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:
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 children’s 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 sleep…and 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.
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