We are going to let you in on a little secret – from the 0-3 month age, babies sleep best in your arms.
*COLLECTIVE GASP FROM THE CROWD!*
Hang on! I know what you’re thinking… won’t that spoil the baby? How will the baby ever learn if they are in our arms most of the time?
The answer is, your brand new baby is going to be making some HUGE adjustments in the next few months, so slowly transitioning them to getting used to not being in constant contact with you to sleeping on their own is going to make all the difference for everyone’s sleep.
Two things we want you to remember during this process:
- Lead with the expectation that your newborn will sleep best in your arms, it’s just science. They have spent the past nine months inside of you and are now adjusting to the outside world. If they take longer naps in your arms then they do in the bassinet, don’t be surprised. Learning this will take some time.
- Try, try and try again. Have patience, the baby isn’t going to catch on to the new sleeping situation immediately, their little systems will adjust with your loving support.
Getting them used to their new bassinet/crib
One way to get them familiar with their new bed is by incorporating crib play/crib time into their awake periods. Put the baby into their bassinet and just let them be for a bit. They are usually pretty content doing this. Keep in mind this is very different from sleep time, because you haven’t gone through your pre sleep routine. Just allowing them to get a feel for their surroundings is going to set a solid foundation for them and you.
The next thing you want to work on once they are comfortable in their new crib is start with one nap a day at first. The goal is to slowly start giving them the opportunity to be in their own sleep space and sleep independently without having to be held. Normally, the first nap is the one that they’re most receptive to. Try starting with that nap and seeing how it goes. If it doesn’t go well and they only sleep for 20 minutes, you can go in and try to recreate what you did to put them to sleep to try and get them back to sleep or just to keep them in their sleep space for a little bit longer. If it doesn’t work just move on with your day, the last thing you want to do is try and work on this all day. The end result will be both a very tired and frustrated baby and mom! We don’t want that! Be gentle on yourself and baby.
Warming their sleep space before the transfer. Be prudent with this one, but I used to use a heating pad, placed in the crib for a few minutes before the transfer (I never left it in the crib unattended or with the baby) . It recreates the warmth from your arms and allows for a smoother transfer.
Understanding Sleep Cycles
Figuring out when to transfer from your arms to sleep space when they do fall asleep in your arms is another big one!
Normally we are fine with them falling asleep in our arms but then your arms start to get tired, or you start to think of all the things you need to be doing, or you have to go to the bathroom! We are here to tell you that the best time to transfer them is around the 15 to 20 minute mark. They are deep in the sleep cycle by that point. If you wait 40 minutes they will be coming out of that cycle into a lighter sleep cycle and if they are disturbed at that point it will be hard to get them back to sleep.
When you do put them into the bassinet, bend as much as you can follow them with your body so that you’re getting as close as you can until the very last second. Then place your hands on them. Place one hand on the chest and one on the diaper area. You then slowly remove one hand at a time. Slowly remove the hand over their bum, and then you slowly remove the one that’s by their chest area or on their back. At that point, just stand there and see what they do. If they start moving again, you can just put your hands back on them.
It’s okay to use physical support at the beginning, as your baby grows and becomes more comfortable with this, you can use less and less of that physical support, to get them to be comfortable in their own sleep space.
Don't be afraid of a little bit of fussing. There's nothing wrong with giving them a little bit of space when they're just fussing or making their little newborn sounds when stretching. It is completely ok if you are not rushing to them when they are doing this, you are helping your baby build their own sense of safety in their sleep space.
Here’s another little secret…
These strategies that we’ve shared with you today are not strictly for new babies. You can use these with your 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, month old babies as well, depending on their temperament.
For some babies, it works wonderfully, and you can gradually teach them to be more comfortable falling asleep on their own, like this using hands on and then easing off. For some babies, though, they need more structure to it. And that’s when doing formal sleep coaching will help them learn how to really feel comfortable falling asleep on their own.
I know for some parents, we say the word sleep coaching or sleep training, and that automatically means that you just have to leave them in there and not go back in until they fall asleep. That is not what sleep coaching means, you can absolutely still be hands, it’s just that there’s more structure to it, so they learn a little bit faster.