or you are concerned about another sleep issue, then please feel free to get in touch! I offer a free 15 minute call where we can discuss your situation: 

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