The Importance of Self-Soothing to Infant Sleep (and how to support it!)

This is the third post in my series on sleep. I have written about my family’s experience with sleep training and why sleep deprivation is a problem for both babies and their mothers. I admit that I’m feeling a little buried in sleep research. Part of me wants to be done with it, and part of me wants to do a second postdoc in infant sleep! I set out to write this post on sleep training methods and their benefits (risks to come), but I got side-tracked on the topic of self-soothing. Since self-soothing is the goal of sleep training, I figured it was worth taking some time to explore. So that’s this post, and my next post will delve into the research on specific sleep training methods.

When I was five months pregnant with BabyC, I babysat for Little J, a friend’s one-year-old. His mom left me written directions for Little J’s bedtime routine: a cup of milk, brush teeth, diaper change and pajamas, a few books, then lay him in his crib. Hand him his Pup-Pup, wind up a little music box, say goodnight, turn off the light, and shut the door. I was used to rocking babies or rubbing their backs until they were in a deep sleep, and then stealthily tiptoeing from the room. I was nervous about Little J’s bedtime routine, particularly since it was his first time with a baby-sitter besides his grandmother.

From start to finish, Little J’s bedtime routine took all of 10 minutes. He smiled at me when I handed him his Pup-Pup, and I said goodnight. From the living room, I watched him on the video baby monitor as he chatted with Pup-Pup for a few minutes. He rolled around the crib as if looking for a comfortable sleeping position and then fell asleep. I was in awe of this kid. Little J seemed so confident and at ease in his bed. He welcomed sleep, and he knew how to get there without my help.

When Little J’s mom got home that night, I told her that I had never seen a baby transition to sleep so independently and so easily. “You are so lucky!” I said.

She smiled. “No, not lucky. That took some work, but it sure was worth it.”

Little J was my first introduction to self-soothing. Although I knew little about it, I hoped that the baby kicking away in my belly might one day be able to sleep like that.

When babies associate something like feeding, rocking, or bouncing with their transition to sleep, they often expect those same conditions when they wake during the night. All of us wake during the night – babies and adults alike. We check our surroundings to make sure everything feels right, and if it doesn’t, we go on alert. When BabyC was bounced to sleep, she woke 45 minutes later and everything felt wrong – she wasn’t bouncing anymore! She called for help, and, being good, responsive parents, Husband or I came running to see if she wanted to nurse, to change her diaper, to shush her, and then finally, to bounce her again so she could go back to sleep – often only to wake again 45 minutes later to repeat the whole process. This was not a very restful night of sleep for any of us.

When a baby knows how to self-soothe and falls asleep independently, she wakes in the night, checks her surroundings, and finding nothing to be alarmed about, she goes back to sleep without needing our help. Babies that have this skill of self-soothing have been shown to get a full additional hour of sleep during their longest nighttime sleep period and an average of 45 additional minutes of total nighttime sleep. They wake during the night just as non-self-soothers do, but they are less likely to cry out for help and more likely to roll over and go back to sleep (Anders et al. 1992; Goodlin-Jones et al. 2001). We often hear BabyC wake around midnight, but she rarely sounds distressed or calls for us. We listen as she practices her current favorite word, “app-uu (apple), app-uu, app-uu,” for a while, gradually quieter, until she falls back to sleep on her own.

All sleep training methods have the goal of teaching babies to self-soothe, however gradual that process is. I wondered: Is it a good thing for a baby to know how to self-soothe? Is it “natural?” Won’t all children learn to self-soothe eventually? If sleep training makes babies cry, then are we pushing them to self-soothe before they are ready?

We know that it is our job to soothe our newborn babies. The transition from womb to world is traumatic and abrupt, and babies are neurologically immature. We hold and swaddle, bounce and rock, nurse and shush our babies through those first few months of life, often called the “fourth trimester.” Gradually, babies become less fussy and their cries less mysterious. And at some point, they learn to settle themselves, to self-soothe, but this happens more quickly in some babies than in others. Why?

This was one of BabyC’s favorite methods of self-soothing for a while. Seriously, she would reach for a toe in a stressful situation!

Melissa Burnham and Thomas Anders and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, set out to answer this question in a longitudinal study of 80 babies’ sleep, measured at 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months (Burnham et al. 2002). At each time point, the babies were videoed for two consecutive nights so that the researchers could study their sleeping and waking patterns. All of these babies slept in cribs, some in their parents’ room and some in their own room.

As expected, the sleep videos showed that it is normal for babies to wake during the night, usually multiple times. However, some babies woke but were able to go back to sleep without a parent’s help – they were self-soothers. The researchers asked, “What factors seem to set up a baby for being a self-soother by 12 months?” They found that as the self-soothers got older, they spent progressively more time in their crib and less time being held and soothed during the night. In addition, when they were 3 months old, their parents generally waited a little longer to respond to their night wakings. In other words, the self-soothers’ parents didn’t come running at their first peep in the night, and when they did come, they were probably less likely to spend an hour soothing their babies.

A third important factor predicting self-soothing at 12 months was identified, but it wasn’t related to parenting: the 12-month-old self-soothers were more likely to have spent a greater percentage of time in quiet sleep (vs. active sleep) as newborns. Some babies really are born to be better sleepers!

About 60% of the babies in the Burnham study showed an increase in their ability to self-soothe as they grew older. Not surprising, right? As the babies matured and learned other skills of self-regulation, they became better at self-soothing. What surprised me was that the other 40% were actually less able to self-soothe and spent a greater percentage of their nights outside of their cribs as they grew older. These infants were generally placed in their cribs already asleep, slept in their parents’ rooms, and did not have a transition object or “lovie.” As they matured, they were losing the ability to self-soothe.

A follow-up study of the same children found that babies who were unable to self-soothe from 6- to 12-months of age were more likely to have trouble falling asleep at 2 years and to be waking up at least once per night at 4 years. They were also more likely to be in their parents’ bed for at least part of the night at 2 and 4 years of age (Gaylor et al. 2005).

It is important to note that these studies all identify correlations between infant self-soothing and parental responsiveness, but they don’t prove causation. For example, the non-self-soothers identified in these studies could have just been born to struggle more with sleep, and their parents recognized this and found that they had to help them to sleep, soothe them more, and keep them closer at night. There is almost certainly some truth to this, and the fact that the Burnham study identified “% of quiet sleep at birth” as a factor predicting self-soothing at 12 months supports this. However, several randomized controlled studies (reviewed by Mindell et al. 2006) have found that when parents are taught some basic principles about encouraging self-settling in infants (putting them down awake, waiting a few moments before responding to their cries), their infants sleep longer and wake less. That doesn’t mean that these strategies work for every baby, but it does show that parenting matters in helping babies form sleep habits. [This paragraph added 02/24/12 in response to Kathleen’s excellent comment below.]

What these studies describe is a continuum of parental responsiveness and infant self-soothing. Some parents hear the baby cry at night and may lie in bed, listening for a few moments, thinking, “That doesn’t sound like a distress or hunger cry, maybe she’ll go back to sleep if I give her a little time.” (We’re really only talking a few minutes here – on average, the parents in the Burnham study waited 3 minutes before responding to their babies’ cries during the night.) This hesitation gives the baby an opportunity to try to self-soothe. Gradually, she may find ways to soothe herself and transition back to sleep without comfort from Mom or Dad. Other parents may be “hyper-responsive” – responding so quickly that their babies never get a chance to try self-soothing. If always attended to with “hyper-responsiveness,” a baby that sometimes self-soothed as a 1-month-old may actually lose this natural ability over time, since she never has the chance to practice it. Regardless of where we fall in this continuum of parental responsiveness, how we respond to our babies at night shapes their sleep habits and their need for nighttime comfort.

I recognize that there is a range of philosophies on the importance of infant self-soothing. Many parents feel that the priority should be on immediately responding to the baby’s cries with the idea that, first and foremost, the baby should always feel secure in her relationship with her caregiver. After all, we know that self-soothing will come with time. By middle childhood, it is rare to find a child that needs a parent’s help to go to sleep or with waking in the night. I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing this path, but it usually means that mama remains the child’s primary resource for soothing, night and day, for the first several years of life.

Personally, my interpretation of the research on self-soothing and my experiences with my own child lead me to believe that self-soothing is an important skill that babies are quite capable of learning when given the chance. I try and give BabyC opportunities to self-soothe on a daily basis, by not immediately rushing to her side when she falls or picking her up when she whines. I try to help her understand where her discomfort is coming from and give her a chance to mend it herself, while also showing her that I am here if she needs help. I believe that this helps her to develop a strong sense of security in herself as well as in her relationship with me.

Of course, I still soothe BabyC all the time. This exchange of warm fuzzies between us is an important part of our relationship. Lately, BabyC has been transitioning from two naps to one, and she’s so tired at naptime now that she often falls asleep nursing. When we are traveling, I usually stay with her as she falls asleep, because I know how hard it can be to sleep in a strange place. I enjoy these quiet moments with her, and I don’t worry about them “undoing” her sleep habits. I know that she has the ability to self-soothe, and it will be there at bedtime and whenever she needs it to help her sleep.

Where does sleep training fit into all of this? After all, when families find they need to sleep train, they usually have to let their babies cry for longer than 3 minutes before they learn to self-soothe. It could certainly be argued that sleep training rushes the natural learning process towards self-soothing. Learning this new skill is often a struggle for babies, and when they struggle, they cry. Is it worth it?

The answer depends on the family. For my family, it was worth it, even though it took a few nights of tears at bedtime. Self-soothing was the foundation on which BabyC built her good sleep habits. It has given us months of happy bedtimes, peaceful transitions to sleep, and long, restorative nights.

The research on sleep training shows that when babies are given a chance to go to sleep on their own, even when that comes with some crying, they learn to self-soothe remarkably quickly. In my next post, I’ll discuss this research, including specific methods. Since the crying is the hardest part of sleep training for everyone, I am researching more gradual methods of teaching babies to self-soothe as well.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on self-soothing. Does your child self-soothe? Do you do anything to encourage self-soothing, or do you soothe your child immediately when he or she cries?

Check out other posts from my infant sleep series:


Anders, T. F., L. F. Halpern and J. Hua (1992). “Sleeping through the night: a developmental perspective.” Pediatrics 90(4): 554-560.

Burnham, M. M., B. L. Goodlin-Jones, E. E. Gaylor and T. F. Anders (2002). “Nighttime sleep-wake patterns and self-soothing from birth to one year of age: a longitudinal intervention study.” J Child Psychol Psychiatry 43(6): 713-725.

