This is probably a classic but here goes. Some time between midnight and three my 9 month old will wake crying. Often he is hungry or has gas and can be fairly easily consoled and falls asleep in our arms once his needs have been met.

However, on many occasions, no matter how long we wait or how deeply he appears to be asleep, the instant he "touches down" on his bed (or sometimes a few milliseconds before), he will arch his back and begin to cry. After that there is nothing to do but to pick him up again and he will frequently fall right back asleep in our arms.

What's up with that? Is it time we take the shards of glass out of his mattress? (just kidding - I'm tired and feeling a little punchy).

When he first falls asleep for the night the Devil's orchestra couldn't wake the little sack of potatoes, but once he transitions to REM stage we go through this circus act. Not every night - some nights he will sleep straight through from 8:30 till 6:30. But on the "bad nights" we might be up for a couple hours doing the "putting himdown" song and dance.

I guess I want to get some opinions on "how the heck does he wake up instantly the moment he touches his bed?" and "why?" before moving on to what could be done.


I'm answering my own question 4 years after the fact because I had the recent opportunity to think back on this and wanted to capture those thoughts.

Eventually things worked out. It was many months, but sleep habits formed and everyone ended up getting their much-needed rest. In the meantime, here's what worked:

Reduce the % change in environment.

Basically, I tried to make sure that there was as little change at once, with pauses in-between. This translated to a fairly drawn out process, but anything was better than being up all night. In order to reduce the % change, I had to add a bunch of stuff that could be kept constant. Noise, lighting, temperature, etc. because of course physical contact and orientation were going to change as soon as I put him in the bed.

  1. Noise: create a white noise environment that will not change when you put the child down - be aware that the sides of a crib can alter the frequencies that hit the ear, so be mindful of your sound source and how it sounds above the bed (where you'll be rocking the child) and inside the bed.

  2. Humming: add your own noise (humming or singing) to the mix. This is a good one because it maintains your presence, and (more importantly) can be tapered off gradually (sing quieter and quieter)

  3. Light: be mindful of how any ambient light can be occluded by the sides of the crib - and possibly register on the child's eyelids. And don't forget your own shadow.

  4. Orientation: you need to gradually move the baby into the exact orientation (in your arms) that the child will be on the bed. So figure out how you need to hold the child when being laid on the bed and maneuver him/her into position in your arms. Cribs with deep sides are killer because you have to really bend over and that can mess up your back. Don't let the child roll when you lay them down! Be prepared to stay leaning over the crib with the child still in your arms, but touching the bed for agonizing periods before you remove your hands / arms, which changes body heat

  5. Body Heat: blankets and swaddling are key here as they insulate the child from y our own body heat and there's less of a temperature drop when you extract yourself.

  6. Don't leave yet! If by some miracle you've extracted your hands, stay where you are! Keep everything else constant - your humming, the white noise, the light, and your presence.

  7. Ninja-like exit. Practice your exit - two steps max if you have creaky floors. I had it down to two steps, a pivot and close the door in under 2 seconds. When you're ready to go for broke and you've followed all the other steps slowly, get out of there in a (soundless) flash.

  8. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Ritual is the key. The more you do everything exactly the same, the more smooth the process will be.

  9. Stay calm. Agitation is the worst. You know those nights you REALLY just need the baby to settle down because you have to get some work done, or go out, or just get to sleep? That's the night it will take THE LONGEST! So just be calm. I got to a point where my inner monologue was "hey, enjoy it. You get to be with your baby just the two of you. These are precious moments. Besides, what else am I going to do with my time? This is what I was made for..." I'm not sure I bought my own propaganda all the time, but, 4 years later I can still look back at all that with fondness so I can only conclude that A) it WAS actually precious and special and rare and B) you forget the bad stuff and remember the good - as do your kids - and that's why the human race has not died out.

  • Mine did that too, but at that point we had her in our bedroom still (in her own crib). As soon as we moved her out to her own bedroom (7 mos.), she cries for about 10-45 secs and then falls asleep. Doesn't wake up middle of the night either since we moved her out.
    – Swati
    May 17, 2011 at 14:06
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    This too shall pass. Happened to us as well. Just persevere.
    – Kzqai
    May 17, 2011 at 15:23
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    Tom, I hope somehow you get a notification and answer this now 4 years after you posted it. We are in the exact same predicament as you were. Truly this is the only thread I've found that describes our son's sleep to a T and your parenting style seems to line right up with ours, too. He's 12.5 months old now. How did you overcome the touch down wakes?
    – user17629
    Aug 17, 2015 at 15:24
  • @LeighAnne funny, I was having this conversation with my son (the one from the post) last night as I was reminiscing about the troubles I had getting him to sleep. The conversation came about because he told me candidly "Daddy whenever you take me off my bed I wake up." He was referring to his situational awareness of touch and orientation, even in sleep. That comment alone makes me believe it's "hard-coded" in some people.
    – Tom Auger
    Aug 18, 2015 at 18:11
  • @LeighAnne I just added an answer to my question that might help: parenting.stackexchange.com/a/21707/711
    – Tom Auger
    Aug 18, 2015 at 18:28

