3 Essential Tips to Teach Self-Soothing
All babies are different, and babies will hit developmental milestones when they are ready, no matter what the books say. (Those are just guidelines; they should not be a source of stress for parents, nor should they be considered a tool to evaluate intelligence.) Something that most infants have in common, however, is at least one very tired parent.
You can't just place your baby in a crib and will him to sleep, but you can create a soothing sleep environment for your baby and instill a healthy attitude toward sleep in the process.
Sleep comes easily for some infants and is more difficult for others. While you can buy any number of books on sleep training and drop thousands of dollars on sleep experts and sleep gadgets, the truth is that sleep really can't be forced. Somewhere between 6 and 9 months of age, most babies begin to self-soothe, but it does take time and practice.
While many exhausted parents are willing to try anything and everything to get a solid night of sleep, time and temperament are two key factors in the sleep process. Some infants enjoy a good swaddle and their own cozy space, while others like to be held, rocked, and soothed. As tempting as it might be to try to “teach” your infant to self-soothe, it's important to remember that time is on your side. At some point, your infant will learn how to self-soothe, and the long nights will fade into a distant memory.
In the meantime, creating a calm and soothing sleep environment is the best way to help your child along the path toward positive associations with sleep.
Send positive messages
Parents are conditioned to scoop up a baby the moment the baby begins to fuss in an effort to soothe the baby. However, there is a significant difference between crying (the method infants rely on to signal distress of some kind) and fussing (making noises, trying to escape the swaddle, etc.)
Mix up the methods you use to soothe your baby, particularly when your baby is not in distress. (I do recommend holding and/or wearing babies for bonding and soothing as much as possible.) Try reassuring your baby with eye contact, smiles, calming words of encouragement, physical presence, and body language when appropriate so that your baby is calmed by your presence, not just your arms.
It also helps to allow each parent to find his/her own methods of soothing the baby. This helps the baby bond with and find support from both parents, instead of relying solely on the primary caregiver.