Newborn babies are usually quite content to fall asleep on the chest of a dad or in the arms of a mom, and as new parents, we’re more than willing to accommodate.
But what happens when we let babies sleep on us so they will no longer fall asleep in their bed? It can become a tiresome bedtime routine that parents dread, as night after night; the baby refuses to sleep unless it’s in a parent’s arms.
First of all, this happens often. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s happening to you.
Watching the baby sleep in your arms is a comfort for parents who have awaited this newborn baby for what seems like ages, and it strengthens the bond between baby and parent.
You can break the habit and end up with a sleeping baby in a crib without the sleep deprivation associated with the screaming that occurs when a baby’s sleep is disturbed by being put into a crib.
This article will help you understand why a newborn won’t sleep at night unless held and learn how to get your baby to fall into a deep sleep in their own bed without screaming down your house.
Newborn won’t sleep at night unless held
If you let the baby fall asleep while being held by you or your partner, you’re not in the minority.
Sleep training is a hotly debated topic, and many parents struggle with it. It’s much easier to continue to allow your child to sleep on you than it is to suffer through sleep training.
However, if you would like to be able to fall asleep in your own bed, without a little one in tow, then you can take some comfort in knowing that there are many different small changes and tactics that you can employ that will make sleep training go much more smoothly.
Why won’t my baby sleep unless held?
There are a few reasons your baby starts to cry when you put them in their bed.
Falling asleep is easy, but staying asleep is less agreeable, or so it seems.
Figuring out what is causing your little one to cry the moment you are no longer holding them can go a long way to fixing the issue and making a peaceful transition from your arms and their crib.
If your newborn doesn’t sleep unless held, it may be that your child has sleep association confusion.
This means there’s no clear indication to a baby that putting the baby into their own bed is time for sleep.
The parent should be associated with awake time, not sleep time.
However, if you are holding your baby from the newborn stage forward, then your infant will not be able to make that connection, or association, between the crib and sleep.
Too much space
Your child was strictly confined into a small, warm space (your warm body) when you were still pregnant.
When babies are being held, they are still in a relatively small, warm space.
Putting them into a crib much larger than your own body and certainly bigger than your uterus can be overwhelming.
A baby wrap or swaddle blanket can help to restrict movement and provide warmth to your baby. Trying this may yield positive results.
Silence is deafening
When your child was still in utero, they had the sounds of your digestion to listen to.
They heard the muffled noise of you talking and people talking to you. They listened to the constant beating of your heart.
When you hold your newborn constantly, they continue to have that heartbeat to listen to.
If a baby wakes up the moment you deposit them into their bed or has trouble sleeping in their bed for more than a few minutes, it may have to do with the absence of any noise.
Using white noise via a white noise machine or white noise app on your phone can help your baby feel comfortable enough to fall asleep and stay that way.
Silence in a dark room where the crib is can be upsetting and unsettling. They are not used to such quiet. This is a relatively easy way to fix the issue if your newborn doesn’t sleep unless held.
Sleep debt occurs when the baby naps for durations too short or not often enough.
Essentially, you end up with an overtired baby.
We’ve all been there. When your sleep schedule is off, you end up overtired to the point that you can’t fall asleep.
It happens to babies, as well. Many babies will rub their eyes, yawn, and get sluggish but have trouble going to sleep when they are overtired.
Talking to your doctor about how often and long your child should nap during the day can help you develop a healthier sleep schedule for your little one.
It’s normal for good sleep to be disturbed by regressions in the sleep cycle. This happens at various stages for your baby.
Your child may go to sleep alone but won’t stay asleep due to their sleep cycle being disturbed by a regression.
The most important thing to do in times like these is to be patient and stick to your usual bedtime routine. Don’t deviate.
Some long stretches of the night aren’t much fun, but breaking regular habits can throw your baby off and pose more of a problem after the regression has passed.
Not enough independence
Skin-to-skin contact is wonderful and essential for bonding with your baby.
Babywearing can enable you to get more done around the house without worrying about your little one being without you. However, too much of a good thing is no longer suitable.
