5 Steps for Transitioning Your Baby to the Nursery
When and how parents decide to transition their baby to his or her own bedroom is one of the million-dollar questions that arises when navigating the early stages of parenthood. Sara Pearce, the founder of Amma Parenting Center, Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse-Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, is familiar with the pain points and questions that arise during this tough transition period. Sara has developed 5 steps that will help you understand when to start transitioning baby to their own bedroom, and how to make it a seamless process for you AND your baby.
Step 1: Understand when you and your baby are ready.
For safe sleep the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you share your room with your baby for at least the first 6 months, though one year is preferred. This sleeping arrangement can be a challenge for many families for a variety of reasons and I often see parents transitioning their babies to their own room when it becomes clear that they or the baby need a change.
You may be ready for the transition if your baby’s presence is affecting the quality of sleep for you and your partner. Babies can be loud at night, making noises or even crying out in their sleep. If you are a light sleeper, this can lead to excessive sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep is par for the course for new parents, but if you find that sleep deprivation may be triggering feelings of depression or anxiety during the day, it may be time to make a change in your sleeping arrangements to ensure you are at your best to care for your child.
The other trigger to consider making a change is if the baby’s sleep is getting worse because of your proximity to each other. Perhaps your baby has better eyesight, or can pull up and see you, or starts to become distressed if they see you, but aren’t invited into your bed. When proximity becomes a problem, many parents find it beneficial to make a change.
If you’re at this crossroads and feeling worried that you’re not following official room sharing advice, talk to your baby’s healthcare provider. There are lots of other important ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation, many of which can be done while baby is sleeping in their own room.
Step 2: Appeal to your baby’s senses to create sleep associations in preparation for the move.
Once you and baby are ready to make the transition, create some sleep associations that you can “export” with your baby to her own room. Sleep associations are little cues for sleep that are created through repetition right before falling asleep. I like to think of the ways I can appeal to a little one’s senses to establish these cues. For example, one helpful sleep cue is white noise. White noise, such as the sound of a fan, heart beat or stream can mimic the sound of the womb, which is very comforting for your baby. You can start by playing white noise in your room (for sleep only, turning it off upon waking) and playing the same sounds in the baby’s nursery to maintain a familiar sleep association.
Likewise, vibration can be used in the same way to appeal to your baby’s sense of movement (some bassinets feature vibration as a soothing function, like the HALO Bassinest Swivel Sleeper). One soother we love is the HALO SnoozyPod vibrating bedtime soother. As an all-in-one soother for the crib with white noise and vibration, it can help recreate these positive sleep cues for your baby making the transition from bassinet to crib a little easier.
Appealing to your baby’s sense of smell can also be a very powerful cue for sleep, because it is so closely connected with memory. Try putting a little bit of lavender balm on your baby’s pajamas, wearable blanket or sheets at bedtime to help “cue sleep.”
Lastly, your baby’s sleepwear, like their favorite HALO SleepSack wearable blanket, is a great sleep association. Research has shown that a quick and easy bedtime routine can be a huge help in preparing little ones for sleep.
Step 3: Prepare a comfortable and safe sleeping environment.
Your little one’s nursery should be on the cool side, and the crib or bassinet should only have a firm, well-fitting mattress with nothing else in it. This means no bumper pads, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or other suffocation hazards. To keep baby warm, the AAP recommends dressing your baby in a wearable blanket, like the HALO SleepSack, instead of loose blankets that could interfere with baby’s breathing. If the crib is by a window, make sure there aren’t window blind cords dangling down within reach, or there isn’t wall art that could be pulled down.
Many parents use a baby monitor once their little one is sleeping in the nursery. I prefer video monitors because you can see if a nighttime noise is an actual wake-up or just a sleep noise. I recommend that you don’t turn up the volume on the monitor all the way. You’re not needed at every peep or squeak, and you’ll sleep better if you don’t hear each tiny noise.
Finally, at Amma we teach that a good sleeping environment is very dark in order to help your baby produce proper sleep hormones. When you need to tend to your baby at night, choose a red or orange night light, just for tasks, and turn it off when you’re done. If your baby is older and going through separation anxiety or fears, you can use a dim amber night light all night if it helps, but typically the darker the better.
Step 4: Time the move at optimal moments.
For the move to baby’s new sleep space, pick a sleep time that tends to be deep and long when “sleep pressure” is at its peak. “Sleep pressure” is a driver for sleep and in infancy, sleep pressure is strongest at bedtime and for the first morning nap. If your baby tends to start their night with a nice long sleep stretch, or have a predictable good morning nap, these are great times to try sleeping in the nursery. It’s ok to try the new room for only a few sleep episodes, like part of the night or some naps. I call this “practicing”. Eventually they’ll be using their room for all sleep like a champ.
Also, I suggest waiting until your baby is primed for learning a new skill – when they are healthy and there is nothing to interrupt your evening routine. There are six “Sleep Sinkers” that I teach to parents at Amma. They are: teething, travel, illness, developmental milestones, growth spurt and stress in the parent’s life. These are times to avoid disrupting your baby’s routine or transitioning to something new. If your baby is currently experiencing a sleep sinker, don’t worry. Simply continue with your typical sleep routine and sleep cues and plan to start baby’s transition to their own room once things have returned to normal when they might respond better to change.
Step 5: Make adjustments as needed.
If your little one doesn’t react well to your initial attempts to move them to their own room, don’t worry. Give it time and adjust as needed as every little one is different.
If your baby isn’t sleeping well in their new room, try using the room during the day for happy things, like playing, feeding and bonding. Teach your baby that their room is a place to feel secure and loved. Make sure your baby isn’t experiencing any “sleep sinkers,” you’re choosing deep sleep times for practice sessions, and that the room is truly “sleep-friendly” (really dark, white noise, toys out of sight).
Spend time creating sleep associations and routines and try not to rush the change. And most importantly, remember that it is ok to change your plan! You can scrap it and try again later when you’re both more ready for a change. The most important thing that I tell new parents is to trust themselves. You have wonderful caring instincts and know your baby better than anyone – you’re on the same team with your baby and together you’ll figure this out.
About Sara Pearce:
Sara Pearce is a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse-Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She’s been working with families and babies for 22 years, with a specialization in newborn sleep and maternal mental health. She founded Amma Parenting Center in 2007 – its mission is to make a difference in the world by providing new and expecting families with support, education and community. You can find them and learn more at www.ammaparentingcenter.com.