How can I get my newborn to stay asleep?
June 15, 2013 12:23 PM   Subscribe

We're using all the advice from the Happiest Baby on the Block to get Little Stardust to fall asleep. It works the majority of the time and I can successfully get him to fall asleep by swaddling, rocking, white noise, etcetera. The problem is that he'll only stay asleep as long as I'm holding him.

The minute I set him down in his co-sleeper, he wakes and starts crying. He will sleep for long stretches if, for example, I'm wearing him in the Moby wrap or if he can just lie in my lap, but for some reason the co-sleeper is a total dealbreaker for him. I should mention he's three weeks old, he's fed breastmilk through a bottle (he has latching troubles), and otherwise he seems healthy and happy. I'd like to be able to put him down sometimes to, you know, eat, shower or use the bathroom. Or even fall asleep for a few minutes myself. I'm pumping all his milk so unless I can set him down for 20 minutes at a stretch, I can't even do that. I should also mention that we don't have family support and I'm mostly alone with this baby all day except for a few hours in the evening when I can hand him over to his father and sleep. The co-sleeper we use is an Arm's Reach mini, which I've raised to the level of our bed so we can see each other when I'm in bed too. We have ordered a bouncy seat that vibrates. It should be here next week.

He will sometimes reluctantly sleep in the co-sleeper, but he tends to thrash, wiggle, grunt and cry out in his sleep as long as he's in there. If I lift him into the bed with me, he'll sleep quietly, but then I can't sleep because I'm too worried about him rolling over or getting smothered. I can't bring him back to bed after late night feedings because the noises he makes will keep everyone awake, so I've just been staying up from 2am on and letting him sleep in my lap. This is brutally exhausting and frustrating all around.

Please hope me? Is there some baby hack that might help convince him to sleep in the co-sleeper? Is there something I can do to train him to be able to sleep without touching me?
posted by Kitty Stardust to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any baby hacks, I just want to let you know this is really normal and some babies are just like that. At least early on. My daughter was. She slept in my bed, she didn't nurse for the first six weeks and then she finally learned (I had been pumping) and from thereafter she would only fall asleep nursing. She never, ever, ever fell asleep or stayed asleep unless she was being held or pressed up against me in my own bed. Yes, pumping was a nightmare because she would lay there and cry while I pumped... I figured out tricks like setting her in a bouncy seat on the ground and wiggling it with my foot while pumping so she would stop fussing for a few minutes.

For sleeping, I found it way easier to just let her sleep in the bed with me. If you can get all the blankets off him, move your pillow over a bit so his head is not near it etc, I would go ahead and just sleep with him. I had a particular technique of tucking the corner of the blanket over me and wedging the edge under my body so there were no ends my daughter could smother under. And unless you're on meds with a sedative effect, you really won't roll over onto him. And I am usually a really really restless sleeper who tosses and rolls a lot - with the baby you just get hyperaware and used to not doing that; it's a lighter quality of sleep, yes, but it's better than no sleep for as long as it lasts.

And then I had my son. From birth, he would just be lying there zoning out staring at the cieling and fall asleep BY HIMSELF and I thought hell had frozen over because I babies don't actually do that in real life. Some babies are weird.
posted by celtalitha at 12:34 PM on June 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you tried raising the 'head' side of the sleeper a touch? Try putting a towel over one of the rods under the mattress thingy and it should raise it enough. That vibrating chair will be your best friend right up until the babe won't sleep in anything but the vibrating chair (and your arms, of course). The only other idea I can offer is to pick up one of those Fisher-Price Rock n' Play Sleeper. Your baby just might like sleeping a little elevated instead of flat on his back.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're having a tough time.

At 3 weeks, there's really not a heck of a lot you can do to influence a baby's sleep habits. Hang in there, continue providing great sleep hygiene and it will get better.
posted by waterisfinite at 12:37 PM on June 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Swaddle tighter (get a velcro-closing swaddler to try). A lot of newborns need a TIGHT swaddle, tighter than you can do with many swaddling blankets. One of mine would only sleep lying down swaddled TIGHT in a velcro swaddler; blankets weren't enough.

