How can I get my newborn to sleep in the bassinet, rather than my arms?
April 10, 2014 4:08 PM   Subscribe

So, yes, I love it when my adorable newborn falls asleep on my chest. But how can I get her to transition to the bassinet so I can get some sleep?

I would love my newborn to fall asleep in her bassinet. Usually she falls asleep nursing, or in her carrier, or more likely, in my arms. But whenever I try to put her in any kind of bed like thing (bassinet, rock n play) she wakes up. Sometimes she'll stay there for like 5 minutes, but usually she wakes up pretty soon after and wants back in my arms.

A lot of the online advice seems to be non-SIDS friendly (i.e., put a warm blanket in the bassinet under her.)

I know she's only 2 weeks old, but I really need some sleep! Co-sleeping is not an option -- our bed has weird crevices and I am a tosser/turner and couldn't get to sleep with her in my arms.

Any tips for a sleepy new mom? And for extra credit, when people say, put her down when she's drowsy, but not sleepy, how does that work? My kid would just scream!
posted by caoimhe to Human Relations (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We figured out through trial and error that 1) the cold of the bed on their skin would absolutely wake them up and 2) there was a magic moment between drowsy and sleepy that you had to find to get it to work.

For #1 a gentle rubbing of the hand right where their neck/head was going seemed sufficient most of the time.
Number 2 was obviously much harder, but as they got older you could do it closer to drowsy than asleep. Also are you rocking? One of the tricks I found when transitioning from glider to bassinet/crib was to try and keep the motion going as long as possible until right when I laid them down.
posted by Big_B at 4:20 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

At two weeks, I would absolutely use a swing. You're definitely in "get sleep however you can" territory.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:23 PM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Alternatively, make being held as much like being in cot as possible so as to transition them more easily- so stop rocking and hold horizontally (gradually). Also- we found d this period to be really quite brief. I know how painful it is! (Ours is 11 weeks). But it was at least not such an issue after about 4 weeks.

You may also want to do some reading about baby sleep cycles. Once they are in the deeper stage of sleep they wake up much less easily. I found Robin Barker's Baby Love helpful.
posted by jojobobo at 4:25 PM on April 10, 2014

Very tight swaddling was my lifesaver through this stage. I also had my baby sleeping in a swing when nothing else worked.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:32 PM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Swaddling! Yes! I forgot that one. Check out Happiest Baby On the Block.
posted by Big_B at 4:35 PM on April 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Second the suggestion to swaddle - make sure it's very snug.

If you're nursing, try nursing swaddled. So when the baby wakes up, unswaddle, change diaper, nurse first side, burp, then swaddle and nurse second side. If baby is too drowsy to nurse second side, then swaddle when you have just a couple of minutes left to go. You can de-latch the baby with a clean finger in the corner of his/her mouth. You can still burp in the swaddle after the second side, or depending on how your baby does you might not need to (breastfed babies sometimes need less in terms of burping to begin with).

Also try swaddling plus rocking, either in a chair/glider or prop your feet up on a coffee table or chair in front of you, rest baby on your thighs, and then gently move your legs back and forth (gentle swaying motion).

I'm at almost a month with baby #2 so I'm right there with you! Good luck, and remember that this will all pass - things get a lot better and easier, but it doesn't always feel that way right now.
posted by handful of rain at 4:37 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

1) Swaddling, definitely.
2) I remember spending a lot of time after I had very carefully transferred kid into the crib, keeping a hand resting on/patting their chest to help ease the transition - they are still soothed by your warmth/weight/presence, but you can more easily transition away from them as they settle back into sleep.
posted by misterbrandt at 4:39 PM on April 10, 2014

Seconding snickerdoodle. The swing saved our sanity when my son was a newborn.
posted by amro at 4:41 PM on April 10, 2014

You can put a heating pad or heated rice sock in the bassinet BEFORE you're going to put the baby down, and then take it out when it's time to put the baby in. Sometimes going down on a pre-warmed bed will prevent wake-ups.

If you can, keep her against your shoulder/chest ALLLLLLL the way down to the bassinet and lay her in very, very, very slowly, keeping the warmth of your body against her until you've got her all the way down, your hands out from under her, and she's settled for a second ... only then back up. (My mom is a champ at this; I couldn't manage it because of mangled birth-giving ab muscles until my newborns were really too big to need it.)

