6 Tips to Help Your Baby Fall Asleep Without Being Held

If your baby won't sleep unless they're held, these techniques can help you both get back to sleep safely and soundly.

Published February 1, 2023
Sleepy baby being held

As your baby nestles into your warm embrace, they easily drift off into dreamland. Unfortunately, when parents place their sleeping baby into their crib or bassinet, the baby often awakens from their slumber in a mood that's less than desirable. This makes it very hard for sleep-deprived parents to find the time to get some much-needed shut-eye. If you are wondering how to get a baby to sleep without being held, we have the answer to your sleep woes.

How to Get a Baby to Sleep Without Being Held

If your baby only sleeps when held, it's likely because that's how they learned to get to sleep. This position is not only warm and cozy, but they can feel your heart rate and breathing patterns when laying on or against your chest. These rhythmic sounds and feelings help to lessen their stress and drift off to sleep quickly. However, this prevents you from getting the sleep you need. Thankfully, by making simple changes to your baby's daily routine, you can help them sleep without being held.

Change the Way You Feed

Feedings seem self-explanatory, but for the babies who suffer from reflux, it's hard to get comfortable right after eating, and this pressure can actually worsen when laying down flat. There are three things that you can do to remedy this issue.

  1. First, use laid-back or cradle positions when breast or bottle feeding. This ensures that their head remains above their belly. These positions also put less pressure on their stomach.
  2. Second, keep them in an upright position for at least 15 minutes after each feeding. This allows their food to settle.
  3. Finally, burp them halfway through the feeding and after the feeding. This can help to relieve the pressure that's caused by swallowing air during their mealtimes.

Adjust Bedtime Practices

First and foremost, stop rocking your baby to sleep! You always want to put your baby down when they're drowsy. If they fuss, but they are dry, fed, and warm (but not too hot), then give them a few minutes to self-soothe. This can be hard, but they need to learn to get comfortable and get back to sleep on their own. Then make certain that you're putting them to sleep properly. If you put your baby in the crib head first, they feel as if they're falling. This will trigger their startle reflex, causing them to jolt and quickly wake up. Instead, start with their feet, then bottom, back, and head.

After you place them in their bed, keep your hands on their chest and cheek. This is called responsive settling. It lets them know you are there and that they can relax. Gently stroking the side of their cheek further enhances this feeling of security. After a few minutes, they'll be fast asleep, giving you the chance to do the same.

Reduce Stimulation Before Sleep

While it seems ridiculous that an overtired baby will not sleep, it's a sad fact of life. That's because if your baby doesn't get the proper amount of sleep, it throws off their circadian rhythm. This leads to cortisol, a hormone responsible for keeping you awake, to be produced at the wrong times. So how do you prevent your baby from becoming overtired? You stick to a routine and reduce stimulation before sleep periods. Therefore, make the room dark, diminish disruptive background noises, and resist the urge to play with them right before you put them down.

Use a Swaddle or Wearable Blanket

Your baby only sleeps when held because they feel warm and cozy, and their crib is cold and hard. The easiest way to remedy this issue is to simulate these same feelings of comfort. Parents can use swaddles to help their little ones feel warm and secure until they try to flip over.

Swaddled baby in bed with stuffed elephant

Then you have the option to switch over to a sleep sack. This provides a similar effect, but allows them to safely move around in the night. While it's tempting to use a weighted sleep sack to get them to sleep on their own, it's important for parents to avoid these products. Experts note that weighted sleepwear can inhibit your child's ability to breathe, and it can entrap them in dangerous positions.

Give Them a Pacifier

Sucking has a calming effect on babies. If you want your little one to sleep without being held, then give them a pacifier! This can help with any distress they may feel when placed in the crib, and it can soothe teething pain, which can also cause disruptions in sleep.

Don't Swoop Them Up Every Time They Cry

This goes back to the lesson of learning to self-soothe. If you never give them a chance to fall back asleep on their own, they will always need to be held. Sometimes babies cry in their sleep, but don't actually need anything from you. If you recently fed and changed them and they're dressed appropriately, then wait a few minutes. Why? They could be transitioning from one sleep cycle to the next.

You may not realize it, but you do the same thing. You roll over in your sleep, adjust your pillow, or simply open and close your eyes in the night. This is normal. If someone were to walk over and touch you in these moments, you would wake up too! You would also likely require a little more time to get back to sleep. The best way to break a baby from the need to be held while sleeping is to start sleep training early and to give them moments to figure out how to pacify themselves.

Better Sleep Habits Start With Patience

Finding a sleep routine takes time. This is all new for you and your baby. As hard as it may be, try to be patient. More importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help. It's easy to say "let the baby cry it out," but after an hour of non-stop tears, it becomes easier to scoop your little one and sacrifice your sleep. If you're lacking the beauty rest you need to function effectively, ask a family member or friend to come over so that you can take a nap. This can help you regain some sanity and better address your baby's sleep needs and the changes required to get on a schedule that works for everyone.

6 Tips to Help Your Baby Fall Asleep Without Being Held