9 Answers 9


You didn't specify how you put him to bed, so here are a few suggestions. I think the infant will feel abandoned if you just put him down without a word, and then simply remove your hands, and then leave the room. I don't imply that you do, but it's a contrast. Have you tried to:

  • Make soothing sounds ("sssshhhhh...") before, while, and after you put him down, so he can hear that you're there.
  • Move yourself and your child slowly, carefully, deliberately, lovingly. Not to avoid waking him, but to convey a calm and quiet impression with your moves.
  • Make the transition from "held" over "touched" to "alone" a soft one. When he is lying on the mattress, keep touching him softly. Just a calm, flat hand lying softly on the chest or back. Slide slowly toward the feet, slowly removing the pressure. Avoid touching his hands; that might signal a desire for interaction.
  • Take your time putting him to bed. The entire act could be done in just a few seconds, but you could also stretch it over a whole minute or more. Slow, deliberate, soft.

I've also learned that sleeping children are very sensitive to their inner gyroscope. Rotations along the lengthwise axis (head to feet) are agreeable, but rotations across that axis (from vertical at your shoulder to horizontal in your arms/on the bed) is not agreeable. So make such rotations slowly.

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    Hey Torben, thanks for the great answer. We're still navigating the murky waters of how to help him get to sleep on his own in bed. We've read some of the literature on this and realize that his current pattern of falling asleep in our arms may not be the best one. You comment about the "inner gyroscope" is fascinating. Do you have any references where I could read more about that?
    – Tom Auger
    May 17, 2011 at 12:55
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    @Tom, my wife told me the gyro thing; she's a physiotherapist with a special focus on the balance organ of the ear... I could send you her thesis but it's in German ;) I have no idea where to find public information in English. Sorry! May 17, 2011 at 13:28
  • I suppose pitch sensitivity may also due to the fact that their neck muscles aren't fully developed, so sudden movements might be dangerous. Hence they are extra sensitive in order to train us parents to be careful. :)
    – Macke
    May 20, 2011 at 16:43
  • nah, they remain sensitive even later. May 20, 2011 at 19:15
  • I have read that there is a motion detector that triggers when a baby is lowered back first into the crib - they feel like they are falling which wakes them up. Personally I've had some success lowering our children into the crib sideways and rotating them (along the long axis per @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun's answer) at the last second. Another alternative, given that it only happens in the middle of the night, maybe the baby is simply cold. In that case, it would help to turn up the thermostat or get a safe space heater for the baby's room.
    – stannius
    May 13, 2015 at 22:14

My daughter is starting to do this as well and some babies do it more than others. They just feel safer (fetus position in your arms), warmer and the parent's breath or balancing movement make your infant sleep very deeply.

Now putting him/her on the bed suddenly after having enjoyed his/her parents' arms will make the baby wake up for sure. He is now flat on a "harder" surface, a lot cooler and there's no balancing or parent's heart beat. (maybe you got him used to it everyday since he was born)

When my daughter cries when I put her in bed, I make sure to let her know that I am still here next to her and make the bed move while talking to her (we have a special bed that we can balance). With a soft reassuring light in the room, I just need to wait for her to calm down and sleep again.

Sleeping time should come with a ritual that you repeat everyday at the same time. What worked for me is to first feed her, change clothes, put her in bed and play a little, talk to her/put some music and let her fall asleep quietly. (kiss her good night and say bye-bye) Make sure there's no tv or other noise in the room and turn on a soft light.


After the last meal of the day we use this kind of pillow:

enter image description here

It's only slightly inclined and is comfortable for the back but it is not soft like our pillows. (babies need to sleep on a moderately hard surface to develop back and neck muscles) It's especially useful after the meal since it prevents the baby from chocking if he rejects some of his food. We try to remove it when the baby is fully asleep though. (because he has more chance to fall on the side when moving)

It is strongly recommended by doctors in France to use this kind of pillow to avoid suffocation by regurgitation after the meal. My daughter used to regurgitate when sleeping and in a flat position it is extremely dangerous. It is also recommended for babies with respiratory problems.

Obviously, don't use the frightening pillows you can find in beofett's link below...

