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Your baby only sleeps when held and everyone says you’re spoiling them? Or maybe you’re the one who’s worried about spending all day and part of the night with them in your arms? When your baby only sleeps in your arms, the initial joy and fascination can quickly give way to exhaustion and despair.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons for your baby’s behavior and what you can do to get your arms back!
Why does your baby only sleep when held?
1) The startle reflex
The startle reflex, also known as the Moro reflex, is a natural and involuntary response that occurs in newborns when they encounter sudden and unexpected stimuli or even loud noises.
You’ve probably noticed that your child makes a jerky movement when they hear loud noises. This reflex is present at birth, diminishes and disappears around 4 to 6 months of age, and serves as a protective mechanism for your baby.
This means that if you have not yet learned the best position to put your baby to sleep, you may be triggering the startle reflex every time you try to put them to bed, increasing the need to hold them.
2) They’re used to sleeping in your arms
Just like older children and adults, babies quickly form habits when they repeat the same actions or activities over and over again.
This means that if your baby has learned to fall asleep in your arms, and has done so consistently for weeks, there is a good chance that they will learn that they can only sleep when held.
3) They’re more comfortable being held
Your baby has just been thrown into a new environment, so it’s not surprising that they may find the first few weeks difficult and only sleep when held.
This may be the most comfortable position for them. Being held and smelling your scent may also make them feel safe, which would explain why they only sleep when held.
Five things you can do if your baby only sleeps when held
1) Make sure your baby is as comfortable as possible
Newborns deal with things like gas (from swallowing too much air) and reflux (did you know that silent reflux exists?), and these can all cause pain and discomfort and interfere with their ability to sleep. Things like making sure that they are burping properly, not overtired, hungry, wet, etc. can make it easier for them to sleep on their own.
It is also important that your baby’s environment is conducive to sleep. Avoid bright lights, too much noise, and make sure the room is not too hot or too cold.
2) Use a swaddle
Swaddles have been shown to be very effective in calming babies because they help mimic the feeling of being in the womb. They also help reduce the Moro effect. They are safe for babies up to about 4 months, or rather when your baby starts showing signs of rolling over.
Swaddle blankets are a great option because they use breathable fabric and are secure, meaning they cannot come loose. Remember not to tie the swaddle too tightly to allow your baby’s hips to move naturally.
3) Find the best way to put your baby to sleep
Babies are very sensitive to the way you put them to sleep, especially in the first few weeks before their nervous systems mature.
It is important to find the gentlest way to put them to sleep. For example, avoiding sudden movements or loud noises can help if your baby only sleeps when held.
4) Try white noise
Many parents with a baby who only sleeps when held have found success with white noise. White noise machines work by drowning out the sudden noises in your baby’s environment and creating a more soothing environment that is conducive to their sleep.
The great thing about white noise machines is that you can use them later on, for example, if your baby starts to wake up in the middle of the night or during those sleep regressions that no one really tells you about.
5) Try a baby hot water bottle
Placing a baby hot water bottle or heating pad in your baby’s crib and then removing it before bedtime can help your baby sleep better. But first, read this article which outlines all the precautions you need to take before using a hot water bottle with a baby.
6) Try sleep training
Okay, there are many different opinions about when and if to start trying to sleep train. Whether or not to go down this path is a personal decision, and research has shown that it has little impact on your child’s later outcomes.
When it comes to the “when,” many experts say it’s better to wait until your child is over 4 months old.
Does your baby only sleep when held? Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you. First, the bad news. There’s no one best way to get your baby to sleep unattached overnight, and you may have to try many different options before you find one that works for you.
But the good news is that all babies who sleep only when held eventually outgrow the habit and learn to sleep on their own.
As you wait for yours to finally set you free, remember that your baby needs you to make them feel safe and comfortable, especially in the first few weeks, and it is okay and normal to meet their needs.