You’ve just come to the end of another long, fulfilling day of parenthood with your little one – but for them, it’s time to start making some noise! Having a baby who cries when put down can be frustrating, but there’s a lot you can do to solve this issue.
As every parent can tell you, babies cry all throughout the day for a myriad of reasons, and it tends to be pretty helpful in terms of helping you know when to feed them, change their diaper, or fulfil other needs before they can verbally communicate.
However, when your baby’s crying as soon as they’re put to bed, it can feel demoralising – especially when all you want to do is fall asleep yourself! Here, we’ll go over the main cause of this common parenting problem, and a few different routes you can take to get your baby to stop crying when put to bed.
Understanding separation anxiety
Let’s start by looking at the root cause of this problem in most cases: separation anxiety.
To begin, it’s important to remember that your baby feeling some separation anxiety isn’t just normal, but a good sign that they’re developing healthily. Most babies start to experience separation anxiety as they’re approaching their first birthday, and sometimes as early as four or five months, as this is also the period when they start to develop object permanence.
This is the ability to understand that people and objects still exist even when we can’t sense them – for older babies, this can cause distress, as they aren’t sure where you are and are starting to consciously miss you at night! Here’s what American Academy of Pediatrics member Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson has to say on the topic:
Separation anxiety develops after a child gains an understanding of object permanence. Once your infant realizes you’re really gone (when you are), it may leave them unsettled.
Although some babies display object permanence and separation anxiety as early as 4 to 5 months of age, most develop more robust separation anxiety at around 9 months.
The leave- taking can be worse if your infant is hungry, tired, or not feeling well. Keep transitions short and routine if it’s a tough day.
So, if your baby starts to get upset when they’re being put down into their bed, buggy, or baby carrier, don’t be too concerned – many babies go through this phase, and it’s totally normal!
Other reasons why babies cry at night
There are some other less common factors that can compound crying at night too, and it’s important to identify that your little one isn’t fussy at night for a health related reason.
For instance, excessive crying and screaming all day and night without obvious medical symptoms can be a sign of colic, while crying and reaching for one side of their head might suggest an ear infection.
You know your baby best – if it seems like your baby crying could be a sign that they aren’t feeling quite right, then you should speak to your pediatrician for advice.
Baby cries when put down – 5 ways to calm them
So, you’re dealing with a fussy baby who cries whenever you put them down to sleep because they feel unsettled without you being there with them. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to handle this problem that don’t have to involve having your baby strapped to you for the rest of your life!
Establish consistent sleep patterns
When it comes to taking care of babies, consistency is key, particularly when it comes to sleep and combating separation anxiety. After all, your baby’s main worry when they’re falling asleep is that they won’t see you again – which is flattering, but not too helpful when you’re trying to help them snooze!
If you make sure that your baby is falling asleep and waking up at the same times every day, they start to make associations and understand not just that it’s time to go to bed, but that you’ll be there for them again in the morning when they wake up.
If you want to know how much sleep your baby should be getting each day and see an example of a typical sleep routine for babies of all ages, check out our blogs on sleep schedules here!
Create a soothing bedtime routine
In the same way that adults like to unwind before they go to bed, many babies need a little time to relax and calm down before they fall asleep.
Not only does this help to reinforce their sleep schedule, but it can also make your baby feel more safe and secure, a feeling which they will then (hopefully) start to associate with being put down to sleep independently.
Lots of parents find that a soothing warm bath before bed can help to settle their little one, especially if it’s followed by a short bedtime story and a quick cuddle and kiss before they’re left to snooze.
Others might have special songs they like to sing or little private rituals – it’s all unique to your family, so choose the routine that suits your baby best.
Start sleep training
Once your baby is over four months old, you can start using a sleep training method of your choice to help your little one learn how to self soothe and stay asleep through the night.
There are lots of sleep training techniques out there that vary in the ‘gentleness’ of their approach, so it’s up to you to pick one that suits your family best.
The word ‘gentle’ here usually refers to whether or not you’re using a no-cry or cry it out method – while the techniques themselves vary, these are the two main categories.
For instance, you could try the less gentle Ferber method, which involves leaving your baby at night for increasingly long stretches of time, or something like the pick up put down method, where you put your baby down once they’ve fallen asleep and pick them back up when they wake again.
Here’s Dr. Wendy Nash speaking to the Child Mind Institute about the importance of choosing a sleep training method that works for your family:
Once you’ve decided to go the sleep training route, it can be a challenge to parse all the different methods out there. In general, they all offer ways to modify your child’s sleep behavior to ensure that the child gets a healthy amount of sleep—and the parents stay sane.
And, as Dr. Nash points out, what method you decide on will depend on a host of factors, including age, personal beliefs, and the child’s patterns.
“I would highly recommend that parents evaluate any sleep advice with their own feelings and intuition,” she says. “I think it’s when parents go against their intuition that they become stressed, angry, frustrated with the child.”
In addition, “what worked in one developmental phase may not and is almost unlikely to work in another one,” Dr. Nash warns.
Take care of yourself
Having a baby who won’t go to sleep when you put them to bed can be a difficult experience, especially if it leads to you and your family members experiencing sleep deprivation.
