How many times have you rocked your baby to sleep, only to have her wake up crying within seconds of laying her down in her crib? Perhaps you’ve even resigned yourself to the idea that, if your little one is ever going to stay asleep, you’re simply going to have to hold her.

Most of us enjoy letting our baby sleep in our arms once in a while. It’s a wonderful bonding moment, and there’s just something wonderfully satisfying about watching our baby sleep, knowing that she is drawing comfort from us. Unfortunately, since newborn babies sleep up to 16 hours per day (and even older babies sleep 12-13 hours), letting baby sleep in our arms all the time simply isn’t a serious option.

So, what can you do? How can you help baby to stay asleep when you lay her down? The answer is surprisingly simple in most cases: Wait until she’s actually asleep.

We’re not talking about light sleep. We’re talking about deep sleep. And in most cases, it’s only a matter of ten to fifteen minutes difference.

Adults and children of all ages go through periods of light and deep sleep. What makes babies different is that they alternate sleep stages more rapidly. Whereas an adult will stay in a state of deep sleep for a couple of hours at a time, babies generally stay in deep sleep for about 40 minutes, and alternate deep sleep stages with 10-20 minute periods of light sleep.

Many of us, especially after we’ve spent what seems like forever getting baby to sleep in the first place, want to lay our baby down as soon as we’re sure she’s asleep. Unfortunately, that’s often before she’s sleeping deeply enough to stay asleep through the movements it takes to lay her down. The result? Baby wakes up and cries.

You’re much better off to continue holding or rocking your baby another ten minutes or so until she’s really zonked. But don’t watch the clock to tell when it’s time to lay your baby down. Watch your baby. Here’s what you’re looking for to show you that baby is in deep sleep:

  • Baby stops making noises.
  • Baby stops moving arms and legs.
  • Baby is breathing more deeply.
  • Baby’s muscles are limp and relaxed.
  • Baby’s eyelids are not fluttering.

When you see that baby has moved into deep sleep, give it about two minutes, then lay her down in her crib or bassinette. Expect baby to go through another period of light sleep in 40 minutes to an hour. When she does, singing softly to her or rubbing her gently will often help her to stay asleep.