Gaylor, E. E., M. M. Burnham, B. L. Goodlin-Jones and T. F. Anders (2005). “A longitudinal follow-up study of young children’s sleep patterns using a developmental classification system.” Behav Sleep Med 3(1): 44-61.

Goodlin-Jones, B. L., M. M. Burnham, E. E. Gaylor and T. F. Anders (2001). “Night waking, sleep-wake organization, and self-soothing in the first year of life.” J Dev Behav Pediatr 22(4): 226-233.

Mindell, J. A., B. Kuhn, D. S. Lewin, L. J. Meltzer and A. Sadeh (2006). “Behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children.” Sleep 29(10): 1263-1276.



110 thoughts on “The Importance of Self-Soothing to Infant Sleep (and how to support it!)

  1. Of course I agree that eventually, all children need to learn to self-sooth. You say that research show that if a parent let the baby learn, he will self-sooth earlier. Obviously there is an association but I am not sure there is causality. For exemple, let’s talk about babies who are poor sleeper. Are they poor sleeper because their parents sooth them to sleep or do their parents sooth them to sleep because they are poor sleeper?
    My first child was a very good sleeper and I was sure that it was because we knew how to help a baby learning to self-sooth. Two other babies later (who were both poor sleeper), I think now that the baby`s personnality has a lot more to do than the ways of his parents…


    • You make an excellent point. The research I describe here is really just about correlations and doesn’t provide evidence for causation. I should add a note about that in the post, but alas, nap time is over, so just a quick note here for now. The evidence that there is a causal relationship between parenting and self-soothing comes from studies of “sleep interventions,” including randomized controlled trials of parental education (on normal infant sleep and how to encourage self soothing), which show that teaching these strategies to parents helps their babies learn to self-soothe and sleep better. Of course that isn’t the whole story, but it is a major factor. Some babies are born to be better sleepers, as you found and as the Burnham study I described pointed out. Thanks for your comment – I think I’ll add a paragraph about this in the post when I get a chance.


  2. Excellent post, as usual. I think the trickiest part of the self-soothing debate is the age by which parents should expect babies to learn to self-soothe. My daughter was always an excellent sleeper, and (consequently?) learned to self-soothe at a very early age. My son, on the other hand, was not a great sleeper, and self-soothing was very difficult for him.


    • I agree, Annette, and I don’t think there is an easy answer to that one. The research is really lacking in this area. I think the best answer – though still not easy – is for the parents to know the baby. BabyC had a difficult time falling to sleep without motion, but she *needed* a lot of sleep (always on the upper end or beyond of the “normal range”) and also needed a little space to sleep well. I think she was ready to learn to self-soothe. It was a skill that served her well and allowed her to finally get the sleep she needed, but I still second-guess myself on the whole age and readiness thing.


  3. I love holding babies and cosleeping. My daughter needed us to help shut the world off and we tried all the gentle techniques. Until I sensitively night weaned her at 18 months, she needed our help. Eventually, rather than being rocked to sleep she’d ask for her crib, lay down and go to sleep. We haven’t needed to enter her room in a year (2.5 now). Conversely, my son is 5 months, craves sleep and can’t transfer. We know our routine will have to include some gentle help getting him to sleep on his own. I know he falls asleep on his own while cosleeping because there are times he’s wide awake and I drift wo comforting him. He’s a snuggler and likes warmth. Once we can introduce a blanket or lovie, he’ll have no trouble soothing to sleep with a little routine and presence.

    That’s my n=2. I don’t plan to wait as long for my son bc he doesn’t need us as much. My daughter didn’t sleep from day one and was always easily stimulated. Son loves sleep but doesn’t transfer. My Rx is pretty clear to me!


    • I loved holding BabyC, too, but I finally realized that holding her didn’t help her sleep. I also did a little cosleeping in the very early weeks of her life, but neither of us slept very well. (Husband probably slept the best of all, but he was on the couch!) Your story is a good reminder that I have experience with an n of 1, though, so I could totally change my tune with the next one! That is the most humbling thing of all – that they really are all so different. Even if I have the goal of baby #2 being a self-soother, getting there could mean taking a totally different route.


      • Just as I have! We never planned on cosleeping, but it was necessary! I found out I preferred it with myy daughter despite my son not necessarily needing it. I never planned to hold them either but I am of the “sleep at any costs” mindset, which is why I need to be flexible now…My daughter needed soothing to sleep for 18-20 months and son doesn’t. I need to respect him and his ability and trust that in a time before its truly preferable to ME! :) ah, letting go…


      • It’s funny that you mention this, Amanda – letting go before you feel ready. I struggle with this myself, as I think we all do. It is a good reminder that the attachment relationship goes both ways, and sometimes separating is harder on us than our babies! Still, I have found that my opportunities to connect with my baby are unending, even though she is pretty independent at night. I actually treasure the time with her on the nights when she does need me. There is something about soothing a baby that fills a need in a mother, too:)


    • Hi,I’m going through the exact same thing with my 6 month old son. He seems to need us to help him to shut out the world. The only way we can get him to sleep is to wrap him,hold him so we’re stomach to stomach,block his view with an arm,and rock and shush him,sometimes for a few hours,even if we get to him before he’s too tired. The only other way to get him to sleep is to put him in the sling and go out for a walk with the pacifier in his mouth and a hat over his eyes. I’m wondering,how did you help your daughter to fall asleep on her own? I realize that you said that you did it when she was 18 months,but i’m curious how exactly.

      We don’t believe in the cry-it-out method in this house,but the gentle way is really beginning to hurt as he’s getting quite heavy. Anyway,I would really love to hear your method.Thanks


      • This reminds me of something I read online from a paediatrician in Australia that theorised that colic is actually a result of overstimulation and you need to spend a few days in a calm quiet room to get back to base level. He quoted a study on colic called ‘medicalising normal’. It could be worth tracking down.


  4. Interesting post, Alice! I’m finding with TK, he’s doing better all the time at soothing himself at night and if he wakes up during a nap but isn’t quite ready to get up. And I think he is doing this with and without the binky. However, living in our own little secluded world up here in the Northeast Kingdom, we don’t see a whole lot of people from day to day so when we do he gets very anxious and I’ve found the binky really helps him to work through that anxiety/shyness. This way I’ve been able to let other people hold him without him getting immediately upset that it was not my arms holding him. I was trying to limit the binky to naptime and bedtime but I don’t think I’m too worried about it if it helps him to warm up to people. I always think of self-soothing at sleep times but I think they need to figure it out at other awake times too. Or is that called something else?


    • Hi Joanna – BabyC was very skeptical of new people starting from around 2 months of age. She clung to me when we were around other people, even friends that she had known since birth, and she let me know that she was not AT ALL interested in being held by anyone else. There was even a period when she didn’t want to be held by her father for a while, which was hard on all of us. I worried about this a lot at the time, but I eventually decided not to push her and to instead respect her feelings about the whole matter. I realized that I was her home base and that she needed to trust in our relationship, the most important one in her life, before she could build new relationships. I found that once she started crawling, around 7 months, she started warming up to people, but this time, it was on her terms. She could approach people at her own pace and retreat to me if she felt nervous. She is still a contemplative toddler, and she studies a social situation before joining. I just think that’s her nature. But she does eventually want to join in the fun, and I now love watching her interact with other kids and adults with confidence.

      Reading what I just wrote, I realize that some might think it is incongruous to have this attitude about letting a baby come into her own in social situations but letting her cry for a while to learn to self-soothe. The difference for me was that until BabyC learned to self-soothe to sleep, she was really not getting enough sleep, and it affected her ability to interact with the world. She NEEDED to sleep and needed some help learning how, but she didn’t NEED to be held by anyone else until she felt ready for it. Come to think of it, she still isn’t all that interested in being held by anyone but the closest friends, but she loves her bed and her sleep:)


      • Thanks, Alice! This is helpful. I worry about it. It seems that TK is warming up to dad too lately but was the same – would prefer to not have been held by him either. This gives me hope. You know me – I’m not shy and usually jump right into things. It seems like TK is more like his dad which is a little opposite of that, so I’m trying to understand it! Thanks again!


  5. First, thanks for all of the research you are doing and for your posts. They are so great!

    I really think our son learned to self soothe with me by his side through the Baby Whisperer (BW) methods. As I comforted him in his crib to fall to sleep, it was as if I could see him learning. When he was first learning, it was around 10 weeks, so he still needed me to feed him sometimes during the night, but using the BW methods, I figured out how to know which wakings were for feeding and what was soothing. For wakings that were at the same time every night and just habit, I used a tool which BW called “Wake to Sleep” and that allowed our son to get out of the habit of waking up at the given time. Later on, there were times when he would wake in the night and I would hear him babbling or cooing, or just make a single cry out and be quiet. If this happened at the same time 2-3 nights in a row, I would again do the Wake to Sleep and it worked very well.

    One thing that seems different with my son’s soothing techniques and those who CIO is that he never has figured out how to sleep through on a nap if he wakes up early. I think this is more his personality than anything else. Even with help (nursing, rocking, etc.) he just can’t go back to sleep if he wakes from a nap early. The same is the case with waking up in the morning. If he wakes early and goes back to sleep it is at least 1.5hrs later, and that requires help every time. I guess the CIO isn’t even an option for us in those circumstances because we’ve left him in the crib up to 45 min after a poor nap and 1.5hrs in the morning and he is totally fine with it. He might whine a little, but he won’t cry and won’t go back to sleep. He is just crabby and yawning when we do eventually get him up.

    Recently, we have been going through what some people call an 8 month sleep regression. We did start responding to cries in the night too fast and the wakings got worse for about a week. Then, one night, we waited 3 minutes because we decided the cry didn’t really sound real. More like a shout with gaps that got longer and longer in-between. After that, we were back on track with him putting himself back to sleep after all night wakings.


    • Glad to hear that you found a method that worked well for you! Your experience with early wakings is interesting, and it is really kind of amazing that your son will hang out for that long after he wakes up! I don’t think doing a CIO technique would have made a difference in that regard. As I’ll write about in my next post, I don’t think the methods really matter much as long as your baby eventually learns to self-soothe (assuming that is the goal). For what is it worth, BabyC had trouble staying asleep at nap times for a few months after she was easily self-soothing at night. She would be tired and settle quickly for the nap, but then she would wake after 30-45 minutes and not be able to go back to sleep – though she was clearly grumpy and still tired. Sometimes I could keep the stimulation really low and nurse her back to sleep during those times. Other times, she was just up until the next nap, and we moved on with the day. I did a few things to tweak the timing of naps that seemed to help, but I think this just resolved over time for her. It’s just harder to settle during the day for some babies – too much to miss! (At this moment, she has been napping for 3 hours, so there is hope for your guy! Give him time!)


