Transitioning your baby from a bassinet to a cot, or a cot to a big kid bed, is high stakes. You want it to go calmly, you want everyone to have fun, and (most important!) you want their very precarious sleep routine to not be disrupted. So, to help you get it right, we asked our sleep expert, Jen Butler, to give us her best tips for making it a smooth, snoozy move.
Choose the right time to transition.
How do you know when to evict your tiny roommate from their bassinet and move them into a cot? The time to transition is usually prompted by your baby no longer fitting in their bassinet. (Ah, it’s definitely time if they’re waking up with their head smooshed against the top of the crib.) This can happen as early as three months or as late as nine months, depending on the size of your baby or their bassinet. And depending on when you feel ready!
When it comes to bigger kids, the transition from cot to bed is often instigated by the need to clear cot space for a new baby! However, the timing of an impending sibling doesn’t always mean it’s the right time developmentally for your toddler. In ideal circumstances, the transition from cot to bed should be around three years old. Toddlers need physical and mental boundaries in place when it comes to sleep and the cot is a fantastic tool to offer both of these. The longer you wait for your kid to make the transition from their cot to a bed will usually see the change go much more smoothly.
Prepare for a flood of feels.
The transition from bassinet to cot, or cot to bed, is a big deal for parents. (Children, too!) And it can spark a lot of emotions. There might be relief. (No more snorting, grunting and teeny groans to keep you awake.) There might be heartache. (Your little human won’t be sleeping right next to you anymore.) There might be nostalgia. (How quickly the days/months/years have flown by!)
And, for almost every parent, there’ll be a bit of apprehension. How is this going to work? Will the baby wake more? Who will go to their room to resettle them at night? What do you do when they get themselves out of bed for the billionth time?
These feelings are all important, and valid, and perfectly normal. But if they are overwhelming you and you’re paralysed to make this change, here’s a good place to start.
Make the new bed cosy and familiar.
Keeping the environment consistent doesn’t mean that your baby's cot or toddler’s bed needs to be in your room. (Although this is totally okay, if it’s what works for your family.) Instead create consistency by taking the things that your child associates with bedtime into their new sleep space. This could be the same sleeping bag, their favourite toys, or a white noise machine they usually fall asleep to.
Keep their routine delightfully predictable.
If you have created a lovely, relaxing bedtime routine (highly recommended!), now is not the time to shake things up. Keep your evening rituals, like dinner, bath and teeth brushing, exactly the same. The only thing that should change is your final 10 minutes of wind-down, which you can shift to their new sleep space.
Communicate the change.
No matter the age of your baby or toddler, it is important to have open communication lines when something is changing. As a parent, it’s easy to underestimate just how much your kid understands. The more you can communicate with them about the change that’s happening and your expectations of them at sleep time, the more they’ll come to trust bedtime. If your child is toddler age, you can start by talking about their friends/siblings/cousins who already sleep in big beds, reading books (like this one), or acting out the new bedtime scenario with their favourite soft toy friends.
Be consistent with your settling.
However you choose to settle your baby or toddler, keep it consistent. And try to see it through, rather than ‘giving up’ if you feel it’s not working. It will usually only take your child a few days to adjust to their new sleep environment, as long as you keep things predictable in how you prepare them for sleep. Of course, these changes can be harder for some families. So much can impact the ease with which children adapt and transition. If you’re finding it really difficult to support your baby or toddler through their change of sleep space, recruit a sleep consultant to create a plan that eases your bedtime battles and supports healthy sleep habits.
Make it fun and exciting!
If you’re feeling nervous about the transition, do your best to act excited and positive. Children vibe off their parents’ energy, so if you feel anxious and worried, they will, too! Where you can, involve your little squirt in the change. Let them pick out their new sheets, or get them to help you set up the bed. Remind them that this is a fun step towards being a big kid!
(And remind yourself that every change requires a period of transition. Even when you feel like you’re stuck in a tricky stage, you’re not alone. It will pass. You will sleep again.)