I honestly believe that self settling is massively misunderstood and can cause a whole mix of anxiety, views and debates. The bottom line is every child is capable of learning to self settle to sleep; the problems arise because they have to be taught to self settle so that they can fall asleep. This is where a lot of misconceptions come in; falling asleep independently is a life skill and it is so important that parents choose an approach they are comfortable with and most importantly, one that they know they can stick to when they teach their baby to fall asleep independently.
From birth, a baby is not capable of self settling, they need help falling asleep. From being the womb for a long time they have been used to your heartbeat and motion which is why white noise and motion (rocking, swinging) works really well in helping a baby fall to sleep. This is absolutely fine and no parent should feel they are creating a bad habit in doing these things. If a baby cries they are asking for your help in something and sleep is one of them! A baby can only be taught to self settle when they are older and developmentally ready. Their circadian rhythm (body clocks) do not mature until at least 16 weeks which is when it can be ideal to begin to look at ways in helping your baby learn this importance life skill of self settling.
When a baby learns and is confident enough to self settle and fall asleep independently, naps become easier and night wakings become less frequent. You will hear some parents say their baby has always slept and never had a problem going off to sleep, this is rare! Don’t compare yourself, every child is unique and their temperament and circumstances are dependent upon how they settle. Some babies learn quicker than others and it is usually because of how they have learnt from the help they have received in the early days.
If a baby is reliant upon help then each time they wake they will look for this help to get themselves back to sleep, this can be from every sleep cycle or every couple of hours. The way you respond to their waking will be teaching them how to go back to sleep and they will always look for this each time.
Teaching a baby to self settle never means leaving them to cry alone until they become exhausted and fall to sleep. This is stressful on the parents and causes anxiety in the baby. Teaching your baby to self settle involves you being there for reassurance gently. Like any new skill we learn, we have to work at it and so does your baby. Practise putting them down and responding to them whilst making sure you are not doing it for them (putting them to sleep.) Your baby will be reassured by your gentle approach and presence and will eventually relax in their sleep space and trust you are close by which will enable them to fall asleep comfortably.
Remember, any new skill is tough and your baby is likely to cry but the cries are asking for guidance. Consistency is key in reassuring your baby and not letting them get too ramped up. Learning to fall asleep is a big milestone for a baby but one that is so important. Respond to the cues your baby gives you, make sure you are aware of the times between naps and the hours of sleep they require in 24hours, catching them at their ‘sleep window’ will make self settling much easier to achieve.
Laura, Babbaboo Sleep.
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