Getting your newborn to sleep without being held is one of the earliest jobs you will face as a parent.
Teaching your child to go to sleep on her increases the odds that she will put herself back to sleep when she wakes up during the night. Babies accustomed to falling asleep in their parent's arms will likely cry for their parents when they wake up during the night.
Engage your baby during the day. Play music, talk to your baby, rub his feet and make funny faces. Naps are necessary, but if your baby sleeps for longer periods during the day than during the night, start watching the clock and wake him up.
End the evening with calming activities. The evening can be a challenging time, as parents get in from work and want to play with their baby but spend the last hour before bedtime engaged in calm, quiet activities. Spend time with your baby rocking or carrying him, giving him a bath and feeding.
Develop a bedtime ritual. Determine what activities you need to do each evening and work backwards from when you plan to put your baby to bed. It doesn't matter if you feed the baby before or after bath time, but plan on doing the same thing each night.
Both parents should participate in the evening routine so that your baby doesn't become overly dependent on one parent and becomes unable to sleep if that parent is unavailable.
Give your baby a soother. The University of Illinois points out that sucking on a pacifier or holding and stroking a small blanket are self-soothing behaviours.
Be cautious about placing items in the crib. Fluffy blankets, stuffed animals, and pillows should not be placed in the crib with a newborn because of suffocation risks.
Put your baby to bed while he is still awake. By keeping your baby active through the day and taking your time with the evening routine, your baby should be sleepy and ready for bed.
Resist the temptation to rock or snuggle your baby until she is asleep. She should be tired but awake when you place her in her crib.
Rub his legs and arms gently while he drifts off to sleep. The safest position for a newborn to sleep on is his back, warns the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. If he becomes fretful, talk gently, but don't pick him up. By developing and following a bedtime routine, you know he is dry, clean and well-fed.
Baby Nursery FAQs
"It's always okay to hold an infant under four months old, to put them to sleep the way they need it," MD, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Rutgers University. Always put them on their back on a flat mattress in the crib or bassinet after they fall asleep.
Try swaddling him to mimic the feeling of being held and then putting him down. Stay with him and rock him, sing, or stroke his face or hand until he settles down. Babies this young can't calm themselves yet, so it's important not to let him "cry it out."
There are three reasons this might be happening to you. They're uncomfortable. In the early weeks, it can be hard for a new parent to assess if there is an underlying root cause as to why your baby refuses to be put down. We found uncomfortable babies seek the comfort of being held and sleeping on someone.
Instead of holding him to sleep, put him down awake in the crib. Please do what you can to soothe him to a sleepy state, like patting him on the tummy or singing him to sleep. If he whimpers, give him a pacifier or gently rock his body. And if he's outright crying, pick him up to calm him down, but not put him to sleep.
Try a warm bath, a gentle massage and a soothing lullaby at the same time every night. Keep the routine fairly short – around 20 minutes to 30 minutes is enough time to wind down gently. Being consistent with your bedtime routine will help your baby understand that sleep is on its way.
Reasons Why Your Newborn Won't Sleep Unless Being Held
Your newborn won't sleep unless held. At first, it didn't bother you as you LOVED the feeling of her sleeping on you and wanted to keep her well-rested, but now it's becoming hard to maintain.
Why it Happens That Some Newborns Won't Sleep Unless Held
There are three reasons this might be happening to you.
- They're uncomfortable. It can be hard for a new parent to assess if there is an underlying root cause as to why your baby refuses to be put down in the early weeks.
- You're putting them down improperly and eliciting the Startle Reflex.
- She's older than ten weeks and now has a sleep association that sleep happens in arms. She has the learned habit of sleeping in her arms.
Your Newborn Might Be Uncomfortable :
- Your burping technique needs more finesse to get the bubbles out. Burping is more than just patting on the back. It's about squeezing out the bubbles. When a child still has a burp inside, she can be fussy or uncomfortable and may smack lips and try and feed but keep pulling on and off. Trying burping with soft squeezing pressure up her spine vs hard parts.
