Looking down at your little angel, warm, fed and sleeping peacefully in your arms, you silently edge forward towards the warm, soft mattress. Oh so gently you lay your precious bundle carefully down, slowly easing your hands from his warm little body.
Or is it? His eyes spring open and before you have even taken your first step towards the door, that familiar cry rises up, as your baby signals desperately to be back in your arms.
A familiar story to many parents, and often the cause of much angst and concern. But why do our babies want to sleep on us so very much, and what should we be doing about it?
The first thing we have to understand is why our babies wake as soon as they sense they are no longer in our arms, and the answer is actually very simple. He has spent the last nine months or so warm, safe and attached to you for every single moment of his existence. It is all he knows, and the only place our babies, as helpless and dependent beings, can feel safe and secure. When they are placed down alone, their instincts scream loudly at them that something is terribly wrong, and they in turn communicate this panic to you. This is not a case of a spoilt or “over attached” baby – It is thousands of years of finely tuned evolution, and this instinct to be safe within a parents arms is precisely what has ensured our survival up until recent years.
There may not be wolves roaming around trying to gobble them up, and our central heating systems will likely prevent them from freezing to death, but our tiny babies, driven only by instinct do not know this. As far as they are concerned, they are in great danger when left alone, and they feel utterly safe and protected when they are with you.
Being close to a parent is not only a design of our species to prevent being picked off by predators. Keeping your baby close has numerous other benefits too, such as regulating your baby’s breathing, stimulating breast milk production, ease of feeing on cue before the baby becomes distressed, and as a result, reduced stress levels in both mother and baby. These babies really know what they are doing!
So know that when your baby demands to be in your arms, it is natural, healthy and completely reasonable behaviour, and there is nothing to be concerned about.
The next question is what should we do about it?
And the answer is, there is no need to do anything. This is a habit that given time, your child will grow out of all by themselves. If you are happy as you are, it is perfectly OK to continue on enjoying those sleepy cuddles.
If however, you are struggling to get on with your day and want your arms free once again, there are some things you can do.
One is to invest in a good quality sling to carry your baby. You can pop your baby on your front, hip, or my preferred method of on your back, and this will enable you to continue on with your activities while your baby snoozes happily with the sound of your heartbeat in her ears.
For a newborn I would recommend a stretchy wrap such as the Boba wrap, or a woven wrap such as an Ellaroo or Didymos, though there are many wonderful brands available. As they grow, a soft structured carrier such as an Ergo, is my preferred method, though you could continue to use a woven wrap for several years. (Please note, I make these recommendations based on my own experience of using many different carriers and slings with my own son, and I am not getting any compensation for sharing them with you.)
The other thing you can try as your baby gets older, is to lie down with them as they go to sleep and gradually over several weeks or even months, move further and further away from them until they are comfortable to be left alone. You will likely find you have to come back several times to feed or comfort them back to sleep, but this will diminish over time as they learn to relax, and trust that you will always come when they need you. The older the baby, the easier this option will be, and I personally would not recommend leaving a child under the age of six months alone to sleep.
This stage may feel as if it will last forever, but in no time at all you will look back in wonder at how quickly it passed. Focus on enjoying those snuggles with your lovely baby. You won’t regret it!
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