Guiding Infants to Fall Asleep On Their Own

Written by: Kendall Hampton, CPSC
Posted: March 27, 2024

During the first few months after birth, newborns need soothing measures to calm their developing nervous systems so that they can fall asleep.


When parents continue to provide those soothing actions, such as holding, rocking, and feeding to sleep, it may mask their babies’ budding abilities to fall asleep on their own. If parents slowly back off their assistance, then their babies develop the ability to self-soothe to sleep.
The drive to sleep is biological but how we fall asleep is a learned behavior. Falling asleep independently often requires coaching and practice just like potty training or learning to ride a bike. There are responsive ways to sleep train. There is no need to leave your baby to cry-it-out. This article will focus on sleep shaping or gradually guiding infants to fall asleep on their own. When you start early, you may avoid the need to formally sleep train which is typically reserved for babies that are around 4 months and older.
The reason that independent sleep skills are so important is because it allows babies to sleep longer stretches and ultimately “sleep through the night.” Humans don’t really sleep through the night. We all slightly awaken between sleep cycles. The secret to a baby appearing to sleep through the night is that they have the skill to seamlessly drift back to sleep rather than ask for assistance. Quality sleep is necessary for optimal child development, health, moods, and so much more. It is also needed for the health and well-being of parents. Sufficient sleep promotes better bonding between parent and child.

Nurturing an independent sleeper doesn’t just happen during the night. It starts with healthy daytimes routines and habits. Let’s consider 4 parenting strategies that help babies learn to fall asleep on their own.


Strategy 1: Follow an EAT-PLAY-SLEEP Routine


The key is to feed your baby closer to when they wake up rather than right before they fall asleep. This pattern eliminates the act of feeding a baby to sleep, which is a sleep association that can prevent the development of independent sleep skills. That’s because babies will want to suck back to sleep if they awaken during the night regardless of hunger.
Implementing an eat-play-sleep routine throughout the day will also help you identify why your baby is crying. When you can predict when your baby will be hungry and sleepy, then you can better determine if they are bored, uncomfortable, overstimulated, etc. It will help you avoid feeding your baby when they aren’t hungry. Or putting your baby down when they aren’t tired.
By 6-9 months, most healthy babies are physically and neurologically able to go 12 hours without food during the night if taking in sufficient daytime nutrition. So, ensure your baby is filling up during the day. Discuss night weaning readiness with your baby’s pediatrician. Sleep training and night weaning are approached in different ways.

Strategy 2: Nap in Crib as Much as Possible


Give your baby opportunities to practice getting comfortable in a horizontal position in their crib or bassinette at naptime, so it’s familiar at nighttime. This will prevent your baby from developing a preference for other surfaces that may be more comfortable than their crib mattress. Also, they will get deeper, more restorative sleep in a dedicated sleep space that’s optimized for falling and staying asleep.
There will likely be times when your baby naps on the go in the car or stroller. We are busy parents and can’t always be home for every nap. That’s life! You may enjoy holding your baby during naps, using a baby-wearing device, or using a portable sleep space and that’s okay. Just remember that if nighttime sleep is a struggle, then limiting how often your baby naps on different surfaces than they sleep at night may help.

Strategy 3: Give Your Baby Opportunities to Practice


There are multiple ways to let your baby practice falling asleep on their own. You can utilize a Soothing Hierarchy to prevent yourself from overhelping your baby to sleep. Always try the lowest level of assistance to see if that will help your baby calm down enough to fall asleep. Give it time to work before deciding if you need to increase your assistance.
• presence
• soothing voice (from shushing to humming, soft singing, and a calming phrase)
• replacing pacifier
• your touch (from light to heavy hand, rub, and pat)
• holding (from still to adding movement)
If you baby is reliant on being rocked to sleep, then work toward being able to hold them still as they fall asleep in your arms. They will likely protest because they’ve become accustomed to the motion. But remember that you are there and supporting them through learning a new skill. Your baby can do it. Quietly tell them that you love them and then provide a soothing shush sound as they practice. Remember that you are doing what is best for your baby and helping them learn to get the quality sleep they need to thrive.
Once they have mastered falling asleep without movement, then you can more easily start laying them in the crib before they have fallen asleep. If shushing and soothing touch from the side of the crib doesn’t work well at first, then just remember this is practice. Keep giving your baby opportunities to try to fall asleep with less and less help.

Strategy 4: Plan Your Approach to Night Waking


If your baby cries in the middle of the night or mid nap, wait at least a few minutes to see if they start to self-soothe. They are likely frustrated that they woke up and are trying to return to sleep. Babies often find that grunting or humming, moving their head back and forth, rubbing their blanket or hair with their fingers, or another action helps them calm down. Every baby finds their own soothing strategy!
Babies can be loud self-soothers, so consider if your baby’s fussing, squawking, babbling, etc. is just an effort to self-soothe. Resist the urge to disrupt their progress developing their unique technique. If you tune in, you may realize that your baby doesn’t need your help. If your baby seems truly upset, then go reassure them. Try the Soothing Hierarchy. Picking them up may be too stimulating. Crib side soothing may be all they need to drift back to sleep.
Although first consider whether your baby is likely hungry or is just frustrated that they woke up prematurely. Then you will know if you should offer a feeding or reassurance. Infants who are breast or bottle fed during the night can still become independent sleepers. Offer space to develop self-soothing skills at bedtime, naps, and after feeds.

Sleep Coaching is Available if You’d Like Support


If you are an expectant parent and would like more guidance to set your infant up for success becoming an independent sleeper, then add a Rested Families Newborn Sleep Shaping package to your BeHerVillage baby registry.
I’m Kendall Hampton, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Early Intervention Specialist, and owner of Rested Families, LLC. Virtually supporting parents to teach their children independent sleep skills is my specialty!
Please reach out if you’d like assistance implementing a sleep plan that is personalized to your family’s needs and preferences. Let’s build your child’s confidence to fall asleep independently so that you family can get the rest you need to live life to the fullest!
I serve parents of children of all ages and abilities, including children with separation anxiety, challenging temperaments, nighttime fears, and developmental delays and disabilities. Learn more at and book a free consultation to see if sleep coaching is right for your family.
Your family deserves restful nights and better days!

BeHerVillage is helping parents like you get the funds they need for the support they deserve! Are you having a baby and are looking for support? Create a registry for support today and get gifted funds directly into your bank account to pay for your support team. You deserve this.

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Category: Tips From BeHerVillage Providers & Partners , Postpartum Planning
Tags: postpartum , baby sleep , sleep training


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