You Can’t Train a Baby to Self-Soothe

Have you ever heard of the phrase self-soothing? You probably have if you are a new parent; in fact, you may be obsessed with it. Let’s dive in and see what it means, how it works, and how to achieve it. 

What is Self-Soothing?

The term “self-soothing” was a phrase developed by Dr. Thomas Anders, a sleep researcher in the 70s. The general term means a child being able to comfort him or herself and/or go to sleep without a parent’s intervention. There is no scientific basis for the idea, and it is not clinically proven. There are two things to look at to learn more about it – stress response and sleep cycles.

We all think we would be able to sleep eight straight hours if given a chance, but that is not the case. Everyone sleeps in short bursts of 90 to 120 minutes at a time. As adults, we have learned how to go back to sleep and transition between sleep cycles of deep sleep and active REM. When we wake up, we might turn the pillow to the cool side, rollover, and go back to sleep, and remember nothing about it in the morning.

Now imagine you are asleep, and you wake up and find yourself in an aisle in Target. Chances are you would be confused. You would have to find your way to the exit, drive home, get back to bed, calm down, and try to go back to sleep. 

Now, let’s consider your little one: they fall asleep in your arms where they are breastfed, rocked, and cuddled, then, they wake at the end of the sleep cycle to find themself in a crib instead of where they were when they fell asleep. To them, it is the same as you finding yourself in a Target aisle. 

Your Baby Needs Your Help

Although it is hard to hear, it is entirely normal for your child to expect your help in getting back to sleep. It is also normal for your little one to wake up several times during a night, needing you to help them back to sleep gently. 

If that is your current situation – take heart! You are not alone, you are not doing anything to harm your baby, and it is healthy. Gentle or responsive parenting is sometimes known as holistic or attachment parenting. 

All babies learn to transition between sleep stages and eventually sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready. Studies have proven that newborns who spend more time in quiet sleep rather than active sleep will develop this ability sooner than those who are active sleepers. It appears to be a part of their genetic makeup. Some children may not be ready for this until they reach two or three years of age.

Understanding the Stress Response

The stress response is another school of thought. When you feel stress or get upset, cortisol flows in your brain. This hormone is good as it produces the flight or fight response and helps you think sharply in an emergency situation. 

Adults have the ability to self-regulate heart-pumping, sweaty-palmed cases, and calm down. We use rational thinking, talking through the problem, and deep breathing, but young ones do not have this ability. This is where parents can offer help by soothing their child. 

For those parents who are at the end of their rope with their child, here is the middle ground – Sensitive Sleep Coaching. 

Sensitive Sleep Coaching includes:

  • Patience and Time – These techniques may take a few weeks
  • Consistency – Be consistent day and night
  • Supportive help – You will need the help of a supportive partner through the tough times
  • Understand – You will need a sound understanding of your little one’s usual wake patterns
  • Sleep Cues – You will figure out your child’s sleep cues

With this approach, you will find what your child wants to fall asleep, and you will slowly begin to remove it. You will continue advancing every few days until your baby is falling asleep without assistance. Understand that not one size fits all, so depending on your child’s age, diet, developmental stage, and health history, there are other tactics to try. 

Certified Holistic Sleep Coach

If you are feeling frustrated and exhausted with a child who will not sleep through the night, connect with Rest Easy Sleep. We will see if we would be the perfect fit for you and your family. We offer a complimentary 15-minute consultation, so you have nothing to lose! Contact us today!