Busting the self-soothing baby myth_blog post_baby_yawning

Sleep training does not teach your baby to self-soothe.

Why?  Self soothing actually means to be able to “self-regulate” and in order to do this all three parts of our brain need to be fully developed.  Self-regulation is in fact a highly sophisticated skill which we are not able to properly do until we are in our twenties.

During the early years of our children’s lives it is our job as parents to be responsive to their needs and help them to co-regulate in stressful situations.  It is possible that a pre-schooler has some of the basic skills of being able to self-regulate their emotions but it is developmentally impossible for an infant or toddler to be able to do this.

Definitition of self-regulation/self-soothing

The definition of self-regulation is “The ability of an individual to modulate an emotion or set of emotions which involves the ability to calm ones-self when faced with a stressful situation or when in a state of high arousal. Emotional regulation typically increases across our lifespan.”

It appears that there is a mismatch between what our culture expects and what biology allows. For babies and young children, the skill of self soothing is a physical impossibility. It is as futile and unrealistic as trying to teach a six week old baby how to ride a bike.

So what can you do to help your baby to fall asleep independently?

Below are five ways that you can support your baby in their journey to learning how to fall asleep themselves.

  1.  Provide emotional co-regulation to your baby and your child. Let them borrow your thinking brain or “neo cortex” until theirs matures which will then mean they are able to rationalise and control the emotional part of their brain or “limbic system”.
  2. When putting your baby to sleep, ensure they are biologically ready for sleep. Keeping them up longer than they can cope with will mean their bodies will go into a stage of hyper-vigilence which may mean that they need a lot more help from you to be able to feel calm and go to sleep.
  3. Layer additional multi-sensory sleep cues such as singing, rubbing, stroking, essential oils, white noise or music with the main sleep cue they are reliant for for falling asleep. This will make it much easier to remove the main cue at a later date.
  4. Your baby’s individual temperatment will influence how easily they find it to settle independently. Ensuring you have a soothing sleep-time ritual and routine will help with a baby who doesn’t seem to like new people, places and things.
  5. Following a soothing bedtime routine – try experimenting by putting your baby down awake in thier cot.  If they protest pick them up, calm them in your arms and try again.  You can repeat this process as many times as you need to until they settle to sleep.  If that does not work, try again in a couple of days or weeks.

When will my baby learn to sleep independently?

It is our job as caregivers to help our children to co-regulate and to develop their own individual coping strategies without dependending on us. This is something that will happen according to their own inborn time line, as long as we provide a loving supportive presence for them to be able to do so.

Your baby’s ability to fall asleep independently will depend on several factors:

  1. Temperament
  2. Age
  3. Your pregnancy and birth
  4. Your level of involvement at sleep time
  5. Biological readiness for sleep

Aside from the suggestions earlier in this blog, I suggest that you ensure your baby has lots of age appropriate stimulation during the day.  This will help ensure they are biologically ready for sleep.

Be aware that crying once your child’s immediate needs have been met is a natural stress relief and healing process.  By supporting them to sleep in your arms, this helps them to release fears and tension.

If you would like some personalised holistic baby sleep support, I would love to help.  My consultations page talks through the different packages I offer, you can also follow my general sleep tips on Instagram.



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