Desperate to establish a nighttime routine with your little one? It can be harder than it seems, and every child comes with their own personality and unique set of challenges, each of them bursting with individuality. While this is an exciting time for new parents, it can also be equally exhausting, taking a hefty toll on your family’s quality of sleep.
If you think mastering the delicate act of putting your child to bed is what dreams are made of, you’re not the only one. Read on for our expert tips on what to do if your baby cries when being put down to sleep.
Why Does Your Baby Cry When Put Down to Sleep?
A crying infant at bedtime is a common challenge that can be due to a variety of reasons, so it’s helpful to know what could be going on in order to solve the issue.
Your child may begin to develop some separation anxiety when they’re around 10 months old. Around this time, babies develop object permanence1, which is the ability to understand that a particular object or person exists, even if that individual or item isn’t within eyesight. For parents, this means your baby now knows you exist, even if you exit their bedroom. However, they can’t understand where you are, which upsets them. These behaviors typically subside around 18 months but sometimes persist longer.
Let your baby take the lead. If they crawl into another room and it’s safe, consider letting them explore on their own for a bit so they grow comfortable being alone with the assurance you’ll always come back. Additionally, try to leave them during a time when they're relaxed or content, such as after they’ve eaten or napped.
One of the most common reasons infants cry is because they’re hungry2. While they’re young, babies haven’t yet developed other effective ways of communicating, so crying is their primary strategy to alert you of their needs.
A great way to combat nighttime hunger is to feed your child right before laying them down. Just as adults feel drowsy after a big meal3, newborns do too and will likely struggle to keep their eyes open. With their basic needs taken care of, your child could have an easier time going to sleep.
Lack of Routine
Most of us need regularity to feel safe and secure in the world. The vast majority of people function with a higher level of assurance when they have an established routine4 and know what to expect, and this includes babies. Despite being only months old, your newborn baby’s brain is astonishingly intelligent and can adopt habits, including latching on to a familiar routine. In fact, A 2016 study5 shows that bedtime routines lead to fewer night wakings in both infants and toddlers.
When a child has no clear expectation regarding when they can anticipate their next nap or meal, they could grow agitated, as a lack of routine can lead to distress.
Learn more: Parent's Guide to a Child's Sleep
How to Put Your Baby to Bed Without Crying
If you’re struggling to soothe a baby who cries when being put down for bed, don’t worry; most new parents share this experience — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Read on for eight ideas on how to put your baby down in peace and avoid a meltdown.
1. Establish a Routine
Most infants always want to snuggle with their parents if they can get away with it, but naturally, some chores (or other children) need tending to as well. Establishing a routine can be the most prominent solution to calming your baby.
If a baby can begin to associate certain signals, such as storytime, nursing, and a bath, with bedtime, they will likely go to sleep more easily5. Babies will be inclined to rest happily and relax with ease with the assurance that they know what to expect.
Want to know more? Check out our guide for baby bedtime routine.
2. Read a Book
If your baby is fussy when you put them down, consider reading a book together before a nap or bedtime. Reading to your child6 is beneficial at any time of day, as it helps them build language skills, along with teaching them empathy and promoting a parent-child bond. Merely listening to the sound of a parent’s voice is reassuring, and this quality time could help you establish a stronger bond and comfortable routine.
Additionally, a 2021 study7 found that reading before bed improved people’s quality of sleep compared to not reading before you go to sleep. So, reading to your little one before bed can have added benefits.
Learn more: Reading Before Bed – 8 Common Benefits for Your Health and Sleep
3. Baby Massage
Gently massaging your baby’s body may sound novel, but it’s a clever method for comforting a crying child, especially if your little one enjoys physical touch.
Massaging your child before bed not only relaxes them, but according to the Center For The Advancement Of Health8, studies have shown that a massage may help increase bonding with caregivers and the production of melatonin, which promotes the development of their circadian rhythm and regular sleep.
