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The When & How & Why of Crib Soothers

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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Comments

  • Lindsay

    Babies and sleep, man.  I feel like the best advice I ever got was, “JUST TRY ALL THE THINGS”.  My kid takes any form of music as a signal that it’s party time, so so-called “soothing” music is counterproductive for her.  White noise (we use an old ipod on a cheap dock with one white noise “song” on repeat all night) helps us though. 

  • Myriam

    I would just like to reassure you that habits can be formed and transformed later on too. The 1st 3 months, so-called the 4th trimester, is a stage when I think ”do whatever works” is the best advice I could give. Around 4 months, baby is cognitively a bit more developed, and creating good sleep habits, like self-soothing, is a good idea. I co-slept with my 2nd daughter until she was 7 months, and then white noise machine became our good friend, but the crib aquarium never caught on… Well, live and learn!

  • traci

    The white noise that worked for my guy from 0-6 months was NPR, especially BBC world news. He loves a soothing British accent apparently.

    Nothing has ever been too successful at blocking out the construction noise across the street during naps (transforming an old industrial building into a school). At 13 months a fan has been helping. More than the white noise machine-i think he likes the cool air.

    Honestly, I’ve been called a sleep whisperer for my ability to get kids to sleep, but my own kid has been a horrible sleeper. So sometimes you just have that kind of kid. I recommend Dr. Jodi Mindell’s book Sleeping Through the Night. She’s an actual sleep psychologist and works in the sleep center at children’s hospital of Philadelphia. Her book gives you tools that you can use within your own parenting preferences. Although she states what she thinks is the best way to go, she also gives advice for making it work with co-sleeping and minimal/no crying if that’s your thing. I read it when my kid was 10 months and it really helped us reframe our thinking on how we approach sleep. We didn’t have the magic 3 day turn around, but we did figure out what works for him and now he goes down easy and stays asleep. Wish we would have found it sooner.

    Oh, she did a podcast interview on zerotothree.org that gives some great info./background on kids and sleep and a sense of what her book is like.

  • Ali

    My boys LOVED their crib soothers starting around 6-7month, but I think your baby may be too little to be soothed by it yet.  Swaddling worked for our babies until around 5-6 months as well as a dose of whatever works.  🙂  For my second baby, “whatever works” involved me being propped up in bed holding him for the first several months.  You will sleep again someday, I promise!

  • Bonnie

    I will forever-and-ever-amen swear by the Fisher Price Soothe And Glow Seahorse. My in-laws gave us those when the kids were maybe two months old, and they slept with them every night for at least two and a half years. Squish to turn them on, they play a little soft music and light for a few minutes, they’re soft and sweet, adjustable volume, and they don’t eat batteries super fast. I give them at pretty much every baby shower.

    • Kari Weber

      We call ours “The Seahorse of Magical Goodness” and my six year old still has his. Used since birth. I always joke I have created some sort of Pavlovian response to it! I would turn it on in the crib EVERY time I would go into nurse or settle him back to sleep. Bonus: it acted as just enough light to my sleep deprived self that I was able to see what I was doing! He uses it still as a lovey and I hear him squeeze it on sometimes when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Extra bonus? The inside comes out and the “body” is machine washable!!!

      • Melissa V

        YES! The Magic Seahorse! I obnoxiously became That Mom anytime someone mentioned sleep issues and insisted that they go directly to the store and get one. I kid you not, every single one of them came back to me within weeks thanking me profusely for fixing their baby. I don’t know what it is about that thing but it is made of miracles and baby sleep.

  • Heather

    I second the recommendation for the Fisher Price Seahorse. We got one for my son when he was maybe 10 months old. He did not care about it at first, but as he got older he became very attached to it. Now he’s 16 months and I turn it on as I rock him to sleep. If he wakes up in the middle of the night, he will cry for a few seconds, then roll over and turn on the seahorse and then fall back to sleep hugging it (as seen on the video monitor). It turns on for up to 5 minutes and has soothing water and music sounds. I like that he can hug it. It did take him until about 14 months to reliably learn to turn it on by himself. 

  • Bethany

    I found the crib soother most helpful after my son started rolling over and sitting up in his crib, because hey, it’s so much more fun to play than sleep! But with the crib soother (we had one like the aquarium), it was something that would keep his attention for a few minutes to help him get to sleep rather than rolling around in his crib.

  • Cait

    My vote is something that doesn’t actually attach to the crib. My LO loves soft classical music when he goes to sleep (as a function of a light projector that also played lullabies that his sitter had and found that he liked) I put on an iPod app on my old busted iPod (called sleep genius) that plays very soft drawn out lullabies using pianos and other classical instruments. I started putting him to sleep using that about 2 months before I “sleep trained” and that cue of oh hey my music’s on, now I am cozy and sleepy, helped IMMENSELY for the MOTN wakings and having him fall asleep once I put him down. Just my two cents that it doesn’t have to be a soother in the crib to be functional 🙂 

  • Pixi

    Does anyone have any crib soother recommendations for a traditional soother, i.e. one that attaches to the side of the crib? We already have a lovey that she is attached to.

    • The first two links in the answer are ones that attach to the side of the crib.

  • Kelly

    Back in 07 I had a crib soother for my son actually the old fisher price aquarium one. It was one of the better purchases I made! I can’t remember exact ages but I do remember when I was transitioning DS from sleeping with me to his crib he was the age where it took just a couple weeks to learn to hit the button to turn it back on. He WAS a baby that white noise worked for him and I needed it myself to sleep (floor fan)…that he had been using since his first night born right in the hospital lol!! Anyhow, this soother was amazing and I can remember one night it starting to go off and the bedroom was getting quieter and I heard his little hand hit the button and he went right off to sleep minutes later ?….I can remember thinking I dont know what to do with myself now lol do I sleep or stay up for some me time! I chose to sleep and it really made most nights soooo much easier. My son really liked to be walked to sleep NOT ROCKED 🙁 so I even turned it on while I was walking him back and forth and noticed even a difference then of him falling asleep easier. For me it was a life saver for sleep and this time I plan on buying two and rotating or at least see which one she likes best, I’m 14weeks pregnant. I would recommend trying anything for a sleep deprived momma, this really worked for us and I even enjoyed it and watching my son’s little face as he watched it was so cute. We had no issues with him giving it up as time went on but he kept it in his crib until we did away with his crib and he used almost every night.