After what feels like an eternity, finally, your baby is asleep, and you can lay them down and have some uninterrupted time for yourself (or time with your partner) — at least for a little while. Of course, as soon as you lay your baby down (who was sound asleep), their eyes pop open and your eyes lock. Ugh. Why do babies wake up every time you lay them down? Should you run? Dive-roll onto the ground so they can’t see you and sneak out of the room so they fall back asleep? You’ve always wanted to be a ninja.
But before getting into all the acrobatics of sneaking out of the room (because let’s be honest, they usually cry anyway when they realize you’re not there), there are reasons why your baby wakes up every time you lay them down. And, thankfully, there are ways to prevent this from happening until your baby is in elementary school.
"Babies usually wake up when they are laid down because of a change of environment. They go from being snuggled in a parent’s arms to a cool mattress or surface," certified sleep consultant Christine Stevens with Sleepy Tots Consulting tells Romper. I mean, it makes sense.
But child sleep consultant Tonja Bizor has another reason behind this behavior — babies who don’t have self-soothing skills to put themselves to sleep will often wake up, too, especially during naps or at night, because they depend on a "prop" to go to sleep. "A prop can be a bottle, breast, pacifier, rocking, or mom and dad," she says to Romper, suggesting that this is the main reason your baby wakes up when you put them down.
How can you prevent your baby from waking up as soon as you put them down and rid them of needing a prop? Birth and postpartum doula Liza Maltz says that because babies have a startle reflex, swaddling helps a lot. "It cocoons baby while giving hips and arms freedom to move inside the swaddle. When the baby is in the swaddle, the startle reflex is subdued," she tells Romper
According to Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist in Denver, you should develop a nightly routine of bath, books, dimming lights, and putting the baby down the same time every day (for a nap) or night (for bedtime). He tells romper that putting them in the crib when they’re getting sleepy, instead of when they’re already asleep, will help with them not waking up from being put down, and the baby can practice self-soothing to fall asleep. Stevens agrees, saying that it helps to allow children to fall asleep in the same place you want them to wake up. "If they sleep in a crib or bassinet regularly, they should fall asleep in it," she says.
Dr. Eleonora Kleyman, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente suggested in an email interview, "One tip to prevent the baby from waking up when you put them down is to wait 20 minutes after they fall asleep to place them into a crib, because it takes about 20 minutes to fall into a deep sleep." "Another tip is to make sure infants are not awake too long, because they get overtired and then have trouble settling down enough to fall asleep," she says.
Need another way to get your little one ready for sleep? "Skin-to-skin contact helps soothe the baby before bedtime and helps mama and baby bond to set a flow for breastfeeding," Maltz says.
Bizor named some boundaries to help your baby gain healthy sleep habits as well, and also suggests a bedtime routine that’s about 20 to 30 minutes long, because it creates predictability for the baby and sets the expectation that sleep time is coming up.
"Do the same routine at the same time in the same place, and set up an early bedtime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.," she says. "Children are early risers and in order to get them sleeping 12 hours a night, parents must get them to sleep early. You also should never skip naps because sleep begets sleep, and a skipped nap or interrupted night’s sleep can have an effect on your baby for the next 24 hours." Basically, you get a really cranky baby.
Bizor also notes that if you’re feeding your child as part of their nighttime routine, which is usually when they’re 1 year old and younger, you should keep it "low key" and keep the baby awake during the feeding before you lay them down. "They can be drowsy, but not asleep," she says.
If you don’t nip bad sleep habits in the bud when they’re babies, it unfortunately can seep into their childhood as well. "It actually gets worse as the child gets older because they are heavier and tougher to transfer to the crib," Stevens says.
Bizor agrees. "Sleep can resolve itself at 12 months of age and if it doesn’t, it is recommended that parents intervene to help the child. But sleep problems can take three to five years to resolve, [and] who wants to wait that long before they and their children can get a good night’s sleep?"
Nobody wants to wait that long, that’s who. While every baby is different, take solace in knowing that if your baby wakes up every time you lay them down, it's pretty normal behavior. You don't have to panic either; there are ways to help prevent it from happening all the time and ease your kid into having good sleep habits.
Plus, nobody will judge you if you still totally want to roll out of the room like a ninja so your baby doesn’t see you.
Christine Stevens, certified sleep consultant with Sleepy Tots Consulting.
Liza Maltz, birth and postpartum doula, founder of Birth Your Own Way Doula Services.
Tonja Bizor, child sleep consultant and owner of Tonja B.'s Sleep Consulting.
Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist in Denver.
Dr. Eleonora Kleyman, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente.