Have you ever Googled the questions: "How can I get my baby to sleep through the night"? or "How to teach my baby to self-soothe"? If so, this post is for you!
The key to helping any baby sleep through the night is to first lay the groundwork for good sleep and give your baby the tools to practice self-soothing. Check out my FREE Guide: The Good Sleep Groundwork to learn more!
Here are my tips & tricks for helping baby self-soothe and sleep through the night:
1) Use a pacifier. Seems simple, but introducing a pacifier early on (during the first month of life ideally, but it can still be introduced during the first four months!) provides baby with an easy soothing tool. The suckling motion is very calming for babies and has great benefits for sleep. There are even studies that show the use of a pacifier reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Though babies may go through a stage where sleep is disrupted if the pacifier falls out, within a few weeks they typically learn how to pop it back in independently and keep sleeping!
2) Use a comfy sleep sack. Sleep sacks provide a sleep cue that helps the brain and body prepare for sleep. I especially love the Kyte Baby sleep sacks, as they are made of organic bamboo and are incredibly soft. Though not weighted (which now goes against AAP guidelines!), the thicker fabric creates a soft, soothing environment for sleep. This extra comfort helps babies transition sleep cycles easier without needing parent intervention!
3) Encourage hand/thumb-sucking. Though there is some social bias against thumb-sucking in older children (3+ years), hand- and thumb-sucking in infants can be extremely beneficial. Especially for babies who refuse a pacifier, hand-sucking is a great option for self-soothing. If your baby cries during the night, instead of picking them up, help them find their hand or thumb by gently bringing it to their mouth. Most babies will instinctively begin sucking. Continue to guide their hand to their mouth when they cry to encourage this behavior. By practicing during the day and night, eventually they will learn to do it on their own!
4) Give baby space. The most common practice that inhibits self-soothing behavior is immediate parent intervention. No parent enjoys hearing their child cry, and studies show there is a scientific reason for this. When a mother hears a crying child, numerous brain centers light up and recognize those sounds as “important,” influencing a desire to respond. Recognizing this innate phenomenon, parents need to make the conscious choice to not immediately respond (despite their desire). Babies who cannot yet talk (and even ones who do) communicate many emotions, such as confusion or tiredness, through crying. So when a baby wakes from a sleep cycle and cries, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sad. Instead, they may just be indicating they are still tired and need the space to go back to sleep. I recommend using the “Freeze for 5” technique, where you give baby a minimum of five minutes of space to go back to sleep before intervening. As you continue practicing this freeze technique, you can progressively stretch the time, up until about 20 minutes. The typical length of time it takes babies to go to sleep independently is about 15-20 minutes. However, if your child is sobbing, I always suggest you tend to them!
5) Comfort without rocking. For babies who require parent support to go back to sleep, it’s best to encourage them back to sleep without external movement, such as rocking. When parents rock their babies to sleep, the babies are not using self-soothing skills and also fall asleep outside of the crib space. While this works great in newborns (and is absolutely encouraged!), after 4 months of age babies may become reliant on this rocking to fall asleep. Instead, I recommend that parents sit next to the crib and put their hand on baby’s chest, while singing or shushing to calm their baby. Though baby may first get quite angry that they are not being picking up, with time they will calm down and relax to their parent's touch and voice. This method allows baby to fall asleep in their crib, so that when they wake up, they are still in the same place they fell asleep and therefore less likely to startle awake.
6) Practice independent play. Beginning as early as 3 months, you can encourage your baby to rest and play independently during the day. Lay them on their back (allow for plenty of tummy-time too, but that requires lots of parental support) and allow them to look around. You can dangle black and white images or soft, baby-proof objects to keep their attention, or just let them take in the room. Start with 5 minutes/day and slowly up it to as many as 30 minutes/day, where they are hanging out and not needing interaction from you. Give them interesting toys and visuals and just watch what they do! It can be really eye-opening to watch as your child explores the world on their own terms. In addition to helping promote independent play, this also promotes independent sleep! If baby is used to laying on their back without constant interaction, they won’t mind being laid down for sleep. In fact, the more you practice, it’s not uncommon for baby to just fall asleep while having their independent play time! This is a great sign that your baby will be successful at self-soothing when it comes to sleep!
Takeaway: Combining all of these tips together will certainly increase your chances of sleep success. As with any new skill (and self-soothing is absolutely a skill!), it’s important to have patience, make sure baby is developmentally ready (which is why I don’t recommend focusing on self-soothing until 4+ months of age!), and stay consistent. Practicing each day, while also giving baby grace when they “just aren’t having it” (I mean we’ve all had days like that, right?!), will eventually lead to a successful self-soother. You got this, mama!
As always, let me know which tips worked for you! And if you want support, your girl is always here for you! Check out my sleep coaching packages for 1:1 support!
Wishing you all the best
& lots of rest,
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Bethany Barba, M.Ed.