Newborn Not Sleeping? Here Are 9 Tips That Can Help

Worried about your newborn not sleeping enough during the day or at night (unless they’re held)? Learn 9 effective tips to try when your baby won’t sleep.

Newborn Not SleepingI thought I knew it all.

I read parenting books, browsed through websites, and attended CPR and childcare classes. I knew I wouldn’t know everything, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to learn all I could. I was ready to have this baby!

Except… I wasn’t. Not in a way that anyone who has yet to have a child of her own can ever know until the day she becomes a parent.

As a first-time mom, I found myself with a baby who wanted to be held 24/7. He’d easily fall asleep when he was in my arms but woke up screaming as soon as he was laid down. This affected his naps throughout the day and inevitably led to difficult evenings.

Maybe you can relate.

Perhaps your newborn isn’t sleeping during the day. You’re not sure what the issue is, or whether you should be concerned. Never mind that this has left you feeling miserable and exhausted.

Thankfully, you can still do plenty to cope and turn things around. I learned several tactics that helped my little guy finally sleep better. Take a look at these tips—I hope they work for you, too:

1. Free up your arms

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Just because your baby cries when she’s not being held, that doesn’t mean you have to hold her all day. During the newborn stage, I relied on all sorts of baby gear to free up my arms. This was especially helpful since my little guy wanted nothing to do with the crib.

For instance, wear your baby in a wrap . This not only keeps her close to you, but frees up your arms to do other things. Or put her in a swing—the back-and-forth motion of a swing can lull her to sleep and keep your arms free as well.

If you’re out and about, she might fall asleep in the stroller or car seat which, while not ideal, can give her much-needed sleep.

Newborn Stage

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One Mistake You're Making with Your Baby's Awake Time

2. Let your newborn try to fall asleep

Try putting your newborn down drowsy but awake for each nap and bedtime to give her a chance to fall asleep on her own. If she cries or can’t sleep, then yes, scoop her back up to comfort her. But at least give her that chance to fall asleep independently.

When I had my twins, I no longer scooped them back up if they happened to open their eyes after being put down. Instead, I allowed them to keep lying down, even with their eyes open. And what do you know… often they eventually fell asleep.

As I say in my ebook, How to Get Your Baby to Sleep:

“When laid down awake, babies have a better chance of learning to fall asleep on their own. They never get these opportunities when we do the work for them. By giving them a chance to experience falling asleep, they’ll rely less on external sleep aids like rocking, nursing, or being held in someone’s arms to fall asleep.”

3. Hold your newborn until they’re (completely) asleep

Sometimes your baby won’t fall asleep on his own, even if you put him down drowsy but awake. And that’s okay—he’s still in the newborn stage when he likely still needs help.

If he wakes up the minute his head hits the mattress, try putting him down when he’s completely asleep.

How can you tell he’s in deep sleep? One way is to go by the clock. The first 15-20 minutes after he falls asleep is still active sleep, where he can easily wake up.

Another trick is to lift his arm and let it go. If he moves and stirs, then he’s still in active sleep, but if his arm is limp and flops down, then he’s likely in deep sleep.

Discover how to get your baby to nap in a crib instead of your arms.

How to Get Baby to Nap in Crib

4. Swaddle your newborn

Many newborn babies sleep much better when they’re swaddled since it reminds them of the familiar environment of the womb. Plus, swaddling also prevents them from startling themselves awake when their arms flail in a startle reflex.

Choose “pre-made” swaddles rather than creating one from a blanket. They’re easier to put on and harder for your baby to remove by accident.

Is your newborn awake for 3 hours? Here’s what to do.

Newborn Awake for 3 Hours

5. Use a pacifier (and the pacifier “tug”)

A pacifier may not always work if your newborn is shrieking and in tears, but it just might help her stay asleep when she stirs.

You see, babies sleep in cycles, which is why you might find that yours wakes up at the same intervals, typically after 30-45 minutes. When you know she’s entering light sleep, insert a pacifier into her mouth so that she starts sucking once again.

And if she already has a pacifier in her mouth, give it a little “tug” before it falls out and startles her awake. The tug can trigger her to suck even harder and encourage her to sleep another cycle.

6. Use white noise

Loud noise doesn’t make for good sleep, but neither does complete silence where any little sound can startle your newborn awake. Instead, use white noise to muffle sudden sounds and provide a familiar environment like the sounds he heard in the womb.

