The Importance of Teaching Your Baby To Self-Soothe.
Can you imagine how you’d feel if your little one year old baby fell asleep quickly and easily on their own? Then imagine your baby, despite waking up in the middle of the night, turned over and didn’t bother you. Instead, they went back to sleep without a fuss.
Crazy? Impossible? Unbelievable? A pipe dream?
But what if I told you that it can and does happen.
Studies suggest that one of the factors that determine a young child’s sleep pattern through the night is based on whether they learn to self-soothe during the first six months of their life.
What Does Self-Soothing Mean?
Self-soothing, is the name that involves a baby or young child learning how to calm themselves down by themselves, when they wake up, or find themselves a little anxious, or stressed.
Encouraging, nurturing and allowing your child to self soothe can be a wonderful life skill.
- Self-soothing involves parts of your baby’s body like their hands, fingers, mouth and face.
A few of the things your baby will do is:
- Suck their thumb or on a finger
- Suck on a dummy
- Suck on bottle
- Suck a soft blanket, dummy or a toy
- Hold their hands together
- Stroke and fondle their ears or their nose
- Gently rub their eyes
By letting your baby soothe themselves means they are learning to trust their own ability to fall asleep on their own, without the need for an adult to rock, cuddle, pat, carry or be there to help them fall sleep. Most paediatricians and doctors today strongly recommend that parents allow their babies to go to sleep on their own or self-settle rather than spend hours rocking them to sleep.
Studies suggest that these sleep associations are powerful as they can last a lifetime.
This is not allowing your child to ‘cry themselves to sleep’ as I am not an advocate of ‘crying it out’ – that creates trauma and a child who feels that they can’t trust the world as their needs are not being met.
This is different.
This is allowing your little one to learn to fall asleep on their own.
Most babies need to be taught to self-soothe while a few are natural self-soothers. As a rule of thumb, you can expect your baby to begin soothing themselves to sleep anywhere between 4/5 months to a year. Of course, we are all different, so some babies may take a little longer to learn how to do this.
- On a sensory level, soothing strategies involve movement, touch, and vibration, such as:
- Rocking from side to side to get to sleep
- Stroking hair or playing with locks of hair
- Humming a soft lullaby
- Stroking a teddy or blanket
To motivate your little one to master self-soothing make sure they can get their hands to their face or mouth. You can help your baby achieve this by swaddling them or putting their hands or fingers towards their face as you settle them.
Self-exploration is another simple way to help your baby self-soothe. Let them enjoy the pleasure from their own explorations of their fingers, toes, hair or face. Lots of Mums I’ve met tend to remove their baby’s fingers from their mouths the minute they begin to suckle. Don’t stop your baby, relax and let your baby explore and learn for themselves.
When To Teach Your Baby To Self-Soothe.
You can try simple self-soothing techniques once your baby has turned about 4 months old. If you start too early, your baby might get a little more fussy. Don’t rush it, don’t expect too much, too soon. Take your time and allow your little one to learn how to soothe themselves naturally and in their own time.
In the very early days, your baby can’t control their own movements to be able to self-soothe themselves. They are still adapting to life in the outside world. You have to be patient and understand that they need you and depend on you for everything from food, changing to falling asleep.
So naturally, you will need to rock, pat, sing and carry your baby around for them to fall asleep sometimes. Don’t worry about your baby getting into any bad habits of being cajoled or rocked to sleep, at this stage, as habits don’t develop until they have turned about 12 weeks old.
- Four months onwards:
As your little one approaches the 16-week mark, you can teach them to sleep on their own. A few babies learn to self-settle, almost overnight, while other babies need support and encouragement to learn this new skill for as long as it takes.
How To Teach A Baby To Self-Soothe. Top Tips.
You can teach your little one to self-soothe in various ways but just don’t rush it. Take one step at a time and allow for your baby’s body and mind to learn and adapt to the new skill.
The secret is for you to relax. If you get tense, then your baby gets tense, as they pick up on your anxiety or tension. Simply have the intention to progress from having to hold, rock, sing, swing or co-sleep with your baby to putting them to sleep so they can fall asleep by themselves.
Gentle baby self-soothing:
This is the simplest way to put your baby to sleep. Hold them in your arms and rock them to sleep then put down gently in their cot when they are deep asleep.
