How To Get Your Baby To Sleep Without Being Held: Expert Tips

Picture of Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP

Baby swaddled great idea for how to get your baby to sleep without being held

If you’re wondering how to get your baby to sleep without being held, you’re not alone. This is something many parents struggle with.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how long you wait to put your little one down or how deeply they seem to have fallen asleep in your arms. The minute your body separates from theirs, your baby immediately wakes up and fusses until they are picked up again.

So, like many parents, you end up with a sleeping baby in your arms. Nap after nap. Night after night.

At first, you may have loved soaking up the snuggles with your little one. But now, you’ve quickly realized that this is the only way to get them to sleep, and you’ve become immobile during their nap times.

We understand every bit of the struggle, which is why we’ve created this guide. Read on to find out why this is happening and what you can do about it.

Table Of Contents

Why Do Babies Love To Sleep While Being Held?

Mom wondering how to get your baby to sleep without being held

Before we discuss how to get your baby to sleep without being held, we need to understand why they do it in the first place.

There are many reasons why little ones love falling asleep while being held. Here are some of the most common.

Comfort

When babies are born, they don’t understand much of the world around them. So, they study you, your partner, family members, and everything else with their senses.

This means they’re constantly touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing the different sensations of the world around them.

Babies may end up getting comfortable sleeping in your arms because they’re used to your smell, and they feel safe and warm. On the other hand, when you put them down, that new surface is usually colder than your loving arms, and it doesn’t smell like you.

The Startle Reflex

Most parents of newborns have seen this. One minute your little one is sleeping soundly, and you’re confident they will have a long nap. Then, suddenly, they jerk their arms, wake up, and are now wide awake. What happened?

This is called the Moro (startle) reflex and is often triggered by an outside factor (e.g., moving away from your arms). However, anything that startles your baby can trigger the reflex, even the sound of their own crying.

All babies are born with this involuntary response, and it usually lasts until around four months or so. The purpose of this reflex is mainly to protect your baby’s head until they have enough muscle control to support their head on their own.

The process of setting your baby down in the crib can also inadvertently give your baby the sensation of falling, triggering the reflex.

Sleep Association

Lastly, one of the most common reasons why babies love to sleep while being held is simply because they’ve gotten used to it. Your baby might be associating your arms with sleeping and everything else with playing or eating.

While it might take some time, getting your little one to sleep without being held is possible. During the process, here’s what to expect.

A Note On Safety

At Newton, our mission is to promote safe sleep for babies and kids, both through the products we offer and the advice we share here on our blog. That means we’d be remiss if we continued this discussion without taking a bit of time to talk about bed-sharing.

Bed-sharing is the practice of letting your baby sleep in the same bed as you. (This is not to be confused with co-sleeping, a broader term that simply means having your baby sleep in the same space as you instead of in a separate nursery room.)

When it seems impossible to get your baby to sleep without being held and you’re badly in need of rest yourself, it may be tempting to simply take them to bed with you. But resist that temptation!

Letting your baby sleep in the same bed as you is extremely hazardous. It’s one of the most common causes of sleep-related deaths in babies.

Adult mattresses and bedding are serious suffocation hazards for infants. There’s also the possibility of accidentally rolling over on top of your child in your sleep. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against bed-sharing.

So, please, no matter how desperate you are, don’t go to bed holding your baby. The consequences can be tragic.

Experts do heartily endorse co-sleeping — having your baby sleep in the same room with you — for at least the first six months. This practice makes it easier to tend to your baby when necessary during the night, and you’ll be able to reach them quicker if any danger arises.

The Newton Bassinet & Bedside Sleeper is a great choice for that initial co-sleeping period. It has a largest-in-class sleep surface made with the same technology as our award-winning crib mattress, and it’s lightweight and easy to take with you for travel.

What To Expect When Sleep Training Your Child

Baby standing in crib

Before we get into our step-by-step guide for getting your baby to sleep without being held, here’s what you need to know.

There will possibly be lots of crying. This is perfectly normal. Your baby is used to sleeping in your arms and can’t comprehend why things are changing.

During this transition, some parents allow their little ones to “cry it out” while others don’t. There is no right or wrong here, so feel free to choose whatever you’re comfortable with.

You’ll need to give it some time. Your little one will probably take a couple of days to get used to the new sleeping situation. Don’t lose hope! Just continue following the guide, and they’ll soon be OK with sleeping on their new safe sleep surface.

How To Get Your Baby To Sleep Without Being Held

1) Document Their Sleeping Patterns

Mom holding baby while wondering how to get your baby to sleep without being held

The first step in getting your little one to sleep without being held is to understand their sleeping patterns. When and how long do they nap during the day? When do they tend to seem sleepy in the evenings?

