A Self-Soothing Baby: How to Help Your Child Sleep Independently

Latest article fact-check: October 28, 2021

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

If your baby's sleep is disturbed, your little one’s ability to soothe themselves without needing to be fed, rocked, or held, means more sleep for the baby and the parent. But at what age are babies developmentally ready to learn self-soothing? Is it beneficial for the child? And what parenting techniques help little ones learn this behavior?

What is Self-Soothing?

Self-soothing is when a baby can calm down, relax, and settle back to sleep on their own.

How can you help your baby learn to sleep independently?

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One of my products is an award-winning baby sleep coaching program that includes a gentle 3 step method for helping your child learn self-soothing. My sleep program does not advise leaving your baby to cry it out. In fact, no crying at all is involved. Instead our self-soothing techniques focus on creating optimal sleep conditions. We also focus on tailoring your approach based on your baby's age, and implementing gradual changes that will have your child becoming progressively more independent.

By learning to self-soothe, your child will be able to settle back to sleep. And yes, this can include times when they are laid down when they are still awake, or woken up by something. Good health hinges on getting good sleep, so it's important for any baby to learn this skill.

When Do Babies Learn Self-Soothing?

There is no age that a baby 'should' have learned how to self-soothe to sleep by. Every child is different. Learning self-soothing is a process that a parent and child will be working on together, and it should not be forced.

It's normal for newborns to wake at night and have irregular sleep patterns. Later in their first year is when babies are first able to start self-soothing.

Most babies will start to sleep longer and consistently self-soothe anywhere from 3 - 4 months old up to 1 year. With love and a little help from you, all babies can learn self-soothing.

Help Your Baby Learn Self-Soothing Using My Gentle Method

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Here are my basic steps for no-tears self-soothing:

1. Sleep preliminaries: set the stage

To encourage children to self-soothe to sleep, the first step is always setting up the preliminaries. These include a well-adapted sleeping arrangement, sleep-encouraging pre-bedtime activities, relieving (hidden) physical and emotional discomforts, avoiding over-tiredness, and clever use of positive associations for both of you (just to name a few). For a complete list and help on getting these right with ease, please refer to my program. There are also different approaches that are adapted to your baby's age.

2. Help your baby fall asleep at first

This may include feeding, holding, or rocking them. Once your child is asleep you can lay them down.

3. Gradually put your baby down sooner in the sleep stage

Over the course of a week or two, start putting your child down a little bit earlier each time. Progress from putting them down when they are half-asleep, to drowsy, to beginning to get drowsy. Finally, try putting them down when they are still awake.

When teaching your baby to self-soothe, consistency is the important thing. You may need to repeat the progressive steps more than once, or take a break for a little while if they are not working at all. When your baby is ready, and they can sense your determination, they will do it.

More Self-Soothing Tips for Babies:

Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine will help your baby recognize that it's time to go to sleep and start to calm their body and mind.

Home Environment: Dim the lights and keep any interaction quiet so that, if your child's sleep is disturbed, they won't wake up completely.

Your presence: Sometimes just knowing that you are nearby may be all the reassurance that your baby needs to self-soothe and sleep again. You might be sitting by their crib, walking around their room, or in the corridor outside the room.

Products that can help your baby self-soothe

A Night Light: A dim but visible night light can reassure your baby and help them sleep.

A Transitional Object: Your child may sleep better with a soft toy, blanket, cloth, or other item that they are fond of nearby. If they wake, the object can help soothe and reassure them.

Keep in mind that crib safety guidelines caution against putting anything in the crib with the baby for the first 8 months to a year. To be in compliance with crib safety guidelines, I suggest choosing a toy that can be safely attached to the side. This way it can be near enough for your baby to feel, touch, and smell it but there is no danger of them pulling it into the crib and getting tangled in it.

Top tip! Wear a scarf or cloth on yourself during the day so that it has your scent. Hang it near the crib while your baby sleeps, but make sure that it is safely out of their reach. If your baby is able to smell you nearby, it can be a powerful soother!

Pull-string musical toy

A Musical Mobile or Toy: A musical mobile may help your baby sleep well at night. Find one that attaches to the side of the crib and that your baby can operate by pushing a button or pulling a string as in the picture. Make absolutely sure that your baby is not able to pull it into the crib.

As your baby grows into a toddler, they will learn to switch it on without assistance. If they are used to hearing it at bedtime, it can work wonders for settling them down and getting them back to sleep!

A pacifier: Your baby may thrive with a pacifier. Most parents worry that their child will become too dependent on the pacifier, and find themselves running over to the crib frequently to help find it. My sleep program has several solutions to turn the pacifier into a helpful ally while your baby is learning self-soothing.

Why is self-soothing so important?

Why is self-soothing so important? Because no one ever really sleeps through the night. Our sleep comes in cycles and we go through the different stages of sleep several times a night. In between cycles there is a brief time where you are awake.

Self-soothing helps us go straight back to sleep without waking up completely.

A baby who cannot self soothe yet will wake up completely at that moment, need your attention and possibly cry. They will have difficulty going back to sleep on their own.

Some people will advise letting your baby cry it out as an 'efficient' method of teaching self-soothing. In my experience crying it out rarely gives lasting results and it is very stressful for you and your child. Instead, use the gentle self-soothing techniques outlined above and be consistent. It is well worth the time and effort. Your baby can enjoy better sleep and health, and so can your whole family.