Step 1: Prepare yourself to be ready to let go. This is perhaps the most difficult step for you as a Mum. Just remind yourself that this is teaching your child to fall asleep on their own. Nothing scary – you won’t be far away. You won’t let them cry for ages. You just want to teach them that falling asleep is natural, safe and OK.
Step 2: When you are ready to teach your little one to sleep on their own, put them down a bit earlier than usual; just a minute or two before they usually fall into a deep sleep in your arms.
Step 3: Gradually & incrementally bring forward the time that you put your little one down: from them being properly, deep asleep, to just dozing, and then finally when they are still awake but ready for their nap or sleep. Be patient, take the long term view of this gentle process and relax. Don’t give up too soon.
- Choose a toy, blanket, or favourite cuddly which your baby loves & teach your baby to use it as a soother. Begin the process of transferring from you to the soother. As they will begin to associate going down to sleep with their comforter instead of you.
- If your baby starts to cry at night, give them their comforter instead of automatically picking them up, rocking them or feeding them. Trust your intuition and never let your baby cry too long if they appear in distress. This is about common sense.
The Benefits Of Self-Soothing
Learning to fall asleep on their own, comfort themselves and self soothe is an important milestone that will serve you all as family long term.
- You baby becomes less fussy:
Self-soothing not just helps your baby sleep better, it helps you all to relax and sleep better, so no- one is running on empty for the next day. You & your partner will be able to get up and go to work or go about your day free from the crippling effects of lack of sleep, which really does build up over time and puts you all under pressure. It makes you short tempered, exhausted and feeling down & stressed out. The upside to self soothing is that your baby is learning to stay in control of themselves. A baby who can self-soothe is likely to be less fussy, restless or demanding through the day. It also promotes independent sleep associations & habits which will transfer into their night time sleeping patterns too.
- Your baby sleeps better:
If your infant can self-soothe as they enter into the light sleep state, they will be able to sleep without too much trouble or relying on your intervention. They will be able to go back to sleep on their own if they wake up in the middle of the night.
Gradually, your baby will learn to sleep longer without waking you up. Doctors believe that babies who can self-soothe get a good one hour of extra sleep, which is essential for their growth and development. Another good reason to develop and teach your little one how to do it.
- Your baby grows more confident & independent.
When your baby learns to comfort themselves, they will be able to regulate their own moods & needs better. They’ll be able to focus on learning new skills during the day because they won’t be so tired or irritable and they will be gaining more confidence.
- You start to relax and be more positive.
If you can teach your baby to self-soothe, your days and nights will be a lot more settled, relaxed, positive and enjoyable and you can carry out your daily household jobs without feeling guilty or stressed by overwhelm. It’s much, much easier to look after a baby who can self-soothe than a fussy, fractious baby who requires constant attention just to get to sleep.
I had more time to play with my toddler Will when Molly was asleep which cut down on any sibling rivalry when a new baby arrives in the family.
- Create a relaxed atmosphere with a regular bedtime routine. Bath, bed, milk, down to sleep.
- Play music – 80% of babies tend to fall asleep in less than five minutes when soft music is played. ( But make sure it’s not Meatloaf or ZZ Top ! )
- Have consistent bedtime. One REALLY important tip is to establish a regular bedtime as your baby’s internal clock will help them to feel sleepy at a regular, predictable time.
- Keep the atmosphere calm and don’t over stimulate your baby just before bedtime. Overtired babies get fractious.
- Buy a nightlight. Keep the light dim and interaction low at night so that you don’t disturb your baby when they are asleep. Teach them that night time is sleep time.
- Keep the room temperature consistent – not too hot, not too cold.
- Hover but don’t fuss. Potter about in their bedroom – put away toys or clothes while they are settling down to allow your baby to self soothe but with you around for reassurance.
- Do make sure that you use the right comforter object. Stay safe and don’t put anything in their cot in the first few months. For babies under 6 months, choose a toy that you can attach to the cot sides so that your baby can see it, feel it, or sense it but can’t pull it too close or get entangled in it. Once your baby is 6 to 8 months old, you can leave a toy in the cot.
- Give your baby something that they can smell you from. A simple scarf will do as they will feel comforted by it.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Be patient.
- Stop feeding automatically to help them fall sleep.
- Avoid consistently soothing them yourself & stop over fussing.
- Change your habits of pushing your baby in a pram or buggy to get them to fall asleep.
I have written a great deal about the importance of sleep and you can buy my CD ‘Sleep Made Easy’ here