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Help! Newborn won’t sleep unless held

We know that the safest sleeping position for our newborn is on their back in a crib. But, what do we do if they cry every time we lay them down?

If your newborn won’t sleep unless held, you are in the right place. 

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about newborn sleep needs, how to help your baby sleep soundly and new parent sleep survival tips.

Sleep needs for newborns

First things first, let’s make sure we have realistic expectations for how much, when and where our newborn should be sleeping. 

During the first 6 weeks, newborns will sleep 15 - 18 hours daily. Waking every 15 minutes to 4 hours. Frequent wakings commonly occur because newborn tummies are so tiny, they need to nurse regularly.

But, that doesn’t mean they’re sleeping for 15 hours every night. Sleep in the newborn stage happens over a 24-hour period of time. Meaning that the 15 hours of sleep happens over a series of mini catnaps throughout the whole day and night. This is why we say, “nap when baby naps.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advises that newborns sleep on their backs on a firm sleep surface such as a crib, and should have no soft bedding or loose objects. Infants should also share a room with their caregiver but not the same bed.

Good news for sleep deprived parents by the age of 6 months, newborns tend to fall into a regular sleeping pattern wherein they sleep soundly for 9 - 12 hours at nighttime. 

Newborn sleep chart

Nested Bean sleep chart showing ranges for how many hours of sleep, duration of sleep and awake times can be expected by age.

 

 Age
Total Hours of Sleep (24-hr period)
Daytime Sleep Duration
Nighttime Sleep Duration
Awake Time Between Sleeps
0-6 Weeks
15-18 hours 15 minutes-3 hours (3-5 naps) 2-4 hours 30 minutes - 1.5 hours
6-15 Weeks
14-16 hours 30 minutes - 3 hours (3-4 naps) 3-6 hours 1-2 hours
4-6 Months
12-15 hours 1-3 hours (3 naps) 6-8 hours 1.5-2.5 hours
6-8 Months
12-15 hours 1-3 hours (2-3 naps) 9-12 hours 2-3 hours
8-10 Months
11-15 hours 1-2 hours (1-2 naps) 10-12 hours 2-3 hours
10-12 Months
11-14 hours 1-2 hours (1-2 naps) 10-12 hours 2.5-3.5+ hours

 

 

What to do when newborn baby won’t sleep unless held

 

mom playing with baby

So, your little sleep thief won’t lay down in a crib? And now you’re scouring the internet at all hours of the night for tips on how to get my baby to sleep in a bassinet.

I’ve been there, twice, and have summarized the best advice for sleep experts for you. Here is what to do when your newborn won’t sleep unless held: 

Keep your smell close

Newborns have a highly developed sense of smell. Our olfactory nerve is processed by the same part of the brain that controls memory, creating strong associations between scents and experiences. This is what helps babies identify their mother at birth!

You can help your baby feel comforted and secure in their new environment by sleeping with a fitted sheet prior to placing it on their mattress. This will keep your smell close.

Swaddle

Moro reflex is your baby’s natural startle reflex and it is a common cause for nighttime waking. Swaddling helps ease your newborn’s reaction to their natural startle reflex, which means more rejuvenating sleep for both of you. 

Nested Bean’s Zen Neo swaddle is specifically designed to ease the transition from womb to world. Snuggling baby in a snug and cozy pod to prevent startles. A weighted cuddle pad gently distributes weight evenly across the chest to relax the baby. 

White noise

One of the triggers for our baby’s moro reflex are loud or unanticipated noises. Using a white noise machine can block out rambunctious siblings and creaking floorboards, while reminding them of the soothing sounds they heard inside the womb.

All in the eyes

If your baby falls asleep in your arms, wait for them to fully relax before you do anything. When babies are in deep sleep their eyes dart under their eyelids, their muscles are relaxed and they will be breathing deeply. Try the “floppy-arm test” by lifting up an arm and allowing it to drop. If they don’t stir, you're good to go!

Feet first

Some experts say that newborns experience a feeling of “falling backwards” when they are placed head first in a crib. This may be why your little one starts to cry. 

Try placing feet first, then bum and lastly gently lowering their head. You could also lower them into the crib so their side touches the surface first, and then gently roll them to their back so that their knees and legs touch the surface before their upper body does.

Infant massage

Now that your baby is in their bassinet, use a soothing voice as you gently massage their forehead and eyebrows. Glide down the bridge of the nose, move across the cheek and make small circles around the jaw and behind the ears. Finally rubbing the earlobes and under the chin. 

Keep trying

If the baby wakes up during the process, do not start over again. This is an opportunity for the baby to learn how to fall asleep on her own. Babies are creatures of habit and they will learn that it's okay to be awake and not always be held by their parents.

New parent sleep survival tips

mom holding baby in zen swaddle

On average parents lose about 350 hours of sleep during their baby's first year. And this sleep deprivation is no joke. Leading to brain fog and chronic stress.

Be sure to take care of each other. Doing so will give you the energy you need to be at your best and strengthen your relationship. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Have a friend or family member watch the baby for a couple of hours while you and your partner take a nap. 

If you’re having trouble unwinding while your baby is napping, try a warm eye mask, soft music or meditation, blackout curtains or progressive muscle relaxation. 

Even 15 minutes of rest and relaxation can give you the energy boost you need. And remember, underneath all this exhaustion, you made someone's entire day just by loving them the way only you can.

For more parent tips check out our parent’s guide to night wakings.

newborn wont sleep unless held, key takeaways

Paige Harvey

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