Issues Sleep

How To Get Your Newborn To Sleep Without Being Held

One of the most common struggles many parents have is how to get their baby to sleep without being held in mom or dad’s arms.

The situation goes a little like this:

Your baby is in a nice deep sleep in your arms or chest, so you feel the time is now right to gently place them in their crib, slowly walk out and watch them peacefully sleep on your baby monitor.

But the moment their body separates from yours, they instantly wake up, start screaming and demand to be back in your arms again.

And then of course once your baby is being held again, they quickly settle and fall straight back to sleep.

While this may have been cute at first, because it meant lots of calm and peaceful cuddles with your baby, chances are it’s starting to wear thin and by now you’re looking for some advice and hopefully a quick solution.

So let’s take a look at why you baby likes to be held while sleeping, and what you can do about it.

Why Do Babies Like To Sleep In Your Chest Or In Your Arms?


One of the most common reasons why babies like to be held when sleeping or like sleeping with their butt in the air is because it’s very comforting.

If you think about it, your baby just spent 9 months in your womb, where they were warm, safe, comfortable and fully provided for at all times.

So while adults might find a warm and cozy bed to be comforting, the opposite is true of a newborn, who’d much rather be in their parents’ arms.

A Woman Lying Down With her Baby On Her Chest

Needing To Burp

The feeling of needing to burp is uncomfortable for a baby, especially so if they’re lying down.

Sometimes it can take 10-30 minutes for a baby to burp and become comfortable after a meal, so one potential reason why your baby wants to be held is because they’re not ready to be put down on a flat surface.

If you think this could be the reason why your little one is complaining, try settling them in your arms for a little longer before attempting to put them down to sleep.

Sleep Association

Have you been letting your baby sleep in your arms since they were first born?

If the answer is yes, then you’re not alone, because it’s one of the most common reasons why babies like sleeping on your chest or in your arms.

What’s happened is there’s a good chance your newborn associates the feeling of being held with sleep, and anything otherwise will lead to crying and fighting sleeping.

So you will need to gradually change this association so they can become a more independent sleeper.

Top 10 Tips On How To Get Your Newborn Baby To Sleep Without Being Held

Watch Your Baby’s Awake Windows

While it might sound counterintuitive, babies that are overtired are more likely to fight the urge to fall asleep compared to a well rested baby.

So try hard to keep your baby’s awake window within a set range – if your baby is under 3 months, the maximum awake window is usually between 60 to 90 minutes.

As we covered in our Ultimate Guide To Baby & Toddler Sleep, look out for signs including yawning, clenched fists, pulling at the ears or sucking fingers, all of which are signals that your baby is tired and ready for a sleep.

Try Swaddling

Woman swaddling her baby

If you don’t already swaddle your newborn, it might be worth trying in an attempt to make sleep more comfortable for your baby.

Swaddling is a way of wrapping a baby in a blanket so that their limbs are secure and can’t wriggle out, which essentially replicates the feeling of being in mommy’s womb.

According to many pediatricians, swaddling can help newborns feel calm and can promote better sleep, because it helps keep their startle (or Moro) reflex in check (something that might wake them up if they don’t sleep with their arms up).

Put Your Baby Down When Drowsy (But Still Awake)

One of the most effective ways of breaking the habit of sleeping in mom or dad’s arms is by putting your baby down when they are drowsy, but still awake.

This will help ensure your baby gets used to falling asleep: (1) away from their parent’s chest or arms, and (2) in the same location and environment in which they will wake up to.

In addition, you baby will begin to learn that they can fall asleep somewhere other than in your arms, which is of course exactly what you’re trying to teach them.


Once your baby has established a solid breastfeeding routine, it’s safe to introduce a pacifier.

Many parents report that their baby sleeps better when using a pacifier, because it enables them to settle more quickly and stay asleep for longer.

Pacifiers are not only soothing to babies, but studies also show that using a pacifier when sleeping can reduce the risk of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out after your baby falls asleep.

Baby in White Onesie Lying on the Bed With Pacifier In Their Mouth

Comfortable Bed & Sleeping Environment

You might be surprised to learn that newborns find the dark very comforting (remember what we said about being used to the womb).

For this reason, a baby finds it much easier to settle down and fall asleep in a dark room compared to one with even low levels of light.

In addition, it’s worth considering how big your baby’s sleeping space is in relation to their size.

If your baby sleeps in a relatively large crib, they may be more comfortable in a bassinet, which is more appropriately sized given how small newborns are.

Comfortable Temperature

Uncomfortable babies are likely to be much more fussy (and therefore demand to be picked up and held).

So another way to ensure your baby is comfortable is to dress them correctly for sleep in both summer and winter.

If possible, it’s also a good idea to keep their room at a consistent temperature – ideally 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the optimal temperature for a baby’s room all year round.

Stroke Or Pat Your Baby Once They’re Down

A very effective way to comfort your baby when they are lying down (and therefore not in your arms) is by stroking their cheeks, face, hair or body.

These gentle touches will help relax your baby after you’ve put them down in a drowsy state (see above).

Stroking your baby is a good way to transition from your arms to independent sleeping, because although you are still there comforting your baby, you are not having to hold them in your arms in order to get them to sleep.

Play White Noise

Playing white noise can sooth and calm babies and therefore help your newborn fall asleep more quickly.

The reason white noise works well is because it replaces silence (which can be unnerving to a baby) with a gentle, consistent and soothing noise.

Your little one should come to associate white noise with sleeping, and as an added bonus white noise also blocks out other noise from within your house or from the street.

If you do start using white in your child’s room, you should ensure:

  1. The sounds is below 50 decibels (the maximum recommended level according to the American Academy of Pediatrics).
  2. The white noise machine is at least 7 feet away from your baby’s crib or bassinet.
  3. The machine is turned off once your baby has fallen to sleep.

Calm Feedings

A lot of the time what comes directly before a nap or sleep is a feeding session, either via breastfeeding or from a bottle of formula.

A helpful tip to get your baby nicely primed for sleep is to ensure that the lead up to naps and bedtime are slow, dark, calm and quiet affairs.

Establish A Routine

One of the aims of a consistent sleep routine is so that your baby knows it’s naptime or bedtime based on what occurs in the build up.

Reading bedtime stories, singing soothing songs, having a bath, brushing teeth and using the same style sleep sack are all excellent ways to build a consistent routine before sleep.

Ideally your routine should have also have a consistent signal that signals to your baby that it’s time for mom or dad to leave the room and for baby to go to sleep while alone.

Baby having a bath

In Conclusion

How To Get Your Newborn To Sleep Without Being Held:

  1. Keep to within awake windows
  2. Try swaddling
  3. Put your baby down when drowsy (but still awake)
  4. Use a pacifier
  5. Ensure their bed and sleeping environment is comfortable
  6. Ensure their room is a comfortable temperature
  7. Stroke your baby once you’ve put them down
  8. Play white noise
  9. Ensure feedings are calm
  10. Establish a bedtime routine

See Also:

Tori is mama to 3 year old Isabella and co-founder of Rockinbaby. She has a BSc in Psychology, is a certified yoga teacher and is a working mom. In her free time Tori loves cooking delicious foods and baked treats, entertaining and working out. Learn more about Tori here.

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