How To Help Your Baby Self-Soothe
Did your baby have you up all night again? Paediatric sleep expert Edel Gargan has some great advice for sleep-deprived parents on how to help little ones to self-settle.
Babies can be difficult to get to sleep for many different reasons. On your first baby, you may be so in awe of your little bundle that you find it very hard to put your baby down. If your baby is suffering from any colic or reflux issues you will need to do whatever you can to help him settle, which may lead to your baby forming a few sleep dependencies. Another issue is that second-time parents often have the fear of waking up the first child and tend to be over-responsive leading to the second baby having unwanted dependencies.
There are lots of different types of sleep associations, some good (positive sleep associations) which your baby can maintain for themselves; and then some not so good (negative sleep associations), this is where your baby will need your assistance to help get to sleep.
Positive sleep associations include using a blanket/muslin cloth, cot, constant music at bedtime.
Negative sleep associations include feeding to sleep using either the breast or the bottle, rocking or holding, sleeping on their side or tummy (as you will need to reposition them during the night), cot mobiles or music devices that switch off after a certain amount of time, buggy/bouncer, soother if the baby doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination to replace for herself.
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How does your baby sleep?
You may have heard of the four-month sleep regression. Some babies sail through this phase, but more who up to this point seem to have slept very well, start to regress to waking up frequently during the night. The reason for this is up to four months your baby will predominantly sleep in a light sleep phase for most of the night and only really wake when hungry, regardless of how or where he went to sleep. When your baby reaches four or five months, he will develop sleep cycles.
At this stage, your baby will transition from light to deep sleep at various times during the night. At each transition, your baby will rouse, their sensors will do a little scan of the area and if there is a change he will sense it. This is said to be a natural survival instinct in us all, therefore, it is very important that whatever environment your baby goes to sleep in remains the same for the night.
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Self-settling is hard
Put yourself in your baby’s shoes. If you went to sleep on the sofa every evening but woke up in your bed you would be fully awake wondering how on earth you got there. If this was to happen every night you would be very reluctant to go to sleep! Or if you went to sleep with your baby in your arms, when you rouse your sensors will do a scan of the area, and if your baby is not with you, you will wake, panic and go in search for her and when you find her you will find it hard to return to sleep and wake frequently during the rest of the night to make sure he is still there. This is what your baby is going through every night, if he cannot self-settle.
There are many sleep training techniques out there and most of them work once you are very consistent. It does take time and patience to see results. You should see improvements by the end of the week. By the end of the second week, you should see considerable improvements, it won’t be perfect at that stage but you should be about 95% of the way there.
Sleep training from six months
I recommend sleep training babies from six months onwards, as young babies may still need to be fed during the night and it is too inconsistent for them if you cut out some feeds but not all. For a baby to learn to settle during the night without feeding or rocking etc. they need to learn how to resettle themselves every time they wake.
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It takes time
Prepare yourself – it may take some time before he falls off to sleep. You will be responding to all of your baby’s cries, therefore he will know you are there for him. When your baby wakes during the night you should use the same technique for as long as it takes, this means your baby may be up for some time during the night so have a plan in place to catch up on sleep the following day
The following day it will be important to work on your baby’s naps: If your baby is having two or three naps a day, choose one nap to work on and bring your baby out in the car or buggy for the other naps. Once your baby is able to settle themselves to sleep in the cot within 20 minutes you can then put your baby into the cot for all the naps. Keep track of how long it takes for your baby to settle in the evening and at nap time along with how long it takes him to resettle during the night so that you can track your progress. Remain patient, consistent and persistent and you will get your baby self-soothing.
When he wakes during the rest of the night you will need to respond to him in the same way. You really need to prepare yourself, you could be up for a long time during the night. He will settle for you eventually. And remember to always remain calm.
I find the following technique works very well for babies aged from six to 18 months:
- Place your baby in his cot, show him pictures in a book for a minute and then sing a song, keep everything nice and calm. While you are singing a song rub him gently. Once your routine is finished, sit for a couple of seconds rub/pat him and say shh. Then give him a big kiss and leave the room.
- If he gets upset as you leave the room, wait at the door, count to 10, listen and see if his cry is getting better or worse.
- If his cry is getting worse, go back to him, say shush at the door for a few seconds, if he stops crying leave.
- If he is still upset, go to him, gently rub him and say shush for a few minutes, if he calms down or gets drowsy, leave.
- If he is still crying hard pick him up and cuddle him but put him back in his cot lying down once he starts to calm down, and leave the room. (While comforting him tell him he is okay). If he gets upset as you lower him into the cot you need to still put him in.
- Always leave the room even if he is crying before you get to the door. Always wait a few seconds at the door to determine whether or not his cry is a proper cry that will not stop (as the night goes on his cries may turn into more of a whimper).
Repeat the above steps until he eventually falls off to sleep.
Has your little one started self-soothing? How did you find the process of adjustment? We'd love to hear.