    • our son is similar wrt naps and morning wakings. we’ve time bpretty successfully trained him to sleep through the night/put himself back to sleep when he wakes up (except for this week, but this, too, shall pass, right?).

      but if he wakes up during a nap — even 10 minutes in — forget it. it’s over until the next nap window, no matter what you do or don’t do. likewise, his internal clock has always been set to wake at 4:30, and no matter what we do, if he wakes any time from then on, it’s over for the night, until he’s been up for at least 2 hours, maybe 3. which SUCKS. i try to tell myself he’ll grow out of it by the time he’s a teenager, but dear lord, i am emphatically not a morning person.


  6. Thanks for this post, it really made me think about how we do things. We don’t really encourage our 7 month old to self-soothe: I nurse him to sleep, and he sleeps with us so if he wakes up in the middle of the night I usually see if he goes back to sleep by himself and if not, I’ll nurse him back to sleep. So it made me think whether I was depriving him of an opportunity to learn this. But then I realized that the only reason I would want my baby to self-soothe is for my own convenience. And since babies don’t really seem to go well with my own convenience most of the day, I don’t find that a very valid argument to do things. Right now I think it is important that I am there to regulate his stress levels, since babies cannot do that for themselves when they are little.
    And another, more important question that comes to mind, is whether this is self-soothing or learned helplessness? Maybe “self-soothing” babies have realized that no one is going to come for them and they won’t waste any more energy on crying… Has anyone ever measured cortisol levels in these self-soothing children?


    • Hi – I really appreciate your comment, especially that you are able to write about these challenging questions with such a respectful tone. I completely understand your feeling that you want to be there for your baby, help him regulate his stress levels, and that self-soothing is not a priority for you. It’s all good, as long as it is working for you and your baby. I have learned from comments on my blog and in talking with people that are committed to this style of parenting that they love it and they do it because it works for them. That’s really all that matters.

      As far as I can tell, the whole idea of sleep training didn’t really come about until we started sleeping separately from our babies. Most babies are soothed just by being close to mama, so there is no need for self-soothing until children are older. I also think most babies can readily adapt to sleeping on their own, and I think there are good reasons for families to make that choice, as mine did. It does mean that self-soothing becomes more necessary, so those of us that make this choice need to think about how to support this. More and more, I’m interested in learning about how we can help babies learn to self-soothe in a gentle and supported way. I also wonder if it is worth considering how to give a co-sleeping baby small opportunities to learn to self-soothe. I hear of some co-sleeping babies that wake once or twice to nurse and some that want to nurse every hour. Is this just because different babies have different needs from the get-go, or is it because they have been responded to differently during the night? Do you have any thoughts on this?

      I have thought a lot about the “learned helplessness” theory while doing this research, and I’ll write more about it in a coming post. I take this concern seriously. Studies have measured babies’ moods and attachment following sleep training, usually based on mothers’ reports, and they have never found any negative effects. Have they always used the correct assessments? Have they measured the right things? I’m still researching that question. Only one study has measured cortisol in children during a sleep-training “intervention,” and it found no increase in cortisol after the CIO period, but this study had so many flaws in design that I think the data are really useless.

      For what it is worth, I don’t think that BabyC responded to sleep training with “learned helplessness.” Once she started self-soothing to sleep, she consistently woke once per night to nurse, and she continued to do this until she was around 8 months old, when she started sleeping through on her own. She knew that if she cried for me in the night, I would come to her, and her needs would be met. We would hear her wake at other times and maybe fuss just a little and sometimes just make happy grunts or babbles, but these were not cries of “Mama, I need you!” like I would hear when she was hungry. When I stopped bouncing BabyC to sleep, I know it was hard for her. But I think that once she realized that we weren’t going to bounce anymore, she was able to find a new way to go to sleep by self-soothing. Again, I have since wondered what I could do to better-support her as she learned this skill, but I do genuinely believe that she learned to self-soothe during this time. That doesn’t mean that all babies would respond in the same way, but that was my experience with my one little one.


      • I think you’re right that every child is different and can benefit from a different approach (too bad most of us stick with such low n…). We didn’t plan on co-sleeping, but our baby hasn’t been ready to fall asleep on his own (at least not without crying), and since we were both tired we decided that the path of the least resistance was to co-sleep. Also, it seems that things like routines and ‘tricks’ that work one week stop working the next, which is why I became a little hesitant to invest time and energy in ‘training’ behavior when it doesn’t serve a long-term goal (I hope you get what I mean).
        I think that even co-sleeping babies get the opportunity to self-soothe during the day (at least ours does). For example, he doesn’t like sitting in his car seat and when I have to go somewhere there’s only so much I can do from the driver’s seat when he is crying. However, I do let him know by talking and singing to him that I am there. And I’m of course not always awake immediately when he wakes up at night (sometimes he’s crying for a couple of minutes until I realize where the noise comes from), so there’s also self-soothing time there.

        It’s too bad that there’s so little decent research on this topic (like a longitudinal study measuring stress levels in babies that receive different parenting styles). It makes me want to switch fields and do it myself (and since I’m a neuroscientist, I might actually do that some day). I think that’s probably because there’s not much money to be made (by pharma for example) on baby sleep/soothing research.


        • In my experience with my n=1, sleep has been amazingly consistent following sleep-training. I know not everyone has this experience, but BabyC has continued to be able to go to sleep on her own since we “sleep-trained.” This despite taking at least 8 plane trips not to mention smaller trips, plus an interstate move. We stuck with our routine while traveling, though I often stay with her as she falls asleep, and she doesn’t usually wake more than usual when traveling. Once we are home, sometimes she fusses for a few minutes before falling asleep, and sometimes I go to soothe her for a bit, but we are usually back in the groove within a few days. I think that with her, self-soothing is truly a skill, not a behavior, and learning it really did serve a long-term goal.

          I would love to see more research on this topic, though of course it is hard to control for all factors. You should do it! Sleep is a huge clinical concern, and CIO is clearly controversial, so I would think it would be fundable. Johnson and Johnson has sponsored a few studies on bedtime routines and sleep advice so that they can say their soothing massage lotion is “clinically proven” to improve infant sleep:)


  7. despite having a frankly lousy sleeper, i was quite proud of myself early on for never nursing him down. at this point, i cannot fathom why that seemed so bad, frankly. but maybe that’s just rationalizing — these days he does not always nurse to sleep, but he does nurse right before sleeping and often falls asleep that way. (he can fall asleep without — he has to twice a week, when i am gone and my wife puts him down — but i don’t really mind nursing him down, so it’s not a high priority to “fix.”) it seems to me that what he needs to go to sleep changes and doesn’t have that much to do with me. he sometimes goes to sleep not on the boob, but almost never without crying for a few minutes. i think we just don’t have that kid.

    he has learned to go back to sleep at night on his own, even so. i know some people say that’s not how it works, but it is at our house. right now my fondest wish is that he start sleeping as late as 6. nothing we’ve tried has worked.

    i found the “don’t go to him so fast” advice incredibly unhelpful and condescending for at least the first…6 months, maybe? i don’t mean that your post has that tone; just that so much of what i read seemed to imply that parents were picking up children quickly because of some kind of weak-mindedness AND that doing so ruins the child. until the bean was at least 6 months old, though, there was a 0% chance that he would stop crying on his own, an idea i tested many times. at a certain point, it became obvious that leaving him only meant dealing with a more frantic baby (and feeling more upset myself — who likes listening to babies cry?) meanwhile, anytime i mentioned being absolutely exhausted by my very hungry, very un-sleeping baby, i got told it was my fault i was exhausted, because i shouldn’t give into him. extremely frustrating, that.


    • There are some huge limitations in the science in describing the results of sleep training or responsiveness in general. Papers generally report the outcomes as means (with standard errors/deviations) of time to go to sleep, total sleep time, # wakings, etc. They rarely will state what percentage of babies had better sleep with sleep training, and I’m guessing that the answer isn’t usually 100%. There is almost no discussion in the science of the fact that sleep training doesn’t work for all babies, and when it is mentioned, it is usually blamed on the parents’ lack of consistency! I have a hard time believing that. I think there are nuances to every baby and the way we parent that we can describe but the scientists just don’t seem interested, and that’s too bad.

      I found the “don’t respond immediately” advice helpful, but that’s because it worked for me:) Your story makes me wonder about the longitudinal study of self-soothing I described in the post. We know there are some inherent “good sleeper” qualities (outside of parenting) in some babies and vise versa. I wonder if there is also a subset of babies that do normally display a decrease in self-soothing over time, regardless of parental responsiveness. I’m trying to get away from thinking about normal development as being a linear thing. Maybe these babies find that they need more soothing as they develop and want to reinforce stronger bonds with parents or as they pass through developmental phases where self-regulation takes a back seat so some other Important Event. Maybe every piece of sleep advice should be followed by an all-caps disclaimer: BUT IT MAY NOT WORK FOR YOU, and it isn’t your fault. Because otherwise, advice that is unhelpful and feels condescending is just not helpful. Anyway, thanks for keeping me humble. Good luck with your early riser. I would not take that well. Is curling up on the floor while he plays in a baby-proofed room until the sun rises an option?


      • It’s an option, sort of, but only after nursing (which i know some people can sleep through, but for the life of me i can’t understand HOW), the end of which is signaled by vigorous and sustained attempts to climb over the headboard, followed by a substantial breakfast of solid food, which takes a fair amount of time and consciousness, especially since the child and i disagree about how awesome finger foods are. (me: these are awesome! bean: get that spoon of yogurt and applesauce back in my mouth PRONTO, and no funny stuff trying to get me to hold it myself.) at that point, might as well drink the coffee and throw in the sleep-towel, hope the baby decides to nap for more than 20 minutes and that the deaf bassist/drummer next door isn’t home practicing when he does.

        i do think that giving parents *permission* not to go running at the slightest whimper is a good idea — sometimes the bean does now go back to sleep on his own when that happens — just without the implication that everything would be fine if only you weren’t smothering the baby with attention, you foolish woman. one of my principle irritations with the books of advice i’ve read on nearly every parenting topic (not that many, since they inevitably irritate me and anyway, i have a fairly high opinion of my own methods and of the friends i have who are in the trenches with me) is the absolute conviction that method X is the One, True Way That Always Works.