Getting a baby to sleep on schedule is not an easy feat, so you may want to try this technique if your little one is crying before bedtime.
Getting a baby to sleep on schedule is no walk in the park, and this is an excellent trick to have up your sleeve during a rough moment.
4. Bath Time
When comforting a fussy infant, it’s easy to forget their needs often aren’t that much different than our own. When we’re stressed, we need something to help us relax, and a warm bath could do the trick. Warm water is soothing and can help you sleep better, according to a study published in 20199.
We usually treat a bath more like a necessity to maintain hygiene, but taking the time to let your little one unwind and enjoy the water can ease them into a calmer state and prepare for bedtime.
5. Nurse Your Baby
It’s not uncommon for a baby to fall asleep while nursing, as they’re content with a full belly. However, if nursing your baby before bedtime is heavily incorporated into their nighttime routine, they could become dependent on this to fall asleep. Aim to feed them until they’re drowsy, but not yet asleep, so they don’t fall into a habit of dependency.
Another technique is what’s called a dream feed10, which is when you feed your baby after they’ve fallen asleep (while taking appropriate measures) to ensure their stomach is fuller longer, enabling them to sleep through the night.
6. Swaddle or Wear Your Baby
Swaddling your baby11 is when you wrap your baby up in a small blanket, like a burrito. This technique is comforting for them, as it mimics the environment of the womb and keeps them warm, both of which can help them sleep11.
If you want to know more: Sleep Sack or Swaddle Blanket – Which One Should You Get for Your Baby?
7. Try a Bouncer or Swing
Rocking a baby is soothing and is one of the most common methods for calming your little one, causing them to stop crying and doze off to sleep. One study12 found that the rocking motion mimics stage two of the sleep cycle, which is right before we enter deep sleep. During stage two, there are brain oscillations that the rocking motion mimics, which relaxes the body before REM sleep12.
So, if you place your baby in a bouncer or swing, which uses a rocking movement, your baby will likely be soothed to sleep. These baby accessories rock your baby for you, so you can have some time to yourself without a baby in your arms.
8. Let them Cry it Out
As parents, it’s natural to want to protect our children from harm and soothe them when they’re upset. Depending on your approach, it may feel cruel or harsh to let your child “cry it out,” while others may be comfortable doing so. The Cleveland Clinic13 says the cry it out method “means you do not just answer their crying call as soon as it goes out. Instead, you give them an opportunity to independently work it out and nod off.”
If this baby is your first child, you may be going in to check on them every ten seconds, and if it’s your fourth, 10 minutes may not seem like much. There are many different sleep training techniques ranging from a more gentle to a more firm approach, and there are benefits to each. You know your child’s needs and the right method will depend on what’s best for you both.
Need more info? Learn how to gentle sleep train your baby using proven strategies.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is PURPLE Crying?
PURPLE crying14 is a developmental period from anywhere around two weeks old to four months old where a baby cries more than usual.
PURPLE is an acronym that can help you remember more about this developmental period14:
Peak of crying – This is likely when your baby will cry the most in their life.
Unexpected – Your baby may randomly start crying.
Resists soothing – No matter what you try, your little one will likely continue to cry.
Pain-like face – Your baby might make a face as if they’re in pain, even though they’re not.
Long-lasting – Your baby might cry for hours and hours on end.
Evening – During the evening, your little one will probably cry more than earlier in the day.
When do babies learn to sleep on their own?
Each baby comes with their own set of joys and challenges; what is easy for one infant may prove challenging for another. Every parent’s approach will vary when adjusting to their child’s particular needs.
In research, it’s been shown that most little ones have the capacity to sleep independently15 starting around four months old. However, how quickly and easily your child falls asleep will vary, so don’t be discouraged. Every parent goes through this, so know you’re not alone.
Should I let my baby cry themself to sleep?
As mentioned, the cry-it-out method can be done in different ways, and it’s totally up to you as a parent if you want to try it. If you’ve attempted everything else to get your baby to sleep, you may want to try letting them just cry themselves to sleep; they’ll eventually get tired and doze off.
