We can't put our 11 week old baby boy down

Question: Hi, We have an 11 week old boy we're having difficulty with. Getting him to sleep is not the problem. Keeping him asleep is not the problem (assuming we continue to hold him). But if we put him down, he won't last long. 5-10 minutes after he goes down, he's awake again. And that's if we even get him down. Sometimes (albeit, less so lately), he's back awake half way between my arms and the crib or bassinet. We are very consistent with how we get him back to sleep each night (no talking, lights off) and it is not difficult at all. He'll go right back to sleep.

He LOVES sleeping in either mine or my wife's arms, and we can keep him asleep that way for more than an hour or two. But a flat surface won't work. We've tried padding a little under him, and that has only slightly helped. We are reluctant to put him on his stomach since our Doctor recommends against it.

Your site is awesome. It is a great resource for information. We're just now getting to fully utilize your advice since our son is on a more consistent schedule.


Heidi's Answer: Hi Mark, You seem to have found a way to help your son sleep comfortably and even on a rather consistent schedule, which is really good. The consistency when putting him back to sleep at night, with no talking or lights is also very good. I am supposing you have also set up a simple bedtime routine, if not that will be a helpful addition.

But to give you and your wife more "time off" from holding him, and also for your son, it will be good indeed to help him sleep a bit more independently.

You haven't mentioned how long you hold him before you usually put him down. When putting down a baby asleep, it's best to take his sleep cycles into account. When dozing off, baby enters a light sleep. This phase lasts about 20-30 minutes. Only then there is a deeper sleep phase, for about 20 minutes on average. Then another short light sleep phase finishes the cycle. The end of a cycle is a critical point where baby half-wakes up and can easily fully wake up when not completely comfortable (hunger, wet diaper, cold, hot, ... or just not used to sleeping for longer).

Both during the light sleep phase (first 20-30 minutes) and the critical point at the end of the cycle (about 50-60 minutes after dozing off) are typical awake moments. So when you put him down then, he will indeed easily wake up when in the crib. In your arms he seems to have enough reassurance and confinement to keep on sleeping.

You can recognise the lighter sleep phases: he will seem restless, eyes moving under his eyelids, face grimaces, ... In the deep sleep phase he will be completely quiet, breathe slowly and deeply and lie very still.

Based on this, I advise you to do the following consistently from now on:

- Help him fall asleep as you do now. Look at him closely, maybe with a watch nearby.
- Only when he's entered the deeper sleep (after 20-30 minutes), being all quiet and still, put him down in the crib.
- Keep your hands on his tummy for a few moments before gently pulling them away.

If this works and he sleeps for 1,5-2 hours in total, that is a good way to go and keep going.

If he wakes shortly after putting him down, then add the following step:

- Keep your hands on his tummy for a longer time. You may see him come out of the deeper sleep, squirm and toss a bit. Keep your hands there though (without further interaction) to help keep him asleep. Of course you can replace 'your hands on his tummy' with simply placing your hand on his forehead, or holding his shoulder firmly, ... something you know comforts him.

This may not work from the first time, but with practice can become very efficient. If he does wake up and you cannot get him back to sleep while he lies down: pick him up and do your usual routine to keep the awake time as short as possible. Then try again the next time.

Alongside with this, also do the following:

- Indeed sleeping on his stomach is not advised, on the back is the safe baby sleeping position as per the SIDS safety guidelines.

- Have him sleep in a wearable blanket or sleeping bag - some have an easy swaddle function built in. Either way, make sure he's already in the sleeping bag before he dozes off. That avoids any hassle when putting down.
The smaller bassinet may also be better for him, the less room he has around him, the safer he may feel and the better he may sleep.

- Padding a little under him, or else maybe tilt the mattress/crib at the head side are good things to do too. Always give it a week or so before giving up on it.

Give the whole process a couple of weeks to gently build that increased independency.

If it's all to no avail, let me know. Your son may simply need your presence to sleep at all and in that case you may want to consider cosleeping. A safe and comfortable way to cosleep, while still encouraging independent sleep in his own space, is with a cosleeper bedside crib. See the Cosleepers Guide for more info.

Good luck, take care,

Comments for We can't put our 11 week old baby boy down

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by: terry

Funny I was looking for an article on the eyesight of an 11 week old, and I came across this. We have the SAME frustrating problem with my daughter. Only likes to be up on our chest being walked. Sleeps fine until you put her down and bam, 3-5 minutes later shes crying to be picked up again. Glad to see the advice, we will try it! Thank you!

another tip
by: Anonymous

I was having the very same problem with my 4 month old son. What I have found that works great is to lay him down on his tummy shortly after he falls asleep and pat his back or butt till he's nice and calm. I then give him 5 - 10 mins to get in a deep sleep and then go back and slowly roll him over onto his back. I put my hand on his tummy till I'm sure that he is still sound asleep. He sleeps for a good 4hrs usually before waking up to eat.

my thoughts

I currently work at a paediatric clinic and have seen many families in this situation.
IMO there are a few questions to be asked prior to intervening with sleep advise -

How has his weight gain been? Does he continue to follow his percentile on the growth chart?
Is he breast or bottle feeding? how often? on cue or on a schedule? how do you know when he is hungry? when he is full/satisfied? does he often have his hands/toys/blanket in his mouth after feeding?

If breast feeding - describe his behaviour at the breast - does he drink well or does he nibble quite a bit (sucking but not getting frequent mouthfuls?), does he pull or fuss at the breast or is he calm and relaxed? does he fall asleep at the breast? are you supplementing with exposed breast milk or formula after breast feeding? how do you supplement - bottle, cup, SNS (or lactation aid at breast)? does he most often take all of the supplement?

if bottle feeding - how often? how much? are your offering the same volume of formula at every feed? does he finish all of the formula? do you ever think he would take more if you offered more?

I find babies sleep "problems" are often related to feeding issues.
I would suggest you see a knowledgeable feeding consultant as it sound to me he may just need a little more food at each feeding to stay sleeping once put down, for longer than a few minutes. Best, LK

Thank you
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Dear LK,

Thank you for your kind and interesting comment.

Indeed, comments are carefully reviewed before being published.

Heidi - Baby Sleep Advice founder

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