It’s an important developmental skill for your baby to self soothe. Here are some very basic ways to teach your baby to fall asleep alone.
Create and Stick To A Routine
Many adults find routines boring, but babies find them comforting. When a baby participates in a consistent routine, it leaves little room for confusion that may lead to resistance to bedtime. Find a routine that works for you, such as mealtime, bath time, baby massage, reading a book and finally followed by bedtime. Your baby will know what to expect and feel safe in going to sleep.
Help your little one learn to fall asleep lying still (in your arms).
Once she’s used to falling asleep being rocked or walked instead of eating, the next phase is to get her to fall asleep without rocking. So you begin with rocking, but then, before she is actually asleep, you stop rocking, and just sit, holding her calmly. If she protests, begin rocking again. Keep repeating this. It may take 25 attempts, but eventually she will begin falling asleep even though you have stopped rocking. That’s a real victory.
Do this for a week or so until she’s used to it as your new routine: getting sleepy while rocking and then falling asleep in your arms while not rocking.
Begin to break the association between nursing/eating/sucking and sleep.
If your baby needs you to feed him or give him something to suck on in order to fall asleep, then he will always call for you to help him fall back asleep during the night. So your next step is to gradually break the association between sucking and falling asleep.
Usually, babies find it easiest if you start by rocking them. Yes, this is another sleep “crutch.” But it’s an easier sleep association to break than sucking is.
Feed your baby when he first wakes up from sleep, and again a bit later if he is awake and still hungry. But when he is just sleepy, experiment with walking or rocking him instead of feeding him. That way, he begins to learn to fall asleep without sucking. Of course, you are still using rocking or walking to get him to sleep, but we’ll break that sleep association in the next phase.
PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT ever mean you withhold food from a hungry baby. You don’t start this until your baby is several months old, nursing or eating well, and physically thriving. Infants need to eat very often, so you will often find that your infant is hungry and tired at the same time. If you walk or rock your baby and he continues to cry and protest, then he may very well be hungry as well as tired. In that case, feed him right away.
The point here is to gradually break the sucking/sleep association by helping your baby fall asleep in other ways than sucking. More and more often, he will indeed fall asleep without sucking. If he’s hungry, he will keep crying to let you know, in which case, of course, you will feed him.
Put Them In Bed Awake
Most experts agree that teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own is best achieved through laying them down in the crib still awake. Awake does not necessarily mean wide awake- it could mean very drowsy and even with their eyes closed. The important thing is they are aware that they are alone in their crib (not in your arms) and associate it with going to sleep. If they wake up a few minutes later or even in the middle of the night, they will eventually come to know they don’t need mom or dad to help them fall back asleep.
Touch instead of holding, in her bed.
Eventually, you will be able to put your baby in the crib and hold her there while she falls asleep, because she will not need rocking any more. Then you move to touching, but not holding, your baby, while she falls asleep in the crib. Eventually, she will be able to fall asleep with you simply holding her hand. Keep doing this until she accepts it as your new routine — getting sleepy rocking, but then being put into her bed lying on her back and falling asleep there, holding your hand. At some point, you can substitute a toy instead of your finger.
Don’t Give Up
We often think that getting a baby to sleep on their own is all up to the baby, but it’s just as hard, if not harder on mom and dad. It’s easy to feel guilty for letting your baby cry (we aren’t talking about the “cry it out method” or letting your baby cry for hours) or fear they are scared or lonely. But don’t give up! This process does not usually happen overnight, but it’s only possible if you keep trying. Both you and your baby will be so happy you gave it a shot.