Assess your baby's schedule. Is he old enough not to need to nurse every few hours? The ability to self-soothe to sleep develops gradually. In a University of California study published in the August 2001 issue of the "Journal of Developmental and Behavior Pediatrics," even 12-month-olds were able to soothe themselves back to sleep slightly less than half the time. If your little one still needs a bedtime nursing, it's likely he'll fall asleep during it. But he might not need to nurse before every nap.
Nurse your baby before putting him in bed for the night or for a nap -- but not until he falls asleep. The idea is to put him into bed when he's drowsy but not asleep, so he gets used to the sensation of falling asleep without the breast. Once he does well with this, nurse him just to a relaxed state before putting him in his bed. Gradually, he'll be ready to transition to falling asleep on his own.
Offer a pacifier, once your baby is over 1 month old (to avoid nipple confusion) and breastfeeding is well-established, KidsHealth.org recommends. A pacifier can help satisfy his sucking urge and may also reduce the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Change locations. Nurse before bedtime or nap time in a room other than the bedroom, to change the association between nursing and sleep.
Cuddle or rock your baby before bedtime, but don't let him fall asleep . This just substitutes one presleep habit for another. Put him down while he's still awake but drowsy, just as you would with breastfeeding.
Expect setbacks. When your baby doesn't feel well or is upset, he's more likely to want to nurse for comfort and might be more likely to fall asleep while nursing. See the progression to self-soothing as a process, not something that happens overnight.
Nursing your child to sleep can damage little teeth, if he falls asleep with milk still in his mouth.
Put your baby to sleep at the same time each night. According to Baby Center, babies fall asleep easier if you establish a routine. For example, before you put your baby in her crib, give her a bath or sing her a soothing lullaby. If you do this every night, your baby will know that it is time for bed.
Put your baby to sleep when she is sleepy, but awake, recommends the Mayo Clinic. By doing this, she will learn that a bed is associated with falling asleep.
Adjust the temperature in your baby's room to ensure she is comfortable. For example, if your baby feels sweaty when she wakes up, turn the temperature down and remove some layers. Avoid covering your baby with heavy blankets. Baby Center recommends putting your baby in a wearable blanket, one that is closed across the bottom and sleeveless.
Allow your baby to have time to calm herself. According to the Mayo Clinic, many babies fuss before they find a comfortable position to sleep in. If she does not settle down, gently rub her back and talk to her in a soft, soothing voice.
Give your baby a pacifier if she does not stop crying. A pacifier might soothe her and help her fall asleep. Another benefit to using a pacifier is that it may reduce the risk of SIDS. Be aware that a pacifier might fall out of your baby's mouth during the night and cause her to cry.
Remove your baby from external stimuli that might keep her awake. Take her to a different room, if necessary. Keep her away from loud noises and lots of motion.
Remove restrictive clothing, such as bulky sweatshirts, jackets or pants that bind around the waist. Take off your baby's shoes and gently massage his feet. Make your baby is as comfortable as possible.
Dim the lights or plug in a nightlight. Pull the shades or close the blinds if your baby is napping during the day, to darken the room.
Give your baby a favorite object that she likes to cuddle with, such as a stuffed animal, toy or blanket. Be sure to remove the object after she has fallen asleep to avoid possible suffocation or injury.
Turn on soft music if your baby is used to and enjoys it. Create white noise by turning a fan on low speed.
Use a calm, soothing voice and sing or talk to him while he is trying to fall asleep. Whisper reassuring words to provide comfort.
Gently rock your baby in a rocking chair to help her relax. Place her in the crib while she is still awake to avoid dependency on being rocked to sleep. Your baby should be able to fall asleep on her own.
Whatever methods you choose to soothe your overtired baby, be consistent. Babies learn to recognize the pattern you establish. A change in routine will more likely keep them alert and restless. Routine is comforting to babies and will help them fall asleep more easily.
Try to avoid feeding your baby a bottle just because he is fussy. Consistently eating when he is upset can lead to overeating as a source of comfort. Use car rides as a last resort to avoid getting your baby into this habit. Resist the urge to keep everything completely quiet before and during sleep, because he will more likely awaken with noise.
