Your baby finally fell asleep in your arms. But the minute they touch the mattress, their eyes are wide open, asking, "what are you even trying to do?"

You searched for hours to find the perfect crib. Only to use it as a storage place for your clothes. The crib ad clearly showed a perfectly sleeping baby IN the crib, but now all your little one wants to do is sleep in your arms.

Whenever you are trying to put them down. BOOM. They are wide awake. Latest after 5 minutes.


I know it's tough. This is not the baby sleep behavior you expected. And you are exhausted. And also a little bit obsessed about the fact that your baby wakes every time you put them down. I get it, it's frustrating. And I want to help you.

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What you first have to understand is that this is completely normal baby sleep behavior. There is nothing wrong with your baby. They don't have a sleep problem or are overly attached to you. You did not teach them any bad sleep association like sleeping in your arms, and it is definitely not because they cannot self-soothe. I know many people will tell you otherwise, but it is not true. They come out of your belly already being like this! They have it in their DNA.

Sleep training where your baby is left to cry is not the solution to this normal kind of infant sleep behavior. I am not saying that you shouldn't help your baby with independent sleep at all. Including healthy sleep habits is always helpful. I am just saying that there are several reasons why your baby wakes, and one general solution will not do it for all "sleep problems". Especially when it involves unattended crying or forceful separation.

Reasons babies wake when laid down

Yes, there are magic babies that fall and stay asleep in the crib for hours. But I can guarantee you that most babies don't do this.
But I am not here to simply tell you that it's normal and you have just to wait it out. No, I will give you some helpful tips on how your baby can get used to the crib over time while also trying to help you not stress about it too much.

There are several reasons why babies wake when they are put down. But as your baby gets older, this behavior will resolve itself. I have carried my toddlers out of the car seat, taken off their clothes, wiped their noses, changed their diapers, and then put them into the crib without waking them. And yes, they would only catnap as young babies.

Your little one will also go through several significant milestones. Sleep regression, separation anxiety, and leaps can intensify this behavior and affect daytime sleep in general.

So here, we will take a look at the different causes and possible solutions you can try to help your baby stay asleep in the crib.

Related Article: Help! My Baby Is Only Napping for 30 Minutes!

Evolutionary Behavior

Cause: It seems as, in today's modern world, we try to fight the natural behaviors and urges that we had as human beings for millions of years. And waking is one of them. Your baby's natural instinct is to wake when put down. They feel they are secure when they are with you. When they are alone in their crib, they are an easy target for predators. They are designed to sense when they are alone. It is a survival mechanism.

Solution: Maybe I shouldn't have started with this one because there is not much to do about this other than embrace it. What you, however, always can do is to build trust and give your little one the feeling of security. Your child's independence is built through a strong attachment, not forceful separation. So the more you answer your child's need, the more you are actually helping them grow into an independent and confident little person.

Startle Reflex

Cause: All newborn babies have the Startle reflex, also known as the Moro reflex. It usually disappears in the first 4-6 months. The reflex causes your baby to suddenly extend their arms and legs as an involuntary response to sudden noises or movements. Especially when you lay your baby down, they can experience a sudden falling sensation which triggers this reflex. Then the abrupt motion can cause your baby to wake.

Solution: Until the Moro reflex disappears on its own, you can use a swaddle or a sleeping bag to restrict the sudden movements. Also, when you put down your baby, make sure to keep them very close to your body until the very last moment to prevent a sudden falling sensation. Even remove your hand very slowly. Removing it too fast can trigger the reflex as well.

Change Of Environment

Cause: This especially applies to babies 3 months and older. Your baby gets more aware of their surroundings and where they are. So if they fall asleep in your arms and then slightly wake only to discover they are somewhere completely else, it can wake them (and obviously want to return into your warm arms).

Solution: There are two things you can do. First, you get them used to the crib as a familiar sleeping space. Even if your baby wakes after you put them down, try it over and over. They will get used to the crib. You can also put them into the crib when they are awake for about 10 minutes or as long as they are happy, so they can learn it is a peaceful place. The second thing you can do is to put down your baby into the crib when they are almost asleep. No, I am not talking about drowsy but awake. I am talking when your baby is closing and opening their eyes, and they are on the verge of falling asleep. Then you put them down. They will most likely be too tired to wake and then fall asleep in the crib. This way, they will get used to falling asleep already in the crib instead of your arms. It may not work every time, and you may need a few attempts. But keep trying. It's a good way to get your little one used to falling asleep there.

Light Sleep

Cause: During sleep, we traverse through different sleep cycles. The first sleep cycle of an infant is the lightest sleep stage. During this phase, they still have some kind of awareness of their surroundings and are very sensitive to surrounding noises or outside disruptions. Even slight movement or temperature changes can wake them.

Solution: It can help to wait for up to 20 minutes with a crib transfer. After approximately 20 minutes, they are in deep sleep. You can check this by lifting their arm and letting go. They should be weightless. Another good indicator is if you can remove the pacifier easily. You can then try to transfer them into the crib.

Tummy Troubles

Cause: Tummy troubles are not uncommon with newborns and young babies. Their digestive system is not fully developed, and their stomach needs to get used to processing food. Sometimes babies will also suffer from trapped air in the stomach. When they have fallen asleep and cannot remove the air, they might feel discomfort that wakes them. The same goes for babies with reflux. The milk keeps coming up after feeds making it hard for them to sleep.

Solution: Not every baby experiences tummy troubles. Some babies don't need to burp after a feed, some do. If you notice that your baby arches their back or smacks their lips when you lay them down, they might need to release air. Try to burp your baby thoroughly after each feed. Sometimes babies will not burp immediately. You also want to feed them about 20 minutes before a nap if your little one has trouble with reflux. Hold your baby in an upright position before you get them to sleep.

It can be hard to be nap trapped all the time. Nap time is supposed to give you some time to breathe. But once you understand the causes behind this normal behavior, you hopefully can better cope with it. And implementing some of our tips every now and then will help your little one get used to another sleeping space beside your arms in a few weeks.

Until then, think of it like this:

Your baby would rather be with you than sleep. Even if they're dead tired.

So keep a snack, a drink, your phone, and the remote close by just in case your little one decides they would rather nap on you. With patience, love, and assurance, your baby will get there!

Note: Whenever you are co-sleeping with your baby, make sure to implement safe sleep practices to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

why babies wake when put down