3 Essential Tips to Teach Self-Soothing

pacifier soothing
Image via Katie Hurley

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.

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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. 

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3 Essential Tips to Teach Self-Soothing

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6 comments

  1. Profile photo of mandy mandy says:

    Self soothing is the reason my baby sleeps through the night now. It was all new to me. Here’s another great article about how to teach your baby to self soothe. It’s the best thing you can do for your baby http://violet-sleepbabysleep.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-teach-your-baby-to-fall-asleep-independently.html

  2. Profile photo of Tangee Tangee says:

    My little girl is 9 months and for a short 2 weeks was sleeping 5 hours straight every night then i would feed her and she’d go back to sleep for 4-5 hours..now she’s teething and that’s not the case anymore. again. She either wakes up every hour or every 2 hours then she just tosses and turns all night. She doesn’t fuss in the middle of the night she wakes up crying really loud and if I try to let her try to sooth herself to sleep she cries harder and she’s more awake then she was and harder to put back to sleep!

  3. Profile photo of Kelsey Kelsey says:

    This is one of my the things that makes me most nervous about having my first child! I hate the thought of not know when to pick him up and when to let him relax on his own. And at what point do you start letting them REALLY cry it out? So much to learn on the job and it’s tiresome to even think about.

  4. Profile photo of Ashley Ashley says:

    my ten month old has not been sleeping long anymore he wakes up early in the morning or in the middle of the night I’ve tried holding him feeding him or putting him in his swing nothing I’m thinking its his bed I’m working on getting him a crib in two weeks he has been sleeping in a play pen for a while… money has been tight but i don’t know what else to do please any advice?

  5. Profile photo of Jules Jules says:

    I’ve been able to get my baby boy to soothe in his crib for over a month now and he’s just barely over 21 weeks. Of course, not every night is the same and sometimes he needs a little extra cuddle or soft play time to get him calm enough that he doesn’t scream bloody murder when I put him to bed.
    I have a very simple bedtime routine, that involves, feeding, change to a fresh diaper, into pj’s and singing. Sometimes I read to him and sometimes we just play quietly on the floor (on one of his soft blankets) for a few minutes before I put him in the crib. He’ll then many times just coo to himself, play with his feet and suck on his hand for about fifteen minutes or so before he finally falls asleep. It’s taken awhile to get this sort of routine in, but since he still wakes for night time feedings, I don’t have any other soothing techniques.
    It’s good to get some ideas for things to do for him when he wakes in the middle of the night, once or twice, so he doesn’t just rely on me in getting back to sleep. He actually will take a 6 oz bottle too, so technically (according to his doc) he should be able to sleep through the night. I also have started intro’ing rice cereal, but it’s slow going and he doesn’t get very much of it as he doesn’t quite like it much.

    So any other good soothing advice for when he gets older would be great. Never thought about the mirror! I’ll have to look into that!

    • Profile photo of MeganBrown MeganBrown says:

      If he doesn’t like the rice try barley or even oatmeal but just remember that the barley and oatmeal is thicker than the rice. Also another thing to try if he won’t eat the rice cereal with formula or breast milk (or whatever you may use) get fresh fruits and puree them or use fruit preserves and mix it in with the cereal it gives it some flavor and he gets an extra fruit. These are just suggestions of course and I hope the self soothing continues to work for you 🙂

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