“Help! My Baby Will Only Sleep in My Arms During the Day”

Does your newborn sleep well over your shoulder or on your chest? Learn what to do when your baby only sleeps in your arms during the day.

Baby Will Only Sleep in My Arms During the DayWe’re caught in a tricky spot during the newborn stage. We know our babies still need help falling asleep, so sleep training is out of the picture for now. But we also need a break, even if just to take care of the household, our other kids, or maintain our sanity.

After hearing from several parents in my life and online, I learned a few handy tricks you can try to finally free your arms. These are some of the cleverest strategies parents have tried to ease their sleeping babies out of their arms and into the crib.

Take a look at these suggestions and guidelines and see if they can work for you:

1. Move as your baby drifts off to sleep

You almost can’t blame your baby for being startled awake sometimes. After all, he’s fast asleep in your arms, only to feel a sudden movement as you make your way to the crib for a nap. No wonder he wakes up even before you’ve set him down.

Instead, try this little trick: move slightly as he drifts off to sleep.

First, hold him in your arms to help him sleep. As he starts to get sleepy, make a slight motion, like standing up or taking a few steps. He can feel the change in motion, but then realizes that he’s still in your arms and continues to sleep.

That way, when you do put him down, the motion and change in that position won’t bother him so much, making him more likely to keep sleeping.

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2. Warm your baby’s sleeping surface

Another shock that can come as a surprise to your baby is the change in temperature. Whereas your body felt nice and warm, the crib can feel crisp and cold.

To help ease the transition, heat the surface of the crib a few minutes before you plan to lay him down. A hot pack or a heated pad placed on the mattress can do the trick. Don’t forget to do a few trial runs to make sure the surface doesn’t get too hot.

Then, when it’s time to set him down, remove the pad a few minutes beforehand, leaving the mattress nice and comfortable.

3. Hold your baby in the position you plan to put him down

Do you hold your baby to sleep with his face tucked sideways close to your chest? Does he like being held upright, perhaps over your shoulder or across your legs?

You can imagine how difficult it can be for the both of you to transition him out of your arms. He could be fast asleep on his tummy against your chest, to suddenly lie down flat on his back in the crib.

If you run into this problem, try holding him in the position that you plan to put him down.

More than likely, that means you’re putting him down on his back—specifically, stretched out and flat. If so, hold him in a similar position in your arms. That way, he can experience less of a jolt when you finally lay him down, considering that he was already in that position as you held him.

4. Swaddle your baby

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One of the reasons I loved swaddling my babies was that it made for an easier transition out of my arms. They were already wrapped and snuggled in a certain position, one that continued even in the crib.

Before nap time, wrap your baby in a swaddle like this one and hold her in your arms. That way, when you eventually put her down, she’s already wrapped in what she’s going to sleep in. Even better: she has fewer chances to flail her arms and startle herself awake.

5. Keep your hand on your baby’s chest

Your baby might be startled awake when you put her down because of the loss of contact with you. You can “trick” her to keep sleeping by laying your hand on her chest after putting her down.

As she starts to drift off, place her in her crib, keeping your hand on her chest. The slight weight and presence of your hand won’t feel as shocking, especially if her chest had been in contact with you. Keep your hand on her chest until she’s sound asleep.

If she wakes up and cries, pick her up to calm her down and try again. By being persistent and repeating this process, she learns that you’re still there and eventually learns how to put herself to sleep on her own.

Expert tip

Combine this trick with a pacifier. The sucking motion can lull her to sleep as you remove your hand.

6. Cover the bassinet

I’m sure you’ve seen strollers with a light blanket draped over them. I’d do this with my babies, especially if the sun was bright. But one additional perk is that the blanket removed extra stimulation that could overwhelm and make them fussy.

The same can be done with your baby’s bassinet.

After placing him inside, drape a light muslin blanket (aden + anais ones are fantastic) over the bassinet. Make sure there’s plenty of space for air to flow and that the blanket isn’t actually touching him. And, just like with a stroller, you need to be awake to supervise.

That way, should he wake up, he won’t feel overwhelmed when he can see a familiar blanket instead.

7. Lay your baby on your shirt

Some babies can feel comforted by the simple scent of something familiar—you!

Try wearing a shirt beneath your regular clothes all day. Then, before it’s time to put him down for a nap, remove the shirt and place it on the bassinet, laying him on top. The shirt can help him feel comforted, what with its familiar texture and scent.

To be extra careful, tuck the edges of the shirt under the bassinet, and keep an eye on him the whole time to make sure the shirt doesn’t bunch up.

8. Lay your baby next to you

Don’t want to have to put your baby down? Start by lying down next to him to begin with!

Put your baby either on your bed or on a thick blanket on the floor, and lie down with your arm around him. For instance, the top of his head could touch the bottom of your arm, or you could simply scoot next to him so your bodies touch.

Then as he starts to fall asleep, carefully move your arm and inch your way off the bed or blanket. Meanwhile, he remains in place without having to be moved at all.

9. Wear your baby in a wrap

Should none of these tricks work and you simply need to make sure your baby sleeps, try wearing him in a wrap.

Granted, he’s still sleeping next to you, so you might be limited in what you can do. But with a baby wrap, at least you have your arms free to walk around while he enjoys a nice nap being “carried.” Patting him when he stirs can help him go back to sleep.

This is especially useful if you need to catch up on chores or tend to your other kids.


As effective as holding your baby to sleep can be, at some point, you need to free up your arms and get him to snooze on his own. Hopefully, you now know what to do to make that happen.

Try moving just as he starts to drift off, or warm the crib mattress before setting him down. Hold him in the position you plan to place him down, and keep him in a swaddle to make the transition easier.

Place your hand on his chest, and drape a light blanket over the bassinet to block stimulation. Lay him down on top of one of your shirts, and if worse comes to worst, a baby wrap can help him sleep while freeing up your arms.

Hopefully, these tips can “trick” your baby to sleep away from your arms and finally give you the break you need!

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  1. Hi Nina! My 2.5 month old daughter doesn’t nap well alone. She’ll take 30-40 min naps in the crib, but 2-3 hour naps when I’m holding her. I enjoy those comfy naps in my arms, but I’m just worried I’m creating a “bad” habit. Or maybe she’s too small and it’s actually good for her?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Anna! Holding your baby at this newborn stage is still fairly normal, considering that they’re still too young to sleep train. You can use other baby gear to make it easier (like baby wraps, swings, etc) and have a good routine in place. But otherwise, it’s common for newborns to have erratic sleep. I hope that helps!