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How to Put Your Baby Down Without Waking Them Up

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Photo: Halfpoint (Shutterstock)

My three children were each difficult to get to sleep, for different reasons. One would never fall asleep in a crib, only with a parent. The others fell asleep more easily, but if you were holding them at the time, good luck getting them into bed without waking them up. Now, a group of scientists has tested a walk-and-sit method they say may be the best way to get a crying baby to settle down, fall sleep, and stay asleep.

None of the components of this method will sound groundbreaking to caregivers, but the way they combined them is, I have to admit, a sequence I don’t think I ever tried in this exact way. (By contrast, fellow Lifehacker writer Rachel Fairbank says this method is pretty much exactly the way she used to put her baby to bed. Some of us are just slower to catch on, I guess.)

Here’s the procedure. You start with a crying baby.

  1. Walk around with the baby until they stop crying. Within about five minutes, they should fall asleep.
  2. Here is the critical part: Sit down with the baby for five to eight minutes. This allows them to settle into sleep while they’re still in contact with you.
  1. Then put them down in the crib.

The researchers admit that their study “is exploratory and needs confirmation,” so nobody is promising this is a magical spell for sleepytime. But it fits with several observations they made and that most caregivers of babies would likely agree with:

  • Humans (and other animals that carry their young) have a “transport response” that soothes babies when they are being moved around.
  • Crying babies pretty reliably fall asleep when you walk around with them. (Happy, alert babies do not.)
  • Babies wake up when that they notice they are being separated from their caregiver.
  • Putting a baby down “either interrupts or deepens” their sleep.
  • Babies enter a stage of deeper sleep about five to eight minutes after first nodding off, making them more likely to stay asleep when you put them down.

Put all this together, and it suggests that the walk-then-sit protocol should have a pretty good success rate. Note that it’s for crying babies, not alert ones, so it may not be the thing to count on for your regular bedtime routine.

It also probably goes without saying—but I’m going to say it anyway—that if your baby has a reason to cry, you should take care of that first. If they’re hungry or in pain, they won’t necessarily nod off for the night just because you walked around with them. But if your kids tend to get cranky and cry when all they need is a nap, this may be worth a try.

   

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