What To Do If Your Baby Won't Sleep Unless Held

Written by Renee    Published on 03/18/24     Read Time 12 min

Baby Crying | My Organic Company

Understanding your baby's sleep patterns can be pretty challenging for parents, especially when your little one requires being held to fall asleep. As a parent, you might often wonder whether this is typical behavior and what steps you can take to ensure you and your baby get the rest you need. 

This article aims to guide you through this journey and provide practical advice to help you. As challenging as it may seem, rest assured that you can get your baby to sleep soundly in their bassinet.

Understanding Your Baby's Need

As soon as a baby is born, they are welcomed into a world vastly different from their mother's womb's warm and cozy environment, where they've spent nine months in a comforting embrace. Physical contact is not just a mere desire but an essential need for infants. 

Being held and cuddled by their parents helps to establish a solid emotional connection and provides them with a sense of security. Understanding and acknowledging this crucial need is the first step in addressing any sleep challenges you may encounter.

The Fourth Trimester

The Fourth Trimester is the 12 weeks following the birth of your baby. Not everyone has heard of it by this name, but every parent and newborn baby will experience it. It is a time of significant physical and emotional change as your baby adjusts to being outside the womb and you adjust to your new life as a parent.

During this time, your baby learns about their environment and how to interact. The need to be held is a natural part of this developmental phase. It's crucial to recognize that this is a temporary stage and will evolve as your baby grows.

Baby Stacking Blocks | My Organic Company

Common Reasons Why Babies Prefer Being Held

Your precious baby is entirely dependent on you to meet their needs. As their caregiver, you provide vital nourishment, coziness, and emotional support to your little one. Being held close to you is essential to your baby's well-being, creating a sense of security and comfort crucial for their emotional and physical development. 

Holding your baby can benefit you, too, by promoting the release of bonding hormones and reducing stress levels for both you and your baby.

Comfort and Security

When they are born, babies find the world to be a large and unfamiliar place. Being held in someone's arms reminds them of the womb and provides comfort and security. This closeness can be incredibly soothing for your baby, especially during the first few months of life.

Body Temperature

A baby's temperature is better regulated through skin-to-skin contact rather than excessive warmth or swaddling with a hat. If the baby's temperature decreases, the mother's temperature increases.


Increasing physical contact with your baby can help establish and maintain successful breastfeeding. These close interactions can trigger the release of breastfeeding hormones, which can boost milk production and help moms relax. Additionally, keeping your baby close to you and engaging in skin-to-skin contact can assist you in identifying your baby's hunger cues and ensuring that your baby is adequately fed. 

This can be especially helpful since deciphering your newborn's hunger signals can be challenging.

Sleep Associations

Babies, like adults, develop sleep associations or habits that help them fall asleep. If your baby has grown accustomed to sleeping in your arms, it may associate sleep with being held. Knowing this can assist you in gradually introducing new sleep associations.

Baby Turning Around | My Organic Company

Gentle Techniques to Encourage Independent Sleep

As a new parent, it's understandable that you may feel exhausted occasionally. However, despite your love for your little bundle of joy, constantly holding them can become tiring. Fear not; there are ways to help your baby sleep without being held. 

If you're looking for helpful tips, plenty of advice is available to help you transition.

Establishing a Routine

Creating a consistent and soothing bedtime routine for your baby can be a game-changer in promoting healthy sleep habits. Consider starting the exercise with a warm bath and a gentle massage to help your baby relax. Softly singing a lullaby or reading a book together can signal your baby that it's time to sleep. 

This predictable and comforting routine can help your baby feel safe and secure, reducing any anxiety that may make it difficult for him or her to fall asleep.

Gradual Adjustments

Sudden changes to your baby's sleep routine can be daunting for a parent. It's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about how to proceed. However, instead of making drastic changes, it's best to make gradual adjustments that ease your baby into a new routine. 

One effective method is to hold them until they're drowsy but not fully asleep, then gradually put them down earlier each night. By following this approach, you can help your baby adjust to a new sleep routine gently and supportably without causing undue stress or disruption.

