10 tips for when your baby will only sleep in your arms

Medically reviewed July 2022
baby will only sleep in arms - Naytal

Do you have a baby who will only sleep in your arms? If so, you're not alone. Many parents find themselves in this situation. Fortunately, there are some things you can try and do to help your baby (and yourself!) get some much needed rest.

Why your baby only sleeps in your arms

There may be a few reasons your baby may only want to sleep in your arms. Your baby still remembers sleeping in your womb for nine months which is a snug and safe place.

It's where your baby first listened to your heartbeat. So when napping in your arms or on your chest, that same reassuring sleep association is being triggered.

Babies also like the warmth and closeness of being held. They get to be close to you through all the senses, from smell to touch. This can help them feel calm and secure and, once again, remind them of being in the womb.

5 tips for babies aged 10 weeks to 5 months old

Here are five tips to help soothe and settle your young baby using the five S’s technique:

1. Side/stomach position

Babies love to be held in the side/stomach position because it reminds them of being in the womb. Hold your baby so that they lie on their side or stomach with your arm underneath to support them when they are still awake.

Need help with your baby's sleep? Speak to a baby sleep expert

2. Swaddling

Swaddling your baby tightly in a swaddle blanket, wrap or swaddle sack can help them feel secure and warm like they're still in the womb. This can be a great way to help your baby sleep in their moses basket, crib or cot.

Be careful if your baby is showing signs of rolling over. If that is the case, stop swaddling and start transitioning your baby into a sleeping bag.

3. Shushing

White noise can help soothe and settle your baby. You can create white noise by using your voice or switching on a sound machine, or even just turning on a fan in the background as you try to settle your baby for their nap or at bedtime.

4. Swinging

Gentle swing or rock your baby from side to side rather than in a forwards-backwards motion.

5. Sucking

You can also try and have your baby suck a dummy or use their thumb, i.e. once swaddled. This can help your baby feel more content and soothed.

5 tips for babies aged 6 to 10 months old

If your baby is a little older and still only wants to sleep in your arms, here are five additional tips to help settle them:

1. Slow down the pace

As your baby gets older, they will become more interested in the world around them and want to take everything in. It is common for babies to take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes to settle. Your baby is now much more aware of everything around them. Plus, separation anxiety develops in many babies between 7 and 10 months.

So, it's essential to slow down the pace when trying to settle them for a nap or at bedtime. This means not rushing around and instead taking the time to do calming activities such as reading a book or singing a lullaby.

2. Make use of sleep space alternatives

Slowly get your baby used to not only sleeping in your arms by trying other spaces.

This could include wearing babywear such as a sling for some of their naps, giving you the chance to free your hands. For babies six months or older, a structured carrier is often more comfortable to wear than a sling, relieving your back.

The pram or buggy is another great place for your baby to form that same sleep association of lying on their back.

3. Gradually move less and less

If your baby is used to falling asleep in your arms at night while rocking or walking around the house, try to reduce the motion gradually. Every few days, do a little less.

If you previously walked around with your baby, try and walk a little less. Keep shushing your baby whilst holding and swaying rather than rocking them.

4. Try a delayed cot transfer

If you don't feel quite ready yet to put your baby down awake for naps and bedtime, you can attempt a delayed cot transfer, to begin with.

Start by having your baby fall asleep on you and wait to transfer them 15 to 20 minutes after falling asleep. That way, you can be sure they have transitioned into a deeper sleep stage.

5. Put your baby down awake

For many parents, this is the ultimate goal of baby sleep, but your baby being comfortable with being put down awake doesn't always happen over night. Like with many things, independent sleep is a gradual process involving a lot of support, reassurance and trust from both sides.

You can try this for naps and bedtime or opt for one or the other. Start by trying to put your baby down awake and sitting next to their cot whilst holding their hand or stroking and shushing them. This is a huge transition for your baby, during which they need to know that they are still safe and secure even when not held by you.

Want to speak to someone about baby sleep? Book an appointment with one of our sleep consultants at a time that suits you to get specialist advice with any concerns.

Miriam, Sleep Consultant

Miriam is a qualified Baby and Child Sleep Consultant who feels passionately about helping other mums experience the benefits of good sleep. Her approach is gentle, relationship-centred and research-informed.

Sleep advice
Newborn sleep

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