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Baby Sleep Self Settling Techniques

Self Settling Techniques

Sleep-wise, your baby has a lot of development to do over the first year of life. You can help your baby gradually learn to sleep with a predictable routine, a wind down bedtime routine (for example, meal, bath, cleaning teeth, story time, cuddle and kiss, and into the cot/bed) and with responsive settling techniques. 

Why your baby wakes up at night

Why do some parents have to get up for their babies, while other parents don’t seem to get up or they say they don’t get up? Well, there’s a reason.

When settling after 3 months of age, some babies begin to sustain longer periods of sleep and will settle themselves back to sleep after waking.

Most babies wake up at least once through the night and call out to you when they're in that transitional stage between sleeping and waking. They might be trying to self-settle but still call anyway.

The babies who have a reputation for sleeping through the 12 hours still wake up during their long sleep but don’t call out in the transitional stage. These babies are mostly able to put themselves back to sleep without any help from their parent.

Their parents don’t hear them and they will tell you, ‘My baby sleeps through the night without waking.’ This might make you feel bad. 

It's important to know that their baby won’t sleep through every night. There will be nights when their baby is sick or they’ll forget how to settle and need some help. That’s completely normal.

Why do some babies keep calling out when they wake up at night, while others don’t?

It’s believed the way you put your baby to sleep and how you respond when they call out to you at night have an effect on how they self-settle.

The more you repeat a routine, the more the routine will become a pattern. These are called sleep associations. This means whatever you do to put your baby to sleep, such as feed them or hold them until they're asleep, they will expect the same from you each time. 

Similarly, if you respond very quickly every time they calls, they won’t have an opportunity to self-settle. This is why it's important to try self-settling techniques to help teach your baby to settle themselves when they're ready. 

Also, other difficulties, such as family stress, postnatal depression, anxiety, colic, gastro-esophageal reflux, medical problems and feeding difficulties, are all reasons why babies wake and call out for comfort rather than self-settle.

What is Responsive Settling?

Tresillian uses responsive settling strategies. These techniques encourage you to respond promptly and sensitively to our baby's needs. 

We use the following cues to signal when to implement our responsive settling strategies:

  • Distress
  • Non-verbal cues
  • States of consciousness
  • Active and quiet sleep
  • Drowsiness
  • Wakefulness

Soothing in arms settling technique

This is for babies in the very early weeks.
  • 1

    Wrap your baby or use a special sleeping bag with fitted arm holes, and no hood (in accordance with Red Nose SUDI guidelines). 

  • 2

    Hold your baby in your arms until they fall asleep.

  • 3

    Use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking, talking or softly singing before putting your baby into the cot asleep. These repetitions signal relaxation and sleep.  

  • 4

    If your baby wakes after a sleep cycle, you may need to resettle using the strategies above. 

Hands on self settling technique

This self settling technique is from birth to 6 months.
  • 1

    Wrap your baby in a light cotton fabric or use a sleeping bag with fitted arm holes and no hood.

  • 2

    Talk quietly and cuddle your baby to help calm and relax them. 

  • 3

    Put your drowsy baby on their back in the cot. 

  • 4

    Comfort your baby with gentle 'ssshhh' sounds and/or gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking until they are calm or nearly asleep.

  • 5

    If your baby starts to fuss loudly, pick them up for a cuddle until they're calm then put them back in the cot. 

  • 6

    Stay with your baby until they're nearly asleep.

  • 7

    If they become unsettled, return to the room.

  • 8

    Repeat comforting your baby in the cot until they are asleep.

  • 9

    If needed, pick them up and cuddle until calm and drowsy. 

  • 10

    Leave the room when your baby is asleep or return to bed yourself.

Parental presence self-settling technique

This self settling technique is for babies over 6 months. You may prefer this option if your baby has never been separated from you at sleep time.
  • 1

    Talk quietly and cuddle your baby to help them calm.

  • 2

    Put your baby on their back in the cot awake (calm/drowsy). Comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshhh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, or stroking.

  • 3

    Once your baby is calm, lie down or sit beside the cot within sight of your baby and pretend to be asleep.

  • 4

    If your baby remains awake, give a little cough or quietly say ‘ssshh time to sleep’ so your baby knows you're still in the room.

  • 5

    If your child becomes distressed, do the least amount to calm them. Start with step 3 but you may need to go through steps 1-3 again. Then lie or sit beside the cot.

  • 6

    You may have to repeat this several times before your child is able to remain calm and become drowsy or fall asleep.

  • 7

    Stay in the room until your child is asleep during the day and sleep in the same room as your child during the night.

  • 8

    Continue this for at least 1 week or until your child has 3 nights in a row of relatively uninterrupted sleep.

  • 9

    You can now begin to leave the room before your child is asleep.

What’s the best baby bedtime routine?

Another technique to help your baby learn when it's time for bed is to set up a baby bedtime routine. This routine can be as simple as 3 or 4 steps. 

For babies under 12 months:

  • start with a relaxing bath
  • try a gentle massage but check they’re enjoying it (some babies don’t)
  • change your baby into pyjamas
  • using a soft, low voice, read a story or sing some rhymes.
  • finish with cuddles
  • say goodnight, and tell them you will see them in the morning
  • place your baby on their back, in their own cot
  • turn out the lights and leave the room or use one of the self settling techniques on this page. 

Night waking is normal

It's also important to note that night waking is normal - all babies wake at night. Sleeping through the night is simply a normal developmental process not an achievement for your baby. It will happen when they're ready. 

There are a number of reasons why some sleep approaches don’t produce the results parents were hoping to see in certain circumstances. The approach may not have taken into account such important things as:

  • your baby’s different stages of sleep development
  • your baby’s very close and dependent relationship with you
  • the importance of you and your baby working together on her daily rhythms of sleeping, feeding and socialising
  • how much family support you have
  • what’s going on in your home environment
  • your and your baby’s health

Indicators for sleeping through the night

For your baby to sleep through the night, they must be mature enough to do these three things:
  • 1

    Sustain longer periods of unbroken sleep (without waking) – this sleep pattern develops over the first three months and needs to occur before self-settling

  • 2

    Be able to put themself back to sleep after they have woken from a period of sleep – this is self-settling, and your baby develops this gradually over the first year.

  • 3

    Be able to keep doing these for one stretch of 6 to 8 hours sometime during the night, hopefully while you are sleeping.

FAQs about self-settling

It's important to keep an eye out for your baby's tired signs. If they get overtired, babies are much harder to settle. An overtired baby may need extra hands on or in arms settling until they go to sleep. 

  • Call Tresillian’s parent helpline on 1300 272 736
  • Be persistent; keep trying at every sleep, even if it didn’t work the sleep before
  • Bring a routine into bedtimes
  • Talk to your baby about what is happening e.g.: it’s time for bed now, I can see you are sleepy, I am going to wrap you now, so you are nice and warm and can have a good sleep etc.
  • You may want to start with a cuddle and then transition to the cot, with some hands on patting or rocking, and verbal reassurance
  • Sing throughout the attempt
  • Respond to your baby if they become distressed and need your help to go to sleep
  • Consider coming for a stay in a Tresillian residential service, so we can to help you with developing all these new skills and practices.

Follow the hands on settling technique highlighted above.