What to Do If Your Baby Won’t Sleep Unless Held

The warmth babies get when being held by the parents is the best feeling babies ever have, besides being fed of course. To the baby, holding her in your arms feels like being on a fluffy and cozy pillow that is always there as long as she wants it.

While holding her is a beautiful parental instinct, it mostly ends up introducing a new problem altogether: Getting the baby to sleep without being held.

An unending cycle starts to develop where you spend time putting the baby to sleep, but immediately you let go of her then her eyes flare up. And then you have to start the process all over again.

Teaching your baby to sleep on her own as early as possible without being held is, therefore, one of the earliest parenting jobs you need to master. When your baby won't sleep unless held, there are a couple of measures you can take to help your baby self-soothe and sleep. All these will be explored in this article.

Why Your Baby won't Sleep Unless Held: You Could Be the Reason

Holding your baby to sleep increases the odds than when you put her down to sleep on her own, she will most likely wake up. Alternatively, if you succeed in putting her to sleep, she will not put herself back to sleep in case she wakes up at night.

The bigger question that troubles mostly newer parents (even the more seasoned ones like me) is why this is always so?

Most of us moms tend to over care for our newborns during their first few months and rightly so. Who wouldn’t care for her baby anyway? It is, therefore, no surprise that we could be the reason why our kids just wouldn’t drift off without being held.

In most occasions, mothers breastfeed the babies until they fall asleep. This mostly occurs when the babies cry when feeling sleepy. Continuous breastfeeding before sleep time makes the baby develop a conditioned reflex such that she only sleeps when in your arms as you breastfeed her.

Fathers too are no exception. Most dads tend to rock their little ones in their arms and sing to them until they sleep. In this way, the baby always associates rocking with sleep without which it becomes impossible for her to sleep on her own.

Playing with your baby just before bedtime is also another contributor. It makes the baby dependent on being excited before sleeping. Your meager presence provides a calming experience which if eliminated makes the baby lonely and scared.

How to Make the Baby Sleep Without Being Held

Do not feel bad for making the baby used to falling asleep this way.  You did nothing wrong surely, it’s only that the baby got used to it and now can’t sleep without being held. Just like any other baby issue you may have, there is always a way to get out of it.

It starts by balancing between carrying, cuddling and letting the baby grow up. Otherwise, the baby may carry this habit into toddlerhood, becoming more of a nuisance in the process. Before then, you can put in place these measures.

1. Try Swaddling

Tricking your baby into comfort is the first way of substituting the comfort that your arms provide. Swaddling is a sure way of providing a worthy alternative, more so for newborns. Swaddling mimics the cozy feeling that babies had in the womb.

Get a swaddling blanket and use it to wrap the baby, making sure to use the right swaddling technique. Once through, you can place her in the crib. She would then drift off just as if you were still holding her. Of course, this trick only works if she doesn’t hate the swaddle.

2. Schedule a Bedtime Routine

Creating a bedtime routine and ritual helps the baby get into the sleeping mood, and would not require that you hold her before she can sleep. When any of such activities start to roll in, she will start to associate it with sleep.

At first, their tears will flow when you let go of the holding, but don’t be too strict with the schedule. Another thing is not to overdo it.

You need to determine what activities to schedule based on how busy and free you are. Whatever activities you set, you need to repeat them every night. As you schedule, both parents should always participate in the routine.

Here is an example that you could use; bathe her, turn off the lights, sing a lullaby and then place her in her crib.

3. Put the Baby to Sleep While Still Awake

However contradictory as it may seem, it is one that works most of the time. After following the schedule that you have developed and then swaddling the baby, you need to lay the baby in the crib while still awake.

This technique helps the baby to sleep independently without any impetus. The key is to put her to bed when awake, but tired. Doing this over and over again will yield the desired results and make the baby sleep without being held.

4. Provide a Soother

A series of research shows that having a pacifier in the baby’s mouth helps in soothing the baby to sleep on her own. A binky provides something to suckle on instead of the breast. Most of the time when she is about to sleep, the baby just sucks for fun. There is a benefit they get.

The use of pacifiers requires a lot of caution. You should introduce it after breastfeeding has been established (prevents nipple confusion) and wean the baby off it as soon as possible. Other than a pacifier, stroking a comfy small blanket can also be self-soothing.

These fluffy and stuffed animal or soft pillows should be removed as soon as the baby has fallen asleep. In this way, you will be reducing the risks of choking and strangulation.

5. Balance Between Day Time and Night Time Play and Naps

Well, this is contradictory and a contentious one. First of all, as much as you need to have lots of play time with your baby during the day, she also needs to have her naps in between. Sleeping is a big part of your baby’s development, and you need not deny her that.

Again, having enough playing tires the baby. This will make her fall asleep within a short time without being held. On the other hand, there are those of you who work during the day and would want to maximize evenings playing with the baby.

Night time playing keeps kids awake as she is excited by your company and does not fall asleep with ease. So, find the right balance so that you get enough playtime with your baby, give adequate naps during the day, and the baby will be “tired” enough to easily fall asleep.


A baby won’t sleep unless held if she has been accustomed to such sleeping behavior by you. It normally becomes an issue when you also have to run errands around the house, or you need to get some sleep at night.  At night when the baby wakes up, you also have to hold her before sleeping again.

Fortunately for such a loving parent as you, there are ways in which you can get her to sleep without being entirely around. It might take some time, but the results will be definitely there to show.

Kristi Cathey

Hi everyone! My name is Kristi Cathey and I’m glad you found your way to my blog. I am a mother of 3 beautiful angels. This blog was created in order to share my personal experiences in baby care and general health care for pregnant women. If you'd like to get in touch with me, please contact me by sending me an email via kristicathey.intelligentmother@gmail.com. Welcome to Intelligentmother.com

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