    • I think they basically did the Ferber method or “controlled crying” around 3-4 months of age. Little J was always a really mellow baby, and I don’t think he cried much, but I do remember his mom telling me that it was the hardest thing she ever did. I emailed to her see if it was OK if I used this story for this post, and she told me then that she was still glad they did it. She said that Little J can now sleep anywhere as long as he has his Pup-Pup! I think she echoes how many of us feel. I know I still feel some guilt about letting BabyC cry when she was that young (and would probably do things differently next time around), but I am really happy that she sleeps so well, and I think that we have all benefited from more and better sleep. Still, it is such a tough and sensitive issue!


      • One thing I’ll point out is that I knew with #2 all the things not to do because I did them with #1- but unfortunately when it came time to doing things differently I got so concerned that the baby would wake the stressed-out toddler that I just kept doing the easiest thing to get baby back to sleep so I could sleep. And in the day it was just crazy trying to do naptime and toddler always trying to come see me no matter what I gave her to do. So it’s not just enough to know better when it’s the 2nd one at least. I wish I’d planned for how to deal with all that!


        • Absolutely true. I’m really afraid about the whole sleeping thing with #2. I can imagine that napping is way harder. I remember when BabyC was in that 1 month-5 month range, naps were really hard for her. She woke so easily. I remember trying to do everything without making a sound – even putting down a pen on the table – careful and gentle movements. So it only gets harder, huh?


  8. Pingback: Infant Sleep Research: Cosleeping, Self-Soothing, and Sleep-Training | Science of Mom

  9. This is very interesting (as parent of a nearly 3-year-old cosleeper) and I appreciate your level-headed and balanced tone in this series.

    I do want to point out that some kids are poor sleepers not because they can’t self-soothe but because underlying issues cause them to wake frequently. My kiddo, for example, had an undiagnosed food sensitivity. It wasn’t a true allergy that could be measured with diagnostic testing, and the pediatrician told me it was nothing to worry about–but he only slept for 45 minutes at a time, woke easily, and nursed all night long every night. I was totally exhausted (this continued for close to 9 months). But then a wiser mother than I noticed some of the signs of intolerance; we did a food elimination; suddenly (within days of eliminating the food) he was sleeping 2-3 hour chunks at night and napping more easily. Heaven. No food has ever tasted as good as sleep feels!

    The poor-quality sleep he was getting before this discovery had nothing to do with his ability to self-soothe (or lack thereof) and everything to do with the fact that he was in pain and trying hard to communicate that to me. I am convinced that had we tried sleep training (which we did not) we would have failed utterly, because we would not have removed the obstacle in the path of good health and good sleep. All this is to say that sometimes we have “good sleepers” and sometimes we have “bad sleepers” and sometimes we have kids whose bodies are telling us that sleep is really not the issue at all. In the cases of bad sleepers it’s worth investigating whether sleep is truly the issue before making a decision on how to approach sleep training.


    • Allison, thanks for sharing your experience. You bring up a really important point, one that sometimes seems obvious, but as you say, sometimes things are not at all obvious when mixed in with all the mysteries of baby sleep. I’m so glad that you were able to figure out the food sensitivity and that things improved. Yours is a really important cautionary tale for parents trying to sort out the barriers to good sleep in their babies.


  10. All I have to say is that we gently sleep trained my daughter, so she would learn how to self soothe, and I am so very happy that I did! She is two years old, and bedtime is a calm, fun, & peaceful time for all of us. Of course some nights, she has hard time, but the majority of the time she is very happy to snuggle up in her own bed.


  11. Wow SO interesting to stumble across this discussion and to read things I can relate to. I have been going back and fwds for ages now as to whether to sleep train my 20month old, she has been difficult with sleep on and off (largely due to our over-eager responses and nursing to sleep lots oops) but she does sleep through the night now consistently. My dilemma is that she doesn’t fall asleep without me, I lay by the cot and she insists on holding my hand until she’s asleep when I creep out. My instinct is to keep it as it is because it works for her and bedtimes and nap are generally straight-forward. My desire to break the habit comes because it takes her 20 – 45 mins to fall asleep and I wonder if me being there makes it worse (she talks non-stop for most of that time) and because she is incrdibly clinging to me and I wonder if it will increase her confidence in herself. So I guess my question is about whether being able to self-soothe to sleep is necessary to be able to self-soothe generally … will she find social situations and challenges difficult until she can do this. From 4 months, she screamed if held by anyone else besides me or Dad. Although she will allow a small number of people to pick her up now it is only very briefly (seconds) that she will stay there. She has only just stopped crying when I leave her if I’m going out and that is with her own Dad who she adores. I think the problem is compounded as she has been with me full-time since being a baby, my husband works long hours so she only sees him at wkends and I don;t have family close by so she is very used to me. We haven’t even left her with Grandparents yet as she just deosn’t want it. All other development is fine, she’s very bright and learns quick which may be the problem!!! We are very sociable with other Mums and groups, sometimes she joins in loads other days wants me near all the time. Really appreciate any thoughts! Thank you


    • Lindsay, thanks for your comment! Your daughter actually sounds like she has a lot in common with BabyC. BabyC had a hard time with strangers from about 2 months of age, although she has become more socially adventurous since she learned to walk. She was sleep-trained young (3 months, for better or for worse – wondering whether that was the right thing is a major reason I have been researching this topic) and was able to consistently self-soothe to sleep from that time, but I don’t think it made her any more self-confident in social situations. It is just her personality to stand back and observe and stay close to what she knows until she feels comfortable. Your baby is able to go to sleep on her own already if she consistently sleeps through the night – she self-soothes when she wakes in the night and then transitions back to sleep. Asking her to fall asleep at the beginning of the night on her own would probably make her protest, but you could do it by gradually withdrawing your presence (first by not holding her hand, then by gradually moving further away from her each night). On the other hand, if you like staying with her as she falls asleep and she is sleeping well during the night, I don’t think there is any reason to rush it. One of my readers recommended the book Bedtiming by Isabela Granic and Marc Lewis to me, and I have found it very useful. I’ll try to write a review of it at some point. They break down sleep issues by developmental stage, and they do mention that the period around 17-21 months is one when your toddler is gaining an increasing understanding of her SELF as a member of her family, and she can have more separation anxiety – just needing to know that you are there for her – until she passes through this stage. So, you might want to wait a couple months to make changes, and you might find that she becomes more independent in a couple of months on her own.

      One thing I have learned is that babies adapt to sleeping any number of ways. I’m not sure any one is better than the other – it is really about what works best for each family. As far as social clinginess, I can tell you what I have observed from my own experiences with BabyC. The best way to support her in social situations is to respect her emotions and allow her autonomy. If she is asking to stay close, I welcome that. If she is ready to explore on the other side of the room, I don’t make a big deal about that either, but I give her a smile if she checks back for me. Good luck:)


      • This is me right now! I’m the same as Lindsay was, have to lay by 20-month-old to get him to sleep and it can take 30-60+ minutes! That’s what got me here reading this, because I felt like he should be able to fall asleep faster, and have been disconcerted that he seems to be waking up unhappy more frequently. History: nursed to sleep (sometimes bedsharing, sometimes not) until we weaned him at 17 months (because I got pregnant and lost my milk) and have bedshared since then. Have been trying to implement some changes the last few days (in his own bed instead of ours, limiting the number of songs we sing) and have gotten mixed results. The first day (after the first night) I saw some of those promised developmental advances and was really excited, but just yesterday for naptime after leaving the room and coming back to check on him a few times (he only called out with tears a little bit the first time, and then after that just kind of called for me) he fell asleep on his own the about third time, but after when he woke up was suddenly testing limits way more than usual and seemed a bit upset with me. Tried it again for bedtime, but gave in and ended up laying by him and he took even longer than usual to go down. Which is what makes me think that my presence distracts him, but after learning about “Bedtiming” today I wonder if we should just wait until he’s 21 months. THANK YOU for your in depth research and investment in this topic. I’m glad we can reach some peace on this topic, and hopefully more peaceful nights will be ours soon.


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  15. I wanted to let my babies self sooth. I couldn’t hear them cry. It was like someone poked me with a burning stick and ended my resolve within minutes. Also when I put them in a different room, I was up all night staring at the monitor or walking over and holding my finger under their nose. My husband would get tired and just bring the baby back in bed the next time they woke and called for us. I would sleep much better with my hand against their side, Anyway, all this night nursing made life very very hard with all the sleep deprivation. This went on till 18 months of nursing and then all the way till 3 years old. Then when I got pregnant with my second one, my son started sleeping through the night. Now he says good night after a book and sleeps all the way till morning. My daughter still nurses a few times so I may have another two years to go or she may be a better sleeper and give me the night sooner than 3. Regardless, For me, 3 years of sleep deprivation was easier than a screaming child asking to be held. But everyone is different.


    • Yes, everyone is absolutely different. And I don’t think it makes us better or worse moms when we recognize the type of parent we want to be and balance that with meeting our kids needs and our own. I think the important thing is that you figured out what your priorities are and made things work, however hard that was. Hang in there, mama! And thanks for adding your experience:)


  16. Pingback: The Cry-It-Out Controversy and My Family’s Sleep Story | Science of Mom

  17. Pingback: Why Sleep Matters to Babies and Parents | Science of Mom

  18. Our 8 month old son has always been a great sleeper – slept through most nights 7pm-7am (with a dreamfeed at 10/11pm) since he was 10 weeks old. I did put some effort into getting him there but always had the feeling it was more that I got lucky with a naturally ‘good sleeper’ and once he found his fingers to suck he seemed to get the self-soothing without much help. However, he has always struggled with daytime naps – timing seemed to be crucial and if i missed the window it was near-impossible to get him to sleep until the next window a couple of hrs later, plus he has never been able to go back to sleep in the day if something wakes him up even after just 10 mins no matter what I tried to help settle him.

    From reading the posts above this all sounds pretty typical so far.

    But…. now, at 8 months, he appears to have lost the ability to self soothe – his reliable sleep pattern is falling apart and my partner and I have finally realised that we haven’t seen him sucking his fingers (day or night) since the sleep disruption started about a week or so ago and we’re pretty convinced that this is the explanation. Since he can no longer ‘find’ his fingers to suck he is really struggling to get to sleep even at his 7pm bedtime, which used to be extremely reliable, and when he wakes up early (5 or 6am) he can’t soothe himself back to sleep, plus the daytime napping has got even worse and he is now barely having 2 half hour naps and even this seems to be very dependent on being on the move in the carrier or pushchair. He clearly wants to be asleep at these times though and is very grumpy that he can’t get there – lots of writhing, eye-rubbing, struggling, crying, nuzzling into the mattress or me if I’m trying to help him relax with a cuddle (which has never previously been necessary at bedtime) and in the mornings he will try to get back to sleep but can’t so eventually I give up and get him up but he is tired and grumpy and not that interesting in playing. I experimented with reintroducing the dummy (which he stopped wanting a few months ago when he reliably found his fingers) and he is keen to suck it and visibly relaxes when he’s sucking but then he pulls it out and plays with it and can’t get it back in the right way so it only adds to his frustration, so no joy there but reinforces the view that it’s the sucking that he’s missing. If we try to guide his hand to his mouth he strongly resists and gets more upset.