You can create white noise through a fan or heater, a white noise app, or with a white noise machine.

7. Have shorter intervals between naps

As a first-time mom, I figured babies just fell asleep whenever they were tired. I didn’t pay attention to how long my baby had been awake, assuming that the more time he was awake, the sleepier he’d be.

Except feeling overtired could contribute to your newborn not sleeping well, starting an endless cycle that never seems to go away. What to do? Shorten his awake time between naps—the younger the baby, the shorter the wake time.

Stay attuned to sleep cues or simply watch the clock and make sure he isn’t awake too long. Ninety minutes at a time is the max, with some as short as 30-45 minutes.

Learn what to do when your baby won’t nap unless held.

Baby Won't Nap Unless Held

8. Follow the same rituals each night

Babies learn through repetition, which is why bedtime routines can be so helpful even at this stage. Do the same things in the same order at the same time.

For instance, I found that playing calming music set the scene and established a “trigger” that the bedtime routine would soon start. I’d play a few minutes of music then bathe and change my baby into pajamas. Next, we’d read a few books and finally nurse for the night.

We always did the same activities in that order every night. Not only did he pick up the cues that it’s time to sleep, this also helped me run on autopilot and not have to think too much about what to do next.

Learn 5 things you can do when your newborn wants to be held all night.

Newborn Wants to Be Held All Night

9. Keep your newborn upright

Do you put your baby down to sleep after feeding? He might be crying because of digestion issues, like reflux or gas.

Instead of laying him down right after, keep him upright after feedings, even for as little as five minutes. This allows the breast milk or formula to digest down to his tummy or for a burp to escape.

Conclusion

It’s rough when your baby’s sleep is all over the place. But remember: this is the season you’re in and, like all seasons, it will pass soon enough. Accepting your present moment—instead of fighting or rushing out of it—is often the best way to save your sanity and stay calm.

And apply the tips you learned in this article. Use baby gear to free up your arms so you don’t feel glued to her 24/7. If that doesn’t work, hold her to sleep—for a good 15-20 minutes—before putting her down. If she happens to open her eyes when you do, allow her a chance to fall asleep on her own.

Pacifiers, swaddles, and white noise can help her fall and stay asleep longer. Don’t keep her awake too long or she might be overtired, setting up a vicious cycle of fitful sleep. Do the same rituals every night to signal the coming of sleep.

And finally, keep her upright after feedings, or even during sleep, to prevent digestive issues.

You’re doing your best, friend. You’re not doing anything “wrong”—you’re simply learning on the job, as we all are. Because reading parenting books and taking childcare classes can only prepare you so much.

How to Break the Cycle of an Overtired Baby

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4 Comments

  1. My biggest struggle is my baby’s crying. He cries all the time and it’s hard to listen to. He’s only 8 weeks old and I feel so sorry for him but sometimes I dream about going back to work and getting him into daycare. I feel so bad as we are so lucky to have him and I love him so much, but I hate hearing him cry. I feel like I can’t take him out as he’s so unpredictable with the crying. I feel embarrassed when he cries and I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I also don’t sleep well because I have him in bed with me as he doesn’t like sleeping on his own.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Olivia, I can totally relate to how you feel, from the embarrassment of others hearing your baby cry to not even wanting to take him out in the first place for fear he’ll cry the whole time. I hear ya <3 Rest assured mama that you'll get through this. Hearing the baby cry can be rough (I swear I think I'd even hear them cry in my head even when they weren't!). It'll pass soon enough. Hang in there!

  2. Hello,
    My 3month old his not sleeping unless in my arms. I am not getting any sleep. I’ve tried everything and it’s not working. I’ve tried self soothe and he just cries harder and harder until he gags himself or throws up. Then he contours to scream. I’ve tried swaddle, half swaddle, one arm in one arm out. Nothing is working. I can’t keep doing this. It will be well four of no sleep on Monday. When I try to put him down in the crib no matter how asleep he is he wakes up screaming. Self soothe doesn’t work either. I am so sleep deprived it’s not even funny.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Lindsey! At 3 months old, it’s still very normal for babies to need our help falling asleep. Self soothing is likely ineffective at this point (though the good news is you’re not that far off from being able to sleep train). For now, consider yourself in survival mode, doing all you can to help him sleep, from using the swing to a baby wrap. Yes, we can encourage newborns to try to self soothe, but it’s also okay if you help him when he needs it.