How to Get Newborns to Sleep without Being Held

Updated March 26, 2019


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New parents are always on the lookout for ways to help their newborn babies sleep better. A particular concern for parents is getting their infants to sleep on their own.

Ultimately, you have got to look at it from their point of view, they’ve just come into this brand new, very big world, which is starkly different compared to the cozy interior of the womb. There’s so much more happening in comparison – new sounds, bright lights, and different sensations.

It makes sense that they might feel anxious and too insecure to sleep without being held by mommy for the first few months in this new world. After all, mommy (as well as daddy or caregiver) is familiar, provides warmth, comfort, and above all – security.

This tends to mean that every time you put your baby down, even if they are already asleep, they wake up and start crying! They just don’t seem like they can sleep at all without being held by their caregiver and this can be incredibly stressful for you when you need to be attending to other important duties.

So what can be done about this? Well, unfortunately, there’s no definite answer but there are some tricks you can try that do work for many moms. It ultimately depends on the baby as everyone is different and so what works for some may not work for others.

When Can Babies Fall Asleep on Their Own?

Technically babies can fall asleep on their own at any age but tend not to get used to the idea until they are at least 2 months old – at the minimum. But 2 months old is a good case scenario, and some still may not become accustomed to sleeping on their own until they are 6 months or older.

The point is, it varies between individuals and it also depends on their early experiences, and your efforts to get them accustomed.

So how can you help your little newborn to sleep without being held? Ultimately, it’s about helping your baby get used to self-soothing, that means giving them the opportunity to fall into a sleep state without your constant assistance.

How?

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways to help your baby self soothe and sleep without being held aka your constant assistance.

Getting Newborns to Sleep Without Being Held – Tips & Tricks

The key traits for you to possess throughout is patience and persistence; don’t give up on what you are trying to achieve, it’s vital that you focus on your end goal and keep trying as ultimately it takes time and commitment to get your infant familiar with a new routine.

With that said, here are some practical steps to help your baby get to sleep in general, whether in a crib, co-sleeper or day time nap.

Keep a Routine – Pay Attention to Their Time Awake

Sometimes it seems like a newborn can sleep too much, but they do actually require sleep throughout most of the day. They typically spend a maximum of 1 hour and 30 minutes awake at one time but sometimes this can be a short as 30 minutes, waking only to be fed.

A baby’s sleeping schedule can also be quite erratic until they reach 6 months old as they have not yet developed their circadian rhythm and so, in other words, their internal body clock does not have a sense of the time of day.

It’s up to you to try and keep a routine for them as much as possible by paying attention to the times that they awake and how long they are awake for. Having a better understanding of your child’s sleeping pattern will help you to get them used to sleeping on their own since you will be able to know the ideal time to place them into bed without them being overly aware.

Use Their Time Awake to Your Advantage

When they are awake use this time to get them used to having their own space and not being held. This will make them feel more secure in their own space and more likely to feel ok to sleep there.

Don’t leave them on their own, but interact with them and play with them, utilize the time to make them feel as if they were to fall asleep, you are still there watching over them.

Use Soothing Sleep Associations

Babies feel attached to their caregiver because it’s hard to emulate that sense of comfort and warmth in any other way. Sleep associations are objects and environmental factors (such as lighting and sounds) that the baby can link with sleeping in comfort.

The most common sleep association that parents introduce is the pacifier, as it’s easy to introduce the pacifier early while your baby still prefers to sleep whilst being held.

Another is swaddling which makes the baby feel wrapped up, snug and warm but it’s important to be aware of the major swaddling safety concerns before deciding to use the technique. Swaddling is by far the closest resemblance to being held by mommy or daddy and so is offered as an alternative.

Swaddling helps the baby to sleep deeply and for longer periods of time whilst also suppressing instances of them jolting themselves awake, otherwise known as the Morro reflex.

It’s easier to introduce environmental sleep associations when you know your baby’s sleeping pattern well. This way you can start dimming the lights, using baby light show projectors or crib soothers, these can also be incredibly helpful when you transition them from a co-sleeper bassinet to a crib.

