Can’t Get Your Newborn to Sleep Unless You Hold Her? What You Need to Know to Give Your Arms a Break!

Ah, a new baby! It’s such a nice feeling to hold an infant in your arms, even if it’s more or less your first time doing it. There’s nothing like cuddling your sweet baby, is there? 

That is until you have to pee and every time you try to put her down, she wails as if you’re ripping her from limb to limb.

The thing is, all newborns are different, and it’s a glimpse into their personalities, something that is really hard to tell when you’re in the thick of it and have had very little sleep. My eldest was a very challenging and stubborn baby. I didn’t realize until she got older that this was really her demeanor.

I can look at the negative aspects of that when she butts heads with me over something trivial, or I can command the positivity from it, which tends to work more in my favor. Why just today, I merely encouraged her leadership capabilities and the next thing I knew, she was sweeping up the floors and cleaning our entire downstairs.

I couldn’t see this then at 3 am, struggling to get this kid to sleep away from me. While I was indeed able to put her down at some points, I know many moms complain about not being able to get their 1 week old, 2 weeks old, or even 1-month old babies to go to sleep without holding them.

That would be my second child, the clinger, who I love dearly but is still an absolute snugglepuss. I wouldn’t trade it for the world though, and I don’t think you would either, but let me give you some tips to help you (and your sweet newborn) get that sleep without you becoming a cradle, bassinet, or crib yourself!

Can a Newborn Get Used to Being Held?

Before I get into how to get your baby to sleep without you having to hold her always, I’d like to touch on something significant: it’s impossible to hold your newborn baby too much.

Mother holding newborn

I know that perhaps you’d like to beg to differ with your aching back and desire to sleep as long as Rip Van Winkle, but from a scientific perspective, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a 1 week old, 2 week old, 1 month old or even a 6-month-old baby in your arms. It doesn’t spoil them and believe it or not; it makes them more confident and happy little people.

According to an article by WebMD, Dr. Barbara Howard at Johns Hopkins University states that babies don’t learn how to be manipulative until about nine months in age when they realize they can cry so you’ll act for them. So at this stage of the game, you can relax. At least about the spoiling part. Keep reading for relief from being a human chair.

How can I get my baby to sleep without holding him?

Yes, this is the burning question, isn’t it? To your baby, you are the universe. A warm, pillowy-soft universe that smells like absolute heaven. Babies know you from your scent just as their scent is something you can’t seem to soak up enough of. 

Having you around makes them feel safe and secure. But that doesn’t mean you must hold your baby 24/7. 

Why is your infant being difficult about sleeping without you holding him?

It’s simple. They’re not very complex beings though I will tell you at the time that you’re first handling a newborn, you’ll undoubtedly feel like you’re trying to calculate quantum physics. Looking back, it’s so easy to see.

But if you’re bleary-eyed and have put the eggs back into the pantry rather than the fridge for the 10th time this week, here are a few clues…

For one, your baby might in this short time of one week or two weeks, grown accustomed to sleeping on your chest. This is very common for brand new moms who freak at the first cry and second-guess themselves. We’ve all done that, love. It’s ok. You may have picked her up then, and held her until she fell asleep on you, then tucked her away in a safe sleeping space like the bassinet next to your bed.

For another, your baby just might not be used to the crib or sleeping space you give her. From a baby’s perspective, this baby mattress isn’t soft and snuggly and warm like you.

If you find that you can get your baby into the crib or bassinet after she falls asleep on you, you’ve got a little less work cut out for you. But if you try to move her and she wakes up upon you set her in the crib, you’ll need a few tricks up your sleeve. Not to worry…I’ve got you covered with those!

Tips for Getting Baby to Sleep Without You Holding Him

As mentioned, it’s very natural and normal to hold your baby, and it’s not going to ruin him or her in any way if you keep them close. But if you want to get some rest as I suspect you do, there are a few things you can do to transition your baby, so they won’t continue to use you like a mattress day in and day out.

1. Keep baby busy during the day

Newborns will sleep an awful lot, about 14 to 17 hours per day. Hey, it’s exhausting being born! And with stats like that, it makes you wonder why YOU aren’t sleeping like that. That’s because you’re busy nursing your baby every couple of hours. Remember, that’s not 14 to 17 consecutive hours.

While 1-week old babies on up to 1 month are much like potatoes, you should still keep them busy during their wakeful moments of the day. This is when tummy time is so crucial. They might not be able to play games, but they are developing and learning all the while. Play music, narrate your activities and be more active during the day while allowing for those naps and eating times.

You can’t put a new baby on a schedule so don’t freak. Just try to get them used to day and night by setting simple cues like dimming the lights at night and forming routines slowly but surely. This should help your baby become used to things and will allow them to adjust.

2. Calm baby down at night

Again, those first couple of weeks are going to be mayhem in your home. Don’t fight it and point at the clock, “It’s 8 o’clock! It’s time for bed!” Nope. It is not going to work on babies under two months. But you can still start to create a foundation for the routine with a bath at night (though see my post about bathing babies first please). Telling stories, making the lights softer, warmer, and cozier, and all of these little things will eventually click in your baby’s mind that it’s time for bed.

3. Use swaddling to your advantage

I’ve mentioned this before, but the baby book that helped me out the most when I was a new mom was The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. It was from this book that I learned the art of swaddling.

They now make swaddling blankets that make it even easier to bundle up your baby, and I highly recommend either getting one or knowing how to make use of all those receiving blankets to swaddle your baby.

See, the womb is a tight and cozy place. When your baby is doing time on the outside, he’s not used to all this space. He was lovingly tucked inside your uterus for nine months. Swaddling helps babies refrain from startling themselves awake. It’s pure genius, and it helps your baby feel like she’s being held even when you’ve finally stolen away into your bed. 

4. Put your scent around

Remember what I said about your scent? Baby feels comforted by the way you smell. Yes, even if you were to run a mile under the hot sun, she’d still think you smelled as lovely. Regardless though, if you want her to sleep without crying for you until the next feeding, you can try a straightforward and effective trick.

It’s something my breastfeeding coach, Vivien, had suggested to me with my eldest and it worked like a charm. 

What I did was I snuggled with the fitted sheet of her crib. And her receiving blankets. I lay upon them and rolled on top of them for a good 20 minutes. With my scent now on them, when I swaddled her up in my me-scented blankets, she instantly relaxed and went to sleep. AND! When I put her into the crib, she stayed that way!

When I struggled with my youngest, I remembered this trick in the corner of my mind and tried it and guess what…it worked with her too. It’s a genius!

5. Warm it up

Something I didn’t have in China that would have been brilliant was a heating pad. A friend suggested that to me, but I was never able to find one. She said she used a heating pad in the crib just before putting her baby to bed. 

She’d remove it and turn it off before putting her little one in there of course, but the warmth from the heating pad made it a cozier experience. It’s certainly worth a shot, but again, remove it before you put your baby in, unplugging it and moving it far from the crib or bassinet too!

6. Make sure she’s adequately fed

Perfect breastfeeding latch

And of course, don’t forget that a full infant is a happy one. Top off the tank, and you’ll watch her drift off into the bliss of sleep. Of course, make sure she doesn’t miss her feedings. If your’s tends to fall asleep and stay that way after trying these other tricks, you can set the alarm, so you don’t forget.

Because I know if you get the chance to sleep, you’ll take it. And I don’t blame you one bit! I’ve been there and done that twice now, and sleep is such a beautiful and treasured thing, believe me! Now that my girls are bigger, I’m finally catching back up on that sleep I missed out on when they were babies.

Here are the list of best breastfeeding positions for a newborn.

For my girls,

Both of them woke up like clockwork for feeding time, but I had friends that would fall asleep when their newborns fell asleep and would wake up hours and hours later. If you want to keep up your milk supply, you’ve got to wake the baby up for feedings. You can read all about that here.

7. Try rocking

Dr. Karp calls it swinging when he mentions his 5 S’s, a method I found to really work for both my girls. I used a vibrating baby chair to help me when I was too tired. But you should do this only when you can get your baby to relinquish you as a pillow. Otherwise, there will be lots and lots of tears.

Don’t let your baby sleep in the chair either. Once she’s fallen asleep, move her. That’s the tricky part and likely will require some swinging and rocking in your arms. But if you use the scent trick I mentioned above, it should go more smoothly.

8. Be a little noisy

When it’s time for sleep, teaching your baby about the best rock bands on the planet isn’t a good idea. But the white noise is! You should be careful not to turn it up too loudly or put it too close to your baby so as not to harm their hearing, but white noise mimics the sounds your baby heard in your womb.

If you play white noise while you engage with these other tips, you’ll find that your baby will fall asleep much easier when they aren’t firmly attached to you.

Here’s hoping you get that precious baby to sleep in her own space, and get to catch a few extra Z’s in your space too.

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