Baby won’t sleep unless held; what to do and how to survive

Baby won’t sleep unless held; what to do and how to survive

Don’t hold your baby to sleep; that baby won’t sleep unless held if you do. If I had a pound every time, someone said that I would be a wealthy, wealthy woman. 

Having been a parent for coming up to seven years, I have got my head around the gig and what it entails. Essentially people will impart advice on parents whether they ask for it or not, and let’s face it, they never actually ask for it. Further, there is no topic more hotly contested in the parenting world, particularly in the new parents’ realm, than sleep. Those first few months of squishy newborn bliss essentially revolve around that dreaded S-word. With good reason, chances are you are knackered, suffering from a distinct lack of sleep. You lament over the days where you’d spend eight glorious hours a night sleeping soundly in your bed, not may I add, like a baby because babies don’t sleep for any decent length of time.

When it came to sleep and my firstborn, I probably did it all wrong. Being an overtired, overly hormonal and underprepared first-time mum was very much an eye-opener. In hindsight, I had no idea what I had let myself in for, and the yanking from my former selfish life to the very depths of selflessness hit me like a train, nothing more so than the lack of sleep. 

Especially when the baby won’t sleep unless held

My ever so slightly yet still technically premature firstborn was not one for sleep, not for any significant periods anyway. I was told this was most likely a result of prematurity, as was the fact she opted for those two-hourly feeds like clockwork and very much thought day was night and night was day; in fact, it was just all day. Period. I used to dread the time the rest of the world was falling asleep as I stared down the barrel of a long and lonely night watching Suits and eating sympathy minstrels at 4 am, cradling my weeks then months old baby desperately to sleep – and I wondered why the baby wouldn’t sleep unless held. I think we’ve all just spotted my first parenting ‘faux pas’ that the elders jumped on me for. 

In some further cruel twist on the odd occasion, I did get my cherished little one to sleep in her crib. I would then stare at the rise and fall of her chest, ensuring that she was still breathing and wasn’t overheating or freezing. As inevitably, I had removed too many layers in the very unlikely possibility that I had heated her tiny body temperature too high and she would die. Yep, everything was very much life or death in my exhausted and inexperienced brain of mine. In the same way that I would never let the baby sleep with me as I was petrified that I would roll over and crush her to death, however improbable. Logic was not on my side in those early days. 

The sleep problems did, however, become an issue. Once I’d gotten over the so-called newborn sleep phase. The phase being ‘the baby will only sleep on me’, and inherent brain fog became apparent that my new baby sleep (as opposed to newborn sleep) experience wasn’t all that different to that of a newborn. 

You see, I created a rod for my own back, as onlookers would delight in telling me. Whilst I may not have co-slept, I did allow the baby to fall asleep on me. I lived for those dreamy days where the delights of maternity leave and no other children at home allowed me to lay on the sofa watching Gossip Girl as my finally contented baby falls asleep on my warm chest to the rhythmic beat of my pulsating heart. I mean, what is a baby likely to prefer? The warm, familiar comfort of a doting mother or the cold lonely sheets of your Moses basket?

Somewhere along the way, we got a little lost in those cuddles and they became full-blown, standing and rocking the baby to sleep to then walking around the house, baby in jiggling arms, silently pleading for the child to fall asleep. Somehow the putting the baby down awake and allowing her to drift into a peaceful slumber thing just wasn’t happening. 

Baby won't sleep unless held - the baby asleep as hold her on my chest. What do you do?
A soundly sleeping baby, on my chest.

So in comes the advice, the advice that no matter what it was, is always carrying the underlying philosophy of don’t hold the baby to sleep – the baby won’t sleep unless held if you do. You could have the happiest baby in the world in the day, but they’ll still scream blue murder at night if you dare put that new baby down.

So back to the advice bit, the how to get a newborn to sleep without being held, or any baby, for that matter. How to break away from the vicious self-imposed cycle living through the newborn only sleeps when held sage. 

What about a bedtime routine? 

Do you do the same thing every night? A nice tepid bath with soothing lotion, followed by a little baby massage and leg peddling to ease any colic or constipation, followed by a calming feed and being placed into bed with their favourite comforter, all of which is to happen with military precision at the exact same minute of every day. This will allow your baby to learn when it is sleep time, and this is just what you do. Sounds sensible. I agree when we got into the realms of toddler sleep, I was all over the bedtime routine but during those baby days, routine felt impossible. Unless, of course, you’ll take the baby screaming every time she’s put down as routine, or the baby only sleeps when held routine – we bossed those.

You need to try controlled crying.

This wasn’t even suggested. It was told to me that the only way I am going to get my baby to sleep without being held was to let her cry it out without me there. Eventually, she’d get the picture.  The picture is that she was alone, and no one was coming to comfort her – or be so exhausted from the hour-long cry fest she’d flake out cheeks still damp. Baby, see you’re not there. Baby, learn you’re not there. Call it what you like, controlled crying, sleep training, abandonment. I jest, but I just wasn’t up to the task. It may well have its place in the world. I am not here to judge; glasshouses don’t stand up to well and all that. Above all else, I am a big believer in whatever gets you through the day or night. Perhaps it worked for you, that’s great, it worked for my partner and his then partner the first time around but it didn’t work for me. Rightly or wrongly, I just could not do it. The minute I heard a whimper, I would stand to attention and flee into the room, couldn’t help it even if I was mocked for it.

