How to Help Your Newborn Stay Asleep When You Put Them Down

Setting your sleeping baby down in their crib without waking them can be tricky, but experts provide some advice on making the drop.

If your newborn sleeps peacefully in your arms but wakes up the second you lay them down (or heck, even if they sense you're about to lay them down), know that you are not alone. This situation is extremely common.

Some babies are extra sensitive to the noises, lights, and other sensory stimulation around them. So when your baby is in your arms, they are more protected from outside stimulation and less likely to wake up. Being held also prevents babies from startling, a newborn reflex known as the Moro reflex that causes their arms and legs to flail, which is another common cause of wakening.

Moreover, newborns especially are still adjusting to life outside the cozy womb. Being snuggled in your arms is much more like being nestled in your belly than sleeping alone in a crib or bassinet, so it makes perfect sense why a baby might resist any efforts that take them away from your comfy arms and into an unfamiliar place.

How to Help Your Baby Sleep Without You

The first step to getting your baby to sleep outside of your arms is to establish healthy sleep habits early on. For newborns who aren't yet ready for a more rigid sleep schedule, it can be especially helpful to carefully watch for signs of fatigue and to put them down before they get overtired.

It might come as a comfort to remember that sleeping is a skill, and after the first few months, babies can be taught to fall asleep on their own. To help your baby learn the art of sleeping, you can first focus on learning the physical signs that your baby is tired and ready for sleep. For young babies, this can be tricky, but keep an eye out for some signs of drowsiness such as:

  • Increased fussiness
  • Staring into space
  • Crying

The key is to get your baby down to sleep when they start to get drowsy but haven't reached the point of being too tired and fussy. Some parents may be tempted to keep their baby awake longer, hoping then they will get really tired and fall into a deep sleep—but that can actually backfire because babies who are overtired actually have a harder time getting and staying asleep.

And remember, with young babies, their sleep-wake cycle is still developing, so trying to instill healthy sleep habits now can actually help regulate melatonin, the sleep hormone, in a cycle that will make more sense as they get older.

Transitioning From Your Arms to a Crib

Next, to transition to your child sleeping in a crib instead of your arms, it might be helpful to first try a bassinet for a newborn, as it's cozier and more comforting for a tiny baby. Plus, you can position a bassinet close to you as you and your baby get accustomed to a little time apart. Secondly, you can try swaddling your baby. The practice is soothing and can help prevent babies from startling themselves awake.

Once you do put your baby down in the crib or bassinet, the next step will be to avoid rescuing them too quickly if they start to stir. If your baby awakens and cries, pat their tummy or talk soothingly before picking them up. If that doesn't work, it's OK to let your baby cry for five to 10 minutes to let off some steam and practice self-soothing (as long as you're sure there's nothing else bothering them, like a dirty diaper or hunger).

If this fails, pick your baby up, rock them, and then try to put them down again. While you soothe your baby, stay in their room but don't turn on the lights or talk to them to avoid stimulating them further.

As long as breastfeeding has been established and your pediatrician approves (if you're nursing, of course), you can also try introducing a pacifier, as some babies may find the sucking motion soothing. However, this isn't recommended for very young babies, as nighttime feedings are still important for their growth and development and pacifier use may soothe them to the point they skip a feeding.

Lastly, if none of these tricks work, don't worry. Many newborns need to be held to fall asleep, and that's fine for now. Babies are still learning how to exist outside of the womb at this age, and there's no such thing as holding a newborn too much.

Keep working on those healthy sleep habits and be consistent. Over time, your baby will eventually learn how to sleep somewhere other than your arms. Around 4 to 5 months of age, your baby will be better able to soothe themselves, and you can even start sleep training them if you'd like to help them nod off on their own.

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