  • Thanks a lot for this. Lots of good ideas that we will try to incorporate.
    – Tom Auger
    May 17, 2011 at 12:56
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    happy to help. Don't give up or lose patience if that doesn't work on the first few days.
    – user896
    May 17, 2011 at 13:09
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    @Beofett It's a medical pillow. In France most doctors recommend it to avoid Sudden Infant Death or other regurgitation problems. As you can see it's not the same product as the ones in your link... at all... It's hard, no bolsters, fits the mattress perfectly and doesn't move. I can see that in America you don't have this product yet. (I could only find pillows with side bolsters or very high pillows) The one I have is about 5 centimeters high at the top which is the perfect height for our baby, perfectly safe and approved by french paediatricians. Please verify your facts before downvoting
    – user896
    May 18, 2011 at 3:03
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    @repecmps if you read the announcement, it advocates against use of all pillows and sleeping wedges. While I agree that yours is better than the ones pictured, and it certainly is better knowing that you try to remove it once the baby is asleep, the downvote is not for advocating the pillow, but rather not making clear the risks associated with them. Your edit helps, but it would be better if you cited actual sources. My facts are "verified" because there is an actual link to a document by a reputable body of professionals.
    – user420
    May 18, 2011 at 13:47
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    "It is strongly recommended ... to use this kind of pillow to avoid suffocation by regurgitation after the meal... in a flat position it is extremely dangerous." Further reference material: "There is no evidence of an increase in aspiration or increased complaints of vomiting since the incidence of supine sleeping has increased dramatically" and "there has been no increase in infant deaths attributable to aspiration in the United Kingdom with the change from prone to supine sleeping for infants." aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;105/3/…
    – user420
    May 18, 2011 at 14:52

Children (humans for that matter) are all sensory based beings. Changing from a parent's embrace to a bed is a major change in sensory experiences. Specifically, the smell, temperature, density/softness, body orientation, and touch/texture are different. These changes stimulate most of the 7 sensory systems in the body (vestibular, proprioceptive, olfactory, tactile, visual, taste, and auditory sensors). Stimulation increases alertness which translates to awake or even startle and discomfort for some children.

Some children (including my son) have difficulty fully integrating the combined information from all these systems resulting in great difficulty self-regulating or calming themselves when becoming upset. He could never "cry it out" though at the physician's directions we let him cry for hours until we learned about his sensory integration/processing deficits.

The challenge is to reduce the differences a child experiences during the transition from arms to the bed. Or, at least maximize calming sensations that reduce his "alarm" or "arousal" system. Calming strategies include calming sounds/noises (a sound machine, fan or even humidifier motor can work), rhythmical movement (bouncing, rocking, patting), deep pressure and warmth (swaddling, heavy cover, bunching arms/legs close to body), darkness (my son was photo sensitive and awakened when lights were turned on in distant rooms), and smells and textures (a piece of my silky gown provided the comforting scent and texture - for others silky binding on a favorite blanket works).

You keen observation and following your child's led will give you the answers you are searching for and help you understand just what makes your child unique.

  • Outstanding post: thanks for all the great info!
    – Tom Auger
    Aug 1, 2011 at 2:50

There are obviously different schools on this. I suggest you just put them in their bed and let them work it out. This has been suggested to me by my elders, and despite some obvious hesitation that comes with this "brutal" approach, it has worked fine the few times I've tried it, as a last resort, initially. It might even take an hour initially, but the time will quickly decrease.

If the baby is quiet and happy in your arms, you have fed it well during the day, you have re-changed it, and checked the bed, then it's obviously well and healthy, and it's a matter of getting used to the bed or the room. By taking it out of the bed "on demand", you are not teaching it the right lesson, and you are not making either of your lives better. The rule I've been told is, once the baby is in the bed, don't take it out unless to change it or the bed is on fire.

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    Your last sentence is a bit hardcore :) but I like the general idea. May 20, 2011 at 7:11
  • Hi Peter, thanks for the opinion. As Torben mentioned in another comment, it looks like the attachment parenting debate rages on. There are plenty of pretty big names in pediatry on both sides of that fence - I don't dare go there myself!
    – Tom Auger
    May 25, 2011 at 3:00

We had similar issues as above, in addition to having a problem where both our kids had some issues sleeping on their backs. Part of it may be allergy related, the older one shows this more now, but whenever they got flat on their backs they woke up almost immediately. We started tilting the crib just slightly, maybe 5 degrees on an incline with the head up, or stacking the mattress so it was the same (which we were more comfortable with) and they stayed asleep fine.

Making sounds as you do anything is good, my wife and I do this anytime we move or touch the kids when they are asleep...especially when bringing them in from the car.