    I am not philosophically opposed to co-sleeping, cuddling him to sleep, etc (although I would prefer to help him to relearn self-soothing rather than using a method we’re going to have to work hard to un-do later!) but from a purely pragmatic point of view these things have never really worked for our baby anyway. Likewise I can let him cry for a few mins but like the post above this has never seemed to work and he only becomes more distressed so needs longer to calm when we eventually go to him.

    Is losing the ability to self-soothe/find something to suck a known phenomenon and/or do you know anything about re-training a baby to self-soothe? I’ve forgotten everything I read that helped me 6 months ago so I might have to go back to the books! Any thoughts appreciated…


    • Hmmm, I’m not sure I can be much help, but a few thoughts:

      First, is he teething? That could explain everything and give you some reassurance that this is a phase that won’t last forever. We went through a few phases with BabyC when she would suddenly start waking during the night. This was mainly 12-14 months for her, coinciding with her molars coming it. It freaked me out since she’d been sleeping through the night consistently for so long. What freaked me out more was that I started breaking my own rules – bringing her into bed to nurse, sometimes multiple times per night – but guess what? Once those teeth were through and she was comfortable again, she went right back to sleeping through the night. That might give you some hope.

      Also, this fits with AskMoxie’s observation that babies seem to have a sleep regression around 9 months that is correlated to some developmental leaps. Check out this post:

      He may also be coming into a normal period of separation anxiety in which he just wants to be close and reassured. My experience with the teething periods was that providing more soothing for a short period didn’t make all of BabyC’s self-soothing skills go to crap. You might just up the snuggles to ride out this period, and then when he’s in a more stable place, if you want him to get back to doing more self-soothing, let him gently know that you aren’t going to cuddle him to sleep anymore. One thing I’ve learned is that there are always transitions and changes, and we can’t control them, but we can gently and gradually guide the ultimate outcome.


      • Thanks so much for your reply and I feel better that I’m not alone in applying the ‘try anything’ technique when your normal methods don’t produce your normal results. As it happens the phase is already on the way out – he has found his fingers again in the last day or 2 and we’re back on track with self-soothing at bedtime, during the night, day time naps – the whole lot! Phew. I think you were probably right that it was teething disruption. But either way I’m glad to have found your site and appreciate you helping me to get some perspective – comforting my son a bit more when he goes through a phase of needing it is the right thing to do and is not going to permanently damage his ability to become an independent & well-balanced child! Many thanks again and I’ll certainly be back to the site when the next questions arise…


  19. the only issue I have is that percentage wise the majority of parents around the world (versus the United States) respond to their babies cries quickly. this has to do with a cultural perspective on the United States part to be very independent and self reliant even in sleep. vs “it takes a village to raise a child” . its a very new thing in the realm of human history to have a child sleep in a separate room.


  20. and what is interesting is that I did co-sleep, or partiall co-slept (had a co-sleeper next to our bed). now my 5 year old daughter is very self-assured, friendly, kind, and sociable. she loves new experiences and will try just about any new food. why is this? some temperament, and some attachment. she feels safe and supported by us (mom and dad) to explore the world.


    • I agree – it is a new thing in human history to ask babies to sleep alone, but that alone does not make it wrong. Many other factors have also changed in our lives, and today we have the privilege of making the choice that works best for each of our own families. I’m glad that you found an arrangement that worked well for your family and that your daughter is wonderful.


  21. I can’t thank you enough for your time in researching & subsequently posting about this. At just shy of 4 months, my second daughter is about to kill me in the middle of the night…she used to be a good sleeper, but then something changed & she was waking all too often & in a fit of helplessness I’d nurse her to get her back to sleep. I knew this wasn’t the answer…and sought the internet for help (we’re on vacation!). We initiated CIO yesterday (only allowing 5 minutes to pass before going to her, stroking her head, & calmly talking to her). It worked every time. Though several times we’ve had to go longer than 5 minutes, we’ve never gone longer than 15 minutes. And last night? When she woke an hour & 15 minutes after nursing, I stroked her little head at 4am & told her to go to sleep. It didn’t work the first time, but the 2nd time? It did. And instead of her nursing & then waking in another 2 hours, she slept until 6:45am!!!!

    I’m sure tonight will prove to be more challenging (unless I’m really lucky), but our entire family woke up happier today…and really, that was the goal (baby’s sleep too…).

    Thank you again for taking the time to research & post about this. Just know it helped us out!!


  22. My daugher that I used CIO with is now 5 yrs and I so wish I’d read all of this research when she was a baby. having read it now, and after having thought about it for 5 years, I think there are so many factors that underlie my experience of my daughter. I was an inexperienced new mother and very anxious, with an anxious mother (i.e. grandmother) so I probably wasn’t containing her emotions well. In addition, breastfeeding didn’t go very well and I think we got in a cycle where I didn’t have much milk, so she fed constantly so I didn’t have much milk. At bedtime from birth she suckled on me all night in my bed so I didn’t have chance to produce more milk, which made me more anxious. she would only sleep during the day if she was being held or being driven so I wasn’t getting any sleep. This went on for 10 weeks until I broke down and we decided to use CIO on the advice of a friend who said it worked. She cried for 2 weeks for almost an hour which was horrendous. Since then she sleeps briliantly. however, she self-soothes constanty and is attention-seeking through whining and won’t accept comfort – signs of ambivalent attachment unfortunately. She is also a lovely child. I do not believe this is all to do with CIO but it probaby didn’t help. As I said, I was anxious and also I returned to work for 4 days when she was 6 months. I do feel sorry for her from those perspectives but hindsight IS a marvellous thing and I NEEDED sleep after 10 weeks of sleep deprivation else I wouldn’t have been the best mother I could be. Now I focus on re-building my attachment with my eldest daughter.


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  24. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the long hours you put in to research this topic & for sharing all the valuable information with us! I have been struggling with the idea of sleep training for a while now mainly due to other mothers telling me it would ruin my daughter and I’d be selfish to let her cry. But she isn’t getting enough sleep, especially during naptime, with our current approach; which consists of me bouncing, rocking, nursing, or all the above at once. She wakes immediately after being set down most the time, and the only way we can even remotely get a good nights sleep is to (very slooowly) transition her into the swing. She sleeps for about five hours the first stretch then comes in the bed with me…which wakes both us up every 30 mins to an hour from that point on, and poor hubby ends up on the couch! And as I say, for naptime the slow transition from arms to swing will rarely work. She’s up basically all day, besides two to three 20 min catnaps here and there. By the time bedtime rolls around, we’re both run ragged & exhausted! So anyway, I am now confident that she won’t be thoroughly ruined after trying sleep training and even though i’m terrified i’m going to start tonight. I think the Ferber method will be where we begin and if that fails we will determine where to go from there. Thank you again, so very much, for easing my fears and for coming from a non-biased, non-judgmental standpoint. I’m recommending your site to everyone I know, in the chance that they may have a not so easy sleeper someday. Knowledge is power in many cases :) God bless.


  25. My husband and I have tried the CIO method for the last two nights (unsuccessfully, which is why I am looking to the internet for answers). How did BabyC cry? My son SCREAMS and screams and when we do go in to help he just gets worse. I think I could deal with it better if he was just crying but it is much more than that. He has gotten to the point now where he doesn’t even want to go to sleep – it is much more difficult to get him to that point. Before I could put him down drowsy and he would fall sleep (but woke up 4-5 times a night, hence the CIO trial). Now it takes forever to get him to sleep and he wakes up immediately when we put him in the crib. I feel like it has done more harm than good – am trying to figure out if we should just let it go on until he learns or stop all together.


    • I have just read all of this and I’ve enjoyed the scientific and skeptical perspective. I have a 19 month old who bedshares and nurses to sleep. I have read and read and read on this topic, but I have followed my intuition and so far it seems to be working. From her earliest days my daughter screamed and screamed when she was tired and needed to be soothed to sleep. About 95% of the time that she cries, the crying ONLY escalates. I have always known that CIO would be torture for all of us and probably only do more harm than good. I am chiming in here because, while I seek opportunities to allow my precocious/impatient/highly active toddler to self-soothe, I get so very irked by the idea that babies must be sleep trained and mothers must not be so weak-willed as to allow their child to NEED so much. So, thank you for addressing this topic in such a great way. I plan on directing even more of my attention to allowing my child to self-soothe in many situations. But I really wanted to speak to the parents out there (and from the comments it seems that there are a few of them here) that KNOW, despite all of the studies that have been done, that their child is not going to benefit from CIO or that their child may take longer than others to learn to self-soothe. All of you mothers out there are doing a great job if you are seeking out information and help on this subject. You are doing a good job!


  26. At what age did you start using the CIO method? I keep hearing different ages that it is appropriate from 6 weeks to 3 months. I am wondering if it is too early to attempt this method with ny daughter who is going through something similar.


  27. Thanks for all the great posts. I have a two year old son who did everything text book. He is an amazing sleeper and self soother. He almost always wakes up happy and he loves going to bed. Will even ask to take a nap at times. Now, my 8 month old is the opposite. He was not a good sleeper from day one. We discovered he had reflux at 6 weeks and he was put on meds at 8 weeks. Things got a little better after that but it seems that there is always some routine change that causes a disruption in his sleep patterns. I admit I have not allowed him the chance to practice self soothing skills. With the early reflux issues and my other son being close by at night I was always quick to respond to the baby out of concern he was choking or later so my older one wouldn’t wake up. Now I rock him at night because he will fall asleep in minutes that way and it is one of our only quiet times together. With my two year old around, the baby and I don’t get too much one on one cuddle time. All that said, he wakes up early 4:30 or 5 and doesn’t know how to get back to sleep. His naps are unreliable. He is tired, I am tired, and my hubby is tired of me being cranky! I think it is time for me to try some training. Is 8 months too late to create good sleep habits? I was so confident after my first born and now always second guessing! Thanks again for all the research.


