What to do when your 5 month old baby only sleeps when held (and cries when you put her down)? Help her sleep on her own with these tips!
You were hoping your baby would be sleeping better by now.
Sure, you understood the newborn months would be rough, but five months later and you’re just as—if not more—sleep deprived than ever. During the day, she’ll only nap if she’s held in your arms or if she’s nursing. You have no issues holding her for naps, but you also have a 2 year old to deal with.
At night, she’ll sleep well, but only if she’s right next to you. You’ve tried to lay her down when she was fast asleep, but she wakes up before you even get her out of your arms. Even if you do manage to slip her out, she’ll only stay asleep for 15 minutes before waking up again.
Again, if this were the newborn stage, you’d be a lot more forgiving. But it’s been 5 months—everyone else’s babies seem to be sleeping in their cribs while you’re still holding yours.
Let’s just say that this whole thing is getting very old.
When your 5 month old only sleeps when held
So, what can you do when you 5 month old only sleeps when held in your arms?
Of course, the first place to go is to your pediatrician. She can let you know whether there are bigger issues at play or the sleep methods you should try, giving you peace of mind. Every pediatrician has her own recommendations as far as sleep training and at what age to start.
Then, I also want to share what has worked for me as a first-time mom, both in helping my babies sleep and dealing with the emotional toll of new parenthood. Hopefully, you’ll be able to finally get your baby to sleep away from your arms—and through the night, at that:
1. Try again
Let’s assume that, at one point before now, you’ve tried some sort of sleep training that simply didn’t work. Maybe you’d given your baby five minutes to cry on her own before your heart broke and you scooped her back up. Or you actually followed a sleep training method, but realized she was way too young.
If this isn’t your first try, I encourage you not to give up. You’ll sometimes hear parents who say that they’d tried “CIO” before and it didn’t work. Not only is “crying it out” an inaccurate name for sleep training, but you may not have had the right guidance to help you through it.
Now that your baby is a little older or you’ve learned from your mistakes, give it a shot again. The longer you continue with what you’re currently doing, the more ingrained these problems will persist.
Free resource: Interested in teaching your baby to self soothe? Join my newsletter and get a preview chapter of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe. This chapter is all about the mindset needed for successful self-soothing and helping her put herself to sleep:
2. Do the same sleep rituals
Start off on the right foot by doing the same sleep rituals every time you put your baby down. She may not be able to understand words yet, but she’ll certainly be able to piece experiences together and associate events with sleep.
For instance, you can read books, sing (the same) songs, turn off the light, and turn on the white noise machine. Do this in the same order and at the same time before putting her down so that she’ll understand that it’s time to sleep.
3. Create a conducive sleep environment
Speaking of which, two of the best things you can do to create a conducive sleep environment is to darken the room and use white noise.
A darker room will help signal that it’s time to sleep and eliminate one more obstacle (bright light) that could be making it hard for her to sleep. White noise will muffle sudden or loud sounds that could startle her awake.
4. Put your baby down awake
More than likely, you’d heard the advice to put your baby down drowsy but awake, which is great for the newborn stage. But now that she’s 5 months old, you can try putting her down completely awake.
This allows her to learn how to put herself to sleep without relying on you to help her doze off (especially in your arms). She’ll practice different ways to soothe herself, and won’t get upset when she wakes up and realizes she’s no longer in your arms.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you put her down after a tickle-fest and she’s wide-eyed and alert. You’ll still want to keep your pre-sleep routines quiet and subdued, but do make sure she’s not drowsy or asleep.
5. Let your baby fall asleep on her own
More than likely, your baby will cry when she’s put down awake. After all, this isn’t what she’s used to, and she’ll be very vocal about that! But give her the opportunity to try to fall asleep. The longer you rock her in your arms, the more you reinforce the very habits that are keeping her from self soothing.
Think of it this way: up to this point, she has only been able to fall asleep in your arms because it’s all she has ever known. Now you can replace those habits with new ones, like the rituals you’re doing and allowing her to sleep on her own.
6. Check in every few minutes
Once you’ve put her down, close the door. In the best case scenario, she fell asleep without shedding a tear. But in most cases, she’ll probably cry—either right away, or a few minutes later.
Once you hear her cry, set your timer for 5 minutes, and go in when the timer goes off. When you do, check that all is okay, and reassure her briefly (30 seconds max) that you’re still here and that she’s doing a great job.
Once you close the door, set the timer again, but this time, for 10 minutes. If she’s still crying at that 10-minute mark, repeat the check-in. Then, set your timer again, but for 15 minutes, should she still be crying again at that point.
These check-ins aren’t so much to calm her down (she might actually get more riled up each time you go in). Instead, you’re giving her both the chance to fall asleep on her own and the reassurance that you’re still here (and to check that all is okay).
7. Be consistent
One of the biggest reasons sleep training didn’t work for many people is inconsistency. By changing your mind, you’re sending mixed messages and end up confusing your baby even more. She’ll wonder why some days she’s alone in the crib while on others, she’s back to sleeping in your arms.
Consistency also matters with your routines and rituals. By doing the same things in the same order at the same time, you leave a stronger message that it’s time to sleep.
This doesn’t mean you’re locked in for life. If you truly feel like things aren’t working one way or another, you can always try something else. But make that decision intentionally, not when you’re delirious and sleep-deprived.
Five months of sleep deprivation is no joke. Many babies can start sleeping through the night by now, so if yours only sleeps when held, it’s likely out of habits she has learned.
To undo those habits and replace them with more sustainable ones, start doing the same rituals every time you put her down to sleep. Create a conducive sleep environment to signal that it’s time to sleep. Put her down awake and let her fall asleep on her own.
Check in at set intervals to reassure her that you’re still there (while giving her a chance to sleep on her own). Be consistent with whichever method you choose so as not to confuse or frustrate her even more.
And if you’ve tried sleep training in the past without luck, give it a try again, now that she’s older and you have more information at hand.
Your baby can sleep better than ever—even after 5 months of sleep deprivation.
Get more tips:
- How to Get a Teething Baby to Sleep
- What It Really Means to Have a “Spoiled Baby”
- Baby Playing in the Crib Instead of Sleeping? Here’s What to Do
- The Biggest Reason Your Baby Will Not Sleep (Even After All This Time)
- How to Get Your Baby to Nap in the Crib During the Day
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get a preview chapter of How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe: