Bringing your new baby home is such a wonderful experience. And is there anything more special than holding and snuggling with your baby while they fall asleep in your arms? You get to watch their little eye flutter and enjoy the cute noises the make. Holding your baby while they sleep can be so lovely those first few weeks or even months. But as they get older and bigger, you may be ready to get them sleeping in their bassinet or crib. And it can be really tough if your infant will not sleep unless held. I’ve worked with a lot of families who still need to hold or rock their toddler for them to fall asleep.
It’s likely that at some point you’re going to be ready to get your infant to sleep without being held. But that’s when the uncertainty begins to cripple a lot of parents from moving forward. They’re not sure what to do when they go from holding their baby to sleep to now trying to get them to fall asleep in their crib. I’m here to tell you that everything is going to be ok. You can absolutely get your infant to sleep without being held. Let’s walk through how to get infant to sleep without being held.
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Why Your Infant Will Not Sleep Unless Held
Before we get into how to get infant to sleep without being held, let’s talk about why your infant will not sleep unless held. When did you start holding your baby while they fell asleep? It’s likely when they were a newborn. Newborns really enjoy being in a tighter sleep space for the first few months. When they were in the womb, there wasn’t a lot of room for them to move around. They were used to that snug environment. And that’s why a lot of parents use swaddles for their newborns to sleep.
And when your baby came out into the big, open world, they continued to enjoy that feeling of being very close to you when they slept. Anytime they were upset or needed to sleep, you could simply scoop them up in your arms to calm them. And now your infant will not sleep unless held because this is how they’re so used to falling asleep.
Infant Will Only Sleep If Held
Over time, you infant will only sleep if held because it has become a habit for them. And that can be so exhausting as a parent if you’re at the point where your infant will not sleep unless held. Because it’s likely not just at bedtime that they need to be held to sleep. Chances are that your infant is waking up throughout the night and needs you to hold them to get them back to sleep.
The reason why your infant will not sleep unless held is because your little one now associates being held with going to sleep. As a sleep coach, I call this a “sleep prop” or a “sleep association”. And you’ve probably heard those words before. There’s all sorts of sleep associations, like needing to be rocked to sleep, fed to sleep, patted to sleep etc.
When baby has a sleep association with being held to fall asleep, they need external help from someone (namely you!) in order to fall asleep. They simply can’t do it on their own without that help. In other words, they do not have the skills need to self soothe. Your infant will only sleep if held.
Infant Wont Sleep Unless Held for Bedtime & Naps
It’s normal for families whose infant wont sleep unless held to see their little one wake up several times throughout the night. And the only wake to get them back to sleep in the middle of the night is to hold them again.
Likewise, I find that families whose infant will not sleep without being held, often do see long naps during the day…that is only if they hold them for the entire nap. If you’re finding that you’re tied down to the couch for each and every nap throughout the day, you’re not alone. Because what happens if you try to transfer your infant into the crib after they’re fallen asleep in your arms? They’re going to take a short nap! They’ll be waking up within 30 minutes or so. And then your have an overtired, cranky baby on your hands.
Holding to Sleep Association
The only way to get them to take a longer nap is pick them up and hold them again to get them back to sleep for that longer nap.
Want to know he reason why you’re seeing those night wakings and short naps? It’s because your infant is falling asleep in one place (your arms) and waking up in a different place (their crib). Take a moment to think about this from your baby’s perspective.
Your baby is falling asleep in your arms. They’re feeling your warmth. When they close their eyes and drift off to sleep, they are snuggled up right on you. You hold them for a few more minutes to make sure that they’re in a deep enough stage of sleep to put them down into their crib. And when you do lay them down, they continue sleeping a little while longer as they complete the sleep cycle they’re in.
But when they complete that sleep cycle, they’re going to come to a very light stage of sleep and wake up for a moment. When they do, they may barely open their eyes and look around. Or stretch out their body. And they’re going to expect to SEE you. They’re going to expect to FEEL you. Because they were in your arms as they fell asleep. But now they’re not.
And they’re not going to be happy about that. It’s going to be pretty alarming for them actually. As a result, they’re probably going to begin crying out for you to come back and hold them again. Your infant will not sleep unless held because they haven’t developed the skills needed to self soothe.
When It’s Time to Stop Holding Your Baby to Sleep
How do you know when it’s time to stop holding your baby while they sleep. There’s not hard and fast age or rule on this. You’ll know that it’s time to stop holding your baby to sleep when this strategy simply isn’t working for you anymore. I’d like for you to ask yourself some of these questions:
- Are you being to not enjoy bedtime because you know it’s going to take a long time to get your baby to sleep?
- Is holding your infant as they sleep beginning to get hard for you? Is it painful for your arms or back to hold your baby so long while they sleep?
- Are you exhausted by needing to hold your baby every time that they sleep?
- Is your baby constantly waking up at night and not getting the amount of sleep that they need (between 10 – 12 hours at night) because of their association with sleeping and needing to be held?
- Are you unable to get things done during the daytime because your infant will not sleep unless held?
- Are your baby’s naps not long enough (their naps are less than a hour and a half)?
- Every night you’re asking yourself how to get infant to sleep without being held?
When Babies Can Self Soothe
If you’re nodding along and have answered yes to any of the questions above, then you’re likely ready to get your infant to sleep without being held. And now is the right time to teach your baby the skills that the need to begin self soothing so that they no longer require being in your arms each and every time they need to go to sleep.
A baby is old enough to learn how to self sooth as early as 3 ½ – 4 months old. If your baby is older than 15 weeks and you’re at the point where you’re ready to get to them sleep without being held, then this is a great time to begin teaching them how to self soothe.
One of the great things about breaking the habit of being held to sleep, is that I’m not going to tell you that you can’t snuggle your baby. You can absolutely do a lot of cuddles in your infant’s bedtime or naptime routine so that you can keep your wonderful bond with your infant. Let’s dive into two easy steps for how to get infant to sleep without being held while still being able to have that special time in the bedtime routine.
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Step 1: How to Get Infant to Sleep Without Being Held
Step number one of how to get an infant to sleep without being held is to create a consistent bedtime routine that can still involve a lot of cuddles.
Your baby’s bedtime routine should be around 30 minutes long. Begin the routine with a warm bath followed by dressing your little one into their pajamas. For infants, put them in a sleep sack that allows them to move their arms freely.
If your baby is less than a year old, this is an excellent opportunity to give them their last feeding of the day and spend some bonding time with them. However, if your child is over a year old, you can skip this step since they don’t need the calories from milk just before bedtime anymore.
Afterward, read one or two books to your child as part of the routine, as this is an excellent way to pique their interest in reading and have some wonderful snuggles. Just be sure to limit the number of books to prevent the routine from becoming excessively long, which can make your child drowsy or overtired.
There are so many good book options for babies and toddlers. My two favorites for children of any age are:
Putting Baby Into the Crib Awake
To broaden their horizons, vary the books you read to them each night instead of sticking with the same few books. Then you can end the bedtime routine by saying goodnight to your child and placing them into their crib.
As you can see from the routine, there’s a lot of opportunities for cuddling with your little one in the bedtime routine. But you ended it with putting them into their crib. The last step does not end with holding them until they fall asleep. Instead, you’ll go from reading books and saying good night, to putting them down into their crib awake now.
Step 2 of How to Get an Infant to Sleep Without Being Held
Yes, you heard it right. It’s time to start putting your baby or toddler down in their crib while they are still wide awake. But wait, before you freak out, hear me out.
Your child needs to learn how to fall asleep on their own without your assistance. As their parent, it’s your job to help them develop this essential skill. Think about it like teaching them how to ride a bike. You wouldn’t just put them on a bike and expect them to ride perfectly from the start, right? They’re going to fall. They’re going to feel uncertain and not sure exactly how to do it. But as their parent, you’ll be running along beside them. You’ll be there to encourage them and be there when they need help.
