Q: How do I teach my baby to self-soothe back to sleep?

Q: How do I teach my baby to self-soothe back to sleep?

Asked by Sabrina


Karen’s thoughts:

From about six weeks onwards, when your baby wakes up at night, try not to rush to her side, but give her a little space and the opportunity to settle down by herself. Your baby could be sleeping in a crib within monitoring distance of your bed, and you will have begun to distinguish your baby’s different cries and will be able to tell when she is hungry, in distress, or just “complaining” a little. When she is hungry or in distress, you should meet your baby’s needs. If you think she is just complaining a little as she tries to make herself comfortable, you may want to leave her a bit to see if she can settle down back to sleep on her own. This delay gives her the opportunity to figure out how to calm and self-soothe. My sister, mother of two, chose to not pick up her six-week-old baby immediately when she awoke during the night, but stood by her crib and watched to see what her daughter would do. The very first time she tried this, to her amazement and delight, after some shuffling around and making a few noises, her baby fell back to a deep sleep without any intervention, and slept longer.

Some parents choose to move their older babies into a separate room close by, once the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has lessened at six months. They can listen for any signs of distress in their babies, but not be disturbed by any minor noises they make through the self-soothing process.

Other moms sometimes have a baby that happens to be a particularly noisy sleeper. The baby would be sleeping soundly while the mother was kept awake listening to her. When the mother moves the baby into a nearby room, with doors left open and still within monitoring distance, they are more able to sleep better.

If you are sharing the same room as your baby, one strategy that may help is to pretend to be asleep yourself, modeling what you would like your baby to do. Of course, if her complaints turn into signals of greater distress, you may wish to attend to them.

Learn the differences between your baby’s cries

As you bond with your baby, and through some trial and error interactions during caring for your child, you will learn to distinguish differences in your baby’s cries and body language. Babies cannot talk but use different cries to communicate their needs. You will learn that not all cries mean hunger. There will be cries for tiredness, pain, discomfort, or simply “I want to be held,” and, of course, you should respond accordingly. One cry may be a “complaining” sort of cry, as she grouses about something that may be difficult for her.

Understanding your baby’s different cries will help you in meeting her needs appropriately and in deciding how to handle different situations. Some cries do not signal a need for an immediate response. Pay particular attention to the sounds your baby makes when put to bed and while learning to self-soothe.