12 week old only sleeps in our arms and in our bed

by Eva

Question: I have a lovely daughter who is now 12 weeks old. Sleeping itself is not a problem, but WHERE she sleeps is our problem! From the beginning we have tried to put her in the crib, but increasingy without any success. As a result, she is now sleeping in our bed at night and in our arms during the day.

My husband will take her from 8pm-1am (she will sleep in his arms)so I can het some sleep. She's in our bed from 1am-7am.

I would really like her to be able to sleep in her crib, next to our bed. At the moment, we are able to put her in the crib whilst she is drowsy, and she will fall asleep with shh-ing and patting. However, she will wake up after 20 minutes!! If we put her down fast asleep, she will wake up at the end of her sleeping cycle or so (after total of 40-50 min) or straight away. Once awake, it is really hard to get her settled again, and she will cry when we put her down again, even if we do this at the same time (being drowsy).

We have tried the hand method after 15 minutes of sleep for the last 2 weeks to no avail.

We tried swaddling, but our health visitor advised against this because of apparent related risk of SIDS.

We put a Tshirt and breast pad (I breastfeed) in her crib so she has my smell. We also warm the sheets. She wears a wearable blanket. We play a white noise CD which seems to calm her down.

We started a consistent bedtime routine 4-5 weeks ago. She has a good day and night rhythm, and at night, generally only wakes up when she's hungry (once around 1am and then around 5am). I have weaned her off falling asleep whilst being nursed during the day. During the night, however, she does fall asleep whilst being fed. During the day, the routine is sleep, eat, play, sleep, eat, play,...

I don't know what to do to help her to get passed the 20 minutes. She generally wakes up crying so I think it will help if she could fall asleep on her own. At the moment we are trying the shh-pat method (baby whisperer) during the day, but she is pretty head strong and we will be doing that for such a long time that it will be time for her to eat.

Should we change all at the same time (day and night) or continue to try and help her to sleep in the crib during the day? Are there any other things we can try?

I don't want to let her cry it out, but we can't go on like this!

Extra info: I forgot to let you know that since a week and a half, she is not sleeping in our arms during the day (before 8pm). When I put her down, she will cry, but it generally doesn't take long for her to settle (I have to pick her up couple of times and shh/pat her in the crib until she's asleep. She still only sleeps about 20 min, but it is sometimes easier to settle her for another round of sleep but often she gets really upset; arching her back, pulling her ear,...). I don't understand why it is more difficult!

I keep putting her back, but she'll cry before she on the mattrass. It often takes such a long time that it's time to eat. This leaves me very frustrated as it feels like wasted time and tears as she has not learnt anything. On the other hand, if I take her out once she has woken up, don't I give her a reason to wake up and not make that transition to deep sleep?

She is still really tired after 20 min. of sleep...

When she was sleeping in our arms during the day, she'd sleep about 2,5 - 3 hrs in the morning and 2 naps of 2-2,5 hrs.

During the day, she needs a lot of reassurance and I can't leave her alone of more than a couple of minutes.

Thank you so much!!!

Heidi's answer: Dear Eva,

First of all congratulations, the way you have been handling the situation so far and the things you have tried are all really good. I know it is frustrating and you must feel exhausted but from your story it's also clear that you and your husband have been very patiently attending to your daughter's needs which is wonderful.

She is too young to wake up on purpose so you would take her out, so no I don't think you are keeping her from learning to go to a deeper sleep.

My first thought after reading your story goes to physical discomfort. Discomfort that she does not feel when you hold her but that she feels when lying down.

Do you ever notice any discomfort in her when awake? For example never seeming completely relaxed when lying on her back? Or side, or tummy? Happier when sitting or when in the stroller or car seat?

That could point to a stuck nerve or bone, a typical remnant of birth.

You may consider cranial osteopathy therapy. Ask your doctor for advice and see if you find a local pediatric osteopath who can often remedy this.

Look out or any other discomfort too. If she often pulling her ear? She could have an ear infection, or a past one that did not cure completely. Could she be teething? Is she uncomfortable with an always wet diaper?

Either way, during the day I would continue as you have started now. Not keep her in your arms but put her down. However, if she wakes after 20 minutes, try once to put her back. If that works, fine. If to no avail, nap time is over. I know she may be still tired after that but you want to avoid her coming to dread the crib.

To at least get to the 40 minutes though, you can hold her until she is deeply asleep, and then work with the gentle self soothing method from there.

Have you experimented with having her nap in the stroller while you take a walk? You could do that for one of the naps, consistently. That avoids the crib while also not holding her in your arms. See if she can take a longer nap in this way.

For nights, I would like to suggest you have her sleep in your bed the first half of the night as well. The sleeping in your or your husband's arms is the first habit you want to wean from. Weaning from nursing to sleep and then transitioning to her crib next to your bed will be relatively easier steps.

First and foremost, if it is not the case entirely yet, make sure you have all co-sleeping safety guidelines in place. Ensure a maximum of comfort for each of you.

Your husband can still take that shift, but lie down with her in the bed. It is good that you use that time to sleep but then best in another room so both 'teams' get the best sleep.

See how that goes in the next week or two. Your husband may find that he can shift away from her gradually, until she practically sleeps alone in that bed (again, safety first or course).

What we mainly want to see is if this helps her wean from sleeping in your arms, and sleeping for a longer time without being held. The sleeping in your bed is a gentle transition from this. It may actually take quite some time for her to get un-used to being held so give it at least a week or two.

Once that is working, you can gently transition towards sleeping in the crib next to your bed. That can be starting to sleep with you/husband in your bed, then move her to the crib when fast asleep. Then gradually, very gradually, start moving her there earlier.

In summary: for naps start with the self soothing method to put down and re-try only once if she wakes early. For nights: go for temporary co-sleeping to wean from the holding, then transition to the crib from there.

Good luck!

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