With a new baby, every day is full of surprises, and why they’re crying is no exception. If you’re already a parent, you know that putting a kid to bed is no walk in the park.
In hopes of easing the transition into parenthood, we have plenty of resources created specifically to help new parents navigate this journey; deciphering your little munchkin’s individual needs takes a tremendous amount of love, patience, and sometimes a little help.
Adjusting to your child’s needs will inevitably require a bit of trial and error, and that’s simply part of the fun in getting to know this tiny new person. Fortunately, every parent is experiencing something very similar with their baby, so lean on others in this exhausting time of your life. Remember, sooner rather than later, your little one will be sleeping through the night.
- Infant Sleep Regressions: What’s Myth, What’s Fact, and How to Cope
- Is Your Newborn Sleeping Too Much? Here's What You Need To Do
- 6 Reasons Why Babies Hate Their Cribs
- Why Do Babies Fight Sleep – 6 Ways To Help Your Little One
- Baby Sleeping On My Chest – All You Need to Know
- Mcleod PhD, Saul. “What Is Object Permanence According To Piaget?”. Simply Psychology. Last modified June 16, 2023. https://www.simplypsychology.org/object-permanence.html.
- “Baby’s Hunger Cues”. U.S. Department of Agriculture WIC Breastfeeding Support. Webpage accessed July 27, 2023. https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/babys-hunger-cues.
- “Tired After Eating? Here’s Why”. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/tired-after-eating/#:~:text=%E2%80%9COftentimes%2C%20when%20you're,to%20a%20decrease%20in%20energy. 2022.
- “Health Benefits of Having a Routine: Tips for a Healthier Lifestyle”. Northwestern Medicine. Last modified December 2022. https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/health-benefits-of-having-a-routine#:~:text=An%20effective%20routine%20can%20help,to%20relax%20and%20less%20anxiety.
- Mindell, Jodi A., Leichman, Erin S., et. al. “Implementation of a nightly bedtime routine: How quickly do things improve?”. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0163638316302028. 2017.
- Sheldon-Dean, Hannah. “Why Is It Important to Read to Your Child?”. Child Mind Institute. Last modified January 19, 2023. https://childmind.org/article/why-is-it-important-to-read-to-your-child/#:~:text=Reading%20to%20young%20children%20is,once%20they%20get%20to%20school.
- Finucane, Elaine., O’Brien, Ann., et. al. “Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep in comparison to not reading a book in bed? The People’s Trial—an online, pragmatic, randomised trial”. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8740874/. 2021.
- “Massage Helps Infants, Mothers Get Good Night’s Sleep Together”. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/12/021218075244.htm. 2002.
- Haghayegh, Shahab., Khoshnevis, Sepideh, et al. “Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis”. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1087079218301552?via%3Dihub. 2019.
- “Healthy Sleep Habits for Kids with Dr. Vaishal Shah”. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/podcasts/health-essentials/healthy-sleep-habits-for–kids-with-dr-vaishal-shah. 2019.
- “How to Swaddle Your Baby”. Pampers. Last modified September 6, 2020. https://www.pampers.com/en-us/baby/sleep/article/how-to-swaddle-a-baby.
- “Rocking motion improves sleep and memory, studies in mice and people show”. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190124110844.htm. 2019.
- “Is It OK To Let Your Baby Cry It Out to Sleep?”. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/cry-it-out-method/. 2022.
- “How to prepare for purple crying”. Sanford Health. February 22, 2023. https://news.sanfordhealth.org/childrens/prepared-for-purple-crying/.
- Paul, Ian M., Hohman, Emily E., et al. “Mother-Infant Room-Sharing and Sleep Outcomes in the INSIGHT Study”. American Academy of Pediatrics. July 1, 2017. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/140/1/e20170122/37986/Mother-Infant-Room-Sharing-and-Sleep-Outcomes-in?redirectedFrom=fulltext.