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Encouraging Your Baby to
Sleep Outside Your Arms

QUESTION: I have a six-week-old baby. He is most comfortable sleeping in our arms. Once he is asleep, we try to put him down in his crib or bassinet. He notices this change in environment and wakes up quickly. He has never been able to go to sleep on his own. This makes the nighttime especially difficult for us. What can we do?

ANSWER: Your newborn is quite bonded to you. He is following his natural survival instincts to remain close by: It is all he can do to ensure his safety. As a conscientious parent, you should congratulate yourself on tuning into his cues. But it is time for a change and this time you are the leader.

Consider transitioning your baby from your arms to his bassinet with a song you begin singing while he is laying on you. Continue to sing this song as you lay him in his own bed. Your continuous singing will occupy his auditory sensory channel, leaving him more mesmerized and less likely to attend to his kinesthetic sensory channel. In other words, he may stir, but the sound of your continuous voice and placing a hand on his back for one minute will likely calm him. He will learn comfort from your soothing voice and warm hand.

Gently remove your hand, but keep singing softly to him. He may indeed stir again, even begin to cry. If so, place your hand on his back again, but do not pick him up. Repeat the process. Continue to sing to him after he calms down.

This strategy may work immediately, if his protestation is weak. But if he breaks into a full, lusty cry, you may need to pick him up in your arms and soothe him again. If this is necessary, pick him up, continue singing or speaking soft reassurances to him in your arms. Hold him only until he is calm, then quickly return him to his bassinet. It may take two to three times, but your gentle firm insistence will get the message across that it is safe for him to sleep in his own bed with the security that you are nearby.

In the unlikely case that this does not work, repeat it at two months of age when he is likely be more accommodated to his new environment outside the womb.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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