Why Babies Hate Cribs – and What You Can Do About It

Does your baby hate sleeping in his crib? Does he sleep peacefully in your arms, but then cry the instant you try to put him down?

Or does your baby fall asleep in her crib then wake in the middle of the night crying, wanting to be held and cuddled, refusing to return to her little bed?

If this sounds like you, you’re probably pulling your hair out trying to figure out what to do, how to make your little one sleep where you want them to sleep! Well, here’s some news for you…what you’re doing may not ever work. Babies tend to hate their cribs. Ever wonder why? Here are some ideas.

1. Cribs don’t include Mom.

Human beings did not evolve sleeping in cribs. Cribs showed up around the early 19th century, just about 200 years ago now, and for a species that’s been around for 200,000 years or so cribs are new, strange, and a little wacky. Our bodies aren’t used to them. Our babies aren’t used to them. Trying to make a baby get used to one can prove difficult (as many parents already know!).

If you think about every other mammal on the planet, their babies sleep very close to their mamas …usually in arms. Cuddled. Safe. Protected. Since babies have the drive to survive, that includes bonding with their caregiver (usually Mom) immediately and always staying close to her. Sleeping alone, quietly, peacefully, in a bed of their own removed from the one who will feed and protect them when they’re most vulnerable? Not so much.

As James J. McKenna, Ph.D. puts it:

“Throughout human history, breast-feeding mothers sleeping alongside their infants constituted a marvelously adaptive system in which both the mothers’ and infants’ sleep physiology and health were connected in beneficial ways. By sleeping next to its mother, the infant receives protection, warmth, emotional reassurance, and breast milk – in just the forms and quantities that nature intended.

This sleeping arrangement permits mothers (and fathers) to respond quickly to the infant if it cries, chokes, or needs its nasal passages cleared, its body cooled, warmed, caressed, rocked or held. This arrangement thus helps to regulate the infant’s breathing, sleep state, arousal patterns, heart rates, and body temperature. The mother’s proximity also stimulates the infant to feed more frequently, thus receiving more antibodies to fight disease.”

Frankly, to babies, cribs are just crazy. Sleeping alone? That’s just nuts!

2. Babies have a falling reflex that you trigger when you try to lay them down while they’re sleeping.

If baby is sleeping and she senses downward movement, she may feel like she’s falling and, therefore, feel like she’s in imminent danger. This is especially true if she fell asleep safe in your arms and is now moving through space, downward, without the comfort of your body against hers. She’s all alone and she’s falling! DANGER! That’s how she feels, so she jerks awake just when she hits the mattress.

Good luck overriding that falling reflex!

3. Cribs are a little too much like prisons.

Imagine yourself lying in bed surrounded by bars and you can’t get out by yourself. Oh, and you can’t talk so you can’t ask anyone to get you out. You can’t even ask anyone to put you in when you’re tired, either!

What should be comforting, relaxing, and deliciously pleasing – sleep – has become confusing, frustrating, and disempowering. (And, yes, babies do experience feelings such as confusion and frustration … probably much more than even the most empathic adults ever give them credit for.)

So If Babies Hate Cribs, What Should You Do About It?

Here are some options:

– Co-sleeping: Not to be confused with “bed-sharing.” Co-sleeping means baby sleeps in the same room as you so she knows she’s safe with her caregivers close by (covers problem #1 above), and if you make space she’s free to enter and exit as she pleases that covers #’s 2 & 3.

For a super cute example of a sleeping space for baby that she can enter and exit at will, check out The Dream Coracle at Northumbria University Nursery:

– Bed-sharing: Just keep baby in bed with you! Simple, easy, convenient, and basically covers all three problems above except for the entering-and-exiting-at-will issue, unless …

– Bed-share on the floor: Seriously! Try it! Simply take your mattress, throw it on the floor with nothing beneath it (no bed frame, no box spring), and nighty-night it is! Mom and dad are close by, no need to drop baby into a crib, and now baby can come and go as she pleases.

It may take some trial and error to find what works best for you.

Good luck!

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