Baby Won't Sleep Unless Held - How To Fix It, And Why It Happens

Nothing beats the feeling while your little one sleeps soundly within your arms. But once your bladder gets full or you’re feeling too gross to miss that evening bath, your inner self may start screaming for help. If your newborn won’t sleep unless they’re being held and you don’t seem to know what to do, don’t worry. We have some tips that can help.

But before we proceed to the actual methods you’ll want to try, have you ever wondered why your newborn behaves this way? Here’s a couple of reasons why your new baby won’t sleep unless they’re being held.

Why do babies want to be held while sleeping?

Considering the months that they spent inside the snug, warm and comfy environment of their mother’s womb, newborns not wanting to sleep anywhere away from their mother’s body is quite reasonable. Babies tend to snooze off more quickly while being held closer to their mom because it’s their comfort zone. They love the scent, warmth, gentle motion, and hearing the heartbeat of their mothers just like how they used to while inside the womb. So in this case, curling up within their mom’s arms or dad’s chest would be the nearest womb-like experience for a newborn. This is something precious that your son or daughter wouldn’t trade for the most expensive crib or bassinet on the planet.

So practically speaking, it’s in a newborn nature to not want to sleep or nap unless they’re being held by someone.

How important is this though to their wellbeing? Well, that depends.

Is it okay if my newborn won’t sleep unless being held?

Thankfully, there’s nothing wrong with a newborn sleeping while being held. Many experts believe that it is part of their biological instinct to get more comfortable sleeping next to their parents. So it’s totally okay if your newborn would like to nap on your chest or sleep within your arms, as long as you are fully alert and awake.

What’s more concerning in this kind of set-up is if you fall asleep while holding your baby. This can increase the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) which you would want to avoid, particularly in the first few weeks of your baby’s life. This is also the reason why experts strongly advise that newborns should sleep alone, on their back, and in their own crib or bassinet.

If you want to keep your baby nearby, there are extensions available that can keep them practically in the same bed with you, but without the risk of rolling over onto them, or flipping the baby over onto their stomach (due to the mattress being pushed on.)

Another common concern is if your newborn won’t sleep at night unless held. This can be tolerable during the first few nights, but once your baby make it a habit, it could be pretty exhausting. It would mean more sleep-deprived nights and less time to do the rest of your essential chores. And yes, that would include even your short bathroom breaks in between, or your productivity at work.

How to get newborn to sleep without being held

So now, we all know that resisting this biological norm won’t be easy. But at least, you learned that you’ll have better odds at putting your baby to sleep without being held if you make the environment as close as it could be to what newborns experience inside the womb.

Therefore, you can try the following techniques from the baby sleep experts to help your baby sleep more comfortably in his or her own crib.

Dim the lights

The environment inside the womb is obviously dark, so this first technique may help you set up the mood in your baby’s nursery. Apart from that, dimming the lights for around an hour before your baby’s usual bedtime can trigger the release of the hormone melatonin, which helps the body naturally induce sleep.

Warm the bed

Newborns are fond of the body’s warmth, so why not keep their bed warm and comfy as well? Who would want to sleep on that cold sheets anyway? You can use a bed warmer or place a hot water bag under the sheets to make it cozier for a snooze. Just make sure that the temperature is suitable for a baby’s sensitive skin and that you remove all of the warmers before placing your baby in the crib to prevent unwanted accidents.

Swaddle your baby

If your baby won’t sleep without being held, swaddling can help keep your baby snuggly wrapped, just like how it feels when inside the womb. Apart from that, swaddling with their arms tucked in the blanket can decrease the Moro or startle reflex in newborns, which can end up disrupting their sleep prematurely. Thus, swaddling will not just help your newborn sleep without being held, it can also be helpful to provide longer, uninterrupted sleep.

White noise

When putting babies to sleep, the usual misconception is to keep the surroundings totally quiet. Come to think of it, the womb is never quiet. There is the sound of the blood flowing all over, the mom’s pulse and heartbeat, the gurgling sound of the gut and of course, the people talking around. And that cute little infant managed to get used to these noises and sleep comfortably inside the womb.

This is the exact reason why playing white noise while you put your baby to sleep can be more comforting to your baby. You may invest in one of the fancy white noise machines out there, but you can also improvise depending on what is available in your home. The mild sound of the air conditioner or the washing machine can serve as white noise too. This kind of noise can be soothing for newborns and make it more likely for them to sleep even if they are not being held.

Mother’s scent on the sheets

Another trick that you can use is to keep your baby’s sheets close to your body before you put them on the crib. You can lay over them overnight or put them under your shirt for a couple of hours to catch your scent. This may help your baby to think that they are sleeping next to you, even if you have already placed her in her crib.

Drowsy but not asleep

A common practice among parents is to let their babies to sleep while being held for a little while, before putting them down in their own bed. However, sleep experts believe that this practice will only keep the baby resisting to sleep on his crib because he will begin associating sleeping with your arms. This is also being referred to as wrong ‘sleep associations’.

So if you wish to cuddle your baby, make sure to put them to his bed while they are drowsy, but not yet asleep. This will also give them a chance to associate their own crib with sleeping, so that they won’t have to rely on your arms to fall asleep the next time around.


A pacifier can work wonders as you teach your baby how to self-soothe while he is lying on his crib or bassinet. Learning to self-soothe is also your stepping stone in teaching your baby to sleep through the night later on, so a handy pacifier is really worth considering.

Day for playing, night for sleeping

While newborns normally need to wake every 2 to 3 hours during the first few weeks of their life, they will quickly learn to consolidate their sleep. That said, bedtimes will be a lot easier if you enforce the differences of day and night, and remain consistent while doing so.

Encourage more play time and exposure to an active environment during the day while you do more of the calming activities as the night approaches. This will help your baby develop his own body clock and associate nighttime for settling down to sleep.


To round it up, it may be natural if your newborn won’t sleep unless held, but since it would be harder for you and your baby to stick with this kind of sleeping routine, you should try to gradually introduce sleeping in their own crib or bassinet.

After all, experts suggest that it is a lot safer for newborns to sleep in their own bed as it significantly reduces the risk for SIDS. Moreover, once your baby learns to sleep in their crib, you will have more time to sleep and work on your own self-care, something that is essential to keep you sane and functional as a parent.

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