Contrary to the saying, “sleep like a baby,” the newborn phase is notorious for leaving parents sleep deprived. While some babies are great sleepers, you are NOT alone if your little one is leaving you exhausted and weary. There are many, many babies who seemingly refuse to sleep in the bassinet and won’t sleep unless they are being held!
Why Newborns Might Not Sleep In The Bassinet
The first step to solving your sleep problems is to understand what is causing them. Remember that your little one just spent nine months in the dark, cozy womb, and entering the world can be quite a shock to their little systems.
After sleeping inside of mama for all these weeks, it is no surprise that many babies won’t sleep unless they are snuggled up with their mom or dad. The problem is made even worse by your baby’s Moro reflex, which can cause them to startle in their sleep and wake up the second you lay them down in the bassinet.
One of the best steps to take in helping your newborn learn to sleep in his or her bassinet, is becoming a master swaddler. If you aren’t sure how to swaddle your baby, check out this great video guide for a step by step lesson. If you aren’t successful the first time you give it a try, that’s okay! Practice makes perfect, and if your baby isn’t a willing participant, you could try practicing with a doll or stuffed animal.
If you’ve mastered basic swaddling and your little one still won’t stay asleep, there are a variety of swaddles and sleep sacks on the market designed to improve sleep quality for you and your baby. Here are a few of the best:
If you are struggling to get the hang of basic swaddling, sleepsack swaddles are a great tool to help you secure your baby tightly.
This sleepsuit is geared toward babies who are ready to transition out of the swaddle stage, but who still need a little extra help fighting that Moro reflex.
This sleep sack is slightly weighted on baby’s chest to help your little one feel as though you are there comforting them!
This swaddle is great for babies who like to sleep with their arms up, but who need to be snug to resist the Moro reflex.
Remember, once your baby is able to roll over, it is no longer safe for them to be swaddled with their arms inside! This can be a difficult transition, but it is essential to ensure your baby is sleeping safely.
Also, while you should never place your newborn on his or her stomach to sleep, this is even more important when your little one is swaddled as it can pose a high risk of suffocation!
Improving your baby’s sleep environment is another way to encourage your newborn to sleep in the bassinet. The ideal sleep environment will mimic the womb as much as possible.
There are three simple ways to do this.
1. Keep it Dark!
Your baby has just recently been acquainted with the light of day, and it can be quite overwhelming! While you may be able to sleep by simply turning off the lights, your little one might need it to be much darker. For the best results, replace your regular blinds with a blackout shade in addition to using regular blackout curtains.
This is also helpful to keep the room dark during the day if your baby doesn’t want to nap in the bassinet either. If your baby is especially sensitive to light, you may also need to turn off lights in surrounding rooms and hallways, as some light enters in around the door.
2. Use White Noise.
While this may be surprising to some, life in the womb is loud! To recreate the sounds your newborn is familiar with, you can use a white noise machine. This will also help to muffle other sounds in the house that may cause your baby to startle awake. For white noise without having to make an extra purchase, try finding a white noise soundtrack on YouTube or Spotify!
3. Provide a Familiar Smell.
If your baby won’t sleep unless held, another way to help them feel comfortable and cozy in the bassinet is to make it smell like you! To do this, you can take a t-shirt that you’ve been wearing and rub it on the bassinet sheets or sleep with your baby’s extra pajamas or sheets for a night or two to ensure they carry your scent.
For this to work, the fabric needs to be touching your skin, not just your clothing! Make sure you don’t leave any extra items in baby’s bassinet as this can also pose a suffocation risk.
Some babies have similar sleep habits and problems for both naptime and bedtime, while others might just refuse to sleep in the bassinet at naptime. If your baby won’t nap in the bassinet, you have a couple of options. You could, of course, try the suggestions above (especially focusing on the darkened room!).
You could also try wearing your baby! This can provide you with the best of both worlds: lots of baby snuggles, while still being able to get a few things done. There are endless options, but a simple wrap like the Moby Wrap or a lightweight Happy Baby Wrap is a great place to start.
These wraps can help your baby to feel cozy, similar to how they would in a swaddle. If you do choose to wear your baby during naptime, make sure to follow all safety instructions and check regularly to ensure that your baby’s chin is at least two fingers off of his or her chest.
While the AAP Safe Sleep Guidelines do not recommend bed-sharing, many parents find themselves doing this very thing out of sheer desperation. If you are struggling to get your newborn to sleep in the bassinet, it is wise to be informed on how to bed-share as safely as possible. That way if you find yourself bringing baby into your bed in the wee hours of the morning, you are prepared to eliminate the majority of the risks.
Bed Sharing Guidelines
- You must be sober, smoke-free, and not suffering from extreme exhaustion or taking any medication that might make you extra drowsy.
- The sleeping area should not be too soft or cluttered (remove extra blankets, pillows, or any mattress toppers). At most, you should have just one blanket and one pillow.
- Clear the area of any strings (window curtains, phone chargers, sweatshirt strings, etc.), and if you have long hair, make sure it is pulled back in a ponytail to avoid accidental strangulation.
- Your baby should be on the edge of the bed rather than in between both parents or between you and another child.
- Make sure the bed is tight to the wall and/or headboard, ensuring there is no place your baby could get stuck or roll off.
- Don’t swaddle your baby when you are bed-sharing, and make sure he or she is not dressed too warmly.
- You should sleep lying on your side, facing baby, with baby’s face level to your breast.
- Your little one MUST sleep on his or her back.
- Tuck your blanket around your waist to make sure you won’t pull it over your little one’s face. If you are cold, wear more layers!
- Do not sleep with your baby on a recliner, couch, rocking chair, or any other surface that is not flat.
What Not To Do
There are a few places your baby should never sleep, no matter how desperate you are! Baby swings, car seats, and other seats are never safe places to leave your baby sleeping unsupervised.
Anytime your baby is in a leaning forward position like many baby seats and carriers create, this can result in your little one not getting enough oxygen due to positional asphyxia. If you are absolutely unable to stay awake, it is better to let your baby cry in a safe position than sleep in an unsafe position.
If you have a stubborn baby…..
I totally get it. My daughter was so strong willed when it came to sleep. I ended up getting Taking Cara Babies course when she got older, but I regret not downloading Cara’s newborn guide. It’s an investment you will be happy you made!
Surviving the early days with a newborn who won’t sleep in the bassinet can be difficult! Regardless of where you are at in this struggle, be sure to give yourself lots of grace and remember that you are not alone. While some babies are naturally better sleepers, refusal to sleep in the bassinet doesn’t mean that your baby is “bad” or that you did something wrong. You have a wonderful baby, you are a wonderful mama, and you will make it through! In the meanwhile, don’t give up on helping your baby become a better sleeper, and don’t be afraid to ask for help so you can find time to rest or nap.