20 Tips for Teaching Your Baby to Self-Soothe
If someone plucked you from a nice, cozy, warm area, and threw you into a bright, loud, wide open space filled with unfamiliar objects and sounds—you’d probably be a little scared and discontented too, right?
That’s basically your baby, trying to sleep on their own.
Babies are constantly looking for reassurance and affection. And, they should certainly receive it—to a point.
Once my son passed the six month mark and started waking up suspiciously overnight, I knew I had a potential problem on my hands.
He wasn’t hungry, wasn’t in a dirty diaper, wasn’t cold or hot—he simply wasn’t happy because I wasn’t in the room!
After a long, sleepless month I knew I had to start utilizing self-soothing strategies to get his sleep back on track (and my own), and to show him he’s in a secure space.
Read on to learn about some of the best tips and tricks I’ve come across when it’s time to teach your baby to self-soothe.
1) Introduce a Lovey
Loveys are amazing. I gave my son a small, furry blanket with an animal attached to it so he could use it to ease his fears.
I could hear him babbling to it and I often noticed him rubbing it between his fingers, or on the side of his face as I watched him in the crib from my monitor.
It was something warm and fuzzy, that made him feel less alone and that quickly calmed him down.
2) Play Background Tunes
The womb is a very loud place. But, with that loudness, brings comfort.
My son heard everything from our vaccuum running, to the low hum of my voice, and even our dogs barking.
When a baby is placed in a crib, in dead silence, that silence can be deafening to a little one.
Playing background music in soothing classical tones, or nature sounds such as rain or waterfalls helps calm a frantic baby down and reunites them with constant noises like they were used to.
3) Run a Sound Machine or Air Purifier
Similar to playing background tunes (which eventually shut off throughout the night), running a sound machine or air purifier is another way you can keep your baby calm when you’re not with them to do so.
White noise machines are one of my secret weapons when trying to get my little ones down for a nap or bedtime. Check out our guide on choosing the best one!
The low hum mimics the muffled sounds they were used to inside you, and they also get the added benefit of breathing in fresher air.
4) Wean Proximity
Instead of “leaving” your baby in the crib cold turkey, take gradual steps in doing so.
For several nights, say “Good night” to your baby a foot away from their crib.
For another couple nights, take a few steps further away from them.
Repeat the process until you are literally out the door. Your baby will learn that when you lay them down to sleep, you are still nearby, but they no longer have to rely on you to rub their back or rock them to sleep.
The action and exit will become automatic and anticipated.
5) Apply the 15 Minute Rule
It’s hard at first, but if you’re comfortable with it, you need to let your baby cry it out.
If you are sure all of their needs are met, you simply provide them comfort by showing your face (no touching!) and restating it’s time to sleep.
Allow 15 minutes to pass. Repeat the process.
Some babies pick up on the act very quickly. For others, it can take them two weeks to catch on.
The key is to be consistent and not to stray from the 15 minute rule when getting your baby to self-soothe.
The first time I tried this, I probably went into my son’s nursery 12 times.
The second night, I went in 8. The third night I went in 5, and by the fourth night, I only had to go in once.
My son is now a champion sleeper and he also doesn’t have many “typical” toddler tantrums, because I believe he learned to calm himself from this technique at a very young age!
As tiring as it is, it works and is worth the effort in the long run.
6) Use a Night Light
Sometimes, something as simple as plugging in a night light helps a baby to self-soothe.
They can see their surroundings and a little light brings them comfort.
You can opt to purchase a solar powered light, which automatically shuts off once daylight is detected.
I always made sure I had a night light in my diaper bag so if my son needed to nap or sleep overnight elsewhere, he always had a dimly lit room to sleep in. just like at home.
7) Add Some Friends
My son loved his sleep sheep. It was so soft and cuddly, and it became his best buddy when he was sad in his crib!
When he was littler, I used to attach the sheep to the side of the crib to avoid the risk of SIDS and smothering.
Once he was older and stronger, he cuddled up with it. The sheep is awesome because it plays a heart rhythm steadily for hours, which always helped soothe my son.
It reminded him of being close to me, since he used to regularly hear my heartbeat.
8) Set Up A Crib Activity
Some parents are scared to put up an activity station in their baby’s crib because they feel it will distract them from sleep.
The truth is, kids sleep when they’re tired. An activity center will help bring more comfort and joy into their sleeping area, and help them refocus their feelings.
Browse your local baby retail store for a light up ocean attachment, which has knobs and little ocean creatures floating in water. It plays music as well, and keeps your baby company.
9) Toss in a Teether
A lot of times, babies act out at night because their teeth are bothering them. There is less noise and fewer distractions in the evening, so babies really notice when their teeth start to push through.
Consider placing a teether in the crib with them so they start to learn how to use it independently, and even recognize when they need it or not.
Plus, if you use a teether like Sophie the Giraffe, it can double as a safe toy (since some parents are hesitant about putting in a stuffed animal).
10) Use a Temperature App
If you want your baby to learn to self-soothe, you can’t be running upstairs over every little thing.
Consider downloading an app that lets you control your nursery’s heating and cooling functions.
It will be an ideal way to ensure they are comfortable and not fussing over the temperature, without you physically entering the room and upsetting them more, or disrupting their self-soothing session.
11) Directives With Monitor
As your baby ages, you fear SIDS less and you don’t hit the panic button and feel the need to be in your nursery keeping surveillance.
So, when your little one fusses and is having trouble self-soothing, utilize the speaker feature on your monitor so you can communicate clearly with your baby.
You can sing them one last song, or give them a firm directive to confirm it’s bed time.
12) Keep Up With Routine
A baby is less upset about going to bed when they anticipate it about to happen. For example, my son always knew that when he’d get his bath, bedtime immediately followed. Period.
We never altered this routine.
We even applied lavender lotion for a calming effect, but because smell is one of the strongest connectors to memory. he knew he was about to be put down and be away from us for the evening.
13) Don’t Pick Them Up
This may be terribly tempting when your baby is screaming their head off, but again, if you know their basic needs are met, there is no reason why you should pick them up to soothe them.
They see your presence and that is enough.
Picking them up gives them exactly what they want—comfort—instead of making them responsible for their own satisfaction.
My son often got upset when I put him down to cook dinner.
But, I stuck to my guns and he eventually utilized some of the other self-soothing techniques I mentioned (rubbing on his Lovey) and he was fine!
14) Toss the Rocker
If you still have a rocking chair in your nursery, it’s time to put it away.
You’ll be tempted to use it prior to bed if it’s still in your line of sight.
Since you want to get your baby into the habit of putting them self to sleep, remove the temptation (for both of you!).
15) Feed Before and After Bed
The number one rule of getting your baby to self-soothe is to ensure that they are not hungry at all so you know their basic need to eat has been met.
Give them a bottle right before bed so you eliminate the need of doing a night feeding.
Then, when they are awake, feed them right away to teach them that they will eat for sure, just not overnight.
Your baby will understand your feeding expectations, and will look forward to both bottles.
16) Use an Overnight Diaper
I found that my son’s sleep was often disrupted overnight because he soaked through his diaper. This made it hard to apply any kind of self-soothing strategies when I knew he wasn’t the driest or most comfortable.
I switched over to an overnight diaper, which is much more absorbent than traditional ones.
This helped keep him asleep and made him feel more comfortable and happier overall.
17) Lay Down When Awake
One of the most important things to do when employing self-soothing strategies is to lay your baby down when they are drowsy, but not fully asleep.
You are making it become their own responsibility to fall asleep and stay asleep.
They learn they are totally safe and that they are in control of how and when they doze off.
18) Be Consistent for Nap and Night
Whatever you do, become a creature of routine.
If you put your baby down, say “Go to sleep” and walk away at bedtime, you should also be doing this at nap time.
Your baby will fuss less and start to calm themselves because they know what to expect each time you leave them in their crib to rest.
19) Tire Them Out
Babies and toddlers generally fuss less when they are actually physically tired.
They obviously have an easier time falling asleep, and they also sleep more soundly.
Before a nap, make sure they spend time outdoors. The cool air (or sometimes heat) really made my little one zonk out, so there was no time or way they would fuss about.
Lots of moms say that winding them up by running around before bed is a bad idea. But, in our household, it is a great way for my son to expel all his excess energy!
20) Use a Swaddle Sack
Most babies at this stage in the game are too big to be totally wrapped up in a full fledge swaddle. So, consider utilizing a swaddle sack.
Swaddle blankets are amazing. They wrap your little one up like a burrito which allows them to sleep better! Find out how to choose the right one.
These are great because your baby’s arms are able to be mobile (if they need to grab a teether or rub their blanket), but they still have the cuddled up feeling from the bottom sack portion.
They sell swaddle sacks in various sizes and materials, so you can use one during every season, and for every size.
Think of them as a big “hug” in a bag.
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Babies need a lot of things from their caregivers and their environment. Sometimes, one of those things include tough love.
These 20 tips and tricks have allowed me to teach my son how to self-soothe and make it through the night without my attention.
The soothing strategies take time, but they are tried and tested. and have made all the difference in my household!
Be firm, be patient, but most importantly, be consistent!