While these patterns will naturally change as your child grows, having a good idea of when and how long your child sleeps will help you create a sleep schedule that suits them.

2) Develop A Sleep Routine

Once you’ve jotted down your little one’s sleeping patterns, it’s easier to develop a sleep routine for them since you’ll be aware of what time they’re likely to be in the mood for a snooze.

Most baby sleep routines include:

  • Turning the lights down
  • Playing soft music (or white noise) in the background
  • Giving them a soothing bath
  • Rubbing their arms and legs (i.e., baby massage)
  • Reading a story
  • Singing a lullaby
  • Rocking your baby until they’re drowsy

Of course, you can add or remove any steps from the list above. But having a consistent sleep routine can help wind your baby down and get them ready to drift off peacefully.

3) Put Them Down Drowsy But Awake

baby yawning

You’ve held your baby, rocking them and caressing them and singing to them, for what seems like hours, and they finally doze off. Time to put them in the crib and head to bed to get some much-needed shut-eye yourself, right?

Well, maybe not. If you want your baby to get used to falling asleep without being held, it’s better to hold them and rock them for 15-20 minutes before bedtime and then put them down in the crib when they’re almost asleep but not fully out.

Just like adults, babies are creatures of habit. If they always fall asleep while in your arms, it’s difficult for them to sleep any other way.

If you want to break this behavior, you’ll need to start placing them down while they’re drowsy but still awake. This will allow them to get used to falling asleep without being in your arms. It will also help them understand that they don’t need your arms to fall asleep.

At first, it might be challenging for your little one (and you), but with time, they’ll start getting the hang of it. Also, keep in mind that you can continue to hold your little one while they’re awake as much as you want to. This guide is just for the sleep transition.

Putting your baby in the crib for the final stage of dozing off also means they’ll be less likely to startle when they wake up in the crib. They may even be able to self-soothe back to sleep without you having to pick them up and comfort them again.

If you miss your moment and your baby does fall asleep in your arms, it’s best to wait a bit longer until they’re in deep sleep. You’ll have a better chance of putting them down without waking them this way.

You’ll know they’re fully relaxed when they breathe deeply and you can see their eyes moving rapidly under their eyelids. You can also try lifting one of their arms and letting it drop to see if they stir.

4) Touch (Don’t Hold) Them To Comfort

When you’ve mastered the art of putting your baby down while they’re drowsy, they might fall asleep but then abruptly wake up.

At this point, instead of rushing to pick them up again, try a different approach — gently touch your little one without lifting them out of the crib. Feel free to stroke their little face, hands, arms, or back, and they might doze off.

Simple touch often provides your baby enough comfort to know that you’re still around without you having to pick them up and start the whole process over again.

5) Check The Room Temperature

Your baby will find it difficult to sleep comfortably if the room temperature isn’t right. So what temperature is right? Well, that depends.

Of course, you need to consider factors like the pajamas your baby is wearing. However, there’s no need to think about blankets. Aside from the fact babies can’t adjust the blanket if they get too hot or too cold, they’re a safety hazard.

There will be plenty of time to enjoy tucking your child in so they’re cozy for the night when they’re a little older, but for now, no blankets. A fitted sheet for your crib mattress is all that’s needed.

But back to the matter of temperature. Experts recommend setting the room temperature in your nursery to a range that would be comfortable for a lightly clothed adult.

Of course, as many couples know, what’s comfortable for one person isn’t comfortable at all for another! But in most cases, between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit is that sweet spot that’s not too cold or too warm.

6) Make Sure They’re Comfortable

Baby sleeping on his own

We’ve mentioned how comfortable your warm arms and body are for your child. They’re not going to be excited about changing how they sleep if the replacement options aren’t as cozy.

You can create a comfortable place for your little one by investing in a quality baby mattress.

Newton Baby Crib mattresses are 100% breathable, which allows for air circulation during every sleep. You can pair this with our Organic Cotton Sheets, which are soft and plush and snugly fit any crib mattress.

These products not only help reduce the risk of suffocation but also allow your little one to sleep more comfortably.

Using a baby swaddle is also a great way to help your baby feel snug so they can fall asleep and stay asleep. However, if they’ve started rolling over, it’s no longer safe to swaddle. Consider transitioning them to a sleep sack instead.

7) Create The Right Environment

Sometimes, parents struggle with their little one wanting to take longer naps during the day and then not sleep as much at night. This often happens because babies can’t tell the difference between day and night.

Dimming the lights in their room and using room darkening curtains at night can help your child associate nighttime with longer snoozes (which is excellent for you too!).

