It's so typical, you spend hours trying to get your baby to sleep, only to find that they'll only drift off in your arms. As soon as you try to lay them down in their crib or bassinet, the crying begins. This struggle can leave parents feeling exhausted and frustrated, but the good news is that there are solutions. In this article, we'll explore why babies often prefer to sleep while being held, as well as practical tips and techniques for helping your little one learn to sleep independently. So if you're tired of being stuck in a cycle of contact naps, and holding your baby to sleep, read on to discover how to help your baby (and you) get better sleep!
If you’re struggling with getting your baby to fall asleep (unless in your arms), or maybe having trouble transferring your baby to a safe sleep space once they fall asleep, start your FREE sleep consultation and get expert, step by step guidance from the Smart Sleep Coach team to help break this habit.
Why Babies Prefer to Sleep When Being Held
The science behind why newborns, in particular (and babies in general) like to sleep while being held is largely rooted in their need for comfort, security, and warmth.
- Newborns are used to the constant movement and swaying they experienced in the womb. This motion can soothe and calm them, making it easier for them to fall asleep. When being held, babies can feel the gentle sway and movement of their caregiver, which can be comforting to them.
- Being held close to their caregiver's body provides a sense of security for babies. They can hear their caregiver's heartbeat and feel their warmth, which can remind them of the closeness they felt in the womb. This proximity can also provide a sense of safety for babies, making them feel more secure and relaxed, leading to better sleep.
- Being held can also help regulate a baby's body temperature, which can affect their sleep. A caregiver's body temperature can help warm up or cool down a baby's body, ensuring that they stay comfortable and cozy while sleeping.
Imagine falling asleep in your warm, cosy bed and then waking up on the kitchen floor. This is largely why babies wake so quickly after being transfered to their crib – it’s so starkly different to where they were sleeping.
But you can’t spoil a newborn and you should enjoy these naps (safely) while you can. When you’re ready to start encouraging more independent sleep you can adjust things – just know this change is easier the younger your baby is.
While this sleep habit can be challenging for parents and caregivers, understanding why this behavior occurs holds the key to finding ways help wean your baby off contact naps and sleep support so they can become strong independent sleepers.
As cosy as it may be to have your baby sleep on you, if there is any chance that you may also fall asleep it becomes a safety risk as you could accidentally drop your baby or suffocate them. With that in mind always remember: contact naps are great as long as they can be delivered 100% safely, and no matter what, always follow the AAP safe sleep guidelines – which recommend you roomshare (for at least the first 6-months of life), but never bed share.
Tips For Helping Your Baby Sleep Without Being Held
If you've been holding your baby every time they need to sleep, it can be a challenge to get them to sleep on their own. However, there are a few tips and tricks you can try to help your little one transition to sleeping independently:
- Don’t push your baby’s wake windows: An overtired baby is one who will fight sleep. Use the Smart Sleep Coach App with 1-click sleep tracking and dynamic scheduling as well as ‘SleepyTime’ notifications to help you know when the perfect time is for sleep.
- Set up a sleep nourishing environment: Dark (use black out shades), cool (68-72F is optimal) and playing white or brown noise is ideal. If you can end your bedtime routine in this space it will make the transition to crib and ultimately falling asleep so much easier.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine: Babies thrive on routine and predictability, so having a consistent bedtime routine can help them feel more relaxed and ready for sleep. You can include activities such as a warm bath, gentle massage, lullabies or storytime to help settle your baby down and cue them it’s time for sleep.
- Use a swaddle or sleep sack: Swaddling (until around 2-months when they can roll front to back / back to front) or using a sleep sack can help recreate the feeling of being held and provide a sense of comfort and security for your baby. Just make sure to follow safe sleep guidelines and avoid overheating.
- Stay one step ahead of reflux: Reflux can be particularly troublesome at bedtime, as lying down can exacerbate the symptoms. To help reduce the discomfort for your baby and encourage restful sleep, try the following tips:
- Feed at the start of the bedtime routine to minimize the risk baby falls asleep either while feeding (which will aggrevate reflux) or in the time it takes for the feed to settle.
- Burp them often during the feed.
- Keep your baby upright for at least 20-30mins. This can help gravity keep the feed where it should be.
By following these tips, you can help minimize reflux symptoms and help your baby get a more restful sleep.
- Gradually decrease the amount of time you hold your baby: You don't have to go cold turkey and stop holding your baby altogether. Instead, try gradually decreasing the amount of time you hold them before placing them in their crib or bassinet. You can start by holding them until they're drowsy, then placing them in their sleep space while they're still awake.
SLEEP CONSULTANT TOP TIP: When you place your baby in the crib, place them down so first their feet, then their butt, then their back and finally their head rests – this helps limit the moro reflex and reduce the risk of them startling and waking themselves up.
Remember, every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Be patient and persistent, and eventually, your little one will learn to sleep on their own.
Supporting the Transition from Contact Naps to Independent Sleeping
Transitioning from contact naps to independent sleeping can be a challenging process for both parents and babies. It isn’t something that will happen overnight or even after a few days, it takes patience, time and consistency.
During this transition, it is also important to be prepared for some crying and fussiness from your baby. This is a normal part of the process, and it is important to provide comfort and reassurance while also encouraging independent sleeping.
The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers app has supported thousands of parents, like you, through the transition to help babies become independent sleepers. By providing you with a consistent approach and step by step support as you work through this change the app will help you gradually decrease the amount of time your baby spends sleeping in your arms.
With the right approach and support, the transition from contact naps to independent sleeping can be a positive and successful experience for both you and your baby.
How to Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe: AAP Policy Explained: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx
How Does Being a New Parent Affect Sleep: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation/parents
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.