  28. Hi, I stumbled across your page when I did a google search on teaching babies how to self soothe. This article was the first item in the search results so I read it and I am writing to say a HUGE thankyou. I have a 3 year old who was a very difficult baby and as anxious parents, we found it difficult to assert ourselves when it came to encouraging him to self soothe. As a result we spent the first 2 years of his life either holding him or once he reached the big bed stage, holding his hand until he went to sleep. He’s 3 now and still requires one of us in his room but he can go to sleep without us when the need arises so it’s getting easier. I now also have 7 month old twins. A boy and a girl. The girl has been independent and brilliant at self soothing from the word go but the boy has again has been really difficult. He recently cut 4 teeth and had an ear infection and we found ourselves rocking him to sleep for every sleep…a luxury I really don’t have with twins and a toddler so I was determined this time to teach this one how to settle himself. I put into place a repetitive set of actions, like closing the curtains, turning on the fan, kissing him on the forehead, giving his a soft toy and saying, ‘Time for Sleep’ and within 2 days he has stopped crying and needing that little pat of reassurance and has found his own little sound he likes to make before he nods off and he’s even resettling himself when he wakes mid sleep. A few of my mummy friends have put it into action in the last 24 hours after hearing how it worked for me and have had success in the first 24 hours. I am so very very grateful for this article. So again, I’d like to say thankyou for sharing. It has really worked for us! Cheers, Rachael. ps. Sorry for the long essay post :-)


  29. Great article! Thank you so much for sharing. This was exactly what I was looking for. My wife and I disagree on self soothing. It was my turn to get our 9 month old to sleep tonight, and I actually let her cry while I was reading this. I think its so difficult for all parents because you want to rush in to make sure everything is ok, but self soothing really does work! First time of self soothing tonight and baby is asleep and I only had to go in and reassure her I was here and all was ok 4 times. Ya, the wife gave me a high five. Looking forward to sharing this article with my friends with babies. Now its off to bed for us!


  30. First, thank you for such a thoughtful blog. I appreciate your zeal for level headedness!


    Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about being a parent and I said, rather smugly, “my best advice for new parents: don’t co sleep”. Well, it was a really stupid thing to say on many levels. I had recently had several conversations with various friends about sleep issues such as uncomfortable sleeping arrangements or toddlers no longer willing to nap once weaned. To me it seemed to all boil down to CIO or no CIO. But it was the first time I realized how polarizing this topic can be. I guess I thought since she didn’t have children that I could not possibly offend her. I was totally wrong. The conversation started to take on epic proportions as she cited “research” about stress levels and brain damage and habits of tribal people and I stuck to my guns about crying and cribs. Luckily, I discovered we can have disagreements without being on opposite sides for very long, phew. But it was eye opening and I decided sleep training was one of those things like religious or political beliefs, possibly better kept to oneself.

    As a stay at home mom, the quality of my life and my day to day happiness is due, in large part, to setting firm boundaries and getting enough personal space from my children. It is something I see some of my friends struggling with and I feel very strongly about it. While there are many opportunities to create structure for children, sleeping seems to me the most effective.

    We have two girls. One is almost four and the other is 19 months. We had the luxury of having two good sleepers from the start but both began to have trouble staying asleep around 6 months. We let both of them cry and it has been very effective for us. The initial stage is very difficult, who takes any pleasure in a crying baby? But the outcome was well worth the discomfort.

    The real value of CIO is self soothing. It effects all of the other parts of thier lives. Although they love to be close to me, both girls can spend large chunks of time playing and exploring independently or with each other. My almost four year old recently stopped napping but we still enjoy a long mid day “quiet time” during which she plays in her room. My daughter who is 19 months old enjoys her nap as well. I have tried to foster the notion that bed time is wonderful and that beds and bedrooms are like personal sanctuaries because that is the way I feel about my own bed and private time. I feel that through the process of self soothing they have acquired the ability to be self sufficient and confident during periods of separation from me and my husband.

    Obviously, this approach worked well for my family and my children adapted relatively easily. It has had many positive effects on my experience as a parent and a wife and it has given us the flexibility to be able to let other people help us and give us a break from being the primary care givers. It has allowed me to maintain a social life outside my family and I am well rested.

    It’s funny though, all of this seems so important in the first few months but now, as my first child gets older, I realize it’s such a small part of raising kids. They all eventually sleep through the night. And, if we are all spending time really considering what’s best for our kids then the outcome will undoubtedly be positive no matter the decisions.


  31. Pingback: Sleep Regressions – What just happened to my sleeping baby? | babysleepright

  32. Hi there! Just stumbled upon your blog last night and I’ve really been enjoying it :) I don’t know if my sleep deprived brain just didn’t see it, but how old was Baby C when you all decided to sleep train?

    My daughter is 3.5 months old and I am exhausted. For naps I can set her down totally awake in her swing (lowest setting) and if she fusses at all she self-soothes by rubbing her face on the little bunny pillow built into the swing. At night though I obviously can’t put the pillow in the crib with her (darn it!) so I end up nursing or vigorously rocking her…sometimes for hours. Once I successfully set her down asleep she may wake up at the 30 minute mark and need a little more rocking, but other than that she sleeps well and wakes 1-2 times to nurse. It’s just the darn bedtime routine that is so difficult! My husband is deployed so it’s just me, day and night, and my sore arms and stamina can barely take it. I know she has the ability to self-soothe since I see her do it daily with naps but I’m afraid she’s too young to do much about it. Any thoughts you have from your research and experience would be much appreciated!


  33. At day 5 of my baby’s life she went more than 24 hours almost hungry because I had no help at breastfeeding in the hospital and although I tried hard to breastfeed no milk could come down. Our first day at home meant that Baby M cried her lungs out and slept from exhaustion less than 4 hours in total. Thank God for my pediatrician! She came to check the baby and saved both of us (me from mastitis, and the baby from starvation)
    Since that day we co-sleep and we sleep well. I would personally go hysterical if I had to wake up an walk to an other room to nurse every 2 hours or just hold her/soothe her to fall back to sleep.
    She can never be alone for more than 30′ and I do not let her cry it out.
    I know the road I’ve chosen is the difficult one as many friends say but, daddy, baby M and I enjoy it. I just want my child to be happy and this way she is, always laughing, wanting to play with everyone, we (me and her dad) just have to be close to her so she can at least see us or hold her! I think it’s a small price to pay till she starts walking away from us feeling secure…
    So my advice is ‘follow your own child’s needs and wants’ because nothing is black or white.


  34. Hi

    I feel so bad, Just yesterday I treated my 5 month baby roughly ( throwed her in bed hard and shouted at her).

    For a month now she sleeps at 12am ( rock her to sleep)and sleeps for an hour and wakes up tired. I tried leaving her to cry but she esculate crying and then cries hysterically she even ends up choking and can’t breath. So I pick her up and try to soothe her to sleep but rocking and bouncing don’t work any more and she stays awake tired( crying some time and playing) she doesn’t go back to sleep until I try soothing her again by taking on a car ride at 7 am or more then sleep to 12 noon. The same thing with naps.

    I tried every thing from the routine(still do until now) to feeding her so she does sleep will at night but it doesn’t work.

    It’s so frustrating for me as a am a single parent and don’t have one to help me. My life changed do dramatically because of this, always in a fight with her father, gained wight ( stopped execersing and eating for comfort ,no life for me at all and just tired all day in my pigamas.

    I am from abroad and in my country we don’t have advisers who can help me.


    • Dear Hanan,
      My heart goes out to you. It is hard to know how to advise you without knowing more about your situation, but it sounds like you could really use advice from someone who could talk through things with you in more detail. Can you find other mothers in your area to discuss things with? Or look for an online forum? It’s so hard to do this alone. I’m not an expert, but if you think it might help, you could send me an email with more details about your baby’s routines. Scienceofmom at gmail dot com.


  35. My baby just turned 10 months and I am worn out EVERY day because I get ZERO sleep in the night due to me giving my baby a bottle EVRY time she wakes up in the middle of the night. I came across this research post because today I decided I was going to have my baby fall asleep cold turkey. I gave her a bottle then layed her in her crib kissed her and said good night. She cried for a good 45 minutes. I went in the room after she got quiet. She did indeed fall asleep, but I was so worried because she was breathing in heavily every like 4-5 seconds she did a deep breath, like as if she was scarred, you know ? I was was a little panicked and picked her up thinking what if she hit her head or something within that 45 minutes. I felt so bad. So I cuddled her.. N she ended up waking up, but started breathing normal and relaxed. She went back to sleep n I layed her back in her crib. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked her up?? But honestly I was scarred cuz of her breathing. But I really think she was scarred like “where is my mom??!!?!” You know? Poor thing. But I feel like me n her really need to have better sleepless nights. She wakes up at least 5 times or more starting from when I lay her down to when she wakes up for good in the morning, wich is 8pm-6:30am!!!!! It’s horrible. We need a change! So I’m going to try to stick with it.


  36. I am a mother of twins and they share the same room. They are 12 months and we have not been successful at having the, self soothe. It is really difficult for use because if one twin gets up and starts crying it wakes up the other baby. We have tried to lay them in their crib, but they spent about 1 hr 1/2 crying until they vomited. We are so tired that we just put them in our bed. This is the only way we get some sleep. Any advice for parents with twins? Desperately seeking sleep


    • I have to add that it’s pretty difficult for me to let them cry. I would go in their room and tell them it was ok and that it was bedtime. I would leave the room and they would cry loudly. I was repeating that routine for awhile. After one of them vomited, I just held her in my arms and rocked her to sleep. My husband rocked him to sleep. It is difficult for us because we don’t want to see them suffer or cry. We love them dearly. We would just like to get a little sleep once in awhile.


      • I see that you posted this awhile ago and am hoping that your little ones are sleeping better. I am going through something similiar with my 19 week old where he wakes up in the middle of the night and it seems that nothing we do helps him go back to sleep in his crib. His crying just seems to get louder and he gets more upset until my husband and I eventually put him in his swing which puts him to sleep immediately and keeps him asleep until around 7 am. Can you tell me what you ended up doing with the twins and if you have any advice?


  37. A very interesting article. Both my children have found self soothing very difficult and both seemed to be extremely light sleepers as babies (from days old). Both were flappy, fussy babies who were unable to go to sleep on their own. Once my daughter began walking and became more active she suddenly started sleeping better and at two years and nine months she is now a terrific little sleeper who loves bed and has no trouble going to sleep on her own!

    My youngest child is seven and a half months now and he continues to struggle with sleep. I stopped swaddling him just a few weeks ago (his chronic flapping arms made sleep without swaddling impossible) and he is coping quite well. Nevertheless, he still wakes frequently through the night crying, seemingly unable to find a comfortable, comforting position to go back to sleep. I’ve never responded to his cries immediately and over the last few weeks in particular I’ve allowed him to cry when he wakes at night (for between 3-5 minutes) but his ability to self soothe doesn’t seem to be improving.

