baby always wake up when put down

Why does my baby always wake up when I put them down?

It is common that parents come to me because their baby wakes up every time they try to put baby down. No matter how gently, slowly or quietly they put baby down, they suddenly wake up!

It can be so frustrating for parents. It is an exhausting endeavor. Parents work so hard to get their sweet baby to sleep. They finally think they have accomplished the task and then the moment baby’s head and body touch the mattress, they are suddenly wide awake!

“My sound asleep baby seems to KNOW when I have put them down.” I hear this remark from parents on a regular basis.

Well, these parents are correct. Baby does KNOW that you put them down. But how do they know?

How your sleeping baby knows when you put them down 

Your baby is informed by multiple systems and factors when you put them down. Then consequentially, they can wake up from it. 

Vestibular System

The vestibular system is responsible for providing information to our brains about our movement and balance, specifically head movement. Additionally, it provides information about where our body is in space to help us stay balanced and stabilized through movement.[i] A system of organs in the inner ear primarily comprises the vestibular system.

By 5 months in utero, the vestibular system is one of the first senses that is fully developed. Mom’s movements provide sensory information to stimulate the vestibular system and the baby’s growing brain. Our sense of spatial orientation is provided by the information received by this system.

This system knows when our balance is altered or a spatial orientation has changed. Then it tells our brain about the movement.

Proprioceptive System

The proprioceptive system is a continuous feedback loop that between sensory receptors in the body and our nervous system to tell us how our bodies are moving. Proprioception tells us where our body parts, specifically our trunk and limbs, are in relation to other body parts, the rate and timing of movement and the movement of our muscles and joints. [ii]

Your baby’s proprioception is present at birth but is still maturing. As babies are growing rapidly their proprioceptive system is rapidly gaining new information based on the baby’s movements and growth. 

Think about it – if you close your eyes, you still know where your left foot or right thumb are in relation to your other body parts and even in relation to the environment, you are currently present in, even though you cannot see them.

Due to proprioception, we can move freely without having to think about each movement our body makes. Such as walking down the hall – do you think about each movement?

…Pick up my right foot move it 14.5 inches in front by bending my knee and using my quads, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles together to lift the foot. Also, my left foot needs to…

Nope, we just walk.

The mind-body connection

Through the sensory input from their inner ear and the sensory receptors in their skin, muscles and joints, otherwise known as their vestibular and proprioceptive senses, your baby knows where their head, body and limbs are in space and in relation to each other. They also know when their bodies are moving, and when their position has been changed. 

So yes, when you put your baby down, no matter how gently, slowly or calmly, their brains and bodies know you put them down. Your child’s vestibular sense senses the sudden change in position. Through sensory inputs from the skin, joints and muscles their proprioception tells them their body is in a different place in relation to their environment. 

Understandably, a sudden change in position and movement can wake a person up.

baby wakes up when put down

Let’s answer some other questions that commonly come up

Why do some babies wake up when put down and others do not?

Some people are more sensitive to vestibular changes. Think about someone who gets easily motion sick from spinning around twice versus the person who can spin around and around without feeling dizzy or sick at all. 

Why did my baby start waking up when put them down even though they did not previously do this?

Your baby’s vestibular system is mature in utero. However, their proprioception is present at birth but still immature. It is maturing constantly due to receiving more information and input through baby’s movements and growth. As the system becomes more mature and baby becomes more aware of where their body and limbs are in relation to each other, it could lead to baby becoming more sensitive to those movements. Then when baby is put down, it can trigger them to wake up.

Eventually, I am able to lay my baby down while asleep and they don’t wake up. Why does this happen?

Your baby’s body and brain still know that you have put them down. However, after a period of time it is likely that their body’s natural drive to sleep keeps them asleep even through the change in position and movements to put them down.  

What you can do if your baby always wakes up when put down

Your baby’s brain and body are going to know when you put them down. Avoiding having to put your sleeping baby down will help prevent wake ups from being put down. By helping baby fall asleep in their own sleep space, you can avoid the ‘put down’ and the often frustrating process of putting baby down, baby waking up and you starting over with the ‘going to sleep’ process. 

There are many roads to this and many factors involved including what and where baby’s sleep space is (for more on safe sleep guidelines, check this out), how motivated parents are to change their current situation and what parenting values they hold.

Falling Asleep independently

There are many paths to help baby fall asleep independently in their sleep space. However, it can be a confusing venture to determine what is best for you, your baby and your family.

If you want your baby to be able to fall asleep independently, but don’t know how to help them get to this point, reach out. I help families every day go from the frustrating up and down of baby waking up when they are put down to being able to lay baby down and have baby peacefully fall asleep. You can schedule a free evaluation call here for us to learn more about each other and how we can work together to reach your family’s sleep goals.

Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!

