All babies have some capabilities to self-soothe but it is not deliberate until they are older. It is a process and something that doesn’t happen overnight and it can take some babies longer than others depending on their temperament and personality.
A baby is not neurologically or developmentally ready to sleep through the night (10 ½ hrs.) until they are at least 4 ½ months old. This is why we don’t recommend sleep training until they are old enough. It is not fair to the baby and just makes it more challenging. I recommend starting slowly around 4 months of age and teach baby how to self-soothe. Below are some self-soothing tips for babies that parents can implement to help the baby gain these skills.
Tip # 1: Establish a bedtime routine
Most parent implement a bedtime routine around 8 to 12 weeks but if you haven’t done so yet now is the time. Letting your child fall asleep in a swing or bouncy seat in front of the TV is not acceptable. Children need structure and consistency and a bedtime routine provides this so the baby knows what to expect and cues her that it is night time and bed time. Keep routine the same every night and at the same bedtime. At 4 to 5 months of age a good bedtime is somewhere between 7 pm and 8 pm.
Tip # 2: Put baby down drowsy but awake.
Placing a baby in his crib sound asleep does not give her the opportunity to learn how to self-soothe. The last thing she remembers is being in Mom’s arms and when she wakes up Mom isn’t there. Another self-soothing tip is to place her in the crib still slightly awake so she can do things to help her relax like sucking on her hand, rhythmic kicking, finding her comfortable position or whatever comes natural for her. She may not know what these things are yet but if you give her the opportunity she will discover them and you just have to give her a chance. Give her a minute or two to settle before intervening. When she is drowsy and calm she will ease into these things as she is old enough to do so.
Tip # 3: No more swaddling
At 4 months’ baby should be out of the swaddle. I recommend begin weaning out of the swaddle around 3 ½ months. So many parents resist doing this because it has worked so well and their baby sleeps longer when swaddled. However, developmentally your baby needs her arms free as she is beginning to use her arms more and learning to reach and grab. The Moro reflex (aka startle reflex) is diminishing and new skills need to be developed. When a baby has free use of her arms and hands she will figure out she can suck on them, she can use them to help her roll over or inch around the crib. She can kick her legs or touch her toes. Don’t put this off it will only delay the process of learning to self-soothe.
Tip # 4: Introduce a lovey
A lovey is also called a transitional object and it is a parent substitute. It is something a baby can grow and bond with. The lovey should ideally not be larger than her head, not have things that can fall off that she can choke on (such as eyes on a stuffed animal). If you use a small blanket or lovey they sell in the store make sure it is not too big and breathable as they often put it over their face. Introduce it slowly when you are feeding her and soothing her down before sleep. When you put her down in her crib, put the lovey close to her, and even wrap her hand around it if you can.
These are basic self-soothing tips that work so don’t think it has to be complicated. Be consistent and do the work you will see results. Babies are smart and will learn when given the opportunity.