Keep Holding for At Least 15 Minutes

Before Humans enter a phase of sleep we call deep sleep, or rapid eye movement (REM), they are in a phase of light sleep from which they can be easily woken by the slightest disturbance.

Even though it is tempting to put them down right after they have fallen asleep, especially if you have other things to do, resist that temptation and just hold them for an extra 15 minutes after they have nodded off.

How to Get Baby to Sleep in Bassinet or Crib

How to Get Baby to Sleep in Bassinet or Crib

There is some debate as to whether a bassinet or a crib is better for a newborn to sleep in, and they both have their pros and cons but no matter your choice, there are some tips to help your child settle down in whichever you choose.

You can use the above tips but also employ some others too, which are more specific for bassinet or crib sleeping.

Make the Room a Safe Space

We mentioned sleep associations earlier with the baby light show projectors and crib soothers, the same principle counts for sleeping during the night. Make sure the room is always a comfortable temperature and is a peaceful welcoming place to sleep.

Both gentle music and dim lighting will help your baby to associate these things with the crib and sleep time meaning they’ll learn to feel safer and have a much easier time falling asleep in that environment.

Minimize your interaction with them during the night because they will associate you interacting with them with playtime and waking hours and this may stimulate them to become more excited rather than drift calmly off to sleep.

Use the Bassinet or Crib for Naps

Using the bassinet or crib during naptimes helps to strengthen their association of it with sleep and it will increase the likelihood of them sleeping through the night.

It may also make them feel more familiar with the room they are sleeping in at night if they are put to sleep there during the day. They can become more accustomed to the room and all of their surroundings when they can see them, so when it is in the dark of night they feel more familiar with the room.

Warming Up the Bedding

If you are not one for swaddling, an alternative technique is to use a hot water bottle to warm up their sleeping space. It’s important to note that they should not sleep with the hot water bottle in their crib!

Since the sleeping space will be nicely warm and cozy when they get in, they’ll feel a lot more comfortable and be able to settle down to sleep a lot quicker. Don’t worry about them waking up when it cools down because their body temperature will keep the bed warm through the night.

If the room is already fairly hot this may not be a good idea, if you do plan on trying this one out, keep a thermometer in the room so that you know the current temperature. It’s the same with swaddling, you don’t want your baby to overheat as heat stroke is to be taken very seriously.

White Noise Machines

Similar to the way that music players work in helping your baby soothe themselves to sleep, a white noise machine provides a constant background noise which helps to blur out external noises that may cause your baby to wake up, such as general household sounds and noises from outside.

The ventilation and piping can make seemingly random rumbling sounds, whilst passing traffic and honking horns can suddenly wake a baby up and may make them feel unsafe. The white noise is something for them to focus on as they are drifting off and helps to protect them from being disturbed by erratic and sudden noises.

In Summary

The techniques discussed here may not work for every baby as they will have their own preferences. If a crib soother doesn’t work, for example, switch it out for a white noise machine and see if that has any effect.

As I mentioned earlier, patience and persistence are essential, so don’t abandon a tactic if it doesn’t work for the first time, try them out for a week before trying something else. It may seem like a slog, but at least this way you will know what works and what does not!

What’s most important out of the tips mentioned is keeping a regular routine. If you are consistent with that, you are much more likely to succeed in getting your newborn to sleep without being held.

3 thoughts on “How to Get Newborns to Sleep without Being Held”

  1. What awesome tips. I was absolutely horrible at this. I still cuddle with my kids, mostly for me. I can’t fall asleep without them SMH. I’m sharing with my niece because I hold her baby to sleep, and I’m getting her a noise machine for Christmas. Thank you!

  2. Great post. I like the part about paying attention to the baby’s routine. This helped me with both of my children. I worked to stimulate them and wear them out (based on their age level) so they would sleep better. It worked! I also did a lot of tummy time and swing time, and not always holding them. I didn’t realize at the time that this was creating an easier transition for them to fall asleep on their own, but it makes sense now. Thanks.

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