Is It OK To Leave Baby In Crib Awake? (The TRUTH Revealed)

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 10/25/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Tips

Leaving your baby in their crib awake can be a controversial topic among parents. Some swear by it, while others believe it’s not okay. So, is it OK to leave baby in crib awake? In this post, I’ll share my insights from 40 years of working in the childcare industry to help you decide what’s best for your family.

Is It OK to leave baby in crib awake

Key Takeaways

Is It OK To Leave Baby In Crib Awake?

How Long Should You Leave Baby Awake In Crib For?

Leaving your baby to lie awake in their crib for 5 to 10 minutes a couple of times a day is completely acceptable. However, you must ensure baby is safe and secure within their bassinet or crib.

When To Leave Baby Awake In Crib

If you’re asking the question “Is it ok to leave baby in crib awake?”, you will no doubt think about WHEN you can leave them alone…

And whilst every family and baby is different, most babies can be left alone in their crib when:

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

How Does Lying Awake In A Crib Help Baby Develop?

When done correctly (as in… not for too long), awake time in a crib is great for your developing baby:

How letting your baby lie awake in crib helps them to develop
  1. Being left alone in a crib when awake encourages independent thought and allows your baby to practice their language skills as they babble away to themselves.
  2. Lying awake in their crib also encourages your baby to develop their fine motor skills as they learn to reach, point, and grasp at the air around them.
  3. As your baby becomes content with their own company, lying awake in their crib helps to develop a sense of self, reducing separation anxiety when they grow up.
  4. Young children who lie awake in their cribs are often better at independent play as they grow up. This is beneficial to both you and your child as it gives you a break when they are able to happily play alone. To learn more about independent play, check out this post on solitary play.
  5. Lying awake in their crib is also the precursor to learning to self-settle (and sleep training!) which is a very important skill your baby will need to develop to help them fall asleep (even when a sleep blip occurs such as a sleep regression or teething). To learn more about the art of self-settling here’s a quick video to get you started:

How To Get Your Baby To Lie Awake Alone In Their Crib?

In addition to knowing if it is ok to leave your baby in their crib awake, you will need to know the best way to maximize this calm downtime to ensure the safety of your baby.

1. Make Their Room And Crib Safe And Fun To Sleep In

Keep potential hazards away, such as blind cords, excess pillows, cushions, and loose blankets, and ensure your baby cannot climb out of their cot either. 

Next, you need to provide some form of entertainment for your infant.

The solution?

A crib mobile!

I am a huge fan of crib mobiles as they are excellent for keeping babies focused and entertained whilst helping to develop their eyesight, hearing, and cognitive abilities. Your baby will happily stare at a pretty one like this for ages!

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2. Is Your Baby Content?

Once the room is ready, you need to ensure your baby is comfortable and ready to be put down alone in their crib.

So ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Has baby been fed recently? If your baby has been fed, they should be quite happy to be put down for a few minutes whilst awake.
  2. Are they clean and dry? If your baby has a clean nappy and is feeling fresh, they will also be much more likely to be content spending some time by themselves.
  3. When did they last nap? If your baby is overtired, they will struggle to settle and won’t want to be left alone because they crave your comfort.
  4. Have they been left alone before? If you’ve never left your baby alone before, you may need to start with very short periods of time and gradually work up to longer periods of time as they get used to being away from you.

3. Practise Building Trust For Your Baby

The KEY to having a baby who is OK with being left alone in their crib is to: develop their trust that you will return to them.

The best way to build this trust is to return often but to not pick up your baby straight away…

Instead, talk to them and leave again.

Then return a few minutes later and repeat. 

If, your baby is grizzling, give them a minute or two before you go in to see them. They may settle themselves down in that time and it will stop a bad habit from forming (where your baby will make a fuss and expect you to turn up immediately).

Of course, if your baby is crying and wailing then go to them and comfort them. You can always try to get them to spend some alone time in their crib later.

Over time, your baby will learn that being alone is nothing to be scared of and they will be quite happy to lie awake in their crib for a few minutes as they know you will return to them.

This is a very useful sleep habit to develop!

Is It OK To Leave Baby Awake In Crib Baby Lying In Crib At Night

Frequently Asked Questions About When It Is OK To Leave A Baby In Crib Awake

Looking for more help with understanding if it’s OK to leave your baby in their crib awake? Find answers to the most common questions here.

Q: Does spending time awake in a crib lead to flat head syndrome?

A: Flat head syndrome is caused by a baby lying flat on their back for too long in a combination of ways such as:

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Being left alone in a crib does not solely cause flat head syndrome. In order to prevent flat head syndrome, balance baby’s time spent on their back (asleep or awake) with plenty of tummy time.

Consider turning baby’s head whilst they sleep too.

If your baby is struggling with tummy time, check out this article to find alternatives and avoid any physical development issues down the line.

Q: Is it ok to leave baby in crib awake but not crying?

A: Yes, it’s perfectly fine for your baby to spend time alone in their crib when awake and not crying. In fact… this is the perfect situation.

A content baby who is happy to be alone with their thoughts and wondering for a few minutes at a time will flourish into an independent child as they grow up.

Q: How long to leave baby in crib if not napping?

A: If you have put your baby down and they are not napping but they’re content by themselves, you should leave them for a maximum of 30 minutes alone.

This calm and relaxed alone time will act as a mini nap and will help your baby feel rested even if they have not slept. With this said, you may need to adjust baby’s naps and sleep schedule for the rest of the day to ensure they get enough sleep overall.

Q: What to do when baby is wide awake in the middle of the night

A: If your baby happily lies awake in their crib at night, leave them be. The less you engage with them, the more likely your baby is to happily drift back off to sleep in their crib.

However, if your baby gets upset when they are awake in the middle of the night, create a gentle connection point to help calm them down. This can be by laying a light hand on their chest or by singing a soft lullaby.

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Q: Should I take my baby out of crib if not sleeping?

A: If it is nap time and your baby has not been sleeping after 15 minutes of being in their crib alone, you should take your baby out of their crib and engage in a calming activity until they are ready to nap again. However, if it is bedtime, do not get your baby out of their crib. Simply comfort your baby with gentle soothing noises and touches to settle them to sleep. If your baby struggles to sleep in their crib read my post Baby Won’t Sleep In Their Crib! to learn how to handle this delicate situation.

Q: Can you leave a newborn alone for 5 minutes?

A: I have heard so-called “experts” say to never leave a newborn alone for any length of time… but that simply isn’t possible. Sometimes you need to nip to the loo, have a shower, take a break, or even answer the door to the postman. My advice?

Place your baby in a safe location where you know they’re out of danger and quickly do the job you need to do.

The ideal safe space for baby is to be swaddled in a crib that is free from blankets, toys, and bumpers. Remember, only leave baby for short periods of time, 5 minutes maximum, as newborns require constant supervision and care, as they are completely dependent on us for their basic needs such as feeding, diaper changes, and warmth. 

Q: Does awake in crib count as awake time?

A: Yes! Awake time in the crib does count as awake time. When a baby is awake in their crib, they are still using their senses and engaging with their environment, even if they are not actively playing or interacting with someone.

Q: Can you leave a newborn alone while you shower?

A: Yes, you can leave your newborn alone when you shower, however, you must ensure they’re safe and secure. The ideal safe space for baby is to be swaddled in a crib that is free from blankets, toys, and bumpers. Preferably you should shower when your baby is asleep. If that is not possible, you can also bring your baby into the bathroom with you and place them in a bassinet so you can keep an eye on them. 

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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