I have always been a firm believer that “self-settling” is a myth. After two kids and countless hours spent bouncing, rocking, swinging, shushing, driving and feeding my babies to sleep, I pretty much assumed that any mum that claims her infant self-settles to sleep is lying through her teeth. And then I saw it first hand. Turns out, self-settling is not a myth. I was just doing it wrong.
While I have absolutely nothing to bring to the self-settling table, my baby-whisperer friend has agreed to pass on her tips to you, our Babyology readers. So … sleep-deprived parents around the world, here is the advice you have been looking for.
What is self-settling?
It’s this magical thing where you place babies down in a bassinet or cot sleepy, but awake… and they put themselves to sleep! There are different methods but often they involve letting leaving the room briefly and listening as your baby cries before falling asleep. This is something I couldn’t do.
Some experts recommend self-settling from day one but others believe that parents should wait until baby is four to five months before giving any method a try.
My baby-whisperer friend and her dream baby used an approach similar to the gentle-infant-sleep method, which can take longer than some of the other methods, such as Cry It Out, but it involves less crying for everyone involved. If you have been feeding or rocking your baby to sleep or co-sleep, then this is also a great way to wean them off this and to teach your baby to sleep independently.
Here’s how you do it.
1. Set a routine
If you don’t already have one, then now’s the time. During the day, try to stick to the eat, play, sleep routine so baby doesn’t get used to falling asleep while feeding. At night, stick to the bath, book, bed routine.
2. Introduce sleep associations
Yes, some experts say that sleep associations are no good, but, you know what else is no good? Having to pull out your breasts every forty minute sleep cycle to put baby back to sleep. So, sleep associations are okay in my books.
Some positive sleep associations include a white noise player, a sleeping bag or a comforter like a teddy bear. My friend uses a fan. She moves the bassinet so that it is underneath the fan, turns it on and her baby watches it until his little eyes shut.
3. Allow several days for baby to become attached to these sleep associations
Don’t try self-settling until they have a new sleep association and are comfortable with it, whether it’s a sleeping bag, a comforter or white noise.
4. Start by moving baby off you
You are your baby’s sleep association right now. Your first step is to teach your baby she can actually fall asleep in bed, rather than on you. So if you currently rock your baby until she is asleep, change to only rocking baby until she is drowsy. Then put her into bed and pat her back until she falls asleep. This can take a few tries and several days.
5. Gradually reduce the rocking/bouncing/feeding
Once your baby can fall asleep in the cot after being rocked, it’s time to only rock baby into a calm state. Allow baby to get to the drowsy stage in the cot. You will still have to pat baby to help bub reach this sleepy stage.
6. Almost there… take away the rocking/bouncing/feeding all together
Again, this isn’t going to happen overnight. Once baby is comfortable enough with the cot, it will get easier for baby to fall asleep without the need to rock. Gradually start to reduce the patting as well.
Okay, here comes the confession. My daughter, who is now nearly three, still could not self-settle to sleep. She required me to tickle her, cuddle her or even rock her to sleep. And so I gave this approach a try. And five days later, I can actually read her a story, kiss her goodnight, tuck her in and…. leave the room!
It will take longer than five days for younger children but it’s proof – self-settling isn’t a myth. It is a fine art, however, that takes patience, practice and dedication. But it can be done.
What approach did you take to master the fine art of self-settling? Make sure you also check out our one minute approach to putting your baby to sleep – it works apparently!