It can feel impossible to sleep when your newborn wants to be held all night. Learn what to do when your baby will only sleep with you.
A few minutes of quiet is about all you get after you put your newborn down before she starts crying. Because as soon as you put her in the crib or bassinet, she’ll wake up within 10 minutes crying to be held. She also won’t stop until you pick her up again.
Not only does she need to be rocked to sleep, she needs you to hold her the entire time. But as much as you want to break the habit, the thought of hearing her cry for long breaks your heart.
This is slightly better during the day when you’re awake, but after 24/7 of your baby needing to be held, it’s taking quite a toll on you. The lack of sleep isn’t healthy for anyone, with sleep deprivation making you delirious and cranky.
And let’s not forget that sleeping with your baby in your arms isn’t exactly a safe or effective way for you to get some sleep. How can you help your newborn sleep anywhere else but your arms?
What to do when your newborn wants to be held all night
Reassurances can only go so far, especially if you’re a new mom. Yes, you understand that, in hindsight, this newborn phase will go quickly. A couple of months is short compared to your little one’s entire childhood.
You also know that many moms go through this—that needing to be held is so common and normal for newborns. Your baby had been in your womb not too long ago, after all. And some experienced moms will say that their babies eventually outgrew this stage.
These are all reassuring… up to a point.
Because at the end of the day, you’re going through chronic sleep deprivation, perhaps feeling anxiety and frustration as a new mom as well. Knowing this will end at some point isn’t helping you emotionally.
So, is there anything you can do to help your baby sleep out of your arms?
Of course, nothing is guaranteed with babies—what works for one completely fails with another. But as someone who has had her fair share of sleep deprived nights and a baby who couldn’t sleep anywhere but my arms, I found a few tricks that helped.
Take a look at what you can do to help you cope during this stage:
1. Help your newborn feel like she’s still in the womb
Sleeping snuggled in your arms is the closest thing to all that your newborn has known, which is the time she spent in your womb. No wonder she cries every time you lay her down flat in the crib or bassinet.
What to do? Recreate similar circumstances she may have experienced in the womb.
For instance, you can:
- Swaddle her so she feels nice and snug (and so she doesn’t startle herself awake with the Moro reflex).
- Play white noise in the room to mimic the sounds she’d hear in the womb (and so that sudden noises don’t startle her awake).
- Place her on an infant cushion or in a swing that resemble being held in someone’s arms.
- Offer a pacifier. Sucking can offer a familiar comfort to extend her sleep.
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2. Create a consistent bedtime routine
One of the best things I did for my babies was to create a consistent bedtime routine. I truly believed that it helped them anticipate what would happen next, and to take certain cues as signals that sleep was to come.
Routines are also helpful to us, the parents. The rhythm and flow allow us to do what needs to get done without thinking too hard about it. Even though your baby is fussy, you know you can rely on your routine to get you through the evening.
So, what makes for a consistent routine?
Aim for the same bedtime every night, to start. Then, do the same things in the same order. Maybe you start the routine with a bath, followed by massaging her with lotion and changing her into pajamas. Read bedtime books, wrap her in a swaddle, and do one last nursing session.
The same rituals at the same time every night will help create the predictability and familiarity everyone needs.
3. Gradually ease your newborn out of your arms
One way to get your baby to sleep in the crib is to do so gradually. Let’s say she’s fast asleep in your arms, but you don’t want to set her down straight to crib.
Start by carrying her in your arms as you usually do. Then, hold her in the position she’ll eventually lie down in. For instance, if she’s going to lie down flat, carry her with her tummy facing up, not toward your body.
And finally, make your way to the crib, slowly easing your arms out of the way. Keep your hands under her body or on her tummy for a few minutes so she still feels you near her before you finally pull away.
4. Pick your baby up for comfort, but put her down after
Your newborn is too young for sleep training, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help her learn how to fall asleep in a gentle way.
Set her down in the crib. When she cries, pick her up and comfort her so she stops fussing. Then, when she’s calm, set he down again, drowsy but awake. Repeat the process as needed, until she falls asleep for a long stretch.
You’re providing the comfort she needs, but still giving her the opportunity to fall asleep on her own.
5. Don’t respond immediately to every cry
New moms are notorious for rushing to our babies’ sides the minute we hear a peep from them. But not all cries signal genuine distraught. Small whimpers and slight discomforts don’t warrant you rushing in as if there was a real emergency.
Instead, the next time your baby starts crying, first discern the type of cry and respond accordingly. If the cry sounds like she’s complaining or whimpering, give her a moment to settle herself first. You just might be surprised that she’ll eventually decrease her crying.
In the end, you’re both learning discipline. She for learning that it’s okay not being held, and you for resisting catering to every whimper. She’s capable of more than you might think.
No doubt, dealing with a newborn who only sleeps when held at night is no easy feat. Your baby cries when you put her down at night, and you can’t exactly sleep well yourself when she’ll only sleep on your chest.
Sleep deprivation during the day seemed more forgivable—after all, you’re supposed to be awake when the sun is out. But at night? The added pressure to patch together some sleep for yourself feels impossible when your baby won’t sleep without being held.
Thankfully, you can rely on a few time-tested tactics to help you along the way.
First, recreate some of the experiences she felt in the womb, from swaddling to keep her snug to playing white noise to muffle starting sounds. Create a consistent bedtime routine so you and your baby can rely on familiar rituals to signal sleep.
Gradually ease her out of your arms and into the crib, step by step. Pick her up for comfort, but allow her to fall asleep in the crib instead of your arms. And lastly, don’t feel compelled to rush to her side at every whimper as if there was an emergency—both of you will benefit from a few minutes of waiting.
Yes, this is the newborn stage, which calls for the most attention you’ll likely give your child. But having more than a few minutes of quiet rest—even for yourself—is also still possible.
Get more tips:
- Top 5 Reasons Your Newborn Wakes Up Screaming
- What to Do When Your Newborn Only Sleeps When Held
- How to Get Your Baby to Nap in the Crib
- What to Do When Your 3 Month Old Won’t Nap
- Worried That Your Baby Burps a Lot? Here’s What You Can Do:
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