Not Putting Your Baby Down Awake? Here’s Why You ShouldMar 08, 2022
If you are a parent that has done any reading about baby sleep, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “drowsy but awake,” or heard about parents putting their babies down once they’re “completely asleep” or “completely awake.” But, when it comes to putting your baby down for sleep, putting them down completely asleep or drowsy just doesn’t work long-term.
Instead, I recommend practicing putting your baby down completely awake. Mastering falling asleep independently takes lots of practice for babies (and parents!), but if a baby is never exposed to falling asleep on their own, they may not be able to fall back to sleep between sleep cycles - leading to more night wakings, short naps, and early morning wakings. Babies that are able to fall asleep independently also sleep more soundly, which is important so that many of their essential developmental needs (cognitive and physical) are able to be met as they grow!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Why Putting Your Baby Down Awake is Helpful
We’ve all been there with our babies - they fall asleep while you’re rocking or feeding them, so you say to yourself, “I’m just going to gently place them in their crib so I can finally get to my to-do list or take a rest while they’re napping”... psych! Their eyes pop back open the moment they realize they’re being put down, or they wake shortly after.
Why does this happen?
For newborns, the most common reason is their Moro (startle) Reflex. This reflex is usually activated when you place your baby down on their back, which can make them feel like they’re falling . To avoid this: Try placing your baby down on their side first, then gently rolling them to their back while keeping your hand on their chest.
The next most common reason this happens is that your baby most likely isn’t in a deep enough sleep when you’re trying to make the transfer. Between 3-5 months, babies shift from a 2-stage sleep cycle into a 4-stage NREM sleep cycle (just like us!) . When babies only have two stages of sleep, they’re either in light sleep (where they’re easily disrupted), or they’re in deep sleep (where they’re not easily disrupted… and can even be difficult to wake!).
When babies shift to a 4-stage sleep cycle they are spending more time in light sleep, and therefore it becomes more difficult to seamlessly transfer them to their crib or bassinet without any disruption. Also, babies between 3-5 months are becoming more cognitively aware of their surroundings…and more aware of waking up in their crib when they had fallen asleep in your arms. This awareness often leads to waking fully after a short nap or between sleep cycles throughout the night.
The best way to avoid your baby waking when you try to put them down (especially when they no longer transfer easily) is to make an effort to put your baby down fully awake so that they can eventually learn to fall asleep on their own and learn their own individual tools for self-settling and soothing. You can start practicing this as early as the newborn stage and simply consider each try practice! No tears needed.
The most important thing to understand here is that if a baby never experiences falling asleep without their pacifier or being fed, rocked, etc., they won’t automatically know how to get to sleep on their own in the future just because they get older. Some may do it naturally, but many will continue to rely on sleep associations to be able to get to sleep. And there’s just no easy way to tell which babies will do it naturally and which babies won’t. This is why I recommend introducing this concept as early and as consistently as you can!
How Do You Begin to Practice Putting Your Baby Down Awake?
HOW to put a baby down awake might be one of the top questions I get asked on a daily basis! Trust me, I actually thought it was an absolutely crazy idea at first, too. To think that you don’t have to feed, rock, shush, or pat your baby until they fall asleep, then have the crippling terror of trying to put them down without waking them?!
No way that would ever work…right?
I promise I wouldn’t suggest it if it wasn’t possible! When a baby knows how to fall asleep on their own, you can truly place them in their safe sleep space wide awake and they will use their own self-soothing tactics to fall asleep.
Not cry to sleep, fall asleep!
Of course, your baby will need to be close to getting tired (showing early tired cues), but not on the verge of closing their eyes when putting them down (drowsy). Often, when babies are drowsy, they have already begun their journey to sleep which will either lead to them not truly learning how to fall asleep on their own, or they will jolt awake when being set down.
So how can you help your baby learn to fall asleep independently?
- Practice. Babies get used to what they’re introduced to! This is a skill that takes lots of practice, consistency, and exposure. Nothing happens ni one night or one nap and there will most certainly be progress and regressions as you go; but the more they’re given the opportunity to try, the easier it will become.
- Avoid Over-Tiredness. A baby who is overtired will fight sleep and won’t go down easily, so that’s not the best time to attempt this. The best way to avoid an overtired baby is to put them down within their age-appropriate wake window and when you start to notice your baby showing some subtle, early tired cues.
- Consistency. Use consistency when practicing this skill. Practice every night before bed (this is a great time to practice since baby’s circadian rhythm and nighttime routine will already be helping to prep baby’s body and mind for sleep) and if possible, at least one nap a day. I recommend choosing the same nap every day. Again, consistency is key here since babies adapt more quickly when they know what to expect.
- Routines. Routines are a great way to trigger your baby’s body and mind to understand that sleep is coming. Implementing a bedtime routine and a shortened version of that routine before each nap will assist in this process.
And the last important element is to stick to it! Don’t give up. This takes time and commitment but it’s so worth it! If you’re looking for more specific and in-depth advice on what to do once you put your baby down awake in the crib, you can find all of that laid out in my age-based digital downloads.
Here is what I recommend for how long your baby should be awake during the day, depending on their age:
- 0-8 weeks: awake for 45-60 minutes
- 2-3 months: awake for 90 minutes MAX
- 3-6 months: awake for 2 hours MAX
- 6-9 months: awake for around 3 hours MAX
- 9-12 months: awake for around 3-4 hours MAX
- 12-18 months: awake for 5 hours MAX
Want to keep these wake windows handy on your phone? Check out my FREE Sleep Tips Download for children 0-3 Years old for wake windows, nap transitions, & more!
Once you’ve determined your baby’s appropriate wake window, watch for these early tired cues when you’re nearing the end of the wake window:
- Zoning out or losing interest
- Avoiding stimulation
- Red brows or eyes
- Turning toward chest
- Sucking hands or fingers
- Rubbing eye or tugging ears
Again, this isn’t something that will happen overnight, but with the right tools and lots of practice, it is possible for babies or children of any age!
If you’re interested in helping your baby master independent sleep over time with age-appropriate, step-by-step guidance, make sure to explore my digital sleep guides! They include all the tools you need to help your baby become a rockstar sleeper.
Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!
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