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I have an 11-month-old son. Sometimes, particularly when he's very sleepy, he will fight to get out of the arms of whoever is holding him but the moment he is put down he starts screaming and crying. Is this something that many babies do? If so, does it mean something in particular? What can I do to make him happy when he seems explicitly opposed to both being held and being put down.

  • My daughter does this. She's only calm when a) we're holding her and b) she's facing out – Jared Smith Jul 29 '16 at 19:03
  • LOST has taught me that Swaddling may help if you can of course. – Howdy_McGee Jul 29 '16 at 21:37
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    @Howdy_McGee By 11 months, swaddling should long have ended. – user2338816 Jul 30 '16 at 5:12
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    Try to get her to sleep before she is too much sleepy or cranky... She is sleepy and tired and can't explain what she wants. – Zeina Aug 1 '16 at 5:16
  • Surprised no one has mentioned this yet... Invest in a good swing. – Lindsey D Aug 1 '16 at 5:22
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Babies are not good at figuring out what is bothering them -- simply that something is. Being tired, in particular, leads to a general crankiness that is difficult to alleviate. Since your son doesn't really understand that simply falling asleep will help him feel better if he's tired, he starts "complaining" in general.

I am unhappy. It must be the way I'm being held. {struggle}

But once he does get away, he's still dealing with that previous discomfort and now he's lost a source of comfort. So he'll cry more:

Wait, this is worse. I am even more unhappy! Hold me!

(Repeat that cycle until the parent is also exhausted and cranky.)

You can try shifting positions, rocking/bouncing, having a different adult hold him for a while, let him lie down while you rub his back or stomach (so you're still present and soothing)... but those may or may not be effective. Unfortunately, nothing beyond falling asleep for a while will ultimately make him happy.


And see this related question as well: Why do babies fight sleep and how to calm them down?

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    This is one of those things where the solution is different for every kid. For my daughter, it turned out that humming was the thing that calmed her down. – Scribblemacher Jul 29 '16 at 17:18
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    True -- experimenting to find the right combination(s) for a child is important. – Acire Jul 29 '16 at 19:30
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    “Babies are not good at figuring out what is bothering them…” adults as well… Speaking of which, I need to go shopping right now to make me feel happy! – JakeGould Jul 31 '16 at 20:05
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Yup, it's normal.

Basically, he feels rubbish because he's tired. So he's struggling and crying because he doesn't know how to stop feeling rubbish, and is trying to find a non-rubbish position. But he likes being held, so when you put him down, that's worse.

It doesn't help that for small children, sleep is basically terrifying. One second you're being cuddled by Dad feeling a bit rubbish and the next, everything's changed and you're in your cot, which is nice and all, but it's not cuddles, and is thus inherently inferior to cuddles. So he's struggling not to be in the sleep position.

One thing to double check is that they don't have trapped gas, especially if they've just had a feed. One massive belch and suddenly the crying just stops.

Beyond that, just get them to sleep (one of our most popular tags). I've found singing and swaying to be the most effective solution, but it all boils down to giving them a routine that they identify with "and then suddenly everything blinked and I felt better", so they fall asleep happily. Hardening your heart to the point where their tiny tears have no effect doesn't hurt either.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    "It doesn't help that for small children, sleep is basically terrifying" and "Hardening your heart to the point where their tiny tears have no effect doesn't hurt either" are assertions that need substantiation. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jul 29 '16 at 16:47
  • @anongoodnurse: Tell me you cannot reach back far into your childhood. – Joshua Jul 30 '16 at 23:01
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    "and thus inherently inferior to cuddles" bwhaaha! Great wording, I approve! – Ender Jul 31 '16 at 8:27
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    It's pretty clear that this is colloquial knowledge, not scientific; when it's clear all their creature comforts have been met and they're just being fussy non-sleepers, you don't panic or stress over the stream of tears and just override it with an insistent routine, showing total calmness and purpose. As for "sleep is terrifying" I think the answerer just means their self-soothing is very much under development and this is indeed well-known. – BaseZen Aug 1 '16 at 3:40
  • @BaseZen Thanks for interpreting correctly! – deworde Aug 1 '16 at 10:30
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Try holding him face down, resting on one of your arms. His legs would be on either side of your elbow, with your forearm and hand supporting his stomach, chest, and (depending on his size), possibly his head. Of course, make sure he is being held securely, perhaps with his side against your stomach.

