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Some babies want to be held while sleeping: Here’s why

If your newborn wants to be held all night, try these tips

A mother holding her baby in the nursery.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Every parent knows that finding peace and quiet or simply trying to take a shower while caring for a newborn can be difficult. If your baby only sleeps when held, completing the smallest tasks can feel impossible, not to mention learning how to function on limited sleep. It can be a struggle to get enough sleep yourself if your baby only wants to sleep in your arms. What can a parent do when their newborn wants to be held all night? First of all, why does your baby crave cradling when it’s time to sleep? Newborns love being held for many reasons.

We try to break down why your baby wants to be held, the best way to hold your baby, and when to put them in their crib. Just because your newborn wants to be held all night doesn’t mean you can’t get any sleep.

Father holding baby in nursery
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Why babies want to be held while sleeping 

The relationship between a parent and their baby is complex and beautiful. While cuddling, your baby can actually hear your heartbeat, and your presence is soothing. Babies also smell your scent when you hold them, making them feel safer. 

When babies are under 4 months old, they’re still getting used to life outside the womb. The new surroundings can be scary and unfamiliar. It’ll take time for them to become accustomed to this new environment, and when parents hold their babies, they feel warm and safe, just like in the womb. However, this comforting and cozy time can turn into a problem if new parents aren’t careful.

When your baby falls asleep in your arms too often, it can become a habit. Falling asleep in Mom or Dad’s arms could ultimately become a habit that’s hard to break. Your baby might associate sleeping with being in your arms and will consequently have trouble sleeping anywhere else, like their own crib.

Mother holding sleeping baby

Comfortable ways to hold babies while sleeping

Holding a baby isn’t challenging, but sometimes it can be difficult to find an agreeable position when they are sleeping. Here’s a breakdown of a few positions that are often very comfortable for babies to sleep in. 


Cradling a baby may just be the most common position for holding your baby. It tends to be a natural holding position and is quite simple. Your baby’s head will gently rest in the crook of one arm while your other arm is wrapped around them, securing your baby while they sleep. Cradling makes rocking your little one to sleep easy.

On your shoulder

Another classic baby-holding position is on your shoulder. Let your baby lean their cheek against your shoulder while you support their bottom, as well as their back and neck. This position may make it easier to gently bounce your baby to sleep. Your baby will be able to hear your rhythmic breathing and heartbeat, too. So, it’s a relaxing and comforting sleeping position for a baby to fall asleep in.

In a sling

Using a sling is also helpful for sleeping babies. It lets you hold your baby hands-free while giving your baby the comfort of being held. Your baby will be able to stay close to you, but you’ll be able to do other things while your baby rests.

Baby sleeping in their crib with a stuffed bear.
Tatyana Soares/Shutterstock

How and when to put your baby in their crib

When to start putting your baby to sleep in their crib is a personal decision. For many parents, that magic time is around 6 months old. Before that, it may be a good idea to get your little one used to the crib. Introducing a baby to the crib before you plan on doing it at night will make the transition easier. Here are some tips to help when you do decide it’s time for your baby to go night-night in their crib. 

Use the crib for naptime

You can start the transition into their crib by using it during naptime. When it’s time for your baby’s nap, start by placing the baby in their crib. Slowly and gradually introducing your baby to their crib during naptime will help your little one get used to sleeping in it at night. 

Your baby’s behavior will let you know when they are ready to go to sleep. Common sleepy symptoms include becoming fussy, yawning frequently, rubbing their eyes, or looking away. If you notice one or more of these behaviors, your baby is probably ready to go to sleep. 

Make sure you place your baby in their crib when they are sleepy but not actually asleep. If the baby wakes up during the night, comfort your baby by patting them, but don’t take your baby out of the crib because that will negatively impact their routine.

Use technology for support

For added comfort, you can try adding a white noise machine during your baby’s sleep routine. White noise machines can block out other sounds and disturbances. This can be especially helpful if your baby is sleeping in a crib in your room. 

Transitioning your baby to a crib can be more difficult for you than for your babies. Using a baby monitor can help ease your mind if you’re a parent anxious about your baby sleeping in their own crib in a room alone. There are even some mobile applications that can turn your tablet or phone into a baby monitor. 

It’s completely normal if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night yet. Once your baby is about 5 months old, they may be able to start sleeping around seven hours per night. As your baby starts to inch into infanthood, you may no longer have a baby who wants to be held all night. Instead, you might have a baby who welcomes snuggling in their own crib.

A sleeping baby being swaddled
photchara/Adobe Stock

Tips for sleep training your baby

A baby doesn’t just naturally adjust to sleeping solo in a crib. It takes time, patience, and a bit of sleep training for that magical time when you and your baby get a full night’s sleep.

Try swaddling

During the first few weeks, your baby is adjusting to the “outside world” after dwelling in a snug, warm environment for the last nine months. Naturally, recreating that safe space can help if your baby only sleeps when held.

Swaddling is the best option when it comes to soothing your baby to sleep, especially during the first two weeks. In the womb, your baby was accustomed to having limbs tucked in and snug. When you swaddle your baby, you’re placing them in a similar position, particularly with what’s called the “burrito wrap,” which is the most common form of swaddling.

Incorporate white noise

Using white noise during sleep also works well with swaddling. The soft humming and swooshing closely resemble the sounds from the womb. Your baby is reminded of the secure and comfy environment from where your newborn just arrived. Plus, it helps your baby adjust during the more difficult sleep cycles and helps a baby stay asleep longer. A device like the Fitniv white noise machine provides an effective option when your newborn won’t sleep unless held.

Mother holding sleeping baby.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Should babies be held while sleeping?

Although you want to encourage healthy sleep habits when your baby is young, that doesn’t mean you can’t hold them while they’re sleeping. Child sleep consultant Alexis Dubief explained to Today’s Parent that it’s only natural for a baby to want to be held while sleeping and that it’s OK to do sometimes, as long as you follow one rule.

“Having a newborn sleep on you is fine as long as you’re awake,” Dubief explained. “But chances are, you’ll fall asleep when you’re in this position, and safety concerns become an issue.” She also reiterated that if your child becomes accustomed to falling asleep in someone’s arms or against a warm body, at some point, it will be very difficult for them to fall asleep on their own.

Baby sleeping in crib with a gray blanket and decals
Olena Chukhil/Shutterstock

Nighty night

Although the process can be frustrating and exhausting, remember that babies don’t learn to fall asleep on their own in a day. It takes time and repetition, especially if your newborn wants to be held all night. The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to remain patient and consistent. Try these tips for helping your baby to learn to sleep on their own. In the meantime, there are parent support groups that you can seek out for reassurance. Your pediatrician can also be a source of information and guidance during this difficult and sleep-deprived time.

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