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.
- 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, Heidi
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