- She has some reflux. Reflux exists in varying degrees on a continuum. With reflux, the sphincter between the esophagus (food tube) and stomach isn't strong, and stomach acid can splash up the esophagus, causing pain and discomfort. You can read more about Acid Reflux in this post.
- She's got gas. If you are breastfeeding and you have an Oversupply. That can be like drinking out of a firehose, and she will swallow air. This will cause the need to be burdened more.
- She's exhausted. Newborn babies need 16 to 20 hours of sleep per day in the first two months, and most babies can only stay awake for about 1 hour until about the three-month mark. If she stays awake too long, that will increase how much she wakes up at night. Over time she falls into sleep debt and can seem inconsolable. Sometimes this mimics colic like behaviour. If she's that tired, she wants your comfort that much more.
You're Eliciting the Startle Reflex on Put Down
The Startle or Moro reflex is a primitive reflex from birth. When a baby is startled by a movement or sound, their arms, back and neck are extended. For example, when you put your baby down, be sure to put her own feet, bottom, and then head. That motion will elicit the Moro reflex and potentially wake her up if you lead with the head.
It's a Learned Habit
The drive to sleep is biological. The way we sleep is learned. Between 4 and 8 weeks, your baby learns how sleep happens. If it's always been in arms, that's what she comes to expect. Many babies start to wake up around 7-8 weeks and then again at four months with the four-month sleep regression.
Baby Won't Sleep Unless Held & Things to Do About It.
If your baby doesn't sleep unless held, don't despair. This article will give you lots of advice for getting your baby to fall asleep away from your arms.
You may have difficulty putting the baby down in those early days and weeks at home! But, when they're so small and sweet, it can be easy to want to hold them all day long.
But sometimes, you might want to shower or sleep or something crazy like that, and it seems your sweet little one will only sleep when held.
Listen, it's okay to want to implement sleep routines for your baby that allow you, the parent, to get some sleep. But, you can have babies and not live in a constant state of sleep deprivation!
This is a very common occurrence, so parents and experts have come up with a bajillion different tactics to get babies to sleep independently.
Eventually, every child learns to sleep without being held…hopefully you won't be holding them to sleep when they go to college, right!?
Let's get to the baby sleep tips!
Full Feedings are the #1 Key to Good Infant Sleep!
Some babies love to graze all day, taking a few sips here and there. The problem with "snacking" instead of getting full feedings is that the baby's tummy is never really full. So, then they want to be held to be comforted because they're so torn between hungry and tired.
These newborn babies don't know what they want! (Good thing they're cute!)
A full tummy can make anyone more sleepy, so the goal is to reduce "snacking" and focus on full feedings. Snacking during breastfeeding all day is one of the most common reasons for perpetual sleep trouble.
We have a whole section on full feedings in my infant sleep guide, but here are a couple of quick tips.
Try to extend the time between nursing so that the baby is getting a fuller feeding every 2 to 3 hours…rather than nursing for a few minutes on and off all day long. Getting full feedings done during the day is one of the main keys to helping a baby fall into a deep sleep at nap time and night time.
If you see your newborn nodding off while nursing (very common), the best thing you can do is try to keep them awake. Break the latch & place them on the ground for a minute, get up and move around, tickle the bottom of their foot or the back of their neck, do a diaper change – whatever you can do to keep them from falling asleep in the middle of a feeding.
Some young babies are sleepy during the day!! They want to fall asleep at every feeding and then party & eat in the middle of the night. So just try to keep them awake long enough to nurse during the day.
Even if it takes 45 minutes to get through feeding with all the time spent waking up, they will grow out of the extreme sleepiness, and you'll eventually be able to get through a full feeding in less than 20 minutes, believe it or not!
Your baby's metabolism will adjust over a few days of trying full feedings. Then, hopefully, your baby will start to have longer stretches before being hungry again, and you'll get into a good rhythm of full feedings with long naps in between.
Eventually, this pattern of full feedings during the day will translate to the night feeds, and your baby will sleep long stretches of better sleep at night. It is coming!! we promise!