  • Thanks Michael. Our guy almost certainly has allergy issues (is eczema can get bad and that apparently is an indicator). I'll look into how we can add a little incline to the bed - though he's a toss-and-turner so I would worry that he'd end up "upside-down", which would be an even worse disaster.
    – Tom Auger
    May 17, 2011 at 13:00
  • Ours were too but they were ok with a slight incline, you don't need much just enough to offset the "gyroscope" but torbeng noted. Now I'm glad to know the name!
    – MichaelF
    May 17, 2011 at 14:21

The gyro thing that @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun mentions, I think, is related to the Moro Reflex. I have a variation on Torben's technique. While the baby is in your arms, first rotate the baby so that she is on her side. Slowly put her down in the crib, and then very slowly rotate her until she is on her back. This works for me pretty nicely. Hopefully this will help other parents out there.


Actually, in my experience babies wake up like this because you've forgotten some other need that still needs to be met. I've always gone with the three-item checklist, just in case:

  1. Hungry.
  2. Wet diaper.
  3. Pain.

Usually waking up immediately after being put down means you've forgotten one of the first two, rather than the third one, because if he's fallen asleep on you in spite of his teething or gas pain, then he'll be fine sleeping anyway. Especially at this age, the baby knows that putting him down in his crib means that it's time to sleep for the rest of the night. If he's truly tired and all his needs are met, then he'll just think "oh, I'm in bed, time to go to sleep", but if he wakes up right away it's more like "Aaah! Hey daddy, you forgot something! I can't go to sleep now!"

Should all that fail, just take him to bed or sleep on the couch with him. Whatever works, works. Sleep is pretty much more important than anything else, both for parent and baby.

  • Thanks for the comments Ernie. I alway worry though about taking the "easy way out" - ie: taking him to bed or on the couch; my fear is that this just reinforces the association with Mom or Dad and sleep. I'm more inclined to believe that you need to be extremely judicious in your use of these "extreme measures" and move instead toward teaching the child to get to sleep on his own. I just haven't found a way to do this with my guy because he's not the kind of kid that will fall asleep after a few seconds / minutes of crying.
    – Tom Auger
    May 19, 2011 at 10:35
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    @Tom, that reinforcement can be desired, if one subscribes to the "attachment parenting" philosophy that has been mentioned in other posts. Some parents encourage that, others (like myself) don't - but perhaps it's something to make a conscious decision about? And then some infants might actually have their own opinion on this, which must be taken into account. May 19, 2011 at 10:48

We had this problem too for a long while, and our daughter just plainly refused to sleep in her bed. If she was deeply asleep and we were really careful we could get her to sleep there, but she would scream the instant she woke up.

This more or less stopped by itself at the same time as we stopped the breastfeeding. Now our daughter even will stretch towards the bed while falling asleep as an indication that it's time to not hold her anymore.

So although I can't really answer the "why", it might be worth a try to just share your bed with the baby for a couple of months, and try again later.

  • Thanks Lennart for this perspective. At what age did your daughter seem to "take" to the bed? My guy is now pushing 10 months and it seems to be getting worse, not better. We probably just made things worse as recently he was ill so we had him sleep in our bed for four nights in a row. My fear is that he got used to that and now we've got some unlearning to do...
    – Tom Auger
    May 25, 2011 at 2:56
  • She was around 13 months. And yeah, not being consistent can mean you have to "start over". :-) May 25, 2011 at 5:02

You are an anchor in the world for your child. Everything else is changing and moving, which is great, that's what life is, but you are always there, a safe harbour whose plain presence is the most assuring thing in the world.

And then you took that small human and thrown him into a jail. Sure, it looks like a children bed, but for all practical purposes it's a cage.

And you wonder why does your child try to get closer to you :(. He/she desperately tries to keep the contact and feel the warm of your skin. And you came to the internet to ask how to make him/her not want to be close to you.

Children have a need for closeness of parent, it's a developmental epoch in their life. As they grow older, they disengage, but please do not force them.

Our 1.5 yrs old daughter sleeps with us in the bed. Few months ago she didn't like the idea of sleeping in a children bed just next to the bed (it's fun place for a 5 min play, but you aren't keeping me locked here, riiight?), so we didn't force her.

Now we tried taking off the side of her bed, and putting it side by side to ours, so it's basically one flat area where she can move freely, to her or our bed, and she responded by enthusiastically taking a camp there - that's when I knew it's the right time.

Now she sleeps sometimes in her bed, sometimes on out part and on most nights moves close to us throughout the night :).

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    Thanks for adding your answer to this question, though I would have appreciated a little less judgement/guilt in your language and a little more facts in your answer. Having said that, we still have frequent "visitors" to our bed, and I have the bruises to prove it, (3 years after I posted this question), so we probably share the same philosophy deep down.
    – Tom Auger
    May 20, 2014 at 19:09

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