    I agree with the comments you’ve made identifying that natural as well as parental factors influence the babies ability to self soothe but at this stage struggle to comprehend what else I can do/could have done to improve my child’s ability to self soothe. I remain hopeful, however, given that his behaviour is similar to my daughters, that he too will grow and develop into an efficient little sleeper in his own time.

    Ideas or response welcome.


  38. One of the best articles I have ever read on childhood sleep! Thank you! I have three boys (ages 6, 2 and 1), of whom two are biological and one was adopted. I nursed my first to sleep constantly, until I realized that neither of us were thriving on so little sleep. Enter sleep training!

    Now we have sleep trained all our children (two breastfed and one formula fed), and they all sleep in their own beds (in the same room). The little ones go down for nap and bedtime awake and fall asleep on their own.

    Here’s the point: it was really hard work. Sleep training is not easy. There were many nights when I felt like it would be easier on me just to go nurse the baby and go back to bed. But, we stuck it out and now we are peaceful, for the most part.

    In the end, I’m tired of being told that we’re lucky that our kids sleep so well. Ha! But then when I tell these same people that our kids are sleep trained and we worked for it, they are appalled. It’s almost like they try to make us feel like neglectful parents for not cosleeping. etc.


  39. Pingback: Sheila Pai: A Living Family | 10 Better Sleep Tips for Parents and Families

  40. Pingback: The Importance of Self-Soothing Infant Sleep | Common Sense Saudi Mom

  41. Pingback: Ten Encouraging Links for Supporting Baby’s Sleep Learning | Learning Motherhood

  42. We have recently transitioned our son who is 19 weeks old to his crib from a nap nanny where he would sleep through the night (10 hours) and have been struggling with the self-soothing aspect. He tends to do well when we first put him in his crib around 7:30 pm of falling asleep on his own and self-soothing when he wakes up until it hits around 1 am – 3 am. When he wakes around that time, he struggles to fall back asleep on his own. I usually wait till i hear him crying for 5 mins or so before going to him the first time and every time after and I don’t pick him up. Just usually put my hand on his stomach and tell him it is ok. He will quite down and try to go back to sleep but once I leave the room, within minutes, he starts crying again and it just escalates from there with louder more update crying. My husband and I played this out for a couple hours last night until we gave up and put him in his swing where he falls asleep riight away. So I know he is tired but I guess the rocking of the swing soothes him back to sleep. I know I can’t keep this up but rationalize in my mind that it is better for him to get sleep then fight it in his crib the rest of the night. Has this happened to anyone around this age? Will he eventually sleep longer before getting to this restless stage in the night on his own and sleep through the night or is putting him in his swing going to be a crutch and he will keep waking up in order to be moved there at this age?


  43. Hi Alice,

    I come in to this discussion a little late but its been a real treasure to find! Thank you so much!

    I find myself in a little pickle with my 4 month old daughter who learned to nap on my breast amd i can hardly put her away. Ocasionally she will nap for max 30 mins in her pram or a carrier but whenever we’re home i like her to have full naps to make sure she is well rested (she still wakes up in between the cycles but with more boob she usually goes off rather quickly). Night times are not as bad as she seems to be able to sleep for most of it without my help (yay!).

    I have tried the put down/pick up method about a month ago but as it worked (until last week) for nightime, it didnt seem to be for the naps (after 2 days of crying and no sleeping i gave up!).

    So I am giving the idea of controlled crying a big thought (i have the sleep lady shuffle) but i am struggling to plan whether to do the night training first it being the simpler one (due to the natural rythm and pull to sleep) or do the naps as well at the same time. I have been looking in various books and websites but theres no concrete information on how to best handle this.

    I was wondering if you came across any facts or are able to recommend any tactics? What was your take on naps?

    Many thanks indeed for all your fab posts so far! They do make my ‘napping sessions’ so much more fulfilling! :-)



  44. I am a new mom and googled info on self soothing because a few people have mentioned that is what my 2 week old is doing. I am an anxious new mom and make.sure I am.taking care of her needs. She will sometimes sleep very soundly, but other times, usually later in the night and.some naps, will squirm her arms and legs around, moan and squeek, sometimes cry, then fall back asleep, and sometimes she’ll do it as frequently as every 5 minutes. When she’s doing it very frequently, is that a sign that she is patiently waiting of something for her?


  45. Hi, thanks for writing this article. As a second time mum, I thought that I would have an easier time with my 2nd child and realized that I was wrong. My two children are 9 years apart which means that I could very well have wiped out the bad stuff from my memory hence building many misconceptions. My elder girl was an easy baby, she learnt to sleep through the night since 16 weeks and could go to bed easily without much effort on our part. My son who is entering his 17 weeks now is the complete opposite. We had a difficult first 10 weeks as he was colicky and had reflux. Luckily the problem went away and we could put him to bed rather easily after that by nursing or rocking him to bed. I only had to wake up 3 or 4 times nightly to feed him but I could put him down and he would continue sleeping till it’s time for the next feed. However, everything changed since last Sunday. Actually, on hindsight, it started gradually changing a whole week ago. Started with the afternoon naps. He used to take his naps rather easily, either through nursing or with 15 to 20 mins of rocking. However, it was always peaceful. Recently, he started getting cranky and would have to whine and cry for 20 mins while he was being rocked before he could go down for his nap and sometimes I had to carry him for at least half an hour after he is asleep before I could put him down. And his naps have shortened to 20 to 30 mins. Nights have turned into nightmares for me. He won’t go to bed without at least 30 to 45 mins of loud hysterical crying and after we put him down finally, after many rounds of crying at times as he sometimes wakes up the min he leaves our arms, he could only sleep for about 30 to 45 mins before he wakes and it all starts again throughout the night. I need help but I don’t think CIO is the method for me as he is impossible to soothe even with us rocking and carrying him.


  46. I found the following link extremely important on self-soothing and what research is showing goes on in the brain of the self-soothing baby…. ends up infants may exhibit behaviour that looks like the method works while brain activity shows what is truly happening for them. Very worth reading, we all need to know what is really going on, fascinating and surprising!


  47. Great article. I’ve been googling sleep training and self soothing since I found out I was pregnant and was torn until these past couple of weeks, my son is now two and a half months old as I write this, and I have finally decided I would let my son cry it out a bit before rushing to his side during sleeping hours. I wanted to share my experience with other new moms. As I write this my son has slept through the night for a week. Initially, before I gave birth, I swore I would allow my baby to become an independent self soother by letting him cry a bit before rushing to his aid. However, my opinion changed as soon as my bundle of joy was placed in my arms. How could I let such a sweet helpless thing cry for more than a minute! My husband was irritated with me for spoiling him rotten and he immediately became attached to my chest, where he slept most of the time. As soon as I put him down he would cry and cry until I picked him back up. Everyone said I was spoiling him and I swore I would start putting him down more as soon as I felt he was old enough (though never really saying when that was.) After two months of not getting any real sleep because I was constantly on edge about the sleeping baby on my chest, I decided this routine was not healthy for either of us and something had to change. I was getting no rest and he was constantly in my arms. Dont get me wrong, I loved it and still do, but it was wearing us both down. So I decided to try letting him cry it out. I started by finding the spot he was most comfortable, which happened to be my memory foam mattress, and I’d rock him to sleep, gently lay him down, and leave the room. At first he’d wake up every 20 minutes, immediately crying, and I’d go back and rock him and put him down. After a couple nights though it seemed like he was starting to get used to the routine of being put in bed and left alone. After only a few nights he would sleep for a couple of hours (ALL ALONE!) and then wake up and cry to be fed. I still ran to his side but instead of coddling him I started feeding him, changing him (all in the same room) and then putting him back down. He got used to this routine pretty fast, after a couple days, and he acted like he was used to his surroundings and comfortable. A few days later i began letting him cry for about 5-10 minutes because i felt like he was comfortable and not really nervous of his surroundings. He could handle it without me. Just a few nights later he slept a whole five hours straight and the next six! I was nervous that he wasn’t waking up to eat like normal at 3am but he created this routine himself and he started waking up so happy with all smiles! Now we’re both happy as pie and he will lay there until he falls asleep or needs help or food. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! And perfect timing too, because I go back to work next week! :)


  48. I loved reading these posts. We have 10 month old twin boys and are really struggling with their night time sleep habits. From early on we encouraged self-soothing to sleep and while for one twin it pretty much worked, for the other, it has been a constant battle. They are still BF and have never slept through the night, despite being great day napers. Between them latelty they wake 4-6 times a night and it is taking it’s toll. We’re planning on a fresh wave of CIO in the next few days.


  49. I have twin daughters and i have swaddled them since they were born. they are five going on six months. we are sharing a room with them and with one crib because we are living with their fathers parents…very difficult! i want to self sooth and get them away from being swaddled…im not sure on the best way to tackle this…any advice?


  50. Our baby girl is 7 months old. She started sleeping though the night when she was 2 months old. We used to put her down in her crib turn on some music and while we were in the bathroom getting ready for bed she would fall asleep on her own. She would not wake us up at all all through the night and even when she woke up in the morning she would play and roll around, but she would not cry.

    About a month ago she started to fight sleep. She gets really tired and fussy, and her whole body becomes restless. The only thing that works then is to rock her to sleep in the rocking chair while gently holding on to her, singing the same lullaby over and over and kissing her cheeks so she calms down. This can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. We don’t mind doing this, but we really would like her to go to sleep on her own without fighting it. Once she is asleep she will sleep for 10 to 12 hours without a problem.

    The same goes for her day time naps. She needs to be held and rocked to go to sleep.

    We tried taking her to bed sooner, because we thought she might be overtired. She would smile at us, talk to us, be wide awake and getting her to go to sleep would take even longer. Any ideas on how to get her to go to sleep on her own? Rocking her to sleep 4 to 5 times a day is really exhausting. And her daytime naps are very short.

    Thanks so much in advance!


  51. Hi, I am a first time mother of 11 month old baby girl. She doesn`t self-sooth at all! We basically haven`t slept since she was born (although she had some good nights over the summer and then it went back to BAD! We are both extremely stressed from it, it gives me depression, drives me nuts, destroys our marriage. She won`t self sooth, no matter what. At the beginning I could`n`t let her cry (couldn`t take it myself), because since I am a first time mother, every time she cried I was wondering if she is sick, hurting or something is wrong -> I rushed to the crib to pick her up and rocked her to sleep. Number of times every night. She has never slept much during the day either. Used to fall asleep for 35 minutes about 3x a day, that was it. Sometimes not even that much. Very stressful for me, since I can`t get anything done, often don`t have time to even eat or brush my teeth. We tried to let her cry it out when she was about 5-6 months old: after 2,5 hours of her “screaming” I couldn`t take it anymore and went for her. She was screaming without any breake! Really loud!High pitched voice. Heart wrenching! Didn`t help anything.
    When she was 10 months old we tried it again, to let her cry it out and learn to self-soothe. This time she was going on the same was even longer and after torturing 5.5 hours !!!! I couldn`t take it anymore and went for her. And quite honestly, since we did it, I have the impression, she is scared to even be in the crib. And it`s even harder than ever before to put her to sleep. So I am pretty much lost and giving up with my trying/parenting. Any ideas what to do are welcome.


