When you bring your newborn home for the first time, it’ll probably be a pretty big challenge getting him or her to sleep.
In fact, brand new babies usually only sleep for 2-4 hours at a time — if you’re lucky! There are tons of factors that can interrupt even those limited stretches of sleep.
So if your baby hates the bassinet, the place they’re SUPPOSED to sleep at first, it can be really frustrating.
Why do some babies hate sleeping in their bassinet? How do you get a newborn to sleep in a bassinet?
Your baby might not hate the bassinet after all! It could just be that something, in general, is keeping your baby awake and it has nothing to do with the bassinet at all. Study up on infant sleep habits and do everything you can to encourage long rests.
There are, however, a few adjustments you can make to the bassinet to make it more comfortable, and a few alternatives you can try if nothing else works. Switch to a bassinet or cradle that utilizes a rocking motion or try warming the surface of the bassinet to soothe baby.
Finally, some babies just don’t like sleeping on their backs for a multitude of reasons. If that’s the case, consult with your pediatrician on whether it’s safe to elevate the mattress or use other more upright sleeping solutions.
Let’s take a closer look!
Why don’t newborns sleep through the night?
Again, even under the best of circumstances, you can’t really expect newborns to sleep all that well.
Stretches of 2-4 hours are great, but often you’ll be lucky to even get that.
Sleep patterns start to even out somewhere around 6-8 weeks. When a baby is 3-4 months old, he should start to be able to sleep through the night for around 12 hours or so.
(Even then, there will likely be plenty of hiccups. So prepare yourself!)
There are a few key reasons that new babies have really funky sleep patterns:
No Internal Clock
Adults, with a few exceptions, are active and awake during the day, and asleep at night.
Our bodies are fine-tuned to this circadian rhythm — essentially, a 24-hour clock in our bodies that tells us when to be alert and when to rest. A lot of it is driven by exposure to sunlight during the day.
This clock takes time to develop. And even still, it can be easily and severely thrown off by things like:
- Daylight savings time
- Jet lag
- Working the night shift
One of the simplest explanations for why newborns don’t sleep for long stretches is that they haven’t yet developed this internal clock.
They do, however, sleep the majority of the day! They’ll likely sleep 17-18 hours or so in total, though it will come mostly from small stretches.
Again, after 6 weeks or so your baby will begin to figure this out provided you keep a structured bedtime routine in place.
Babies need a lot of calories and nutrients to grow as fast as they do.
When they’re not sleeping during those first 6 weeks, they’ll almost certainly be eating.
Because they have small stomachs, they need to eat frequently in small portions in order to get the nutrients they need.
Their digestive systems are extremely fragile and they nutrient needs so crucial that newborns simply can’t go for more than a few hours, usually, without wanting food.
Crying in the middle of the night can be their way of waking you up to say “Feed me!”
And with all that food is sure to come plenty of… other stuff!
That’s a lot of poops! And a lot of diaper changes!
Throw in a few pees during the day and you figure you’ll be changing that diaper pretty damn frequently.
Add all of these factors together and it should be no surprise why babies younger than 6-8 weeks or so have trouble staying asleep.
However, if your baby sleeps great in your arms and other sleep devices but struggles to rest in the bassinet, you might want to try a couple of adjustments or alternatives.
Here are a few ideas to try.
1. Try something with a rocking motion
They say that when baby is in mom’s tummy, they become accustomed to the swaying, rocking, and gentle jostling they feel as she moves around during the day.
It soothes them and they learn to sleep through the movement.
If that’s the case, then asking them to sleep in a totally stationary crib or bassinet might be a pretty jarring transition.
If your baby won’t sleep in the bassinet, try something that offers some gentle motion like a bedside cradle.
You could also have them sleep for short stretches in a motorized baby swing, or anything with a vibrating function.
2. Try a different swaddle
Newborns usually respond best to a tight and firm swaddle.
It keeps them secure, soothes them, and ultimately helps them go to (and stay) asleep.
If baby will sleep in your arms but not the bassinet, it could be that your swaddle technique needs work!
Trust me, YouTube is a goldmine for How-To swaddle videos. There are a dozen different ways to do it, so try some new options!
You should also consider buying an easy swaddle sack that you can pull tight and velcro shut, like this set on Amazon.
Before you buy anything make sure it’s approved for newborns, but when our daughter was young we found these WAY easier to use than swaddle blankets.
3. Try warming the bassinet
I picked this up on a parenting forum where dozens or moms were discussing this very problem.
One mom offered advice she got from her pediatrician:
Warm the bassinet with a heating pad while baby breastfeeds or drinks formula.
When it’s time to lie down, take the heating pad out and the bed surface will be warm and cozy!
She said it worked wonders for her little one.
But REMEMBER to take the heating pad out and test the surface with your hand before putting baby in the bassinet, to make sure it’s not too hot.
Who wouldn’t sleep better in a heated bed?
(If you don’t have a heating pad, you can get one on Amazon for a great price.)
4. Try an arm’s reach co-sleeper
Baby might not like the bassinet because he wants to be closer to you.
Now, while there are some methods of in-bed cosleeping that are sometimes prescribed by doctors, it’s usually not safe for most people — especially for really young babies.
Instead, consider a swiveling bassinet like the HALO Bassinest (on Amazon).
It rotates around a sturdy base and allows you to easily swing baby right to your side while you’re in bed. That way, you can soothe or place your hand on him to help him sleep without risking bringing him into the actual bed with you.
5. Read “The Happiest Baby on the Block”
If nothing else is working, you may need to call in the big guns.
Ask anyone who’s raised a kid in the last couple of years and chances are they’ve read this book.
Written by Harvey Karp, M.D. this is pretty much considered the modern bible of soothing, calming, and putting babies to sleep.
Among other things, it covers the Five S’s, which help parents recreate the womb environment for young babies during what he calls the “fourth trimester”:
- Side or Stomach Position (for calming, NOT sleeping)
- Sucking (pacifiers)
It’s worth a read and I can tell you from firsthand experience that a lot of it really works!
So there you have it.
It’s hard to say why your baby hates your specific bassinet, but rest assured, it’s probably not broken or haunted.
They just might prefer:
- Something that swings or rocks
- Being closer to you
- A tighter swaddle
- A little more warmth
- Some better comforting techniques
Those early days are all about survival and experimenting with what works. When our daughter was little, we returned a bunch of different sleeping apparatuses that didn’t work for us before finding the few that did!
Shake things up a bit and let me know what works for you in the comments!
Hope this helps, parents.
(Psst — Now that you finally got baby to sleep, here are some things you can do other than just flopping down and watching TV!)