Sleep & Nap Issues: “My Baby Won’t Sleep in His Crib!”


BabyShrink reader Kelley is Ben's Mom. Kelley had a really rough time getting Ben to sleep in his crib, and sleep through the night. Kelley emailed me for suggestions, and we developed a plan to help take back the nights for herself and her hubby. Read our conversation below to see what happened! Dear Dr. Heather,

My 13-month-old little boy has had sleep difficulties since the day he was born despite us establishing a "bedtime  routine" (long walk outside and bath) very early on. Because we decided not to let him "cry it out," he has always had a sleeping crutch; first it was nursing, then bottles, then me or my husband. Only rarely has he slept through the night, and recently, he's been waking up every 2 hours. Our pediatrician cannot find any underlying health problems and is from the "crying it out" school, so she doesn't offer any other suggestions.

Ben is a very engaged, curious, FEISTY, smart little boy (purely unbiased description!). Did I mention feisty? He has not demonstrated any allergies or intolerance's to foods or milk. He doesn't appear sensitive to noises or smells. At daycare, they put him in a crib and rub his back while he falls asleep. At home, we had to put a mattress on the floor so that we can snuggle him to sleep and  be able to leave the room.

He has never slept in his crib.

He never goes down without a fight, at least with us. He is teething and we've given him Motrin right before bedtime in case that was the culprit. Since he's my first child, I really don't have anyone to compare him to. I thought that he'd be used to his bed and nap time routines by now and things would be easier. But, it hasn't. I don't regret not letting him cry it out, but I feel sometimes that he's having a harder time because he doesn't know how to sleep on his own.

My husband and I haven't shared a bed in a year and we're ready to reconnect before we start thinking about baby # 2!

Is this normal behavior for a 13 month old? We are all in desperate need of sleep. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Kelley Richmond, Virginia

Hi Kelley,

Thanks for your question. You must be exhausted!

It's very important that you found your son sleeps well at daycare. That tells us he is CAPABLE of doing it....he's just not WILLING! (at home, anyway.) So now, you have to it important to you to get him to be more independent in sleep? Is it important to you and your relationship with your husband to get some more time with him....and not always snuggling your son?

I am assuming your answers are "yes". It also appears to me, by what you have said, that there are not other issues keeping your son from sleeping better. (And of course double-check with the pediatrician, just to make sure I am not missing anything.)

So, this is about getting your son used to the idea of sleeping alone.

Start by talking with him about it. "You know, you are such a big boy, and you sleep so nicely at daycare, we are going to start sleeping better at home too. Mommy and Daddy and you all feel so much better when we sleep ALL NIGHT LONG, in our OWN BEDS. Won't that be great? Mommy will be SO HAPPY!" Mention it here and there throughout the day, and as you get ready for sleep.

Then, break the process down into several small steps, with the idea of slowly but surely physically moving away from him in bed, getting him used to sleeping without you.

Analyze the situation. First, perhaps you snuggle him to sleep, but when he is almost asleep, you slide down off the mattress, but still rub his back. Remind him "Don't worry, I am here. It's OK to go to sleep." Get him used to that; it may take one night, it may take 2 weeks. Then, pick the next step. It might be sitting on the floor next to the mattress while he falls asleep. Then when he is used to that, perhaps you sit by the door and talk with him while he falls asleep, all the while soothing him and congratulating him for being such a big boy and a GREAT SLEEPER, and HOW PLEASED YOU ARE that he is doing so well. Eventually you will move to having him PLAY in his crib, then put him in his crib when tired, talk to him about how great it will be to SLEEP in his crib, etc. Take small steps toward your ultimate goal.

Each step could take a day, a week, or more. But DON'T GIVE UP. He is likely to be the most resistant at first, when things start to change. But hang in there!

I know you don't want him to 'cry it out', but you CAN let him fuss a bit, at times. He of course will protest giving you up at night....but as he moves into becoming a bigger toddler, you are going to have to start getting him used to new limits anyway. Don't feel bad...believe me, when you get a taste of having your nights back for you and your hubby, you will be so glad!!! And a happy mommy (and daddy) mean a happier toddler.

Make sure you and hubby stick together on is an important message to send to Ben...that Mommy and Daddy's relationship is of paramount importance in the house. Even more important than Ben's preferences, actually.

Because a strong parental relationship is ultimately super-important in the development of a confident and happy child. Better to have a little fussing from him, if it means YOU TWO get to re-connect, and strengthen that couple bond.

HAVE FUN and let me know how it goes!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Now, read on to see what happened after Kelly followed my advice...