Swaddles Help Baby Feel Safe, Secure, Snug
Once in a while, a baby doesn't like being swaddled. But most babies under the age of 3-4 months prefer it. Ask any sleep training expert!!
We will say that swaddling is something new parents want to try, but it seems like a puzzle that they can't figure out. For example, how do you fold the blanket? Will the baby feel squeezed?
How come they keep undoing it? But if your baby won't sleep unless held, you may want to conquer swaddling to see if you can get them to sleep independently.
We learned to get those velcro super tight, and it seemed to comfort our babies & help them feel snug. Especially in the early weeks.
You can use sleep sacks instead if you want to. Anything that will keep the baby's arms in and feeling snug.
Some people are worried a swaddle becomes a sleep prop, but most babies naturally outgrow it as they learn to roll around, so it's usually a short adjustment time when you stop using it.
Set the Mood for Good Sleep
The idea here is to create a sleepy environment. Think about light, temperature, and noise.
Make sure your baby's room is dark enough – use partially closed blackout curtains to keep out daylight. Many babies won't need the room super dark, but it's an easy, helpful cue to some babies. Darkroom = time to sleep.
After your baby becomes a good sleeper, you can go back to occasionally napping them in various lightings, so they become more flexible. But, we had dark nurseries for all our babies, and by 1-ish years old, they could sleep anywhere.
Also, make sure the temperature is not too hot, making sleep uncomfortable.
Finally, try using some white noise. We have this white noise machine and these fans – both work great for white noise.
Don't Wait for Baby to Fall Asleep Before Putting Them Down.
You want to put your baby down when they are drowsy but still awake. Putting your baby down while awake lets them get used to falling asleep without being held. The sooner you can start this habit, the better.
The trick is to wait until they're drowsy. Then, it's time when you see those little eyes flutter or start to yawn and rub their eyes.
If your baby has a really hard time falling asleep, they're likely overtired. Put them to sleep 5-15 minutes sooner next time and see if that helps. Make a note of how long the baby was awake between naps when they fall asleep easily!!
You won't be able to do this all the time. For example, the baby may fall asleep in the car seat while you're out and about. Or maybe Great-Grandma Joan is holding the baby while she sleeps. No problem!! Just work on creating a habit of putting babies to sleep when they're drowsy but awake…in their crib in their room.
When you put a drowsy-but-awake baby to sleep, they may fuss and stir, but don't rush to their side. Instead, walk away and give your little one a few minutes to try getting back to sleep on their own.
This brings me to tip number 5…
Wait Before You Pick Baby Back Up
With older babies, there may be more fussing/ crying when you put them down awake, especially if they're very used to being in the same rocking chair with the same parent for every nap or night.
Or if you've been babywearing and they've been held for sleep for a couple of months. (If your baby is highly attached to needing you to hold them to sleep, you may need to hit reset and change some habits)
But, you might first try establishing good sleep routines & giving the baby some time to self-soothe.
They wait a few minutes to see if the baby will settle down. Druckerman calls it "the pause". If their baby cannot soothe themselves, they will go in and assist, so this isn't the "cry it out" method that many parents dread.
But, as you have more children, you are often busy with older children when the newborn baby starts to cry.
Sometimes it's a few minutes before you can physically get to the baby. When this happened to us, the baby would fall back asleep.
Giving your baby a minute to sort themselves out is always a good idea! Don't run in the first time you hear a little peep or stir or cry.
Things That Can Help
Many parents find that giving their babies a "4th trimester" of comforting stimulation–just by using the 5 S's–can help improve sleep. Unfortunately, one of the 5 S's is not safe to use for sleep… which is the side stomach position.
So if you have a baby who loves that particular "S", you want to do the other 4 S's even more, to help your baby sleep on their back.
Swaddling can help a baby feel more enveloped–like in the womb–which reduces startling and helps babies feel more comfortable on their back.
Also, using the right type of rumbly white noise all night long can keep babies sleeping longer…and less dependent on sleeping on top of their parents.