This is also a moment for relatives and friends ... now that I do not have my own newborn, I can think of few things I'd like better than to let a newborn sleep on my chest for two hours while I read a book and you take a nap and I smell her head repeatedly. :) You do not even have to be particularly good friends, people just like to cuddle really tiny babies and then know how precious sleep is and how tired you get of constantly holding the baby. WIN-WIN.

Will she sleep sitting up, like in her carseat or a rocking swing? One of the first signals that my firstborn had REALLY DIRE ACID REFLUX was that he absolutely could not bear to be lying flat and would wake up SCREAMING HIS HEAD OFF because it HURT. If she WILL sleep partially upright (in the swing, on a chest) but not lying flat, AND she spits up a lot or spends a lot of time arching her back during nursing, it's worth mentioning to your pediatrician. (Good news if it's reflux: babies outgrow it reasonably quickly, and they make baby zantac that is like magic if you can't manage it with angled crib mattresses and controlled feedings and whatnot, so don't freak out.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:54 PM on April 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Lots of good advice above. Another vote for swaddling.

My son wouldn't sleep anywhere but someone's arms until he was about three weeks old. So, this will probably pass eventually. Not very helpful right now, I know.

As far as putting baby to sleep drowsy but not tired, I would focus on that as a goal for the future. My little guy used to have to be bounced on a yoga ball to sleep, so that he was thoroughly asleep, before going down in his bassinet. The first six weeks are bananas. Just try to make it through.
posted by freem at 5:10 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

We have a 3-week old, so welcome to the party!

I vote for swaddling (Happiest Baby on the Block is great) and also the Fisher Price Rock n Play sleeper (available on Amazon for about $40). That thing is awesome.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 5:19 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the swing. We just got our 6-month old out of his swing at nighttime and into his crib; the swing was always the only place I could move him mid-sleep where he would stay asleep. Best $130 I ever spent.
posted by gatorae at 5:28 PM on April 10, 2014

I do not believe this is possible, and I had the experience of not being able to sleep unless my baby was immediately next to me. So instead of catching the hour I could have, I'd find I wasn't sleeping AT ALL.

The best solution I found in the really early days was sleeping in the IKea Poang chair with my feet on a coffee table with baby snug in a safe sling that I had learned to use really well. The chair was at an angle, but not all that reclined. With my first, it's how I slept for a month. With my second, it was a few days.

Swings and swaddling were a ton of wasted effort and money. My in laws spent nearly $150 on a swing for us and both kids hated it.
posted by zizzle at 5:55 PM on April 10, 2014

All good suggestions above. Just want to say, you absolutely have permission to do whatever you need to do to get some rest and also these crazy sleep-deprived weeks are usually, and blessedly, very short. Get help whenever you can. Hand the baby off so you can nap! Other people love to hold babies! With my first I drove myself crazy during these first few months, but with my second (6 months old now) I let myself get sleep however would work. Sleeping in a car seat or baby carrier works sometimes. I also would construct little nap nests for us where I would wedge pillows all around myself so I couldn't really roll over, would put an airplane-type pillow around my neck to keep me in place, put baby on my chest, held by arms propped up by pillows and would wedge a boppy around the baby's bottom half to keep her in place. It was cozy and we'd both get in a good snooze. Heavenly and I kind of miss it now.

Hang in there, you'll get through this soon.
posted by goggie at 5:56 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our boy loved the rock&play as well as sleeping in the crook of my arm. So if your little one likes the snuggle aspect or slight movement of sleeping on you, you may have good luck with it. I strongly echo the swaddling suggestion; eventually you'll have to wrestle with when to stop swaddling but at this age it's a slam-dunk.
posted by phearlez at 6:20 PM on April 10, 2014

I got really good at holding the baby surrounded by the boppy (so she wouldn't fall) while sleeping reclined in bed or in the glider! But seconding swaddling and holding the baby as close to your chest as possible the whole way down and then keeping your hand on her for a few seconds until she settles. We also rocked/bounced to sleep, but recommend against that because it's a tough habit to break (trust me!!!). Congrats on the new baby and hang in there, it gets better and better every day.
posted by echo0720 at 6:23 PM on April 10, 2014

It's partly the timing of putting the baby down. IIRC (I think I read it in #2 on this page?), newborns have different early-sleep patterns from adults, which means that they take ~20min after drowsing off to really go into a deep sleep that that they won't awaken from.

