How to Teach Baby to Self-Soothe

By Lucia Mata
Sky View/Photodisc/Getty Images

Babies usually learn to self-soothe between 3 and 6 months of age, but some babies get used to being fed or rocked to sleep and do not learn this important skill. Self-soothing is a skill that not only helps babies fall asleep, but also helps them control themselves when they are separated from parents for other reasons, such as child care. To teach your baby to self-soothe, you need to give him the opportunity to do so. Some babies have a hard time, while some fall asleep on their own the first night.

Establish a bedtime. Do not wait until your baby is tired; it will be harder for her to fall asleep if she is overtired. Set an early bedtime. Babies who go to sleep earlier sleep for longer stretches and feel more rested in the morning. Most babies go to sleep between 7 and 9 p.m. Keep the bedtime consistent, making sure your baby goes to bed at the same time every day.

Create a routine. Include three or four calming activities for your baby, such as a bath, story time, singing nursery rhymes, cuddle or feed. Make sure the routine is the same every night. A routine will help your baby know that he is going to sleep next and will make him naturally sleepy. Explain the routine to other caregivers so they can follow it also.

Lay your baby down drowsy but awake. Start by putting her to bed almost completely asleep, the next night put her in bed a little sooner, so she is more awake. Continue to put her in bed a bit more awake than the night before, until you are able to lay her down completely awake.

Check on your baby every couple of minutes if he fusses, but do not pick him up. Talk to him calmly and explain that he needs to go to bed. Stay in the room if it helps your baby calm down, but give him the opportunity to soothe himself.

Avoid feeding your baby as she falls asleep. This will only create a connection with sleeping and eating, and she will want to eat every time she wakes at night. Do not rock your baby either; it will create a similar connection and she will be unable to go back to sleep by herself.

Give your baby a transitional object to help him feel more secure. Use a scarf, shirt or cloth with your smell or a favorite blanket or a stuffed animal. Make sure to always give your baby the same object, as he will create a connection between the item and sleeping. Do not use an object that cannot be replaced easily, in case you do not have it available, or have a replica for emergencies. Use a musical mobile; the music can create a distraction to help your baby soothe and feel sleepy.

Wait a couple of minutes for your baby to calm down before going to her when she wakes at night or is fussy or frustrated during the day. Gradually increase the time until she is able to soothe herself. If you go to her immediately when she cries, she will not learn to self-soothe.

About the Author

Lucia Mata has been writing since 2008, covering parenting and design topics. Her work has appeared in both English and Spanish publications. Mata has an Associate of Arts in interior design from Salt Lake Community College and a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Utah Valley University.