It’s tough when your newborn won’t sleep in the crib (and only in your arms). Learn what to do when your 3 week old baby won’t sleep unless held.
During the newborn stage, weeks can feel like eons, with so many changes from one to the next. One of the biggest problems? Your 3 week old baby won’t sleep unless held.
You’ve tried putting him down as he drifts off, but he screams within five minutes, barely enough to do anything before he’s awake and crying.
Because he’s inconsolable, you now have to start the whole sleep process all over again. He fights sleep no matter what, only to get overtired, making everything worse. The house stays a mess and you feel stuck to him all day—no wonder you’re about to lose your mind.
And of course, the only surefire way he’ll fall and stay asleep is when he’s held. But as you know, constantly holding him is exhausting.
When your 3 week old baby won’t sleep unless held
I can certainly relate, mama. Those first few weeks after bringing the baby home can feel like an abrupt and overwhelming period.
He always wanted to be held. Even when I was able to get him to sleep, he’d wake up crying soon after, and would only stop once I picked him up. I felt so stressed and frustrated that I couldn’t put him down without him wailing up a storm, especially at night.
As long as he was held, he’d sleep great and didn’t fuss at all. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to ride it out and hold him all day, or deal with his crying, which I felt he was too young to do for too long. And most importantly, I simply wanted to know I wasn’t alone (because it sure felt like it).
While the newborn stage can feel like a hit or miss, you can do a few things to help your baby sleep without being held. And remember, just because something didn’t work yesterday, that doesn’t mean it won’t work today or tomorrow.
Take a look at these tips below that truly made a difference and helped me and many moms overcome this challenge:
1. Soothe your baby without picking him up
There’s something about the sound of your baby’s cry that makes you want to scoop him up so he’d stop right away. But this can reinforce his habit of sleeping when held instead of learning new ways to fall asleep.
The next time he fusses, and it doesn’t sound like a harsh cry, see if you can soothe him without picking him up. Rub his belly or the top of his head, pat the side of his hips, and offer reassuring words and sounds. Try it for 20 minutes, especially if he’s simply whimpering and whining—he just might settle down.
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2. Put him down drowsy but awake
Every time your baby needs to sleep, try to put him down drowsy but awake. He’ll fall asleep exactly where he wakes up, instead of waking up to find he’s now in the crib.
More importantly, he’ll get to experience what it’s like to drift off to sleep away from your arms. This allows him to develop new habits of sleeping so that, should he wake up mid-cycle, he’ll know how to continue sleeping.
What do you do if he fusses after you put him down drowsy? Some moms swear by repeating the process over and over. You’d pick him up to soothe his tears away, then put him down drowsy but awake. They’ve found that the crying decreases while sleep time increases the more they kept this up.
But another option you can try is…
3. Put your baby down completely asleep
This is what I did with my babies after the initial attempt to put them down drowsy but awake didn’t work. I’d simply hold them for a length of time until they were so sleepy that I could slip them into the crib or bassinet and out of my arms.
You know your baby’s asleep when you can lift his arm in the air and it drops completely limp when you let go.
Whether you keep putting him down drowsy but awake or completely asleep is up to you. Each method has its own pros and cons. But make sure that you at least give him a chance to settle on his own by first putting him down drowsy.
It’s a bit of a balance: give him the chance at first, but if it doesn’t work, then help him fall asleep.
4. Don’t feed your baby to sleep
I thought I had my baby’s sleep down pat when I’d nurse him before naps, confident he’d fall asleep in the process. The problem? He’d only fall asleep when I fed him in my arms.
Feeding your baby to sleep also poses digestion problems that could disrupt his sleep. For instance, he might have a sensitive tummy or gas in his body, which can be uncomfortable enough to keep him from sleeping. He’s also lying flat on his back right after, which isn’t ideal for digestion.
But if you feed him after he wakes up, he’ll have time to digest and be held vertically. He’s also able to use his newly-consumed energy when he’s alert and awake. And finally, feeding him after sleep breaks the habit of needing to be fed or held to doze away.
5. Swaddle your baby
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Not too long ago, your baby was used to being curled up in your warm and tight womb. No wonder he might feel uncomfortable laying out in the wide spaces of a crib or even bassinet.
One trick to help him feel more snug and secure is to swaddle him to sleep. Pre-made swaddles make bundling him up a breeze, especially in the middle of the night. You’ll notice a considerable difference when he sleeps with a swaddle than without one.
6. Wear your baby in a wrap
If your baby absolutely refuses to sleep without being held, and trying to soothe him isn’t working, one trick is to wear him in a baby wrap.
Like the swaddle, the baby wrap helps him feel snug and secure with the added benefit of being close to you. And unlike carrying him in your arms, you’ll have your hands free to get things done, all while he feels like he’s being held.
7. Take a break
Ever felt like you were glued to your baby 24/7? It’s totally okay to take a quick break, even just to use the bathroom or calm yourself down.
We have this idea that we can’t let your babies fuss for even a second, that we have to “save” them from every discomfort. However normal it is to sacrifice for your child, submitting yourself to martyrdom isn’t healthy for anyone.
Instead, take a quick 5-10 minute break if need be. Finish those dishes, grab that shower, take those deep breaths to calm yourself down. You need to take care of yourself, too.
8. Make the most of it
Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to make the most of the situation. Sure, caring for a newborn is challenging, but even this can be turned into an opportunity.
For instance, you can see it as an excuse to rest and let other adults handle household tasks. Set yourself up with a movie, snacks, and drinks, or get cozy with a good book or your phone nearby.
We can always see the good side and be grateful for any situation, even a 3 week old baby who won’t sleep unless held.
Caring for a newborn who only sleeps in your arms is a challenge, no doubt. But now you have a few tips to free your arms while making sure he gets the sleep he needs.
Try soothing your baby without picking him up. Put him down drowsy but awake each time he naps, but if need be, you can also wait until he’s completely asleep before setting him down. Don’t feed him to sleep, as this can contribute to digestion issues and develops the habit of feeding to sleep.
Keep him nice and snug in a swaddle or baby wrap, which also allows you to use your arms once again. Remember that it’s okay to take a quick break, and finally, make the most out of the situation—it truly can be turned into a positive one.
Hang in there, mama! Your baby will take a turn for better sleep—even if these weeks can feel like eons of waiting.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Newborn Only Sleeps When Held
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Being Held
- The Best Baby Sleep Books for Exhausted Moms
- What to Do When Your Baby Won’t Nap Unless Held
- How to Get an Overtired Newborn to Sleep
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