Can’t get anything done because the baby won’t nap unless held? Learn what to do when your newborn won’t sleep away from your arms.
This is probably my fault, you think. I let him get used to sleeping this way.
Because for what has seemed like forever, your baby won’t nap unless held. The second you set him down, he pops his eyes open and starts crying. With you going back to work and your partner struggling with getting him to sleep, you feel like you’re in crisis mode.
This is the tale of every exhausted new parent who has had to hold her baby during naptime.
This doesn’t mean you don’t relish the feeling of holding him to sleep, but the frequent daytime naps mean you can’t hold him all day.
Your nap routine of rocking him to sleep no longer works, especially when he wakes up the minute you stop. He’s grouchy when he feels tired, so you’ve resorted to holding him to sleep. Of course, that only means you can’t get anything done during the day when he’s sleeping in your arms.
What to do when your baby won’t nap unless held
I hear you, mama.
My little guy was never a good sleeper, and sleep regressions seemed to happen all the time. I’d hold him for over an hour, putting him down in the crib only for him to wake up immediately. Left to his own, he’d have trouble sleeping, but would sleep for hours if I held him.
Even if he’d been sleeping in my arms, putting him down meant he’d either way up in 10 minutes or the second his head touched the surface. He also wouldn’t sleep in a stroller or a car ride, despite this popular hack. And of course, he’d wake up screaming and disoriented—not exactly the wake-up I was hoping for.
I know all too well how sleep deprivation can mess with your emotions, driving you to resent your situation and seriously hate these cat naps.
You’re not alone, nor are you without solutions. I’ve tried nearly everything and sought advice from other moms to find a way out of this endless cycle. Below are several tips to try, because goodness knows you can’t always hold your baby for every nap time:
1. Swaddle your baby so he feels held
Mimic the tight feeling of being in your arms or even in your womb through swaddling. The cozy comfort of being wrapped in a snug blanket or swaddle can allow you to put your newborn baby down in the crib and extend his sleep.
Put him down drowsy and awake while swaddled, but if that doesn’t work, you can also try putting him down after he has fallen asleep in your arms. The tightness of the swaddle can make the transition from your arms to the crib smoother than laying him down with his arms and legs loose.
Extra tip: Put him down in a dark room with blackout curtains and a white noise machine to help him take a longer nap.
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2. Use motion to help your baby sleep
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One simple way I freed up my arms during daytime sleep was to put my baby down in a swing. The motion of the swing was enough to soothe and lull him to sleep, almost like being in my arms. I’d also move the swing around the house to keep an eye on him while I tended to my daily routine.
Many parents also swear by a vibrating bassinet. Besides rocking the bassinet with your hand, you can also set it to vibrate, giving him a gentle sense of motion to fall asleep.
Another idea is to use a baby wrap or carrier to help him take a nap. You’re able to keep him close to your warm body, scent, and heartbeat, all with your arms free to get things done.
3. Use a pacifier after putting your baby down
Let’s say your baby is swaddled and you’ve put him down to sleep in the crib. Before you let go, keep your hand over his chest to give him the sense that you’re still there. Then, while you do, offer a pacifier.
The pacifier, combined with being swaddled and feeling the pressure of your hand on him, can lull him to sleep. And since he’s already out of your arms, you don’t have to worry about transitioning him from one position to another.
Extra tip: if, during the nap, you notice that he’s starting to fuss and his pacifier is loose in his mouth, give it a little “tug.” This will encourage him to suck harder once more, which can lead to an extra sleep cycle.
4. Feed your baby after he wakes up
I always assumed that we need to feed babies before sleep, and that doing so was the only surefire way to get them to do so. And while they do fall asleep quite well after a feeding, this also establishes the habit of needing to feed—and be held—to sleep.
Instead, I started following the EASY method, from the book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg.
The acronym stands for: eat, awake, sleep, you (meaning time for yourself). Feed or nurse your baby (“eat”) after she wakes up for the day and keep her up for play time (“awake time”). After a certain time, or when she’s showing baby tired signs, put her to sleep (“sleep”).
But here’s the trick: avoid feeding her to sleep, and only do so after she wakes up from the nap.
You’d then repeat the cycle: feed her after she wakes up from the nap, followed by more play time before taking the next nap. This not only puts her on a loose sleep schedule and rhythm, but helps her get used to being put down drowsy but awake to sleep.
In fact, avoid letting her fall asleep during daytime feedings. Talk to her, switch sides or positions, or burp her to keep her awake. That way, she’s used to staying awake during and after daytime feeds.
5. Let your baby fuss a little
I used to rush into the room the minute I heard my baby so much as whimper in bed. It got so bad that I’d wake myself up in the middle of the night, hearing those cries in my head.
Except infants cry for different reasons, from slight discomfort to outright frustration. Rushing in to scoop your baby up and soothe him back to sleep might be premature and prevent him from falling asleep on his own.
Instead, try to tell his cries apart. If he’s whimpering or fussing, first check to make sure all is okay. Then, give him a few minutes to work it out—he just might stop fussing and fall asleep.
If his cries continue to escalate, pick him up to soothe him back to a calm state while still keeping him slightly awake. Then, after 15 minutes, put him down and try again.
Continue the cycle of soothing him to a sleepy state and putting him down, repeating the process if he cries. He’ll eventually learn to fall and stay asleep for a full nap. You’re providing the comfort he needs when he’s upset while still giving him a chance to fall asleep on his own.
Yes, in the beginning, it might take many tries, and he might only sleep for 10 measly minutes once he does. But with consistency, he’ll fall asleep quicker and for longer stretches of time. Consider these as practices or experiments—you won’t always get it right every time, but over time, you’ll see progress.
6. Enjoy holding your baby
I know you didn’t land on this article to hear that you should keep holding your baby during naps, but hear me out.
You see, it’s easy to look at holding him as an inconvenience, a hassle to deal with. Especially with a million things to do, from washing dishes to packing the diaper bag. To lose the freedom of getting to do these tasks any time you want can be hard to accept.
But… maybe this can also be an opportunity to enjoy your temporary circumstances. It forces you to slow down and ask yourself if you’re doing too much. It’s okay that the dishes are in the sink, and you’ll figure out what to do if you run out of diaper cream.
Perhaps, in the long term, it’s a sign to take it easy. Otherwise, you’ll be in a whirlwind all day long, without stopping to enjoy these little, slower-paced moments.
I know all too well the frustration of feeling “stuck” to your baby all day. The resentment when he wakes up the minute you put him down, especially after you’ve spent a long time holding him to sleep.
As normal as this may be for a baby’s development, you’re also not without options to ease him out of your arms.
Swaddle him to sleep to give him a sense of being held. Use motion—from a swing, bassinet, or baby wrap—to help him sleep and free up your arms. Use a pacifier after you’ve put him down, and feed him not to sleep, but after he wakes up.
Should he fuss, give him a few minutes to settle on his own, especially if he’s only whimpering and complaining. And finally, change your mindset and see this a chance to enjoy the moment—this might be a sign for you to slow your pace down.
Yes, he might have gotten used to napping only when he’s held, but that doesn’t make it your fault. Nor does that mean that you’re stuck, either. With these tips, you can finally free your arms, get a long nap, and help him sleep once and for all.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Being Held
- Newborn Not Sleeping? 9 Tricks to Help Your Baby (Finally!) Sleep
- What to Do When Your Overtired Baby Keeps Waking Up
- How to Get Your Baby to Nap in the Crib
- What to Do When Your 3 Month Old Won’t Nap
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