5 Tips To Help Your Baby Learn To Self-Soothe and Sleep

Sleeping baby in baby sleepsuit during swaddle transitionA term that we use a lot in our work with our Baby Sleep Site® clients is ‘self-soothe’. Is this a term you’re familiar with?

Simply put, a baby who can self-soothe is a baby who can calm himself down, and regulate his emotions - usually by sucking on his fingers and/or toes. (Yes, some babies have a strong toe preference!)

When Do Babies Learn To Self-Soothe?

Sounds pretty basic, right? Except that it’s not. See, babies aren’t born knowing how to self-soothe - it’s a learned skill. When a baby is born, he’s not yet capable of regulating his emotions, and he really does need mom or dad to step in and comfort him when he’s upset, by rocking or holding or singing to or feeding him.

But as baby grows, and as his brain matures, he becomes capable of managing his own emotions, and soothing himself. Experts don’t agree as to precisely when a baby becomes capable of self-soothing, but it’s generally accepted that while babies shouldn’t be expected to self-soothe before they are 3 months old, they are definitely capable of self-soothing by the time they are 6 months old.

In our work with families, we’ve found that the 4-7 month window is a really good time to work on helping a baby learn to self-soothe; your baby’s sleep patterns have matured by that point, but she’s still too young to have formed very strong sleep associations that will be difficult to correct. Will she always be perfect at self-soothing? Most likely not. They will still need us some of the time after all!

Why Does Self-Soothing Matter?

Simple - babies who can self-soothe tend to sleep better and longer than babies who can’t! Research has shown this again and again - babies who are able to self-soothe are able to fall asleep independently, which means that whey they wake at night during non-feeding times, they are usually able to quickly fall back to sleep without mom or dad’s help. This results in more sleep over the course of the night (for everyone - mom and dad included!)

5 Tips To Help Your Baby Learn To Self-Soothe

So, how can we help our babies learn this crucial skill? Here are 5 tips designed to do just that:

  1. Wean your baby from the swaddle. Babies need to have their hands free for self-soothing, so gradually wean from the swaddle, if you haven’t already. (Hint: a ZipadeeZip is PERFECT for this - we recommend the Zippy all the time to parents looking to wean from swaddling!)
  2. If you are parenting your baby all the way to sleep (by rocking or feeding to sleep, for example) start changing this by still parenting her, but laying her down drowsy but awake for one nap each day. Then, you can gradually build up to doing this for all naps, and eventually at bedtime and during any night wakings. Or, for an even gentler approach, start by gradually shortening the amount of time you spend parenting to sleep - rock your baby for just 5 minutes, for example, instead of 10 minutes.
  3. Create strong, consistent sleep routines. If you haven’t already, institute a consistent nap time and bedtime routine. These routines serve as signals to your baby that sleep time is approaching.
  4. Allow some time - even just a minute or two - between hearing your baby cry and rushing in to comfort her. Waiting even just a minute gives your baby a chance to find her fingers or toes and start calming herself down - and this is a key part of learning to self-soothe.
  5. Don’t wait too long to encourage self-soothing. In a 2002 study on self-soothing, researchers found that children who had not learned to self-soothe by the time they were 1 were more likely to still have trouble falling asleep by age 2, and to continue to wake at night up to age 4. This makes sense; in our work with families, we have learned that it tends to be harder to correct a toddler’s sleep associations than it is to correct a baby’s.

Of course, if you find yourself needing additional help in guiding your baby towards learning to self-soothe (and, by extension, towards sleeping through the night), my team and I can provide that. It’s why I created The Baby Sleep Site® in the first place! Visit www.babysleepsite.com today, and check out our abundance of baby and toddler sleep coaching resources - many of them are completely free!

Tired of endless night wakings and short (or non-existing) naps? Want your baby to learn how to self-soothe, but not sure how to make that happen? We can help! Parents from all over the world visit The Baby Sleep Site® each month to find solutions for their childrens sleep problems. Visit today, and download a copy of our free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night. You CAN reclaim your sleepand we can help! And, for a limited time, enjoy up to $50 off all Baby Sleep Site® products and services, during our More Sleep For Moms campaign.

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Nicole the swaddle transition baby sleepsuit onesie expertWritten by Nicole Johnson from the Baby Sleep Site

Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys, as well as the Lead Baby Sleep Consultant and owner of The Baby Sleep Site®. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems - he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! By thoroughly researching key literature and scientific reports, Johnson became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. Founded in 2008, The Baby Sleep Site® - under Nicole’s leadership - is now doing just that. Over 500,000 parents visit The Baby Sleep Site® each month to find solutions to their children’s sleep problems, including personalized, one-on-one sleep consulting, comprehensive e-Books on topics like sleeping through the night and creating nap schedules, free articles and blogs on timely topics, and strong parent community.

Photo Credit: Hamed Saber via Compfight cc

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29 comments


  • Melissa

    I am a first time mom, and my son is 7 months,he went from falling asleep on his own and sleeping the whole night in his crib to not waiting to fall asleep on his own and wake up in the middle of the night screaming.He had cold and when he would wake up in the middle of the night i thought it was cause he was stuffy so i was lay him with me, but now he just wants to be in my bed and not in his anymore, and wont fall asleep on his own. please help.
    Thank youu.


  • Mariela

    Hi, i have a 31/2 month baby boy. I think i started very early to sleep train him. So sometimes i would let him be awake until gets very tired, so he would sleep at night. He was doing so well, but now he has almost two months he wakes up during his nap times amd won’t go easly to sleep. Sometimes he gets one small nap during the day. I didn’t use the swaddle because i thought he was doing great, than he was drooling a lot so i thought he was getting his teeth, i could see that he was, so I’ve tried teas, teething medecine, tylenol. Even a balsamic necklace that i put around his wrist ( to help with his teething) my problem is that i cannot keep a schedule because he goes to sleep when he’s s very tired only. I am doing everything wrong. Trying to rush my child’s transitions.


  • Nikki

    I have a 41/2 month old. For most of his life he was sleeping 5, 6, sometimes 7 hours at a time at night. Then he got a few colds and the last few weeks I am lucky if he goes 1- 2 hours without waking. He is very dependent on the swaddle at night, and I’ve tried easing him out one arm at a time which wakes him. He needs a paci and bouncing to fall asleep, and will go back down with my hand rubbing his head until he falls asleep or if I give the paci back. Currently he sleeps in the pack n play in our room, but we have caved and used the rock n play a few times which will give us 3-4 hrs. Naps are a nightmare- he fights going down and just wants to be up constantly. We continue the same routine before bed.
    Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you!


  • Lakesha thaddis

    I’m a first time mom and my daughter is great, but lately she has not been wanting to sleep by her self. Really she wants to bring held while she sleeps, now she only 1 month old but I was told that this is the time they start to pick up habits. I could be wrong but I pick her up every time she fuss. I think my baby wants me to be uncomfortable just for her to be comfortable. I just wondering will this pass I don’t mind getting up for feeding and changing I just don’t want her to be the baby where she has to be held while sleeping.


  • Cindy

    My son just turned 5 months. We had some success with him sleeping in his crib for 5-6 hour stretches. Then suddenly he’ll hit a milestone (tooth, hard stool etc.) and won’t stay in his crib. For the last 2 weeks he wakes up screaming and will only soothe if I nurse him back to sleep in my bed . He wakes up sevrsl times throughout the night and I’m not willing to let him cry it out but I’m also exhausted. Please help!


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