Rocking your newborn to sleep, or having them fall asleep in your arms are some of the most precious moments in the early days of parenthood. However, over time, you may start to wonder how to get your baby to sleep without being held.
What started as an adorable way to bond and something you looked forward to, can end up becoming increasingly more difficult as your baby gets older and your own sleep suffers.
First, it is important for you to know that you are not the only one with a baby that only sleeps when held. In fact, most babies do not fall asleep without being held or do not sleep all night long in their own crib.
You may also be relieved to learn that many of the reasons why your baby only sleeps when held are biologically based. Even more reassuring, is that you can get your baby to sleep without being held with a little understanding and some patience.
Reasons A Baby Only Sleeps When Held
When it comes to learning how to get your baby to sleep without being held, it is important to try and understand the reasons your little one may be having trouble sleeping on their own in their crib or bassinet.
By examining these reasons, you can better understand why your baby only sleeps when held, and then take the necessary actions to help your baby get better and more efficient sleep.
The top three reasons your baby may only sleep when being held are:
1. Your Baby May Be Uncomfortable
During the first few months of caring for your newborn baby, there is a learning curve that all new parents go through. While you are getting to know your new baby and their unique individual needs, there are some common underlying reasons making your baby uncomfortable and therefore unable to sleep without being held.
If your baby seems to be uncomfortable at bedtime or is struggling to sleep on their own, it might be because of these common occurrences:
- They are not being burped properly. When you are burping your little one, you are doing so to release all of the gas bubbles that can form from swallowing air while eating. Babies that have gas can have a difficult time falling asleep because they are left feeling physically uncomfortable.
- Your baby may have reflux. There are many degrees of reflux in newborns. If your baby has reflux, stomach acid flushes back up into the esophagus and can be both painful and uncomfortable. If you suspect your newborn has reflux, you should contact your pediatrician.
- Your newborn is overtired. While this might sound counterintuitive, conspire that your newborn needs 16-20 hours of sleep each day, with a maximum of 1 hour of awake time between sleeping. Too much awake time can lead to a sleep debt and your baby may develop symptoms that mimic colic, including increased fussiness. Overtired babies tend to sleep when held due to the extra comfort it provides them.
2. Basic Biology
When your baby is first born, and up until 4-6 months old, they have what is called the Moro, or Startle Reflex. This is a hard-wired primitive response that is triggered when your baby experiences something sudden or unexpected, and most often occurs while they are sleeping.
A sudden movement or noise can trigger your baby’s startle reflex and result in their backs arching and arms flailing out to their sides. If your baby falls soundly asleep in your arms, but is immediately awakened when trying to lay them down, this could likely be the reason why.
Additionally, your baby is wired for their own survival. They instinctively know that to sleep safely, they need a safe place to do so, and your arms are just such a place. When babies panic as they’re put down to sleep, they’re producing adrenaline which not only wakes them up but makes it much harder to settle them back down.
3. It Has Become A Learned Habit
So many of your baby’s sleeping patterns and struggles are a result of basic sleep science, while some are learned behaviors. If your baby is older than 10 weeks and will still only sleep when held, it is possible that your baby has come to expect and associate sleep with being held.
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How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Being Held
Now that you have pinpointed the reason or reasons your baby won’t sleep without being held, you can begin implementing strategies to get your baby to sleep without being held. Remember to be patient during this process as it can take a few weeks to a couple of months for everyone to adjust to the new sleeping arrangement.
Here are some things that can help you learn how to get your baby to sleep without being held.
Swaddling your baby before sleep can help to soothe them and keep them feeling safe and secure. Swaddling can also help reduce triggers of their startle reflex. A snug and secure swaddle is one of the safest ways to help your baby sleep soundly on their own.
Start Feet First
Another key factor in getting your baby to sleep without being held is to make sure you are placing them in their bassinet or crib slowly, and gently. Start by laying your baby down feet first, and gently lowering their bottom, followed by their head.
Utilize White Noise
A sound machine can make a major impact on your baby’s ability to sleep on their own. Producing loud sounds (about as loud as a shower next to you) like white noise, rain sounds, or waves, is comforting and soothing to your new baby. These sounds also assist your baby as they are constantly transitioning through different sleep cycles, resulting in longer, more efficient sleep.
Wake Your Baby Gently When You Put Them Down
Once your baby is asleep in your arms, gently place them in their crib or bassinet. Then, softly rustle them enough to wake them slightly, just enough for them to be half awake. Use calm words, your noise machine, and patting to help them drift back off to sleep.
Start A Nighttime Routine
As young as 8 weeks old, your newborn is able to learn and recognize routines and structure in their day. By instituting a predictable series of events that will precede bedtime each night, you are helping your baby recognize cues for sleep and developing their understanding that sleep is imminent.
For more help with learning how to get your baby to sleep without being held, sign up for Dr. Rebecca Spencer’s Masterclass about Baby and Toddler Sleep and learn how to get your baby to actually sleep like a baby.