Give your baby a pacifier to suck on instead of the bottle. If it's the sucking motion that soothes your little one and helps her fall asleep, a pacifier will work just as well as the bottle. Using a pacifier for the first year of life can reduce your infant's risk of sudden infant death syndrome, too.
Feed your baby her bottle before it's time to go to sleep. She might get drowsy and close her eyes, but don't settle her in her bassinet or crib with the bottle still in her mouth. Eating before it's time to sleep will fill her tummy so she's more comfortable and able to fall asleep.
Rock your baby if she has a hard time falling asleep on her own. The rocking motion of your arms can be just as soothing as having a bottle. Put her in her crib when she's drowsy but still awake. That allows her to put herself to sleep, which you'll be glad for as she gets older.
Establish a new sleep time routine that doesn't include the bottle. Give your 6 month old a warm bath, read a story or sing a lullaby at naptime. Over time, your baby will begin to associate the routine with sleep and will be able to fall asleep without the bottle.
Use soothing techniques if your baby wakes in the night or midway through her nap. Don't offer a bottle, but instead rub her back, sing a lullaby or give her a pacifier. When your baby learns to soothe herself back to sleep, she won't need to rely on the bottle.
Skip the bottle, even if you only put water in it. Your baby will still learn to rely on the bottle to go to sleep even if she's not damaging her teeth in the process. Your goal is to help her fall asleep on her own.
Create a set bedtime routine for your infant that includes comforting and relaxing activities. A bedtime routine helps relax your baby so he becomes drowsy. This calming routine also provides security for a little one because you spend quality time with him and he knows what to expect about bedtime, advises the National Sleep Foundation website. The routine might include a bath, a final feed and gentle rocking in a rocking chair before you tuck him in.
Place your baby into her crib on her back after completing the routine. Optimally, your little one will be awake, but sleepy.
Offer your baby a pacifier to help him self-soothe and relax for sleep. Using a pacifier at sleep times can help reduce risk of sudden infant death syndrome, notes HealthyChildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Talk softly to your baby for about a minute and then ease away from the crib out of your baby’s line of vision.
Listen for your baby to see whether she calms and falls asleep or whether she begins fussing. If she fusses, listen for the level of intensity to determine when you should return to help her calm. Mild or rhythmic fussing probably indicates that she is winding herself down for sleep. Cries that become louder or more frantic indicate that you should go back to your baby to reassure her, advises the Tresillian Parent’s Help Line.
Return to your baby to provide reassurance if he’s becoming increasingly upset. Pat his tummy, rub his head and speak soothingly to him to help him calm down. Continue calming him using these methods until his cries dissipate. Leave the room again after he calms.
Repeat the process of calming your baby and then leaving until she falls asleep. As you initially teach these self-soothing skills, you might need to return to your little one several times. Strive to remain patient and reassuring -- and within about two weeks, or even less, your child should learn independent sleep skills, advises counselor and sleep consultant Kim West, with The Sleep Lady website.
Encourage activity during the day. You can use simple activities, such as reading stories to a young baby, to keep her mentally engaged, provide tummy time to help strengthen muscles and encourage physical activity in older infants. Babies cannot differentiate between night and day, so it's up to you to keep your child active during the day so she can sleep at bedtime.
Establish a regular routine. While young infants do not understand day and night, your baby will come to recognize a series of events, giving time to prepare for sleep. Start a routine about 15 to 30 minutes before bedtime. Give your child a soothing bath, read a story and then end the routine with breastfeeding.
Place your baby in bed while he is still awake. Don't let an infant fall asleep while nursing because this will make nighttime sleeping more difficult. When a baby falls asleep during breastfeeding, he does not learn to comfort himself and fall asleep on his own. He expects his mother to be there when he wakes up and may not be able to soothe himself back to sleep.
Keep nighttime feedings as mundane as possible. When your baby wakes during the night, keep the lights dim, do not chit chat and try to breastfeed in the same room. Babies are easily stimulated and may be less inclined to sleep after nursing if there is plenty to see, hear or do.
Place your baby back in bed awake. Again, this will help your infant learn to fall asleep on her own. As a child becomes more accustomed to falling asleep on her own, she will be able to self-soothe if she wakes up during the night.