If your newborn is never put down, they start to depend on your presence constantly, which will pose a significant problem regarding nap time or bedtime.
Put baby down for things like tummy time, supervised but independent play, and independent sleep as soon as the early weeks of life.
This independence will help increase confidence in your baby and help them fall asleep alone.
An overactive startle reflex
A natural startle reflex, also known as the Moro reflex, is present in every baby, especially in the early days of life.
Quick movements, sudden, loud noises, and a quick descent from your arms to the crib can cause your baby to jerk and stay awake. Most babies outgrow this reflex.
If this is your first baby, you’ll have to gauge what level of noise or movement sets off this reflex and stay under that level when putting the baby to bed.
You’ll sleep much better when you understand what causes that jerk and the sudden cry and learn to stay under that limit.
This Moro reflex will dissipate or at least lessen over time.
How to get your baby to sleep without being held
Now that we have covered the issues that may be causing your newborn to refuse sleep unless held, we can start to discuss what can be done about it.
A few quick fixes and tweaks to your routine have been provided above, but there is more you can do when trying to fix the issue if your newborn won’t sleep unless you’re holding them.
1. Blackout curtains
If there is a lot of natural light in the room, your child sleeps in, trying blackout curtains may help your child to relax and sleep longer.
These are curtains that are usually thick and a dark color, and they block out the light of the sun much more effectively than regular curtains.
These are useful for naps during the day, as well. So if your newborn isn’t sleeping well during naps, these curtains may also help.
2. Soft music
Have you ever noticed that if you sing to your child or play music in the car, the crying decreases, and your little one goes to sleep?
Playing soothing music can help your little one relax and go to sleep and stay that way.
Playing soft classical music in the bedroom or white noise can help to make the transition from your arms to the crib easier.
Not a fan of classical? That’s perfectly fine. There are plenty of parents who play quiet country music, classic rock, and more.
As long as it’s soothing, any music works well.
3. Sleep with their bedding
Babies often associate a particular smell with their mom or dad. Having that smell close helps them to relax.
The night before you plan to change the sheets in your child’s bed, sleep with that sheet in your bed. Your smell will be all over it, and it will help your baby to feel snug and self-soothe.
4. Lavender or calming baby products
A warm bath often helps a baby with sleeping habits.
Associating bath time with sleeping afterward is a great thing that benefits both mom and baby.
Using lavender or calming body wash, lotion, or shampoo will help your little one further relax, so bedtime isn’t as big a fight.
5. Feed before bedtime
A full tummy can make a big difference.
You can’t expect a newborn to sleep all night long without a feeding somewhere in the middle of that, but you’ll have a better chance of getting a good sleeper from the experience if you put the baby to bed with a full belly.
Scheduling feedings so that they fall right before bedtime is a great idea.
6. Baby swing
Movement and vibration can help a baby to sleep. That’s why so many babies, kids, and even adults, sleep in a moving car.
Putting the baby in a swing or vibrating chair or bouncer can help the baby to sleep more deeply so that you can move them from the bouncer to the bed.
What not to do
Babies who don’t sleep unless held are frustrating and can get mom and dad to the point of being willing to do almost anything to get their little one to sleep.
However appealing it may seem to you, and however convenient it may seem for everyone involved, don’t co-sleep.
Co-Sleeping and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Sleeping in the same bed as your baby can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.
While we may be on the road to figuring out what causes this terrible loss of infants, it is still best to stick to what experts recommend regarding safe sleep practices.
Resist the urge to climb into your bed with your newborn. The risk isn’t worth it. Stick it out. It won’t stay like this forever.
Take it one night at a time
No magic solution will cause your baby to conk out when placed in their bed.
However, trying the suggestions listed in this article can help you to get to the point of progress.
Sticking to a set schedule and taking turns with your partner when handling the baby’s outbursts of protest at bedtime can help immensely.
Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to even the most patient mom or dad.
Know that this won’t last forever. It may seem endless, but it’s not. There will be relief eventually, and everyone in your household will get a whole night of rest at some point.