He may be too cold when your body heat goes away and that may be waking him. You can pre-warm the co-sleeper with a heating pad, or put a hot water bottle/warmed rice sock in next to him until he gets settled (and then remove it for sleeping safety). Or dress him in another layer.

When you lay him down, make sure your torso or shoulder stays in contact with his front until you have him ALL the way laid down flat. If you move them through space, their brains go "falling monkey alert! falling monkey alert!" and wake up, so awkwardly maintaining as much body-contact as possible until you have him fully and securely laid flat may help. Don't worry, they outgrow this phase pretty quickly.

Discomfort lying flat on the back may also stem from some acid reflux, which is pretty common in babies because their esophaguses are so short. Putting a folded towel under the head of the co-sleeper mattress so his head is tipped up just a little bit let my reflux-y baby sleep. (Some people elevate one set of legs but I could not think of a way to do that securely. I have the Arms Reach mini and a single bathtowel folded the width of the cosleeper, and then put so there was a double thickness of folded towel under the top 1/3, a single thickness under the middle 1/3, and none under the bottom 1/3 provided a gentle, safe, slight slope, if that description makes sense.) Some kids with allergies or ear tube problems also dislike lying flat on their back and having a slightly elevated head will help keep things draining the right direction instead of hurting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:40 PM on June 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

My son wouldn't sleep in his cosleeper either. Same thing, he'd wake up everytime I tried to put him in it. I think it was too flat and maybe he wanted to feel more curled/snuggled. He did end up sleeping with us a lot but also at times was able to sleep in a rock n play and a swing. The bouncer may work, too. Good luck, it's tough I know.
posted by JenMarie at 12:43 PM on June 15, 2013

Pediatric NP here. Really, there's not a right or wrong answer here, and, sadly, there aren't many hacks. Babies generally learn to sleep on their own sometime in the first four months of life, and - especially in the early days - you shouldn't worry so much about whether your doing you or your baby a disservice by letting him fall asleep in your arms or up to your chest before putting him in the cosleeper. You can't "spoil" a child within the first two months of life - cognitively, they're just not there yet and their job is to sleep, eat, poop and grow.

I realize this question is more about your own comfort than baby's. Unfortunately, however, you're just kind of stuck right now - though there is almost certainly a light at the end of the tunnel, as most babies just figure this out on your own - some more quickly than others. I would ask how your swaddle is, however. Are you wrapping him loosely, by chance, out of fear or being too tight and restrictive? If so, play around with wrapping him tighter. Most babies LOVE this and that feeling may well be what is most comforting to him when he's close to you (and it feels a lot more like what he was used to he first nine months!)
posted by Rewind at 12:44 PM on June 15, 2013

My baby was like that, too. What saved us was the Fisher Price Rock N Play sleeper.

It's not perfect, as you're signing yourself up for a nightmare when you eventually have to transition to a crib, but it's worth it. Some people also say it can cause/exacerbate tortocolis, which my baby does have a touch of.

Even with those flaws, I would absolutely use it again. It makes the baby feel like he's in your arms.
posted by that's how you get ants at 1:10 PM on June 15, 2013

Also, and this is personal preference, you might consider taking the baby out of your room. Some babies are just super loud sleepers. I put my babies in another room, the bathroom, or a closet. Basically anywhere close enough that cries will wake you but grunts won't. I've found that the convenience of having the baby in reach of the bed is absolutely not worth listening to the 20 minutes of falling asleep complaining and the 20 minutes of waking up complaining that goes with each feed.
posted by that's how you get ants at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're in Ask Moxie's "by any means necessary" stage at the moment. Whatever gets you and the baby the most sleep is what needs to be happening right now.

I'm of the opinion that newborns need to be close to their parents at night, so my recommendation is to research safe cosleeping / bedsharing and give it a go. I know you said it keeps you up because of anxiety about suffocation, etc., but there are several arguments that it's actually safer for infants than solo crib sleeping. Cosleeping/bedsharing is far and away the only thing that got us through the early weeks - my baby was just like yours and would sleep peacefully with us but hated being in the co-sleeper crib. I was anxious at first too, but it truly does result in less interrupted sleep.

