It can feel impossible to sleep when your newborn wants to be held all night. Learn what to do when your baby only sleeps with you.
A few minutes of quiet is all I’d get after I’d put my newborn down before he started crying. As soon as I put him down in the crib, he’d wake up within 10 minutes crying to be held.
Yes, I understood that, in hindsight, this newborn phase goes quickly. A couple of months is short compared to the rest of childhood.
This is all reassuring… up to a point.
Because if you can relate, you know that chronic sleep deprivation is no joke. Knowing this ends at some point isn’t helping you right now.
So, is there anything you can do to help your baby sleep out of your arms?
As someone who has had her fair share of sleep deprived nights, I found a few tricks that helped. Take a look at what you can do to help you cope when your newborn wants to be held all night:
Table of Contents
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 about these sleep patterns? 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).
- Use a white noise machine in the room to mimic the sounds she’d hear in the womb (the soothing sound also muffles sudden noises that might startle her awake).
- Place her in a swing that resembles being held in someone’s arms.
- Carry her in a baby carrier or sling so that you can at least have your arms free.
- Offer a pacifier. Sucking can offer a familiar comfort to extend her sleep (more on that later).
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Create a consistent bedtime routine
One of the best things I did for my babies was to create a consistent bedtime routine. I truly believe that it helped them anticipate what would happen next and take certain cues as signals that sleep was to come.
Routines are also helpful to us. The rhythm and flow allow us to do what needs to get done without thinking too much about it. Even with your baby’s fussiness, you know you can rely on your routine to get you through the evening.
Aim for the same bedtime every night, to start. Then, do the same things in the same order. For instance, start the routine with a bath, followed by a massage and changing into pajamas. Read bedtime books, wrap him in a swaddle, and do one last nursing session.
The same rituals at the same time every night can create the predictability and familiarity everyone needs.
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 into the 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, since 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.
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 him learn how to fall asleep in a gentle way.
Set him down in the crib. When he cries, pick him up and comfort him so he stops fussing. Then, when he’s calm, set him down again, drowsy but awake. Repeat the process until he falls asleep for a long stretch.
You’re providing the comfort he needs, but still giving him the opportunity to fall asleep on his own.
Extend your baby’s sleep
Does your baby start to fuss either the minute you put her down? See if you can extend her sleep using a pacifier.
Now, if you just thought, “My baby doesn’t like the pacifier,” hear me out. First, like many things with a baby, it won’t always work every single time. There might be times when she spits it right back out, but other times, it can be a great tool to extend her sleep.
Second, the trick is to use the pacifier right when she’s starting to fuss, not when she’s already screaming and crying.
For instance, as she’s falling asleep in your arms, offer it and see if that can get her into a deep sleep. Then set her down, and if she starts to fuss, keep it in place to encourage her to keep sucking. Hopefully, she can doze off enough for you to step away for a bit.
Now, let’s say she had been sleeping away from your arms, but you notice that she’s starting to fuss. If the pacifier is still in her mouth, gently give it a tug, as if you were taking it away from her. This can trigger her to suck some more to keep it in place and perhaps get her sleepy enough for another cycle.
Don’t respond immediately to every cry
New parents are notorious for rushing to our babies’ sides the minute we hear a peep from them. But not all tears signal genuine distraught. Small whimpers and slight discomfort 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 he’s complaining or whimpering, give him a moment to settle himself first, especially if he’s in a safe sleep environment. You just might be surprised that he can eventually decrease his crying and settle down.
In the end, you’re both learning discipline. He for learning that he can settle on his own once in a while, and you for not catering to every whimper.
Challenge your irrational beliefs
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You might say that your immediate problem is having a newborn who needs to be held all night. But what exactly makes that stressful?
A big part of it is the irrational belief that plays out in your mind. You see, we tend to turn our situations into catastrophes with the stories we tell ourselves.
For instance, you might say that because you can’t put your baby down, you’ll teach her bad habits. And because of that, she’ll never sleep well and will always have to be held. This means that you won’t have the “normal” life you’ve had in the past, and you’ll always be unhappy.
But psychologist Rafael Santandreu, author of Shake It Off!, says,
“These irrational beliefs…are characterized by the fact that they are:
1. false (because they are exaggerated)
2. useless (because they do not help to solve problems)
Most of the “What if…” projections we make (“What if my child never learns to sleep on her own?!”) won’t come true. Thinking this way doesn’t help her sleep any better. Worse, you add unnecessary stress that’s preventing you from enjoying your time with her.
All that to say, rethink what you tell yourself and challenge those irrational beliefs.
Perhaps there may come a time down the line when you can sleep train. Or maybe you can make the most of the time by accepting this stage of your life for now (more on that next). And just because she isn’t sleeping all night yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t live a happy, even if tiring, life with her.
Accept the season you’re in
One of the reasons we feel exhausted in the newborn stage is that we have certain expectations that almost feel like a “need.” For instance, we need to sleep the eight hours we used to sleep before having a baby.
So, you can imagine how we feel when those “needs” aren’t met. We get upset, stressed, and angry that we can’t sleep for hours for weeks and months on end.
But what if, instead of fighting these circumstances, you accept the season you’re in?
This helps you see that this situation is temporary—like the seasons of the year, this stage will come and go. Allow it to run its course, just as you anticipate the coming of spring after a cold winter.
Better yet, enjoy the time you have during this season and make the most of it. In the winter, you would cuddle up with a cup of hot chocolate instead of enjoying the warm outdoors. Perhaps now is the time for your baby to enjoy the warmth and comfort she craves while you anticipate the time when you can sleep in longer stretches again.
This doesn’t mean that you “give up.” But if you find yourself fighting your circumstances, accept them as part of the temporary season you’re in. This acceptance can help you be more patient and calm. The best part? This change in attitude can help your little one fall asleep better than if you were tense and frustrated.
No doubt, dealing with a baby who only sleeps when held is no easy feat, especially at night. Thankfully, you can rely on a few tactics to help you along the way.
Recreate the experiences she felt in the womb and create a consistent bedtime routine. Gradually ease her out of your arms, and pick her up for comfort while still allowing her to fall asleep in the crib instead of your arms. Accept the season you’re in, and don’t feel compelled to rush to her side at every whimper as if there was an emergency.
Yes, this is the newborn stage, which calls for the most attention you’ll likely give her. But having more than a few minutes of quiet is also still possible.
Get more tips:
- 5 Reasons Your Newborn Wakes Up Screaming
- What to Do When Your 3 Week Old Baby Won’t Sleep Unless 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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