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.


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


The 3-Step System To Help Your Baby Sleep is a judgment-free approach to getting your baby sleeping through the night. In it, you learn the pros and cons of all the available baby sleep methods as well as how to incorporate each one into your own routine. You get quick and easy information not he science behind baby and toddler sleep. You learn what you need to do - in a step-by-step format - to tackle your baby’s sleep challenges. Whether you are interested in co-sleeping, crying it out, setting schedules, incorporating breastfeeding, weaning, or anything in between, The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep cuts through all the formalities to get right to the solutions you need to get the most out of your baby’s sleep. 

At The Baby Sleep Site®, we know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every baby - your baby’s sleeping patterns and habits are as unique as she is! That’s why we’ve designed The 3-Step System To Help Your Baby Sleep to be different than traditional sleep systems. It offers a comprehensive look at all the tried-and-true methods that parents have been using for decades so that you are better-informed to make the right decision for your family. 

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  • Melissa

    I have a 41/2 month old. He had about a month where he was sleeping 5, 6, sometimes 7 hours at a time at night. Then he got sick and the last few weeks I am lucky if he goes 2 hours without waking. I try leaving him for a few minutes but he just fusses and cries. He won;t take a pacifier. Currently he sleeps in a rock n play next to me. We continue the same routine. He wakes so much that I have just been letting him sleep with me in bed, even when I try to put him back down he wakes up and contiues to wake and cry.
    Any suggestions, we are debating whether to try the ferber method and putting him in his crib in his room. THanks soooo much

  • Sleeping Baby

    @Cassidy, thank you so much for writing me! I have so been there! I just sent you an e-mail with a few tips that might help! If you have any questions, please let me know. I am here to help! :)

  • Cassidy Divver

    I absolutely need to get more sleep, especially as a mother of 3 with a husband that works out of town for weeks at a time!! My son is just shy of 12 weeks old & he fights sleep like I’ve never seen before. He also has a 4 or 5 hour crying spell every night from about 9pm to 2am and nothing that I’ve done soothes him, I feel like I’m failing him as a mother!! The only way I’ve had any success getting him to sleep is in his side to side swing and now I’m concerned that he’s dependant on the swing to fall asleep & I desperately want to sleep in my bed and not on the couch!! I’m at my wits end and don’t know what to do, I feel mean and guilty letting him cry it out or cry himself to sleep, but I’ll never go for longer than 7 – 10 minutes. Any help is greatly appreciated!!

  • SleepingBaby

    @ALMA , great question! Can you please send me an e-mail to support (at) sleepingbaby.com? Thank you so much! :)

  • SleepingBaby

    CHRISTINA, those are great questions! I have some ideas that might help. Can you please send me an e-mail to supportsleepingbaby.com? Thank you so much! Have a lovely day!

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