Any habit can be broken, so I wouldn't worry too much about "creating bad habits" in a three-week-old.

I hope you are able to find a solution that works for you and your family. Congratulations on the new little one!
posted by meggan at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't hate me, but this sounds pretty normal for a 3-week-old. Think about it from their perspective -- they were nice and cuddly and warm in the womb and now they are out in the harsh world. It takes some time for them to get used to it.

In the book the Happiest Baby on the Block, the guy who wrote it (Karp) calls the first 12 weeks of a newborn's life the "fourth trimester," and I feel like it is so, so true. If you look at it that way, you can see why a newborn might not like to sleep flat on his back without being held.

My son did not like sleeping in the co-sleeper that much either and I held him a lot in the crook of my arm (on the side of the bed right next to the co-sleeper so if he fell out, he'd just roll right into the co-sleeper. But he never fell out, and neither did my daughter, as I also did this when she was a baby) while I slept. Also, what helped me sometimes, after I read an awesome tip online, was to wedge him in the co-sleeper with his head in a corner so he felt more surrounded and supported.

Sleeping in the bed with the baby is your choice, of course, but my ped told me that if I did want to sleep with the baby to please do so in the bed, NOT on the couch or an armchair. A couch/armchair has way more nooks and crannies that a baby could get stuck in and suffocate. If you just make sure you don't pull the comforter over the baby, and you hold him, that is safer.

Things that also helped both my kids as newbs: White noise machine, pacifier and a tight tight swaddle.

Also, this site has some really helpful free webinars on infant sleep: I see there is one called "sleep and nap patterns birth to five months"

BUT the nice thing about newborns is that they change so quickly. In a few weeks (I know, it seems long!) what works today will probably not work. He will not be like this forever, I promise.
posted by sutel at 1:34 PM on June 15, 2013

Swaddling may help.

For my babies, I had to have a white noise machine going for them to sleep. I would also tuck a rolled blanket behind or under myself to warm with my own body heat, and then put baby down with warm blanket.
posted by myselfasme at 2:01 PM on June 15, 2013

This is exactly what my baby was like, and I have come in to explicitly and with GREAT ENTHUSIASM second the recommendation of the Fisher-Price Rock n' Play. It was the only way my baby would sleep for the first few months of her life, except on one of us. It is a LIFESAVER. We also discovered that she preferred being a little bit on her side, which we felt all right about doing fairly often in the Rock n' Play, as it would hold her in position. We switched which side she was facing towards every time we put her back in after each waking, and no torticolis or flat head. We tossed the Arm's Reach out of the picture and kept that Rock n' Play by the bed for the first couple of months before she kicked it up a notch in the grunting department and we had to move her to the nursery so that I could actually sleep -- still in the Rock n' Play. Now she sleeps with elevated support in her crib, and we're working to take that last step towards flat in the crib in a week or so. If you can manage it, I also recommend a video monitor for when you eventually move her out of your room, because it went a long way towards easing my IS BABY ALIVE?!?!?! middle-of-the-night anxiety.
posted by tigerbelly at 2:03 PM on June 15, 2013

The bouncer might work though too. My oldest napped only on me or in his bouncer. He loved that thing.

This is not a piece of advice you asked for, but I'm going to give it anyway -- try to have a couple nights a week where your partner handles the middle of the night deal and you only wake up as much as you need to to feed/pump/whatever. Sleep deprivation makes you pretty crazy and in my experience I sometimes don't realize I'm getting to that point until I'm like, WHOA, my head is spinning exorcist style right now, I guess I need a nap.

Anyway, good luck. It'll be easier soon.
posted by gerstle at 3:01 PM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Invest in a few different baby carriers. They free your hands and arms and make you a bit less of a couch prisoner.
posted by barnone at 3:19 PM on June 15, 2013

I have a 3 week old baby boy too! We have a Snuggle Nest co-sleeper and he won't fall asleep in it either. I don't remember if it's in the Karp book or in The Fourth Trimester (great book, BTW), but babies have 20-25 minutes of light sleep before starting a deep sleep cycle. If you can hold him for his first 20 minutes of sleep you might be able to set him down once he is in deep sleep. That seems to work for our little guy. We also do swaddling and a white noise mp3. I put my phone on airplane mode and put it near the head of the sleeper.

