Self-settling is like the holy grail for babies sleep! Well, you would think so the way people talk about it. Self-settling is when a baby can put themselves to sleep without any intervention or help. So, you put your baby into bed awake and they go off to sleep without any fuss. For some parents, the idea of their baby being able to do that might seem a long way off, but most babies can learn to put themselves to sleep at some point.
It is important to understand that babies don’t have the brain development to self-settle until they are around 12 weeks. That said, there are some babies who will just do it, regardless of their age. This might just be a random occurrence, so they do it occasionally, or something they can do at most sleeps. But generally, babies need to be a bit older before this becomes the norm and they will regularly go off to sleep without any help.
When a baby is born, they need to be very close to their mothers. And because young babies can’t put themselves to sleep, they will need to be held, fed, rocked and soothed off to sleep. This is totally okay. Some parents worry constantly about creating bad habits with young babies, but young babies need to attach and bond with their caregivers and so feeding off to sleep, rocking them in your arms, or holding them is a really lovely way to do this.
It is also totally okay to put your baby down to sleep when they are still awake. A lot of new parents think that babies need to be sound asleep when they are put to bed, but this isn’t always the case. If your baby is fed, burped, wrapped, tired but not overtired and calm, then it is totally fine to put your baby into their cot awake and see if they can go off to sleep. However, more often than not, when they are newborn, you will need to go back and help them by patting or rocking in your arms, but occasionally your baby might just go off to sleep on their own!
As your baby gets older, you may find that if you have been putting them down awake, then you are not needing to help them so much anymore, and they are putting themselves to sleep most of the time. There are also some other things you can do that can help your baby learn to go off to sleep on their own. I like wrapping young babies. So swaddling them nice and firmly, with their arms in, can help them relax. Using some lovely white noise or music can also help, as well as making sure your baby is not overtired when you are getting them to sleep. Overtired babies find it much harder to drop off to sleep and will need help to do this.
As babies get older, putting themselves to sleep can really affect the way they sleep in general. So by the time a baby is six months old, it is ideal if they can put themselves to sleep for most of their sleeps. And if not, then it is a good idea to have them at least falling off to sleep in their cots rather than in your arms, on the breast, or in the pram etc. However, if you are feeding your older baby to sleep and they are sleeping brilliant, then fabulous! You don’t have to change a thing!
Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.