In fact, a recent study has shown that new mothers are sleep deprived for an average of six years after having a child, and as well as impacting their ability to care for their children, it can take an enormous toll on their mental and physical wellbeing.
Occupational therapist Ashley Patek from Generation Mindful discusses her own experience of being a sleep-deprived mom below:
At times I have felt like an empty shell, a mom-zombie walking around reacting to the people I love most, and then feeling guilty about it, not understanding why I am so triggered by things that wouldn’t normally tip me off. But there it was, sleep deprivation. It’s hard, no matter how it’s served.
Up every two hours …
Having little ones slipping into your room two … three … four times a night …
It may all feel hard.
Feeling that anxiety settle in when you’re scared to close your eyes, knowing that when you do, you’ll be woken again … yea, that feels hard, too.
I have realized that sleep is a need. And not having it is a trigger for me. When it’s lacking, I find it harder to pause before I react to my children’s behavior … harder to validate emotions … harder to be the parent I want to be.
But here’s where something special happens … the realization that part of parenting is releasing perfection. When I am sleep-deprived, I am truly doing the best I can at the moment. And I have an opportunity to share my feelings, set boundaries, ask for help, delegate, and, if needed, model to my children how to repair when I have exploded.
If you’re struggling to feel yourself, make sure to reach out for help from those around you, whether that means having a friend watch your baby while you take a nap or having a relative move in to help carry some of the burden of new parenthood.
Most importantly, if you need help, don’t see it as a sign of weakness – you’ve got this, and your baby will eventually start snoozing through the night.
Try Zen Sleepwear
The main skill that your baby needs to develop to overcome their separation anxiety is the ability to self soothe – and our Zen Sack can give them a helping hand!
With gently weighted Cuddle Pads placed strategically to mimic your soothing touch, this sleep sack is perfect for babies who have outgrown swaddling but who still need a little extra comfort when falling asleep.
Here’s what Zen Mom Elisa R. has to say about her experience with the Zen Sack:
I bought this at a desperate moment around 3:30 in the morning when our six month old wasn’t sleeping well. The reviews are spot on.
As soon as this bad boy arrived, we wrapped our little one up and we’ve been on consistent sleep since then!
The weight is just right and she loves the freedom of the space. I now need to buy another one for back up.
Helping you and your baby sleep
Crying babies come with the territory of being a parent, but no matter how often it happens, it’s never easy to handle. Here’s a quick summary of the tips we’ve gone through in this article for if your baby cries when put down:
Use an age-appropriate sleep schedule to establish a sense of routine
Create a soothng bedtime routine that suits your family
Choose (and stick to) a sleep training method that works for you and your baby
Try Zen Sleepwear for a little extra comfort at night
Know that you’re not alone in this
Just remember during these more anxious phases where your baby’s temperament can affect their (and your) ability to sleep that it will get better with time, and that there’s loads of methods out there for you to try in the meantime.
You’ve got this, mama!
Commonly asked questions about babies crying when put down
Is it ok to put a crying baby down?
It can feel difficult putting a crying baby down to bed – after all, no parent wants to feel like they aren’t supporting their child’s needs. But if you’re already sure that they’re fed and changed, and that they aren’t crying because of an illness or injury, putting them down to sleep while they’re still crying is completely safe, and won’t harm your baby.
Despite this, if you find it distressing or unhelpful to use a less gentle sleep training method that requires you to leave your baby to cry it out, you can try a different method such as the pick up put down technique that doesn’t involve as much crying.
Why does my baby wake up every time I put her down?
When you’re wanting to help your baby sleep through the night, one of the main tactics parents use is to put their little one to bed while drowsy or already snoozing. But sometimes, this doesn’t quite work, and your little one may wake up crying due to feelings of separation anxiety when they realise that you’re leaving the room.
In addition to soothing your baby with a cozy routine before bed and using techniques like sleep training, our Zen Sleepwear can help your baby self soothe and stay asleep after they’ve been put into their crib.
Our Zen Sack is perfect for babies too old to swaddle but who still need a little extra comfort to sleep independently. With gently weighted Cuddle Pads that are carefully placed to mimic the feeling of being held by a parent, and made from soft, breathable cotton, the Zen Sack is the perfect sleepwear for babies who fuss before bed.
Should I pick my baby up every time he cries?
Deciding whether or not to pick up and cuddle your baby at night when they cry is tricky, and entirely up to you and your style of parenting. While some prefer to let their baby cry it out to teach them independence, others prefer a gentler approach and continue to comfort them when they start getting fussy at night.
Whichever method you decide on, the important part is sticking to it – changing a sleep training method midway through can seriously disrupt the routines you’ve previously set in place, and many take a long time to show results, so stick at it as long as you can!
How do I make my baby comfortable being put down?
If you find that your baby’s crying when you put them down to bed, there are plenty of tricks you can try to help them calm down and fall into a deep sleep.
Making their sleeping space a relaxing place to be can make a big impact, especially if you live with lots of other people or in a noisy city. For instance, you might want to try a baby-safe white noise machine to block out noises that could be stressing them out, and installing blackout blinds to prevent any wakeups from blaring lights or sun coming in through the window.
You can also soothe them before bed with a calming routine to get them in the mood to snooze. It’s up to you what this includes, but many parents like the classic method of bath time and a bedtime story to get their little one feeling sleepy and secure.
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