In the same way, your child needs your help and support as they learn to fall asleep on their own. It may not be easy, and there may be some tears involved, but it’s a necessary step for both of you to get the rest you need.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to leave your child alone to cry it out. There are gentle methods you can use to help your child learn to fall asleep independently.
Remember, your child is not protesting because they are upset with you. They are simply communicating their discomfort with this change. But with your help and encouragement, they will learn this skill and be able to sleep soundly on their own. It may take some time and patience, but it’s worth it in the end.
Getting Your Baby to Sleep in Their Crib
In fact, in my Live Love Sleep Coaching Program, I generally do recommend that parents remain present and by their baby’s side as they learn how to fall asleep without being held. Why? Because your infant has really needed you in order for them to fall asleep before this. If you were to leave them on their own all night, it would be so hard for them. It would be really tough for you too because you have been used to providing so much comfort to help your baby fall asleep.
You can next to their crib and continue to be comforting. Let them know that you’re still there by touching them. Comfort them with your voice so that they can hear you. And since your baby has been used to falling asleep in your arms, they may even benefit from being picked up if they’re crying.
And if you stay consistent with your strategy, you’ll be surprised by how quickly your baby will be able to fall asleep without needing to be held anymore. Families who work with me typically see BIG changes with their baby’s sleep within 3 – 4 nights!
Breaking the Holding to Sleep Association
If you’re able to stick with the tips I’ve provided, there’s a good chance you’ll see your little one falling asleep easily and much faster for naps during the day and at bedtime. But teaching your baby a new skill can be really hard. And it’s not always straightforward. Every baby is so different and what works for one baby may not work for another.
That’s why I work with families one on one to create a plan that’s customized for their baby and for their family. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of getting your baby to sleep without being held, I can help. I help babies learn the skills needed to get quality sleep for years and years to come.
Imagine just two weeks from now that you’re able to have a fun 30 minute bedtime routine with your baby every night. You give your baby a hug and a kiss and lay your baby into their crib. Then you’re able to turn off the lights and leave their room while they coo for a few minutes until they fall asleep. You don’t need to hold them to sleep anymore and they’re able to stay asleep all night long!
This is the realty of the families I work with and it’s possible for you as well. Click here to schedule your free Sleep Evaluation Call. I’d love to learn more about your baby’s sleep challenges and see if my program is right for your family.
About the Author
I’m Kaley Medina, the proud founder of Live Love Sleep®. I live in Texas with my husband and high school sweetheart, Zeke, along with our two wonderful children, Evalyn and Leo, and our furry companion, Louie.
My journey into the world of sleep consultancy began with the sleep struggles of my own daughter, Evalyn. From her early days, she proved to be a challenging sleeper, staying awake for waaaaaay too long and causing many sleepless nights. I tried everything I could think of, from feeding her to sleep to bouncing on a yoga ball until my legs ached to the delicate process of transitioning her to her crib without waking her. I even resorted to late-night vacuuming while wearing her in a baby carrier….needless to say, none of it work.
The constant sleep deprivation left me frazzled and unable to enjoy precious moments with my family. Desperate for a solution, I ventured into the world of sleep training when Evalyn turned six months. To my surprise,
gentler methods yielded incredible results, transforming our lives. Fueled by this success, I became a Certified Sleep Consultant and founded Live Love Sleep®. As your Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I understand that a child’s sleep is influenced by various factors, including diet, sleep environment, routines, schedules, developmental milestones, and so much more.
I craft personalized sleep plans that consider the bigger picture to solve your child’s sleep challenges comprehensively. What sets my services apart is the ongoing support I provide, ensuring your family reaches its sleep goals within weeks.
A former client described the experience as “utterly LIFE CHANGING.” I’m committed to helping parents like you and your child get the rest you need and deserve. Let’s work together to achieve better sleep and a happier, healthier family life.