    • Hi Lucy – I totally symphatise with what you are going through. My now 10.5 month old wasnt exactly the easy sleeper either (but maybe not as bad as your little one)… I also tried some gentle methods at around 3 months and it seemed to have worked…for 3 weeks! Then it was back to nursing to sleep… and start of bedsharing for the next 6 months! I too was exhausted. But frankly, I thought she was ready for a retraining at around 6.5 months but we were travelling a bit so decided to hold the horses until we were back home for good – at 9 months. Then it was another 2 weeks for settling in and me procrastinating over the idea of which method exactly i should use. Finally, after I found my babygirl moving around the big bed after waking up daytime – I couldnt risk her falling off / leaving her to sleep there any more. I used a variation of CIO – I sat with her, right next to her until she fell asleep, same for any wake-ups in the night (every 2-3 hrs!). This was for 3 nights, but I only nursed once, as long as it was after midnight. Then on 4th night I didnt nurse when she woke up at 3 am. Then on nights 5-7 I moved a little bit away from her crib when she was falling asleep. (This is the Sleep Lady Shuffle – check out her website pmus she has a book out which i used). It worked like a charm! I found that picking her up when she was histetical or even talking to her was too stimulating and made her even madder. The crying was for 35 minutes on first night but every night after that was easier. Daytime proved more challenging so I had to go much slower and after less than 2 weeks she falls asleep herself!

      I read in the Baby Whisperer book (I think thats where it was, either there or in the Sleep Lady book) a scenario which you describe – where the CIO didnt work, a few times, and the baby got scared of his own bed! What they did was to apply the 3-day rule but took a very tiny steps to move along the process of reitroducing him to his bed: first mum sat with / nursed him near the bed, then closer and closer and eventually he wasnt scared any more and could lie in there. (Check the book: Baby Whisperer’s Secrets) Also I think you could try playing with your baby when he is in the cot so there arw some pleasant associations with that place.

      I hope this is helpful but believe me, it does get easier, just be guided by your baby – it seems she needs a slower and gentler approach. GOOD LUCK!!!


  52. Hi i wonder if i could get so advice my little one is 7 months old. And will only go to sleep in my arms drinking a bottle. How can i change this please help me.


  53. This article was a game changed for me. I had not yet read that poor self-soothers may actually get WORSE at self-soothing. That’s concerning. I am still struggling, though, with choosing a method that is gentle and gradual. Have you considered writing about the various methods and their pros and cons?


  54. Pingback: The Art Of Persuasion | Executive Speakers Bureau

  55. My nine week old daughter only falls asleep if we hold her first and give her a pacifier. Even then sometimes she cries really loud for a few minutes in our arms before falling asleep. The only time she falls asleep easily is in the middle of the night after nursing when she’s in a sleepy state to begin with. I know if we just put Her down she will cry frantically. What do you recommend we do? Will things get better or worse if we continue this way?


  56. First of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this discussion Scienceofmom… your work is fantastic and I am so happy to have “found you” ! The readers comments are also very useful. What do we do?? What to do?? I began my search to find solutions about self-soothing at sleeptime as my 10.5 month old son is waking every couple of hours, 5-6 times a night. He has yet to sleep through the night, which is fine, my concern is that he does not know how to fall back asleep on his own, I nurse him and am wondering if he is really hungry each time or if that is how he is comforted back to sleep. I wonder if I have created a crutch that will be so hard to change, especially at this age going forward. Im not sure what is best to do. I will follow and look forward to more of your posts. Thank you again.


    • Chances are, he doesn’t need to eat that often during the night and is simply seeking comfort. That’s fine and pretty common, but you can help him learn to find comfort in other ways. Does he nurse to sleep at the beginning of the night? If so, letting him fall to sleep on his own might help with the frequent night wakings.


      • He does nurse at the beginning of the night, then unlatches and I put him down (sleepy) in his crib. I have tried several different pacifiers, rubbing back, shushing, cuddling, so far he continues to wake almost every 2 hours. Do you know what other comforts to suggest?


  57. My husband and I had already decided we wanted our 5 month old to learn to self sooth. He really seemed ready to us, and after reading this article we felt even more encouraged to do so.
    Just a quick history: Our son slept pretty good until he was 4 months old. Then he started waking 10+ times a night. Sometimes he’d just need the binkie back in and sometimes he’d cry until held. My husband and I take shifts, but we were both exhausted all the time…

    Last night was the first night without binkie or swaddle. We’d let him cry a few minutes, then go and reassure him. We repeated this for about an hour. Finally he fell asleep …. and slept until 4 AM. He woke up, cried very little, then wiggled his way around the crib until he found a comfy position. He fell back to sleep and slept til 8. Pure bliss for his parents, I assure you.

    Today he’s gone down for his naps without any issue. AND his naps are three times as long (he’d only been sleeping 30 minutes at a time up until now).

    I’m not saying it will work like this for everyone (and I’m sure we still have a long road ahead), but I am SO grateful for the research and sound advice in this post. It gave us the courage to try this out. And I am very encouraged by the results I’m seeing so far.

    Thank you!!


  58. I’m losing my mind! My son just turned 6 months. Ever since he was two months old we began having sleep issues at bedtime. I have hired 3 baby sleep coaches. I know some nights he was probably overtired. But even when I get him down by 7 (he wakes from catnap at 5) he falls asleep easily and at the 40 min mark he wakes and will cry for an hour plus. I’ve gone in there to try to soothe because it hurts my heart to hear him cry, but he doesn’t calm down. I just have to let him cry. Some nights it’s gone on for three hours!!! This is killing me. And for naps, more so the afternoon one, wakes at 30-45 minutes and won’t go back to sleep. Baby sleep has given me such bad anxiety. I Never leave the house (and I have a two year old) because I’m so afraid of messing up the baby’s schedule that he won’t sleep well and will be alone crying again. Then again, he does it no matter what. I’ve been very consistent. Why won’t he catch on? Help!


  59. Hello! I just happened to come across this, and I was wondering if you would have any advice? My daughter is 6 months old…and as of the last month she is now co-sleeping with me (husband is on the couch haha). I don’t like this, because I don’t sleep well which leaves me exhausted when I gave her and my toddler to take care of! She has absolutely no self soothing mechanisms. Ever since she was born she had to sleep in her swing or she wouldn’t sleep. Then it got to where she wouldn’t sleep in the swing just recently. There was a small period of time when she was 3-4 months that she slept in her bed for 2-4 hour stretches then out of nowhere that stopped. Now, even if she is dead asleep, as soon as I lie her down in her bed she is awake. If I try to leave her there, or if on a different night I put her in drowsy but awake, she screams her head off. Even when she sleeps in the bed with me now, every time she transitions from light sleep to deep sleep she will wake up and have to nurse back to sleep. I’m not sure what to do!!


  60. Has anyone tried the Zipadee-Zip from Sleeping Baby? It’s been super helpful in soothing my LO to sleep. My little guy loves feeling held by the soft, comfortable enclosing of the Zippy, but unlike a swaddle he is able to freely move his arms and legs! And ever since using it, he has been averaging an extra 2 hours of sleep! Plus it’s breathable so when it gets hot, he doesn’t overheat!


  61. I love this advice! I use sleep sacks like the Zipadee-Zip to help my LO self-soothe. Ever since trying it, he has been sleeping soundly throughout the night.


  62. My son is 71/2 months old, and I do not believe he knows how to self soothe when it comes to sleep. I would say that my fault, he falls asleep by breast feeding. Day or night when he eats he generally sleeps, in the day time he’ll fall asleep on my lap and i won’t put him down till he wakes up. Night time he sleeps with me, I didn’t think about the effects of not allowing him I self soothe. Having him sleep with me, when he’s hungry i just turn over and feed him or hug him if he’s just finiky, he never actually fully awakes. The reason I found this sight was because me and my husband just put up a crib and I was looking for so others to help him sleep without me. I really like your input and feel I need to get him on the right track to self soothing more then ever now. I’m still confused on how I can breast feed him and help him to self soothe, since he tends to fall asleep 98% of the time I feed him ? And, do I still feed him throughout the night?


  63. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have found your blog!! Baby K is 3 months old and we are in the same position as you were with the stupid ball! I can’t put her to sleep without the bouncing, and reading your blog has given me some hope! My first thought is to jump right in and do what you did! Though the CIO is something I will have a hard time with, I am willing to try it (I may not last long…) BUT I did notice in one of your comments you said that you “would do things differently next time around”, and wanted to know what you would change with BabyC if you were to do it again! Thank you do much for doing all this research and sharing your findings, I am so grateful!!


    • Ha! It’s funny, because I’ve been thinking about writing a post on that. I now have a new baby who is 4 months old. I’ve done a lot of things differently to help him learn to be able to sleep on his own from the start, and I really avoided using that damn ball:) But I’m not sure what I would do differently starting from your situation right now. One thing to try is weaning from the ball gradually and with your presence. That is, maybe while you hold her with no motion, or laying next to you in bed, or sitting next to her in his bed. I did this last thing with BabyM for quite a while. He fussed before falling to sleep, but he knew I was right there. Eventually I realized my presence was stimulating him and keeping him awake so I started leaving the room while he fell asleep. Then he really started going to sleep easily on his own, but the intermediate step was good confidence-building for both of us. Then again, this may not work well for your baby – some would just get madder about the change. Whatever you do, be super consistent! It really is a gift when they are able to go to sleep on their own. So much good sleep development can happen organically from that place.


      • Thank you for the quick reply and the advice! I will try each of those things a few times and see what works best! Babies are SUCH a mystery, initially I was so excited the ball works (I was so desperate for her to nap), but it has become an increasingly bad habit and while I know this, I am not sure how to wean her off! Does BabyM fall asleep himself for naps as well as nighttime? That truly is amazing what you have done at 4 months! Please do write a post when you can, would love to hear about… and copy you for the next baby :)


  64. Pingback: The Truths About Self-Soothing For Your Baby - momsxyz

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