We also have a Rock n Play and he seems to like that, though not always.

Good luck. I think (hope) this passes quickly.
posted by apricot at 3:35 PM on June 15, 2013

I found swaddling helped, I think because without swaddling, it's an obvious change in sensation for the baby to go from "lying next to warm parent being cuddled" to "lying on cold mattress", whereas with swaddling, it's not as noticable as it still feels like they're being cuddled.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:53 PM on June 15, 2013

We had the same problem, and ended up (carefully!) cosleeping. My doc said the same thing as sutel's; in bed with us is not medically perfect, but on a couch is considerably more dangerous. We were very careful about blankets, had a firm surface under my son and I, and we all got a lot more sleep that way.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:35 PM on June 15, 2013

I swear by tight swaddling in the amazing miracle blanket, especially if he's thrashing around or startling himself when sleeping by himself.

In fact, that's now my standard baby gift-the blanket and HBOTB DVD.
posted by purenitrous at 5:08 PM on June 15, 2013

My son wouldn't sleep except if I (or someone else) was holding him for the first six weeks. So I spent a lot of the daytime sitting in the glider with the baby on my lap and we co-slept. I really don't like co-sleeping - I wanted my bed back to be honest - but it was the only way that either of us got any sleep. At around 6-8 weeks he started being OK with moving to the co-sleeper next to the bed and would, thankfully, nap in his bouncy chair. So try whatever works - co-sleeping can be safe and if it lets you get some sleep then it's worth it. You are doing great!
posted by machine at 6:01 PM on June 15, 2013

I could have written this exactly, about my oldest, six years ago. I would pull her out of the Mini into my bed to nurse, fall asleep without putting her back, and wake up in a freak-out panic when I realized she was still next to me, up against my body. Safely asleep. It didn't take long for me to just let this become the new normal. I accustomed myself to sleeping without a pillow, just for safety, because I am a worrier. She grew into her ability to sleep better and longer in her own time.

Baby number 2? Slept in the Mini, no problem. Napped alone. I was relieved to know that the "problem" with my first baby was just her being her, and not anything I was doing.
posted by Knowyournuts at 6:12 PM on June 15, 2013

Three weeks is a rough age - I remember there being a growth spurt right around there too.

I was a happiest baby on the block addict - my advice?

Swaddle tighter. Really. Tighter.

Keep the white noise going, and keep it loud.

Laying them down is the hardest part. Try elevating the head end of the sleeper so that the Moro reflex doesn't kick in all the way (the falling flailing bit).

Good luck! And don't worry, you aren't creating bad habits at this age. The newborn phase is all about survival for parents AND baby.
posted by checkitnice at 6:33 PM on June 15, 2013

My daughters both hated the swaddle. The second also loved the Rick and play sleeper linked above. The other thing that worked so I could sleep was co sleeping. There is a researcher at notre dame that has great info on this. If you can work with a lactation consultant on the latch, nursing lying down is great.

The good news is it got better at about 8 weeks. With both of them. I think until then, they just like to be near you. The fourth trimester and all that.

Hang in there. It gets better.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:21 PM on June 15, 2013

We had a lot of trouble with that too. Some of the things we did were probably superstitious -- it worked once when we did X and now we must do that each time, even if it makes no difference...

I remember trying to wait to move him until the deeper sleep after 20 minutes as someone above said.

I also tried to wait 3-5 minutes between stages as I put him in bed. So I'd stop rocking in the rocking chair and wait 3 minutes. Stand up and wait 3 minutes, while gently bouncing. Move to stand over the crib holding him for 3 minutes. Lean way over the crib and very gently lay him down, putting the feet down first, but still hold on for 3 minutes. Straighten up and stand by the crib for 3 minutes. (This is why there is a digital clock with lit numbers in the baby's room.)

I think my husband had the gentler touch in the early days, too. It seemed like he could take the baby from my arms with less disruption than was caused by me trying to get out of a chair.