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Some babies easily become over-tired and need to be distracted or comforted in certain ways in order to fall asleep. Learning about the baby's schedule and optimal times to drive a routine around are important to do but sometimes you miss the best time to get them ready for bed or a nap and you have an overtired kid.

Two types of comforting that helped my kids when they were tired and cranky were being swaddled and being bounced gently (or stimulated through movement in some other way). These things are particularly good strategies for younger babies but hey, if you need it and it works go for it.

One of my favorite methods, particularly late at night, was to sit on one of those large exercise balls with a pillow on my lap (a nursing pillow works great) and lay the baby down and gently bounce up and down until they fall asleep. This was much easier to do for longer periods than walk around the house holding the baby. Also, I got numerous seasons of TV shows watched this way so it fairly easy for me to do. Once asleep I would move the baby to a crib or a nearby couch and sit next to them. Once deeply asleep they were easier to move to bed.

Depending on the size of your baby this might be a tad harder at 11 months but could be worth a shot. Of course other kinds of rhythmic motion can work to like rocking chairs etc.

If your baby was breast fed or held in a breast feeding position when bottle fed the position of being on your lap turned in towards you can add just that little bit of comfort.

Swaddling can also be helpful, I think our kids were swaddled to around the one year age. If you haven't done this or don't know how I would recommend looking into it, it can be very soothing to a little one when done right.

  • +1 The fit ball bounce put my little one to sleep many a times. – AerusDar Aug 1 '16 at 7:09
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My checklist:

  1. Feed him.
  2. Bathe him (hygiene and calm down)
  3. Massage him (to release gas and further calm down AND check for rash & wounds)
  4. Check the temp (his temperature AND ALSO the house temperature, can't sleep if it is too hot)
  5. DRIVE - Any child under 5 years will sleep on a comfortable car - I don't know if it is the boring situation or the humming/vibration of the engine.

Once sleeping tight, the child can be taken back to the house. This is not a remedy, but a temporary solution for the parent(s) to get over this phase. Once the parent(s) get over the stress, these things get easier. Also, may not work for all the kids, but most anyway.

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Mine was a great baby and would only fuss when tired, hungry, uncomfortable (clothes, cold etc) or sick.

Unless there are health issues at play, just offer a bottle etc. and try to take a nap or go to bedtime. With mine, I would just lie her down and drape my arm over her so she wouldn't squirm. Along with blanket, etc. It took a few minutes usually to stop crying and then not long after that she would be asleep. Sometimes worse than others.

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Some of this is a variation of other comments but the importance of music cannot be overstated. He can tell when it's cheap new-agey stuff or electronic dumbed-down lullabies (I imagine :-))

What works for us is classical and folk music videos, especially Spanish guitar; rhythmic bouncing and body tapping; and my tone-challenged vocal jazz improvisations (been doing it since birth, so...)

(Really, I think he picks up on what I appreciate and wants to like the same.)

Also I think his own movements keep waking him up, so with a body hug, I control his limbs to be folded in and immmobile as long as they're not flailing hard.

I let him choose his angle depending on fatigue level, and gradually lay him flatter.

Total darkness sends the message there's nothing left to see here.

Nursing on a sippy cup of warm milk (of course he'd rather nurse) to make sure there's no remaining pangs of hunger.

All these work for me and never fail to impress my wife. I have to be flexible about combining them.

Music is just amazing -- find out what he likes.

-- another Daniel

  • can somebody please explain why this was down voted? – BaseZen Aug 3 '16 at 16:53

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