One of the most troubling aspects facing any new parent (especially if it’s your first time) is the thought of your baby crying without you. Though we’d like to be there for them all the time, the fact of the matter is that whether it’s getting up multiple times per night or interrupting a busy day to soothe them yet again, we can’t always be there. In fact, over-relying on the parent’s presence to be soothed may not be the best thing for them to begin with.
This is why teaching your baby to self-soothe is one of the best things you can give them. Of course, you’ll still want to be there when things get bad – most of the time, you won’t let them out of your sight. However, you will be a stronger parent if they can soothe themselves even just once per night. You’ll even rest easier knowing that if you’re not there every second, they have some simple tools of their own to figure out their scary feelings and calm down all by themselves.
Here’s a short guide on how to teach your baby to self-soothe.
Know When to Soothe
To know when your baby should be able to self-soothe with the tips we’re going to give you, you first have to know that nothing else is wrong. These are the things you should check for first to make sure that soothing is all the baby needs. This is a summary of the tips given by the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Firstly, you need to make sure that your baby isn’t sick by checking their temperature – they may be crying because they need help. Hours of distressed crying could be a sign of a fever.
Next, make sure they aren’t hungry. This is another thing that the baby can’t fix on their own so all the self-soothing techniques in the world can’t help them if all they want to do is eat.
There are a few other housekeeping things you can check as well to figure out why they’re crying. Check if they need a diaper change or if they have too many or too few clothes on. Both of these things could make them hot, cold, or uncomfortable, all of which could cause crying. They could also be scared because of overstimulation from lights or nearby noise.
Checking and changing these things first will help you figure out your baby’s needs. Only when you know that none of these things is the issue will you be comfortable letting them self-soothe with your techniques.
Learn the connection between self-soothing and sleep
When you want to learn how to teach your baby to self-soothe during the day, the basis of what you are actually teaching them is how to sleep properly. If you can get your baby in a healthy sleep schedule, they will be much closer to being able to soothe themselves.
The first step to this is making sure that their sleeping place is consistent. Use the CDC’s recommendations for creating a safe sleeping environment that includes making sure they’re on their backs at all times, sleeping on a surface that’s firm (surfaces that are too soft increase the risk of accidental suffocation), and sleeping in the same room as you. Search Netparents and other sites to find the right rockers and sleeping surfaces for your baby.
If your baby has toys, blankets, pillows, or other items that they like, these should be removed from the sleeping area: a firm, empty crib is the safest place for your baby.
Next, you want to keep track of your pre-sleep routine and keep it the same for your baby. This encourages comforting familiarity, which helps them get to sleep. This goes along with making sure they have a nap schedule that’s healthy for their age and works for their body’s rhythms.
You also want to set a bedtime before your baby becomes too tired. This encourages them to sleep in a pattern that you set, rather than to only fall asleep when they’re exhausted. As you can imagine, this will help them get back to sleep if they wake up. It’s one of the first techniques in learning how to teach a baby to self-soothe without crying.
How to start the self-soothing routine
If you want to know how to teach your baby to self-soothe, you have to know what helps your baby get to sleep: this is where all your consistent pre-sleep routines come in. Once you’ve gotten them in a healthy rhythm with your help, you can start trying to improve their ability to self-soothe and sleep.
The most important thing is consistency, which includes making sure your partner is aware of all these standards and procedures as well. If one parent does this stuff differently, it will never work.
Next, you need to work on your baby’s reliance on you and other sleep aids. For instance, if you breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby right before sleep (this is common), then this will impede their ability to self-soothe because an essential part of their brain’s sleep routine – food – isn’t something they can get on their own.
So if you have to feed them, do so at the very beginning of your pre-sleep procedures (this goes for pacifiers too). If you don’t, they’ll cry at night, unable to self-soothe until they get this stimulus back.
Patience and consistency are the keys to learning how to teach your baby to self-soothe. First, you need to make sure your baby’s crying isn’t the result of something that needs your attention like a fever or uncomfortable clothes. Barring that, you need to get your partner on board with the right pre-sleep procedures so you can keep everything consistent: otherwise, they’ll never learn how to self-soothe.
This is because self-soothing is psychological: it is the baby’s ability to initiate the sleep procedures on their own. So if you make them reliant on a bottle for sleep, expect to get up at night and put them back to sleep with the same bottle.
It’s all about stimulus-response and consistency. With the right response and consistent attention, you can teach your baby to self-soothe, making them less reliant on you, improving your own sleep, and giving them healthy coping mechanisms to make themselves feel better when you aren’t there.