Babies aren’t naturally born with the ability to self-soothe. You have to patiently teach your infant this skill, which may involve letting him cry before you offer comfort. When a baby is able to self-soothe, he naturally sleeps for longer periods of time and falls back asleep when he awakes in the middle of the night, allowing you to enjoy more rest.
The Right Age
A baby should be able to self-soothe by the time she is 6 months old, according to Patty Wipfler, author and founder of the Hand in Hand website. While the Raising Children Network shares that you can start training your baby to self-soothe at 3 or 4 months of age, Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at the Seattle Children’s Hospital says that you can start training when a baby is as young as 1 month. Like crawling, it takes time and practice for a baby to learn to self-soothe.
Cry, Baby, Cry
While allowing a baby to cry can seem distressing, a January 2013 article on the CNN website shares that infants who are 6 months old and older do not experience any emotional, health, sleep or behavioral problems when left to self-soothe. The report also states that researchers at the University of North Texas found that babies between 4 and 10 months who participated in a sleep training study fell asleep faster and cried for a shorter period by the third night. However, cortisol levels in the babies showed that the babies felt stressed as they self-soothed, even if they didn’t cry. There is no evidence that having a baby self-soothe is harmful as long as she receives plenty of attention and affection during the day, according to the Raising Children Network.
As you train your baby to self-soothe, keep in mind that there may be times that you’ll need to rouse him. For example, a baby who is 4 months old or younger needs to eat during the night. At the age of 1 month, Swanson says that you can start training your baby to self-soothe by letting him learn to sleep on his own when he feels awake, content and starting to get sleepy. She recommends letting him fall asleep in his crib a few times a day, on his back and without rocking or feeding him at the same time. If you notice that your baby starts to drift off when he feeds, end the meal and place him in his crib. Putting your baby in his crib when he’s drowsy but awake will help him associate his crib with sleeping. When your baby starts to cry, let him fuss as he learns to reposition and calm himself. If he doesn’t calm down and you know that he isn’t hungry or wet, try gently patting your baby while he is in his crib until he calms down on his own instead of picking him up or rocking him right away.
When Self-Soothing Doesn’t Seem to Work
When you train your baby to self-soothe, the Raising Children Network states that it’s important for her to be on a play, feed and sleep routine because it will help her develop sleep associations. These associations are patterns and habits that your baby will associate with sleeping. For example, at the same time every night, you may feed your baby, give her a bath and give her a new change of clothes before bed. Help her differentiate between night and day by keeping the lights dim and feeding her in her room at night. Restrict playing and talking during and after a feeding or diaper change during the night. If your baby seems too fussy or too sleepy to self-soothe, she may need an earlier bedtime. In some cases, an infant may be too young or need more practice.