White noise machines can also block out noises from the rest of the house and allow your baby to sleep with fewer interruptions. If you have multiple children, you know what we’re talking about!

8) Avoid Feeding Your Baby To Sleep

Everyone knows the sleepy feeling that comes from having a full stomach. Eating results in an increase of the body chemicals serotonin and tryptophan, which creates a sluggish feeling. Nursing also helps soothe your baby with skin-to-skin contact.

It can be tempting to feed your baby until they fall asleep when nothing else works. However, for the sake of long-term success in getting your little one to bed, try to avoid it.

Basically, it’s all about setting a precedent in your child’s mind. If your baby associates sleep with feeding, it can become more difficult for them to fall asleep when they aren’t nursing, and this presents a problem if they have to be nursed every time they wake up during the night.

Feeding your baby to sleep can also make things more complicated down the road when you’re trying to wean them.

To get the benefits of that full-belly feeling without training your baby to fall asleep only when nursing, make it routine to feed them shortly before putting them to bed.

9) Consider Swaddling

Baby swaddled great idea for how to get your baby to sleep without being held

Swaddling can be a very effective way to give newborns the feeling of cozy, womb-like security they need to fall asleep without having to always hold them. It also helps them stay asleep by preventing the Moro reflex from startling them awake.

Putting your scent on a swaddle blanket by keeping it in close contact with you before you give it to your baby can make being swaddled even more comforting to them.

However, it’s recommended that you stop swaddling by about the two-month mark, or when your baby starts learning to roll over at the latest.

10) Offer A Pacifier

Although you shouldn’t feed your baby to sleep for reasons we already discussed, it’s not a bad idea to offer a pacifier. Sucking on a pacifier has a relaxing effect, which includes reducing your baby’s heart rate and blood pressure, to help them drift peacefully to sleep.

A pacifier is also good for soothing teething pain, which can keep your child from falling asleep or wake them up during the night.

If your baby is drowsy but starts to fuss as you put them in the crib, this is a good time to insert the pacifier. Touch them with one hand while holding the pacifier in their mouth with the other so they know you haven’t left as they begin to suck.

If they wake up during the night but the pacifier is still in the mouth, give it a tiny tug. This will encourage them to start sucking on it again and restart the soothing process.

11) Take Care Of Indigestion

As much as your little one enjoys the comfort and love they feel when you’re holding them, that may not be the only reason why they won’t sleep when they’re put down in the crib. It could be that digestive issues are making your baby restless.

You might make it a habit to pat your baby on the back to burp them, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Try applying gentle squeezing pressure up your little one’s spine to get those gas bubbles out.

Note that having an oversupply of milk when breastfeeding can result in your baby swallowing air and needing to be burped more.

Also, if your baby is suffering from acid reflux, they may feel uncomfortable laying on their back. To combat reflux, feed your baby in an upright position and try to keep them in an upright or sitting position for half an hour or so after a feeding to help their stomach settle.

If reflux is a persistent problem for your little one, consult with your pediatrician. It may be necessary to use medication or to change the formula you’re feeding them if you aren’t breastfeeding.

12) Don’t Go To Them Every Time

When your baby cries, your instinct is to rush to their side and do whatever you can to comfort them. However, when it comes to getting your baby to sleep without being held, this can be counterproductive.

It’s important to give your baby an opportunity to learn to self-soothe and fall back asleep on their own. Just like you, babies wake up briefly throughout the night, and they don’t always need outside intervention to get back to sleep.

If you hear your little one crying during the night, try waiting a few minutes to see if they settle back down on their own before getting up to soothe them.

Sweet Dreams, Little One!

Smiling baby

Many parents struggle with how to get their baby to sleep without being held. So, don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong or that your child is not like other little ones. It’s perfectly normal!

Remember to take it one step at a time with these tips:

  • Develop a sleep routine that makes sense for your baby.
  • Be consistent about putting them down while they’re drowsy.
  • Try to avoid picking them up immediately if they suddenly wake up.

Comfort is also a key element in helping your child sleep without being held. Things like setting the right room temperature, using a white noise machine, and placing them on a comfortable mattress can make all the difference.

The Newton Baby crib mattress has breathe-thru technology, which allows for air circulation and reduces the chances of suffocation. It also helps regulate your baby’s body temperature and reduces dust mites and allergens.

Pair it with our Organic Crib Sheets for the safest and most comfortable sleep surface.

When implementing the above tips, remember to be patient with your baby (and yourself). If you’re lucky, they might start falling asleep by themselves after just a few tries. Or it might take a couple of days for them to adjust to this new routine. That’s also OK.

Pretty soon, your sweet little one will be snoozing away in their own bed!

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