Why is My Baby Waking Up as Soon as I Lay Them Down?

baby sleep independent sleep Dec 27, 2021
Why is My Baby Waking Up as Soon as I Lay Them Down?

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Your baby who was once able to easily fall asleep in your arms while being fed, rocked, or held and seamlessly put down into their crib to sleep is suddenly waking up as soon as you lay them down in their crib or bassinet and you’re at a loss for how to help your baby learn to fall asleep on their own

If this does sound all too familiar, here’s what’s going on:  During the newborn stage, babies have just 2 stages of sleep.  Then somewhere between 3-5 months (around the time of the 4-month sleep regression), they experience a huge developmental shift.  Not only do they become more aware of their surroundings, but their sleep stages transition from 2 sleep stages to 4 - just like us! [1]

After your little one’s sleep stages have changed, it can be difficult for them to know how to get back to sleep on their own when they wake between sleep cycles (or if they wake up when you put them down).  Practicing putting your baby down fully awake is key to helping them learn how to fall asleep on their own so they (and you!) can get as much restful sleep as possible. 

Drowsy vs. Awake. Why Does it Matter?

You may have heard of the phrase “drowsy but awake”, but if you follow me on Instagram, you know that I recommend putting babies down completely awake! Drowsiness is the first step toward falling asleep, and if your baby starts to fall asleep in your arms or becomes at all drowsy during their bedtime routine, they will most likely wake up when you lay them down.  You’ll then find yourself starting all over again since they’ve essentially just taken a cat nap! 

Helping your baby to become drowsy or fall asleep may work for a short amount of time, but it will soon become a habit and a prop.  It also doesn’t allow for your little one to learn how to fall asleep independently or discover their own set of soothing techniques.  So If your baby does happen to stay asleep when you lay them down, they’ll most likely still need your help to fall back to sleep when they wake in the night between sleep cycles.

I like to give the following scenario to demonstrate the importance of putting your baby down for sleep, awake: Imagine you are watching TV on the couch, you fall asleep, and when you wake up you’re no longer on the couch, but in your bed.  You’d be wondering how you got there, and it would be difficult to go right back to sleep.  The same goes for your little one! If they fall asleep in your arms being rocked or fed and then they wake up in their crib, they could become alarmed and the experience could be quite stimulating for them. 

“HOW can I put my baby down awake?”

If you’re wondering this same thing, you are not alone, and I have helped countless parents with my baby sleep guides.  

I remember when I was first told to put my daughter down awake I didn’t believe it would work. It seemed impossible. There was no way that I could possibly put her down without feeding, rocking, shushing, or patting her to sleep. Then I tried it.

And, trust me. 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, but fall asleep! This is something that takes practice and exposure, and won’t happen overnight, but the more you give your baby an opportunity to try and to learn, the more natural it becomes.  This is absolutely possible!

Practice Independent Sleep Skills

Now that you know the importance of allowing your baby to develop independent sleep skills, how do you do it, and when can you start?  No matter what age your baby is, you can practice putting them down fully awake! 

Practice putting your baby down awake starting with just a couple of times a day. You can start as early as a few weeks old by putting your baby down for a nap wide awake. If they are not crying or upset, let them figure it out and fall asleep independently. If they start to cry, you can absolutely pick them up!  

Around 3-4 months babies become more aware of their surroundings, so putting older babies to bed awake may be difficult at first, but with lots of practice, it will get easier! 

If your baby is a newborn and waking when you lay them down, they’re most likely in their first stage of sleep (light sleep). [2] Instead of placing them directly on their back after they’ve fallen asleep, try transferring them to their bassinet or crib by placing them on their side and then rolling them to their back gently, so the startle reflex isn’t activated.  

Assuming it’s not feasible to always feed, rock, or pat your baby to sleep for every nap, night, and night waking; it’s important to practice independent sleep habits so your baby can learn how to fall asleep on their own to prevent this.  

“What should I do if my baby doesn’t like their bassinet or crib?”

This is a common and normal issue! The truth is, young babies (newborns especially) really don’t have dislikes, they just get used to what they’re introduced to! So the more you introduce them to another sleep situation, the more they’ll get used to it and become more comfortable with it. Start with practicing just the first nap of the day and bedtime putting them in their crib or bassinet.  If it doesn't go well, that’s ok!  Just keep trying and don’t give up.  Your baby will only get used to sleeping in their own space if they are consistently given the opportunity. 

Consistency is key. Falling asleep independently is possible for any baby or child of any age, with the right tools and lots of practice!  

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or schedule a call with me for some personalized support. 


[1] [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19956/    

Need help transforming your child's sleep? Check out my sleep offerings for children 0-3 years old!


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