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

A 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.

Written 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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  • Saranya says...

    Thanks for sharing! My baby is three months old. She has found her fingers and is able to soothe herself for about 15 mins before starting to fuss. However she is unable to fall asleep when placed in her crib drowsy but awake. She sucks on her fingers and then transitions to fussing and then full blown crying. How and when should I intervene? I don’t want to let her cry it out, but also want to make her self soothe. Any ideas?

    On November 09, 2016

  • Thadshiga says...

    Is it okay to let my 3month old to suck his fingers or thumbs. My son started sucking his fingers and I’ve been trying to get him to stop but after reading this post I’m confused. I’ve read horror stories about people who still suck their a thumb.

    On November 02, 2016

  • Sleeping Baby says...

    @Britni, great question! I think all moms feel unprepared at one time or another! You might take a look at this vlog on common sleep issues and sleep training that our owner, Stephanie, made. She talks a bit about little ones who cry and fuss more than others… it might be helpful!:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDxboIffDdo&mc_cid=8c137577c4&mc_eid=31421e8a45

    On September 13, 2016

  • Sleeping Baby says...

    Hello, Katherine!
    Thank you for writing me! I agree you should try to stay away from co-sleeping… there are safer ways to have a baby sleep beside you like a rock and play or one of those sleepers that attaches to the side of the bed. You CAN start teaching self-soothing GRADUALLY. soothing a baby while they are laying in their bassinet or crib is an easy way to start… rubbing that belly and shhhing! Those are easy things you can do now…now of course youecan be more readily available to pick the baby up if they cry a bunch… because at this stage they could still be cluster feeding still so the need for momma to be near is more prevalent! :) I started younger with Maverick … around 4 weeks old and it really paid off with him! The same tips for self-soothing applies to this situation but you won’t want to let the baby cry as much at this young of an age because they are more than likely crying for food. I would encourage you to have skin on skin as much as you can though because it’s sooo important for that early age. I would zip Maverick up inside the hoodie I’d wear and he’d lay on my bare chest. He loved it and so did I! :) You can still teach self-soothing and have that special skin-to-skin contact that is so needed for newborns! I hope that helps! Have a great day! :)

    On September 13, 2016

  • Britni Smalling says...

    I’m a first time mother who is basically raising my son on my own i barely get sleep but I would love help. I’m only 20 and my son was a happy surprise I wasn’t ready and honestly i sometimes feel that I’m still not. How, do you teach a teething child to self-sooth he won’t stick to a certain sleep schedule no matter what. I need help please.

    On August 11, 2016

  • Katharine Rosenstiel says...

    I have epilepsy and my health visitor is inisting that co sleeping should not be happening, however she also says my son should be learning to self sooth, my son isn’t 2 weeks old till tomorrow! Any tips before I start believing i’m useless?

    On August 08, 2016

  • Sleeping Baby says...

    Carina! I hope the self soothing is going well. If you have any questions, I am happy to help. Please send me an e-mail at supportsleepingbaby.com. Thank you so much! :)

    On July 14, 2016

  • Pat Corrigan says...

    I am returning to work in three months. My little guy is 3 months now. I am working on establishing a good sleep routine that will help us with my transition back to work.

    On June 29, 2016

  • Carina says...

    My baby was ready for sleep training at four and a half months but we are in the middle of a move so the chaos was too much to commit to that. A month later and we’ve got some poor sleep associations to break. I could use all the help I can get. I would like to know which issue to tackle first would be best.

    On June 19, 2016

  • Melissa Ayoub says...

    I am excited to learn more, I really hope this works for my baby. I have read several books and tons of articles online however I cannot get my baby to self soothe! My husband and I need sleep!!!

    On June 08, 2016

  • Sleeping Baby says...

    Carrie, I hope this helps! If you have any more questions-please send me an e-mail at supportsleepingbaby.com! Thank you so much! :)

    On April 28, 2016

  • Carrie says...

    We need help. Thanks for providing this!
    Xoxo,
    Exhausted mom of 2

    On March 23, 2016

  • Nat Laskey says...

    Thanks for the opportunity! From a very drowsy mumma.

    On February 17, 2016

  • Sleeping Baby says...

    Jennifer and Theresa! You both are so sweet! I hope the self soothing tips helped with your little ones. I am always here to help-support@sleepingbaby.com.

    On February 08, 2016

  • Jennifer Howell says...

    I’m a first time mom at the age of 39 and thought that being older would mean I’d have more experience to deal with tough life situations. Well, nothing prepared me for how difficult it would be to get my baby to sleep on his own. He just turned 5 months and I’ve read a handful of books on how to get your baby to self-soothe and sleep through the night in his crib. So far it hasn’t worked yet and he still depends on my to get him to sleep and then wakes up several times through the night. I’m hoping your method will help. This mama is tired! But most importantly I want to be able to give my baby the tools to self soothe so he can sleep 12 hours each night and continue to grow and develop in a healthy manner. Thanks!

    On January 20, 2016

  • Theresa Kilduff says...

    I would love more sleep as a single mother! Thanks for the opportunity.

    On January 19, 2016

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