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Why your baby wakes: 6 reasons why your baby wants to sleep on you

New moms notice that their baby sleeps well on them but as soon they they put them down – they wake up immediately. I am frequently met in my dm’s with moms asking – Help! my baby only wants to sleep ON me! what am I doing wrong?! They refuse to sleep independently and i’m SO tired and need to do things around the house.

Does this sound familiar?

Help! My baby cries every time I try to put her in her the bassinet!

Baby sleep expertise from an actual child mental health specialist.

My baby will only sleep 30 min on his own but for two hours if I hold him, why?

I can’t put my baby down, ever! Is my baby broken? what am I doing wrong?

As much as it might feel at best like an inconvenience, and at worst like you’re doing something majorly wrong, this is all normal infant behavior. This is the beauty of Mother Nature working at its absolute finest. And here’s why.

The first three months of a baby’s life, post-birth, are known as the Fourth Trimester, a continuation of the gestation that happens in the three trimesters of pregnancy. Think of it as a crucial period where your newborn is continuing to develop and adapt to their new world, and for that they need you

Your beautiful baby has just spent nine months in a world that was dark, warm, and confined, where they were continuously fed and held. Their home was lovely and soft and warm. 

Then they are born into a world that is bright, noisy, airy and with varying temperatures (much of it cold and hard), with lots of stimulation, where they feel hunger and separation. It’s no wonder they protest and cry, right? It’s no wonder they want to be held close, warm and fed and comforted. As far as they are concerned, you are still home. 

This makes total sense from a biological perspective:

Human infants need constant attention and contact with other human beings because they are unable to look after themselves. Unlike other mammals, they cannot keep themselves warm, move about, or feed themselves until relatively late in life. It is their extreme neurological immaturity at birth and slow maturation that make the mother-infant relationship so important. The human infant’s brain is only about 25% of its adult weight at birth, whereas most other mammals are born with 60-90% of their adult brain size. The young of most other mammals become independent of their parents within a year, whereas humans take 14 to 17 years to become fully developed physically, and usually longer than that to be fully independent.

Exactly why, your baby wants to sleep on you
  1. It helps to regulate their body temperature.
  2. It helps to regulate their breathing.
  3. It gives them more opportunities to relax into sleep.
  4. It reduces stress in both you and baby. 
  5. It calms them down and reduces crying.
  6. It helps you both to bond. 

It is this understanding that is the key to your relationship now. Seeing things from your baby’s perspective (empathy) will help you to surrender to this new way of navigating these early days.

OK great Valerie, you say, but I also have housework to get done, or other children to take care of… I hear you, mama. It IS hard. The thought of sitting on your couch for two hours while your baby naps on your chest may seem impossible – BUT could you see it as an invitation to rest and take a much-needed break? The housework can wait. How can you make this time enjoyable? Perhaps you put on your favorite podcast, read a book, zone out to Netflix, chat to other mamas in your favorite responsive, gentle or respectful parenting group, or catch up on my blogs! 


Here are some coping strategies to make your days with a baby who will only sleep ON you, a little easier:

Baby wearing: If you simply can’t manage to sit down, baby wearing is an absolute lifesaver. Check out your local baby wearing group to find the right carrier for you and your baby, so that you can get things done around the house while they are snuggled up nice and close. 

Support: Get your partner in on this – can they finish work a little early some days to take over some snuggle time? 

Inform yourself: While you’re nap-trapped, read up on normal biological infant sleep to reassure yourself even more that you are doing the best possible thing for your baby right now. 

Bedsharing: If you cannot stay awake during this kangaroo-care time, learn how to safely sleep together. If you are breastfeeding, the side-lying position on a firm surface could be the ticket to some extra ZZZs for you at the same time. 

Hobbies: Are you a crafter? Get to work on some knitting while you are confined to the sofa.

Special basket of toys: If you have a toddler at home with you, try to create a little basket of special toys that are only brought out at this time. It doesn’t have to be fancy and could even be a collection of things from around the house (like paper towel rolls, spatula, squishy ball). You can have a box of these toys stashed away somewhere so you can rotate what’s in there, keeping it fresh and interesting. 

I hope this has reassured you that your baby is not broken, they are absolutely and completely normal, and by holding them close, you are doing the best thing you possibly can for both them and for you. These days (and nights) can be so tough, but you are stronger than you know. 

Do you want to do your best to get your baby’s best sleep, while accepting what is biologically normal? Enroll in Baby Sleep Essentials now or contact us for support.

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