Baby Won’t Sleep Unless Held: Tips to Get Your Child to Sleep Alone

You know it’s true. While everyone around you was offering their unsolicited advice about how to deal after delivery, you, on the other hand, simply couldn’t wait to hold your little one in your arms, and would gladly give every waking hour just to your tiny angel. But eventually, the reality set in that you do, in fact, need to sleep, at some point. Yet you can’t seem to figure out why your baby won’t sleep unless held!

Why Does My Baby Want to Be Held to Sleep?

Although it can be frustrating that your baby won’t sleep unless held, you have to think about the world from their perspective.

Your baby spent nine months on the inside of you before being catapulted into a new world. With all of the fresh smells, sights, tastes, touches and sounds, things may feel downright scary to your baby, at times.

Because of this, your child, especially a younger baby, will seek comfort from you, in the only way they know how.

Not to mention, babies of this age often undergo mental, physical and hormonal changes as their bodies grow and develop throughout the months and years. New milestones such as teething, crawling and pulling up are just a few of the exciting new ventures your little one will be taking on, and your baby may not be able to cope with all of the changes going on in his or her little body.

Another reason you may find that your baby always wants to be held, is due to changes in his or her sleep cycle. This is often the cause of those dreaded “sleep regressions” that come every 3 to 4, 8 to 10 and 18 months. So, if you were wondering why suddenly your 9 month old wont sleep, now you know!

Lastly, your baby is…well… a baby. He or she will likely love the smell of you, your warm embrace, and everything that encompasses being close to the one they know loves them in return.

So, though it may be hard at times, it is important to remember that your baby isn’t crying just to annoy you, but because they earnestly desire your love and affection, even if it is in the middle of the night.

 

How Do I Get My Baby to Sleep Without Being Held?

Now that we’ve established some of the most common reasons why baby won’t sleep unless held, let’s take on some soothing strategies to get your little one sleeping comfortably and independently, at any age.

Newborn

Now, if you find yourself asking why your 3 week old baby won’t sleep unless held, or why your 2 week old doesn’t want to be put down, the answer can almost always be chalked up to the fact that your baby is brand new to the world.

Nevertheless, we know what you’re thinking. Although you love your newborn and are so happy that he or she is finally here, you are in desperate need of sleep.

We hear you. And there are still things you can do, even at this age, to cope. But remembering why your new baby is inconsolable and refuses to depart from you is crucial to cultivating the patience needed to deal with your crying newborn while simultaneously functioning with little to no rest.

The following are a few other tips you might consider implementing the next time your newborn can’t seem to settle.

7 Tips on How to Get Newborn to Sleep Without Being Held

  • Practise Patience: This tip might be your secret weapon, mama. Though difficult, especially when you are only a few weeks, or maybe even only a few days, post-partum, remember that this phase will pass. In the meantime, try to be understanding of your baby and to prepare mentally, before the crying begins, so that you won’t be predisposed towards frustration when your baby won’t leave your side.
  • Try the 5 S’s: Coined by Dr. Harvey Karp, the 5 S’s technique is a strategy designed to soothe your crying newborn by recreating life as it was within the womb. Try swaddling your baby, turning them on their side, shushing, swinging or allowing your baby to suck on your finger to help guide them to sleep in these early weeks. Once the baby is asleep, wait 15-20 minutes before gently lowering him or her in their bassinet or crib. Then, escape quietly…if you can!
  • Take Turns: Though you may be doing your best to practise patience, sometimes a mama’s got to get her rest! Hand your baby off to a trusted friend or family member while you catch a few Z’s to make up for all the time and effort you’ve put towards making your new baby feel comfortable. You deserve it!
  • Try a Dummy: Some parents that are having trouble getting newborn to sleep at night find that using a dummy helps. Dummies are also recommended to help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, along with placing the baby on his or her back. If you find that your newborn won’t sleep on back, it is imperative that you keep trying. Remember, babies are new to all of this and may need a little practise and repetition before finally settling into their new life in this world. Afraid of what repercussions introducing a pacifier to your baby might cause? Take a peek at our post on getting rid of the dummy to help you gauge the appropriate age and method for ridding your child of their pacifier, at the right time.
  • Try a Device: Got a swing, vibrating chair or some other gadget marketed towards giving your baby a good night’s rest? While we don’t recommend allowing your baby to sleep in such a device all night, it might be helpful for encouraging those cat naps throughout the day and giving you some time to yourself… at least for a few minutes.
  • Make It Count: At some point in the day, you’re going to have to put your baby down. When you do, be sure to put your newborn somewhere safe, such as in his or her bassinet, crib or play yard. However, when you are holding the baby, make sure to make that time count. Sneak in plenty of cuddles, and do skin-to-skin contact for longer stretches of time if you know you’ll need to be putting him or her down soon. While it isn’t likely to keep your baby from protesting when you do depart, at least you’ll know you’ve gotten some quality time in before running to the loo.

One Month Old and Beyond

At one, two, three months and beyond, a baby that cries because you have set them down can become maddening. Not only are you sleep deprived, but now you’ve got friends, and maybe even doctors, telling you that your baby “can” sleep through the night, or that their baby sleeps through the night for hours without waking.

Well, that might be good for them, but keep in mind that that might not be what your baby needs. In fact, many babies under the age of 12 months still need assistance for learning how to fall asleep on their own. And this tends to be the majority of babies, not the minority.

Of course, there are a few things you can do to help.

First of all, note the age of your child and what is developmentally appropriate, or expected, at his or her age. Then, work towards these goals if they seem appropriate, but weigh your options first.

