The first time I felt like I had succeeded as a parent was when my child learned to settle herself to sleep. This was never the easiest win, but I remember the joy of knowing that she could calm herself to sleep at 6:30 pm or 7 pm and I had a few hours until she would wake up for a feed. As a mom with a husband who travelled a lot this allowed me a few hours to myself (to eat and shower).
Self-soothing is your child's ability to settle themselves without the need for external help. External help includes anything from feeding, bouncing, a parental intervention, breast, bottle, or movement. Breaking these habits may be hard but long term you will see the rewards.
Teaching self-soothing will help your child be able to settle themselves when they wake up alone in the dark at night. They will look around, but with no light or nothing happening they will go back to sleep on their own.
Teaching your child to self-soothe will benefit you and your baby. This can be tricky as you become more mindful of your parenting style. Are you nursing your baby to sleep, does your little one sleep on you all the time, or do you have to be wearing or pushing your child for them to settle?
Teaching self-soothing can be done gently, and you can work at your own pace but here are some tips.
1) Create a Safe sleep environment. You can find more information on Safe Sleep 101.
2) Start a peaceful sleep routine. The goal of this is to create cues that when you start this your child realises what is happening and sleep will come more easily. This begins with a soothing bedtime routine that you can repeat before any sleep event. It can be hard to find the right mix, but you will learn what works for your family. I always like turning the lights down, give a simple but relaxing bath, pyjamas and diaper change, feed followed by a book and song. The reason to move the last feeding earlier in the bedtime routine loosens the association between eating and sleep. I like more of an Eat, Play, Sleep routine.
For naps, you can quickly do a diaper change, book and story. Making your routine repeatable allows you to lengthen and shorten as needed. These will become your child's sleep cues.
Try something such as:
(*) these can be skipped at nap time and when your child is extra tired
3) Put your child to bed awake. I thought this was a crazy idea when I was a first-time mom. I started to place my daughter in her bassinet with only a crib sheet. (see my safe sleep blog post).
4) Use touch and your voice to comfort your child the before you pick them up. Tap or rub their tummy or stroke your child's cheek. My daughter would fight a little but calmed down following some light tummy rubs. I then slowly reduced to just a light hand on her tummy and then just sat by her crib. She started to settle herself.
5) Don’t rush to your child when you hear the first peep. Remember babies can be loud sleepers. Waiting for a moment before getting out of bed might help. At night we jump with every sound but babies are loud and actually might not need anything but a moment to stretch and get comfortable. If you can wait a minute, you might find that your child will settle quickly.
6) By 4 months (Adjusted) you will start to be able to understand your babies sounds recognising the difference between scared, distressed, hungry, or needing a change… the kicker is sometimes babies just want to fuss. In these cases, it’s essential you have a safe place for your baby where you can leave her/him if you can’t handle the crying. Don’t let your child cry for more than a minute before the age of 4 months (Adjusted). As you are teaching self-soothing and your child gets older, you will be able to lengthen this time, but under 4-5 months, please try to limit how long you let them fuss.
Here are my final comments on the subject of self-soothing.
Find times in a day when your child is able to spend time alone during the day so they can entertain themselves. I would also suggest starting working on Tummy time - your child will start to move at some point over the coming months. This new skill will also interrupt sleep. Babies like to practice these new skills alone at night in their cribs. Tummy time will help create independence long term.
If you need help, please feel free to reach out. I’m always happy to help… establishing good sleep routines is hard with a newborn but having a plan and support makes it easier to manage. Please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can set up your free 15-minute call.