Bonnie 


[i] https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/know-your-brain-vestibular-system

[ii] https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00048.2011

18 thoughts on “Why does my baby always wake up when I put them down?”

  1. Hi I would like my 7 month old son to fall asleep on his own, our current situation is during the day he will only sleep in my arms and during the night he will sleep in his crib.

    1. Hi Emilee! Helping him learn to fall asleep on his own in the crib by putting him down awake will help him not wake up when you put him down and will also help him sleeping in the crib during the day if this is your goal. When you put him down awake you can be supportive, responsive and there for him. There are lots of different methods and strategies to do this. I’d love to help. If you are interested in chatting more about how I can help, you can schedule a free discovery call here: sleeploveandhappiness.com/scheduling

  2. Hi, what is the earliest age you can realistically expect to start to teach a baby to fall asleep independently? I have never managed to get me 7wo to sleep without feeding or rocking and she wakes as soon as she is put down. Thanks

    1. Hi Chris! You can really start with independent sleep skills from the very beginning, although it is challenging. At 7 weeks, it is really about getting the timing right so she isn’t overtired and not undertired. Somewhere between 45-60 minutes of awake time so she is right in her sleepy zone and you can lay her down and her body’s sleep pressure helps her fall asleep on her own. The more practice she gets the more she can do it. That being said, feeding and rocking to sleep is normal at this age and she can always learn independent sleep skills later. As far as the waking up when put down, trying to get her drowsy while feeding/rocking and then putting her down while keeping a hand on her until she falls asleep can help. If you have any questions or want to chat more, please feel free to reach out!

  3. My son is 9 weeks old. He seems to have very long awake periods of 3 hours then will nap on me for 2 hours or more 3 times a day. When I try put him in his bassinet, he wakes straight away. I have tried putting him down while fast asleep and while half asleep and then rocking / singing to him to help him sleep. Nothing works – he wakes straight up and is very active with his arms and legs while crying. If I keep trying to settle he gets overwhelmed. If I don’t let him nap on me and keep trying with the bassinet, he eventually gets overtired and then gets very upset while feeding. Not sure what to do!! Any advice?

    1. Hi Lillian! Ugh, I know how frustrating it is when he wakes up every time you try to put him down. You can try for one nap a day (first nap tends to be easiest) to put him down sleepy but awake so he knows he is in the bassinet and soothe him with rocking/singing to help him fall asleep. If he falls asleep in the bassinet, it can help him stay asleep there. He’s still very young so have a few contact naps a day is still very normal and appropriate. Hang in there! If things don’t seem to improve or you keep having more trouble as he gets older, please reach out and we can chat more about how I can help!

  4. Hi, my 8 week old only sleeps for 10-15 minutes when put down but will sleep up to am hour in my laps. So during the day she hardly gets2 hours if sleep.Night time is better she goes 4-5 hours at a stretch. Please help!!!

    1. Hi Grace! Ugh, I know those super short naps are so frustrating but awesome to hear that things are going pretty well at night! Keep in mind she is still very young so some contact naps during the day are appropriate and can help increase the total daytime sleep. You can also try putting her down sleepy but awake and soothing her there if needed to help her fall asleep in her sleep space. This can help her sleep longer there. If things don’t start to improve or you are having trouble getting her to fall asleep in her sleep space for any sleep, please feel free to reach out and we can chat about what is going on and how I may be able to help!

  5. Hi Bonnie – my 4.5 week old hates our beautiful (expensive!) bassinet. 95% of the time he sleeps on us. This includes nighttime which I know is ill-advised. It sucks, but, what’s our other option – he is too young to cry it out or formally sleep train, right?! Once per day, I do “bassinet bootcamp” where we try to get his 90 min nap in there, If I rock him into deep sleep sometimes he will continue that sleep cycle in the bassinet (for about 30 min) but every time he emerges into active cycle, he realizes he’s not in mom’s arms and gets pissed. I pick him up and rock him, stroke his head, shush, etc etc and he sometimes falls back to sleep, but never for more than a few minutes. I want to give uo, but I also DESPERATELY want him sleeping in there at night. i’m losing my mind with the sleep deprivation….any suggestiohns on how I can help him persist through that active sleep cycle?

    1. Hi Katie! Ahh, how frustrating and exhausting. Continue with the bassinet practice, it will help — it can just take awhile to pay off at this age. A few other things to try — make sure he is getting some awake time flat on his back so he isn’t only in the position while sleeping, it can got him used to it. When you know he is about to his normal wake time, you can go in there and try to soothe in bassinet to avoid full wake up. You can also try to soothe in the bassinet before picking him up. While he is not ready for formal sleep training, there are definitely some sleep shaping things we can do to help get him sleeping better and in the bassinet. I’d love to chat more about how we can do that, feel free to reach out if you want to chat about it more! Hang in there! It will get better!