For example, you may read that a 6 week old baby is technically able to sleep many hours of the night without feeding. While that may be true for some, you may not feel comfortable leaving your baby to cry when you know it is possible that he or she is hungry. In that case, you should go with your gut.

On the other hand, try to remember that whatever you do in the beginning is bound to continue on until you break the habit. So, if your 6 month old baby won’t sleep unless held, realise that this will continue until you, the parent, do something about it. The baby isn’t likely to break this habit on his or her own.

Toddlers

If you find yourself asking, “Why is it that, suddenly, my toddler sleeps on top of me?” , you aren’t alone. Though it can be distressing to find that your once happily dreaming toddler is now up and at it again, it’s nice to know that toddler sleep regressions don’t typically last very long.

In actuality, this sleep regression might arguably be the easiest, since you’ve likely already set the standard for what is expected at night… and they know it, too.

As a result, when you hear your toddler crying at night, you can go in and make your presence known, but leave it at that. A gentle rub on the back may help, but try to keep interactions at a minimum. Overly stimulating your child, or picking him or her up, may unawaringly create new expectations to form, which only further hinders progress on the journey back to those silent nights you had been enjoying.

 

Getting Baby to Sleep without Being Held at Nap Time

But…What About Naptime?

Nap time can be a tricky event, especially when you factor in the lights and sounds of the day that can make it difficult for your child to drift to sleep. Nevertheless, nap time is crucial for young ones as they need them to stay happy, alert, healthy and active.

Wondering how to get a baby to nap without being held? First and foremost, do some research on baby wake times. A “wake time” is the amount of time your baby can developmentally stay awake before becoming sleepy. While these parameters flex depending on the child and his or her sundry needs, it is imperative that you know the general time that your child will feel sleepy and act on that knowledge, immediately.

Once that time hits, you’ll know it, because your baby will start showing cues of being tired. Rubbing the eyes, yawning and general fussiness are sure-fire signs that it’s time for a snooze.

Once your baby starts displaying these clues, all bets are off. Ironically, allowing your baby to stay awake past his or her wake window will likely make it even harder for your baby to fall asleep, rather than easier. So, when in doubt, lay your baby down to sleep as soon as possible to avoid overtired fussiness and unnecessary naptime resistance.

One final recommendation is to do a quick routine that signals your baby that it is time for a nap. Of course, this won’t involve the warm bath, story and everything else you would do before a formal bedtime, but it may be something as simple as getting your baby swaddled and whispering, “It’s naptime!” before closing the curtains and turning on the sound machine.

 

When Should Baby Fall Asleep Alone?

Generally speaking, experts recommend to avoid sleep training of any kind until about 4 months, or 16 weeks, of age. At this point, your baby’s circadian rhythm, or natural body clock, is in full swing, and it becomes easier for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.

 

What Do You Do When Your Baby Only Sleeps in Your Arms?

Once you’ve gotten to the point where you feel like you’ve tried everything and your baby still won’t sleep unless in your arms, you’ve got a choice to make.

You can either cave in and allow the baby to sleep in your arms until he or she sees fit to sleep on their own, or you’re going to have to teach your baby how to drift off without you.

It goes without saying… This will be hard. Nothing about being separated from your baby or hearing your baby cry is fun. But the truth is that, at some point, it will need to be done. So, what can you do?

One of the best things you can do, both for yourself and for your baby, is to set a goal and get determined. Before nighttime or naptime approaches, try to get mentally prepared for what you are about to face.

Crying? Yep. Wailing? Sure. Frequent wake ups? Absolutely. But you know what? If you stick to the script and stay consistent, you may see progress even in as little as a few days!

 

Tips to Help Baby Sleep on Bed or Crib

Once you’re finally ready to take the leap and have baby sleep in his or her own crib, there are a few ways you can go about it.

  • Wait For It: First, don’t rush to your baby’s side every time you hear them whimper. We know, we know. That can be hard, especially when there are other occupants in the room. But rushing over to your little one at every cry only trains them to expect that you’ll come running every time, and ultimately, have a counteractive effect on your efforts.
  • Rock and Lower: Second, if baby won’t sleep in crib, try the rock and lower technique. Start off by consoling your little one and rocking them to sleep as you normally would. Eventually though, stop rocking your baby and just hold them, while staying still.At this point, you can begin lowering your baby into the crib. Be advised, this might take 15-20 minutes of holding before he or she is in a sleep that is deep enough not to be disturbed by suddenly finding themselves out of your arms, and into their crib. If your baby wakes after being lowered, pick the baby back up and repeat the method above. Swing, stop and lower. Eventually, your baby may learn to break the association with movement and sleep.
  • Drowsy But Awake: Third, is to lay your baby down “drowsy, but awake”. We know that you’re sick of hearing it, but this method can actually work wonderfully if done consistently and correctly. The idea behind this approach is to allow your baby to fall asleep using whatever methods they are used to, but gently rousing them after you’ve lowered them into their crib. Sound scary? It can be! Especially if you didn’t wait until your baby was sleepy enough to not want to protest your departure. However, if done frequently and consistently, you may realise that your baby is not only able to put themselves back to sleep after you’ve roused them, but that they are also able to put themselves back to sleep as they’re transitioning sleep cycles in the middle of the night.

Want more tips and tricks? Check out Parent Magazine’s article for even more sleeping baby tips to help get your child nodding off, in a hurry.

Try one of our baby grooming kits to help!

 

Consistency Is Key

All in all, no matter what method you choose, staying consistent will be key to teaching your baby to sleep independently. Remember, with grit and determination, you and your baby can sleep soundly at night…for the entire night!