Creating a Comforting Sleep Environment

A comfortable and safe sleeping space is crucial for encouraging your baby to sleep independently. Opt for a firm mattress or soft bedding, and for younger infants, consider using a swaddle or sleep sack. These can mimic the snugness of being held and provide a similar sense of security.

Room Temperature and Lighting

When choosing a suitable room for your baby, it's essential to consider the temperature and lighting conditions. Research suggests that a cool and dark room can significantly enhance the quality of your baby's sleep. Consider using soft and dimmable nightlights or blackout curtains to create a peaceful sleeping environment. These can help create a soothing atmosphere that signals your baby that it's time to rest and relax.

Gentle Techniques to Encourage Independent Sleep | My Organic Company

Understanding and Utilizing Sleep Cues

Helping your newborn sleep can be easier if you recognize when they are ready to sleep. Although your baby cannot communicate through words, they exhibit signs and signals indicating their body is prepared for sleep. 

It is crucial to understand these sleepy cues to ensure that your little one gets the rest they need. Sleepy cues refer to the signs your baby displays indicating they are tired, ready for a nap, or overtired.

Recognizing Signs of Sleepiness

Baby's sleep cues might include rubbing their eyes, yawning, or becoming quiet. When you observe these signs, it's time to initiate your sleep routine, as this is when your baby is naturally ready to sleep

What Are The Common Baby Sleep Cues?

As a baby, it can be challenging to communicate when you are feeling sleepy and need some rest. However, there are several subtle cues that you typically display before you become overly tired and fussy. These cues may include rubbing your eyes, yawning frequently, becoming less active, and being less responsive to external stimuli. Recognizing these signs and responding accordingly can help you establish a healthy sleep routine and avoid becoming cranky and upset.

  1. One of the most obvious signs, among the first signs, is yawning. 
  2. Rubs their eyes and pulls or rubbing of their ears. 
  3. Exhausted babies reduce activity or movement. They may also exhibit less playfulness than usual.
  4. Babies usually stop making the usual playful sounds and become less vocal.
  5. Babies may disengage from their environment
  6. One of the familiar cues of a sleepy baby is weak sucking. 
  7. The babies' eyes seem unfocused and tend to avert their gaze when you look at them.
  8. Drooping eyelids are an easily noticeable cue.
  9. They will smile less than usual.
  10. Some babies suck their thumbs or fingers when they are sleepy. It is a way to self-soothe.
  11. Excessively sleepy babies may become irritable, fussy, and cry if not put to bed.

Baby Yawning | My Organic Company

Alternatives to Holding Baby for Sleep

Many parents find it challenging to put their babies to sleep while holding them. Even if you wait for some time before placing your little one down, and they appear to have drifted into a deep slumber, they frequently wake up and become fussy as soon as you attempt to separate your body from theirs. This can be frustrating for parents who desire to put their baby down and get some rest.

Document Their Sleeping Patterns

Putting your baby to bed when awake but sleepy is crucial for helping them learn to fall asleep independently. However, finding the right timing can be a trial-and-error process. Once you understand your baby's natural sleep rhythm, it can become more manageable.

Understanding their sleeping patterns is the first step in getting your baby to sleep without being held. When and how long do they usually nap during the day? When do they tend to seem sleepy in the evenings? While these patterns will likely change as your child grows, having a good idea of their sleeping habits will enable you to create a sleep schedule that suits their needs.

Touch Them To Comfort

Once you have mastered the art of putting your baby to bed while they are still drowsy, it is common for them to fall asleep and suddenly wake up. Instead of rushing to pick them up, try a different approach. Gently touching your little one without lifting them from the crib could be helpful. You may stroke their face, hands, arms, or back, providing a soothing and comforting touch. This gentle touch can help your baby to doze off again.

A simple touch can comfort your baby, letting them know that you are still present and nearby without having to pick them up and start the bedtime process from the beginning.

Avoid Feeding Your Baby To Sleep

It can be challenging for babies to fall asleep if they associate sleep with feeding. This can pose a problem if they need to nurse or have a bottle of formula every time they wake up at night. Moreover, feeding your baby to sleep can make it challenging to break this habit.