  6. Hi my 5 month old baby boy fights sleep everytime we struggle to get him to nap through the day he falls asleep on his bottle most of the time not sure how to get him to sleep on his own ( we have a white noise machine playing we we try )

    1. Hi Josh! I’m sorry to hear you are struggling with your little guy’s naps. Naps can be so hard! At 5 months between 2-3 hours of awake time is typically what I recommend. There are lots of different ways to help him learn how to fall asleep on his own. The 2 most important things are 1. finding a method or strategy that feels comfortable for your family and 2. being consistent with whatever strategy you choose. When I work with families 1-on-1 I help develop a strategy that fits the family’s needs. I’d love to chat more about what is going on and how I can help get your little one falling asleep on his own. If you are interested please do reach out and we can schedule a call to chat or you can schedule one here – sleeploveandhappiness.com/scheduling Hang in there!

  7. Hi there I have two under 2. My son is almost 2 years old and my daughter is 6 months. Here are our problems with both.
    My son is waking up ever 3 hours for a bottle, he only has one nap a day and it’s anywhere from 1 to 3 hours his bed time is 7:30-8:00pm we have tried everything we can think of and everything we have read and nothing is working.
    My daughter only sleep if she is being nursed and even when she is a sleep ill wait a few mins then lay her down starting with her feet then her back and then her head. Even doing that most of the time she wakes up and starts to cry. My husband or I will let her cry for a few mins then go to her and try to make her stop crying but she doesn’t so we walk out and wait a bit longer each time we go in.
    We ready need some help that doesn’t involve them to crying out because we have older kids that need their sleep for school. HELP

    1. Hi Tanya! Thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry to hear you are struggling with your toddler and baby. It sounds like helping them learn the skills to fall asleep and stay asleep independently will help them both sleep much better. For your son, it sounds like his schedule a appropriate but getting rid of the bottle and sleep association will help him sleep through the night. For your daughter helping her do the same will also help. There are many different options that don’t involve leaving your kiddos to cry on their own all night. However, crying is involved because it is a big change and that is how kids express their feelings about change typically. Working with parents to create a personalize sleep plan that meets their unique family’s needs is what I do. If you want to chat more about what is going on, your goals and how I can help, feel free to reach out or schedule a free call here: sleeploveandhappiness.com/scheduling Good luck! It will get better!

  8. My 9 month old daughter will nap on me but wakes up as soon as I lay her down. I’ve tried the independent sleep, she cries till she makes herself sick. She sleeps through the night but she doesn’t sleep at all during the day. It’s been this way for awhile.

    1. Hi Kayla! Ugh, that is so frustrating when she wakes up as soon as you lay her down and I’m sorry to hear that things did not go well when trying for independent sleep. Since this has been going on for awhile, it sounds like she is overtired which makes working on independent sleep harder. Did you try for naps or bedtime, it often is easier to try at bedtime if you haven’t. How she falls asleep at bedtime will help with being able to put her down at naps. A step you could take to get her used to falling asleep flat rather than being held is putting the crib mattress on the floor and letting her fall asleep next to you. This could get her used to sleeping flat on the mattress and without being held as much, but still the comfort of you being there initially. If you want to chat more, I am confident we can get her sleeping better. Feel free to reach out and schedule a free discovery call if you are interested!

  9. Hi! My 2 years old has never been good sleeping ( apart from with me) we had to do sleeping training when she was 11 months it was horrendous but more or less it worked with ups and lot of downs . But now she has started to walk out of her bed at night. We keep putting her back but she starts shouting and can keep doing it for ages. Plus we have a nearly 3 months old that won’t stay sleeping anywhere but my arms, same she did when young so with my husband working night shifts I am on my own with both and it is being a nightmare. I know the sleeping training we did for her worked at some point but it was too much for me as it meant force her to sleep at times and I had to stick to stay in the house,it was very depressing. Anything for keeping her coming out of her bed? We have tried rewards too b won’t work for long.

    1. Hi Carmen! I’m so sorry to hear that you are struggling with your little ones and their sleep. For your 2 year old, it can be hard to get her to stay in bed because she likely has not developed impulse control yet (typically somewhere between 2.5-3 it starts to develop). I also find that rewards don’t work well in the long term. Helping her feel calm, comfortable and confident in her bed can help a lot. The way to do this is through connection. Things such as a new lovey that is special from you or used to be yours, a picture of the two of you taped to the wall next to her bed, making one of your old t-shirts into a pillow case or taking a picture of her once she is asleep and showing her in the morning to show her you check on her when she is asleep can help bridge connection through the night and help her stay in her bed easier. At her age it can be really tough, but doing some of these things plus staying consistent with putting her back into her bed calmly will help. It just may take awhile unfortunately. If you want to chat more or troubleshoot, feel free to reach out and we can schedule a free call!

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