Self-Settling Advice

The Importance Of Self-Settling

I’m sure all parents out there have read or heard about ‘self-settling’. Similar to topics like ‘when should my baby be sleeping through the night’ or ‘how many night feeds should my baby have’, self-settling has varied opinions and philosophies on when you can start teaching your baby how to self-settle, and even if it’s the right thing to do.

Personally from my own experience with my daughter and families I’ve helped, self-settling is one of the most important components I see in having healthy sleep – not only for the child, but for the parents as well. When I refer to self-settling, I am talking about a child that is able to fall asleep on their own, without the use of any sleep props. A sleep prop is simply any device or activity that your child relies on to fall asleep (i.e. nursing, rocking, stroller, bouncer). When babies associate something like rocking or feeding to fall asleep, they will often look for these same conditions when they wake during the night.

To give you an example of how a baby who relies on a sleep prop may struggle to sleep more than 45 minutes in the daytime and more than an hour or two at night, let’s look at a baby who likes being rocked to sleep. Baby X loves being cuddled, and the only way to get him to sleep is for mum or dad to rock him to sleep. They have to do this for a good 20 minutes until Baby X enters into the deep part of his sleep cycle (otherwise anytime before this 20 minutes and it’s highly likely Baby X will wake as soon as they lie him down in his cot and start crying – therefore having to start the process over again). Once Baby X is in the deep part of his sleep cycle and in his cot, it’s likely he will wake not long after, and immediately start crying. Why? His mum or dad and the rocking are no longer there as he transitions through a sleep cycle – everything feels and looks different and he is confused. Wouldn’t you be too? So mum or dad has to come back in, start rocking and repeat the entire process over again. This can make for a long day and night!!
When a baby who has the ability to self-settle wakes after a short nap or during the night, they are waking in the exact same conditions they went to sleep in, so naturally are able to return back to sleep without your help. The process of self-settling is a learned behaviour, so as parents I believe we need to teach and help our children learn this skill. We do of course have to take this process very slowly with newborns, however my suggestion is to try and start teaching this skill between 6-12 weeks of age, and attempt to make it the norm from about 12 weeks of age.
Here are some tips to help your little one learn this all important skill of self-settling:
  • Follow the ‘drowsy but awake’ theory. This means your baby should be going into their cot awake, so they are learning to fall asleep on their own. You can rock or cuddle them to get them to a drowsy state, but try putting them down before they fall asleep in your arms.
  • Set the stage. Your child needs to be on the right sleep schedule for their age. A regular sleep routine (day and night) will set your baby’s internal body clock, making sleep times predictable and making falling asleep and staying asleep much easier.
  • Make sure your baby isn’t overtired. If your baby is very cranky, fussy, rubbing eyes etc. before sleep time, they will have a much harder time falling asleep. If this is the case, move naptime or bedtime earlier so you catch that magic sleep window, making falling asleep on their own easier.
  • Experiment and be patient. This is a learning process (just like crawling or walking), so give your baby time to develop this skill. If your baby is under 3 months of age, you might attempt the ‘drowsy but awake’ once a day and slowly increase from there.
  • Don’t rush to your baby at the first sign of a cry. Give your baby a few minutes and they may surprise you by figuring it out for themselves without you having to intervene.
Here at Sweet Dreams our personalised sleep plans are perfect for us to assess your situation and provide a tailored solution that us unique to your child, and parenting style.  These also include advice on how to teach your baby to self-settle and remove any sleep props (if required). Get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your situation. We’d love to hear from you.
Just remember that you know your baby best so if there’s any doubt that your baby may be crying for food, wind, sickness, a soiled nappy, or anything else out of the ordinary, then it’s important that we comfort and help baby with those issues first. 

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After two weeks of implementing Emma’s Personalised Sleep Plan the feeding to sleep habit has been broken, day sleeps are lengthening and are now between 60 and 90 minutes long and he has started sleeping through the night!  

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