I tested this principle in the early days with my now-bigger baby, and it was absolutely true that if you held her for a while after falling asleep, there would come a brief startle/arousal about 20-25 minutes in, followed by a deeper settling into sleep, with the limp-limb sign Sears discusses, etc. You could pretty much set your watch by it-- I used to count the minutes on the clock. And at that point I could put her down and she generally wouldn't awaken for at least another hour, or more depending on whether she could string together a couple of sleep cycles.
posted by Bardolph at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

We had to get a padded recliner chair. That way we could at least get little intervals (parent reclined enough to kind-of sleep, baby on chest.)

4th trimester is very hard. Good luck. If it makes you feel any better, it does pass, so much so that people often eventually decide to have more children...
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:50 PM on April 10, 2014

My son also fussed whenever laid down. He slept in my arm for the first 3 months and I got very little sleep. Afterwards I realized it was very likely he had acid reflux (based on some other symptoms I ignored in my sleep deprived state). So don't rule out that there is something bothering your baby that is making it hard or painful for her to fall asleep. You might want to try to find a low angled wedge so she can sleep with her head and chest slightly elevated.

My best advise in general for new moms, is to find someone (and I know how hard it is this early) to watch the baby while you nap, even if its only for an hour or two. Make *sure* you take breaks. Ask a friend or family memeber to help, often they are sitting back just *waiting* to be asked because they aren't sure to how to help and are looking for opportunity to help! If there isn't anyone who you want that kind of help from, hire someone to do it. Your mental sanity is 100% worth it and not sleeping solidly will break you faster than most people expect.

Good Luck!
posted by HMSSM at 10:33 PM on April 10, 2014

I babysat a baby like this. When he was an infant, he just wanted to be held all the time. So I was enlisted to come over, watch TV, cuddle a newborn and let new mom sleep.

Try swaddling, try warming the crib before putting baby down, and call for reinforcements!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:27 AM on April 11, 2014

I wanted to nth the suggestion to get some help. Last summer my friend had a baby, and I remembered very well how much I appreciated such help with my first. I went over to her house at 6am on a few Saturday mornings and took the baby after the last early-morning feeding, letting her and her husband get some uninterrupted sleep together. I'm now on #2 and counting down the days til my mother-in-law visits, when I'll get the same treatment. With my friend, she was very reluctant to take the help at first, thinking it was a big inconvenience to me. I was only too happy to do it, since I owed a lot of favors back to the universe (in my opinion). Point being, people want to help you, and this is a really good suggestion to offer to them.
posted by handful of rain at 8:44 AM on April 11, 2014

For us swaddling and sleeping in his bouncy (which we put in his cosleeper next to our bed) worked well. The swaddling helped mask the transition from cozy and being held to cozy in his seat, and the bouncy kept him at an angle which helped him stay asleep (reflux). And you can still buckle the straps on the bouncy around the end of the little baby burrito. Good luck!
posted by pennypiper at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2014

I understand the reluctance to co-sleep if you're a thrasher, but could you *start* her night with a co-sleep? With Baby One, we walked or rocked her to sleep in our arms and as she got older, our backs hurt and that transition from arms to crib was always sooooo touchy. So when Baby Two arrived, we changed things up and started putting him to sleep by lying on the bed with him. If it were me, I'd nurse and lie beside him until he conked out completely. For Daddy, it was just snuggling and catching a few much-needed moments of sleep ourselves. Then you can roll away and get up. We'd surround him with pillows to keep him safe (later, when he was able to roll over, we'd put a mat on the floor and get him to sleep down there). They're MUCH easier to transfer to a crib when they're sound asleep.
posted by eve harrington at 4:45 PM on April 11, 2014

A friend of mine had very good luck by wearing a cloth diaper in her bra when the baby was awake, and then placing it in the bassinett (and later the crib) just as she put him down. It had her scent on it, you see, so since he could still smell her he felt nice and secure.
posted by vignettist at 5:02 PM on April 11, 2014

Thanks for the tips everyone! We've been more tightly swaddling, which seems to help, but we also borrowed a swing where she's asleep right now :). We're slowly but surely going to incorporate the rest of the tips as well -- love the idea of getting people to hold her while we sleep. Thanks so much for all the encouragement!
posted by caoimhe at 9:47 AM on April 15, 2014

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