If you can get ahead on the pumping to build up a stock, or if you are willing to supplement with formula, you might be able to get a little sleep for yourself by letting someone else do everything for a night or two.
posted by SandiBeech at 7:28 PM on June 15, 2013

Nthing it's totally expected.

This isn't what you're asking, but I have a tangental piece of advice: it is totally OK to let the baby cry for five minutes while you go to the bathroom and make yourself a sandwich. No lasting harm will be done. Give yourself permission to take care of your own baseline needs, too.
posted by Andrhia at 8:57 PM on June 15, 2013

You need a swing. Put the baby in the swing, put it on high, and go to sleep (all of you!). This sounds crazy, I know, but it works. The first time my husband came home from work and saw our daughter swaddled up and swinging, he said "uh...isn't that a little violent?" I looked at him and said, "she's asleep, isn't she?"

We followed Karp to a T, and the swing really worked for us, with both kids. We did not have a hard time transitioning out of it, either. It worked for naps and nighttime too. We kept the swing in our bedroom for the first 2-3 months. After that we started transitioning out. Swings are easy to find on Craigslist!
posted by yawper at 9:20 PM on June 15, 2013

I have no children but i have always had problems sleeping. I enjoy The Twilight Turtle!
posted by hiddenknives at 12:07 AM on June 16, 2013

Oh, the other thing I meant to say is that the thing that seemed to wake our second most often was the change in temperature. Warming the cosleeper may help - we used a hot water bottle.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:42 AM on June 16, 2013

Oh man, I remember those days. My son was the same way, and it was a pain, honestly. He outgrew it around 6 weeks...I vividly remember the first time I set him down in the co-sleeper and he didn't wake up and scream. It was like a miracle. Honestly, nothing worked for us, and we tried ALL the tricks...but I know that most babies who are the in-arms-only type do outgrow it relatively quickly. So, yeah...time. It won't become a big thing that you have to do forever and ever. Just do whatever you have to do right now to get the baby to sleep.
posted by feathermeat at 11:09 AM on June 16, 2013

Lots of folks are talking about warm blankets, so I'll just pop in to say that I used to put a heavy bath towel in the dryer for 10 minutes, then use that to wrap around the baby. I'm not sure why we didn't use a blanket - I think the heat dissipated faster? Anyway, try the dryer if you need to heat the bedding/swaddling.
posted by CathyG at 6:00 PM on June 16, 2013

Don't want to be a downer on the warm blankets/heating suggestion, but you have to be careful about that. Overheating is a SIDS risk for little ones, especially little littles.

Don't have any great hacks but came to say that both my kids were terrible at cosleeping (they liked it, I'm a poor sleeper to begin with so I never slept and I wasn't a pleasant person as a result), terrible at sleeping in a crib at my bedside, but did much better in their own room after a few months. I did a gentle version of letting them cry for a little longer than I was comfortable with -even five minutes can seem like hours when they're a few months old - and eventually they learned to put themselves back to sleep. At three weeks old, I'm not sure I'd even try. It's just that exhausting, attached time with newborns, I think. With my first, in the beginning I would also put her in the little rocker thing at the bedside while I snoozed and while it was a temporary break for me to get a little sleep, good grief was it a terrible transition to the motionless crib. So hacks are great but don't get too reliant on anything that you're going to be sorry about when you try to wean them off of it later.
posted by takoukla at 7:10 AM on June 18, 2013

@takoukla - to be clear, we used a hot water bottle to warm the bottom of the bassinet, then removed the bottle and put the baby in the bassinet, which helped the baby stay awake while the bassinet and baby readjusted to the same temp. Baby should be in weather appropriate clothing/sleep sack/etc. The problem wasn't overall warmth, it was the shock of going from mommy's warm bosom to the cold sheets.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:24 AM on June 18, 2013

I saw that; my response was more referring to using warmed blankets and such. Not that any of that means your kid will have SIDS, just mentioning that it is a risk factor and that it's quite easy to overheat a baby because they're so responsive to external temp sources. No judgment, just a note. If the OP is in Antarctica, I rescind my comment entirely, however. :)
posted by takoukla at 11:00 AM on June 18, 2013

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