How To Put Your Baby to Sleep Drowsy But Awake

How To Put Your Baby Down “Drowsy but Awake”:

  1. Start with the right mindset, it may be helpful to nap before bedtime
  2. Support your baby to sleep, this is where it’s tricky because holding a sleeping baby can be super sleep inducing to the adults holding them 
  3. Put the sleeping baby down and leave the room before you fall asleep!

The only “Drowsy but Awake”(DBA) we have seen consistent success with is having the parents be the ones who get out of the room drowsy but awake. We see the suggestion to put your baby down DBA absolutely EVERYWHERE! Well-meaning family, friends, and trusted professionals often recommend DBA from birth in an effort to avoid creating “bad sleep habits” and to encourage independent sleep (aka their view on “positive sleep habits”). We know you’re fed up with it too, so today we’re going to talk you through what it is, why it’s less important than people think, and what to do instead. 

Let’s start off with what DBA is. The definition of DBA will vary slightly depending on who you ask but the idea is that your baby is somewhere more calm/sleepier than fully awake and alert, but not quite asleep yet. Some will say that babies shouldn’t be quite on the brink of sleep because that will be too confusing for them, but we know the whole thing is way too confusing for us as big people. Families are often encouraged to put their babies down DBA from birth so that they can instill the foundations for independent sleep from a young age. In some cases, DBA is sold as the way to avoid “having to sleep train” your baby as they get older because you will have avoided making all the dreaded “sleep mistakes” as parents. 

Now that we know what it is, let’s talk about why we think it’s kind of bogus. 

First, it just simply does not work for most babies out there! If your baby was able to go down DBA and happily drift off into sleep that’s great and we’re not here to knock anything that works for a family, but we do need to realize these babies are by far the exception and not the rule. Most babies need consistent support to get to sleep and that is never a bad thing. Our babies' needs extend beyond hunger, thirst, and physical comfort like a dry diaper and include the need for contact, closeness, and connection. Sleep is an extremely vulnerable state to be in so most babies need that closeness and support as they drift off to really feel safe as they fall asleep after having reconnected with us first. Many also need the motion, the suckling while feeding, or the rhythmic touch to really help them to down regulate from a stimulating world. None of these are bad habits, they’re just an extension of the way you parent your child all day long. 

The next reason we really don’t care for DBA is that it isn’t marketed as a tricky thing to do. In fact, it’s almost sold as the simple, perfect, baby sleep solution! When families are told this is just the way babies are supposed to go to sleep and then they try and -  unless they have one of those very few babies who CAN do this - undoubtedly fail, they don’t look at the suggestion as flawed, they look at their competence as a parent and feel like they are failing. If you take one thing out of this post, let it be this: Baby sleep is HARD. If it’s especially hard in your home, it’s not a result of something that you’re doing wrong. You’re doing so amazing, you’re always your baby’s best bet and they are SO lucky to have you as their parent. Ditch any advice that makes you feel any differently. 

The final reason we don’t love DBA is that it places such a high importance on independence when it comes to sleep and babies don’t need to do anything independently. We need to shift our focus away from independence and invite our babies to depend on us. They need us for everything, we need to be okay with being their answer for all of these needs! In fact, the word independence is literally made up of the phrase in dependence. They need to be in dependence on us before they can venture off and become the type of independent individuals our society places so much emphasis on, but that will come GRADUALLY over their childhood and cannot be taught or forced. We have worked with hundreds and hundreds of families, all of whose babies went on to sleep well throughout the night. In 99% of these cases, the families supported their babies to sleep! 

So now if DBA is not the cornerstone of sleep that so many make it out to be, what can you do instead? 

  1. Drown out all the noise. Being a new parent is hard enough without everyone telling you you’re doing it all wrong so feel free to hit unfollow on anyone that makes you feel bad about how you’re choosing to parent. 
  2. Invite dependence. Let your baby be a baby and depend on you. This is truly the foundation of independence and they will venture forth with much more ease knowing that they’re invited to depend on us and not being pushed into it. 
  3. Focus on creating positive associations with sleep. Instead of focusing on independence, focus on creating positive messaging and emotions around sleep. How can you convey that sleep is a safe place to go to and remain? We want to avoid all the stress and struggles associated with sleep so that your baby knows they’re safe and that you as their parent are okay, so they can surrender to sleep. If this means cuddling, do that! If you like rocking your baby to sleep, hey that’s great too! If what you’re doing is no longer working, it’s okay to make a change! 

That’s our take on DBA. We hope we answered some of your questions and that you feel way better to parent in the way that feels right for you! If you still need support around your baby’s sleep, The Baby Sleep Course has everything you need! 

Categories: Normal Infant & Toddler Sleep, Sleep Without Sleep Training