One night my partner all but forced me to leave her, to give it a go. To sit in my room and listen to her cry in her room. The result was she was crying, I was crying (I was also pregnant again, ergo hormonal at this point – yes really, check out this link here), she didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep, her dad didn’t sleep, we were all knackered and were precisely no better off. It just did not work. Sorry but not sorry. 

And then there is all the other; what about a comforter? An item that soothes her? A pacifier? Is the room too hot? Too bright?  You’re not doing it right, and so on and so forth. I know the majority of this advice and curiosity and was well-meant but ultimate whatever way you looked at it my baby wont sleep unless held. End of. 

So What did I do about the baby that wouldn’t sleep? 

Well, other than fantasising about how I could cart myself off to the hospital where I felt sure I might actually get a better nights sleep, I just kept doing what I was doing. Holding my baby to sleep, rocking, soothing her, comforting her. If the baby only sleeps on me, then the baby will only sleep on me at night, so be it. Some might say the newborn won; I say we were all winners, kind of. Yes, I was concerned I may have a one year old or five year old that might not sleep without me, but ultimately, I did what I had to do to get through this phase in our lives, which guess what? It was just that, a phase. The newborn will only sleep on me phase. One that has now laregly passed. By one year old we had gone from the baby will only sleep when held, to the baby that goes to sleep solo in her cot. We did not have the 1 year old won’t sleep unless held situ in place that EVERYBODY said we would. Admittedly I did have to sit in her room until she went to sleep. I was still riding the baby won’t sleep without me train but it was progress and I’d take it as baby number 2 was already here.

What about baby number 2?

Oh yes, you may recall the hint I dropped earlier. In my infinite wisdom, as you can no doubt tell, wisdom is bestowed upon me by the bucket load. I was pregnant with my second child approximately three months after birthing my first. I was pregnant during that delightful newborn only sleeps on me phase. But alas, I was carrying life, and although unplanned, petrified and exhausted, I was delighted. Mostly. 

The only trouble is this beautiful baby number 2 was so eager to get to the world he arrived two months early, was unable to breathe at birth, and spent five weeks in the NICU, but that’s a story for another day. One you can read about here, and here oh and here. Writing therapy and all that. 

This part of the tail may be the bit you gleam some practical information from my rambling. Where you might actually get what you came for and learn a little about how to get a newborn to without being held. 

What was different for my preemie newborns first weeks on this Earth over my firstborn? He was not fussed over and cuddled all the livelong day. He was in an incubator, surrounded by tubes. He was fed through these tubes and touched through the gaps in the plastic incubator. He couldn’t be held, and when he could be, I could never hold him for very long. Having an 11-month-old at home meant my time was split between two babies. As much as I might have wanted to I couldn’t sit crib side all day and hold him at every opportunity. When he was picked up by nursing staff, he was fed, attended to medically and then put back down. I would squeeze him for as long as I could, but it was never long enough. 

This didn’t change when he came home. He slept a lot, woke, fed, nappy change, put back in his crib and went back to sleep. and repeat. I had an 11-month-old to run around after. We couldn’t sit and snuggle on the sofa watching reruns of gossip girl, sadly. 

It is this that I think made the difference. He wasn’t held and cuddled in the same way as baby number two and certainly not for as long.  He went to sleep without being held because he was never held to sleep. The decision you have to make, I guess, is it a price you want to pay? I lamented the lack of newborn cuddles with my son. The inability to sit as he sleeps soundly on chest. 

Yes it meant he went to sleep without being held but where we gained I also felt we lost. 

Take from my experience what you will, perhaps there is a hybrid of the two to find a happy medium. Although I am not convinced. If not just know this, my now 5 and 6 year old children now go to sleep happily without being held by me. I can peer round their door after tucking them into bed and watch my child sleep unaccompanied and untraumatised at the prospect of going to bed by themselves. 

So I guess the whole 3 week old will not sleep unless held thing, the 6 week old won’t sleep unless held thing and even the 7 month old baby won’t sleep unless held thing was just a thing. Then there’s the so called the 3 month sleep regression to contend with. All in all a time in our life where I had to suck it up and deal with the baby refuses to sleep chapter of my life. 

I suppose my point is, yes, it’s gruelling when your newborn only sleeps when held at night and you can read all the books and try all things and perhaps you should because you might find something that works for you. OR maybe there are medical reasons baby won’t sleep. But if there aren’t, and you don’t see the winning solution then thats OK too. If you are more comfortable holding and soothing a baby to sleep then so be it. 

Some babies sleep, some don’t.

Do you have a baby that won't sleep unless held? I did. It's hard. Here is our story of we survived sleepless nights with a baby that doesn't sleep. A baby you can't put down.

You Might Also Like

New Chicco Echo Stroller GIVEAWAY | Why a stroller is my favourite kind of pushchair

New Chicco Echo Stroller GIVEAWAY | Why a stroller is my favourite kind of pushchair

I kid you not in the 4 years I have been a mum I have had 7 pushchairs. Mr Tammy is less than impressed, to say the least. We did after all only have 2 […]

Tomorrow, I’ll do better

Tomorrow, I’ll do better

Do you remember last week? It was the week when it was over 30 degrees. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped you just yet, despite the cloudy skies and rainy days that have followed this week. Well […]

Living with a 15 year old

Living with a 15 year old

You may, or may not, know that Mr Tammy has a 15-year-old daughter. She is beautiful, polite kind and caring. As step daughters go I lucked right in make no mistake but it’s not all […]