To prevent this from happening, it is crucial to establish a routine of offering breast milk or formula shortly before bedtime. This way, your little one will feel full without becoming dependent on nursing to fall asleep.

Swaddling Your Baby

Swaddling is an effective way to provide newborns with a sense of security similar to that of the womb, which can help them sleep better without constantly being held. Additionally, swaddling prevents the Moro reflex from startling them awake, enabling them to stay asleep.

To make swaddling even more comforting for your baby, you can put your scent on the swaddle blanket by keeping it in close contact with you before giving it to your baby.

Offer a Pacifier

A pacifier can be a valuable tool for helping children relax and sleep soundly. It can also ease teething discomfort and prevent nighttime disruptions. If your baby is feeling drowsy but becomes fussy when you put them in the crib, offering them a pacifier can be helpful.

Alternatives to Holding Baby for Sleep | My Organic Company

Infant Acid Reflux

If your baby has trouble sleeping in their crib, it may be due to digestive problems rather than just missing being held.

Acid reflux is common among infants, particularly those three months or younger. This condition affects both breastfed and formula-fed babies. It occurs when the stomach contents and stomach acid flow back into the throat and esophagus, the tube connecting the throat and stomach. 

If you are bottle-feeding your baby, finding a suitable formula to alleviate your worries and provide the necessary nutritional balance can be challenging.

Best Baby Formula for Acid Reflux

Choosing a formula specifically designed to provide your infant with the best possible nutrition is crucial. Each component must be carefully selected and sourced to support your baby's cognitive and physical development while addressing digestive concerns

When selecting a baby formula, it is essential to avoid ingredients that may cause digestive issues or allergic reactions. These include sugars, toxic metals, and preservatives. By choosing a formula free of these ingredients, you can help ensure your baby gets all the nourishment it needs without any unnecessary additives.

HiPP Anti Reflux Formula | My Organic Company

Balancing Baby's Needs with Your Well-being

Settling a baby to sleep can be a draining and demanding task that affects family members and caregivers. Nevertheless, it's crucial to remember that your well-being is just as important as your baby's. Taking some time off and seeking assistance when required is perfectly reasonable. Taking care of yourself benefits you and helps you care for your little one more effectively. Remember, taking a break when needed and asking for help is a sign of strength and self-care

Seeking Support

"Tag, you're it!" Remember that reaching out for support can significantly impact managing a difficult situation. You may find comfort and solace in talking to family, friends, or other parents who have gone through similar experiences. 

Not only can they offer practical advice, but they can also provide emotional support, which can help you feel more grounded and confident during difficult times. Remember, you are not alone, and there is always someone out there who is willing to listen and lend a helping hand

Baby Won't Sleep Unless Held?

When your baby prefers being held, getting them to sleep can be challenging. However, peaceful and independent sleep can be achieved with patience, consistency, and strategies. Every family is different, so finding what works best for you and your baby is crucial.

At My Organic Company, we offer advice and organic nutrition to help you navigate your parenting journey. Whether seeking ways to soothe your baby's tummy issues or seeking more sleep, we're here to support you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it normal for my baby to always want to be held?

Yes, it’s perfectly normal, especially in the early months. Babies often seek comfort and security through physical contact.

How can I safely transition my baby to sleep in their crib?

Establish a routine, use comforting items like a swaddled blanket, and put your baby down when they're drowsy but awake.

Can sleep training harm my baby's emotional development?

When done gently and responsively, sleep training does not harm emotional development. It’s about finding a method for your baby and family.

How long does it typically take for a baby to adjust to sleeping independently?

This varies significantly among babies. Some may adjust within a few days, while others may take several weeks. Patience and consistency are key.


Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

Author Bio:

Renee is an infant nutrition consultant and a full-time writer. Due to her experience in seeking better nutrition for her premature daughter, she advocates for European baby formula. Renee is fully committed to contributing value to this critical area of child development as a mother of a large family, foster parent, and adoption supporter.

Renee enjoys camping outdoors, swimming, and hiking with her family when she is not working.

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