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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

The When & How & Why of Crib Soothers

By Amalah

Hello!

I’ve been reading this column forever and got all my makeup and skincare advice in the past and now all my baby advice so thanks! I noticed that you have mentioned this “crib soother” many times. Maybe this is silly but how and when did you start to use it? I have a 7 week old with the usual sleep issues. I’m up 3-10 times a night. Wondering if he’s too young since I have yet to put him down the recommended “sleepy but drowsy.”

Also, any newborn sleep advice would be welcome! I feel like I’m drowning in contradictory information and also am too sleep deprived to make sense of it. At this point, I wonder how anyone has more than one child but you obviously did.

Thanks!

You can use a crib soother at any age. We had ours (an old-school Fisher Price Ocean Wonders crib aquarium, then I think some sort of jungle version?) loaded up with fresh batteries and secured to the crib railing before we even brought our babies home. They didn’t spend much time in the crib at first, of course, but any time I DID put them in the crib as a sort of general introduction to Where I Would Eventually Like You To Sleep, I would turn it on. Obviously a newborn is going to mostly ignore it, but I like to imagine that MAYBE having it around from the get-go was part of why it later became such a successful sleep cue for them.

Other good options are white noise machines or musical mobiles. But no matter what you try, just know that some babies like them, some babies NEED them, some babies could not give less of a crap about any of them.

We also owned a white noise machine and probably several different mobiles with different lights/music/dangly toy options. The white noise machine never really had much of an impact on any of my babies’ sleep, however I know many, many moms who SWEAR by them, especially if you’ve got a baby who doesn’t sleep very deeply and is easily awoken by noises. If you ever notice that sounds like the vacuum seem to lull your son to sleep, or he tends to nod off in loud restaurants, the white noise machine might be a good option. Bonus: they PLUG IN and can run all night, unlike the battery-operated soothers.

Mobiles can serve several useful purposes as well: They can keep a baby somewhat entertained if you just need to PUT THEM DOWN somewhere while you do something else (which is why so many swings and bouncy seats are also equipped with music/lights/things that move). They can also distract a baby who is about to protest over being put down drowsy-but-awake and allow you to creep away while they (in theory) zone out and fall asleep by the time the mobile cycle is over.

But. That right there is why the crib aquariums and similar soothers ultimately get my vote: At some point, my babies/toddlers could TURN THEM ON THEMSELVES. Unlike a mobile that required me to come back in and restart it, our crib soother could be activated by a simple kick of their foot. The button was large and easy for them to find and press. They LOVED the combo of water noises and soft music, which typically got slower and quieter towards the end of the cycle, the lights dimmed a little before turning off, etc. For younger babies, I noticed some of the new soother models also come with a remote so you can turn it back on while staying out of sight. Which: Damn! That’s awesome! What a world! Kids today, etc.

Now. Real talk though: None of these products are going to result in an overnight miracle, ESPECIALLY for a 7 week old. I would recommend giving them a try when you DO feel ready to start trying the sleepy/drowsy but awake technique. Which is really hard to do when they are that tiny and soooo prone to falling sound asleep before they’ve finished eating. (And they really, really need to finish eating.) But that is, ultimately, your goal and the solution to about a million different sleep problems. You (or your boobs, or your ability to make bottles in the middle of the night) should not be his sleep crutch, i.e. the thing that he absolutely requires in order to put himself back to sleep.

Personally, I found the crib soothers to be pretty useful/ultimately harmless, as sleep crutches go. My babies were always swaddled at night (another crutch, but it worked and Did Not Involve Me) until they outgrew the blankets; I really think having the crib aquarium eased that transition, because they quickly learned that freedom from the swaddle meant they could kick/activate the toy. The soothers ate through a ton of batteries (and we had to take them everywhere and figure out a way to attach them to other cribs/pack-n-plays), but my boys all naturally outgrew them, so it was never something we had to “take away” like a pacifier or nighttime bottle. They attach very securely onto the crib so I never had to worry about injury or loose toys/loveys in a crib with a very small baby. And in a sea of garish plastic crap that all lit up and made noise, the crib aquariums were the least annoying thing we owned.

Of course, your mileage (and baby) may vary. There’s no “right” age for one, and they aren’t an essential purchase that OMG you must buy or you will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. They’re just another thing you can try, like any other piece of baby/nursery gear. Understand that the six/seven week mark is typically when sleep goes a little haywire, but it WILL pass, especially if you’re mindful about establishing good sleep habits (a regular routine, slowly working to establish a set bedtime) and avoiding not-so-good ones (always nursing/feeding to sleep, intervening too quickly before he has a chance to settle himself back to sleep, etc.). If you haven’t tried a Miracle Blanket, that’s another thing I found to be really, really useful at that age.

And for every mom like me (who loved the crib soothers, would recommend them), there’s another mom out there reading this and laughing her head off, thinking of the wasted money and the useless crib aquarium she ultimately sold on Craigslist for 10 bucks, because good riddance.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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