The idea of a self-soothing baby is every exhausted parent’s dream. But the reality is that a baby’s main tool for comfort is his parents — and especially we mommy units. (Isn’t having someone else meet your needs the whole point of being a baby?) Still, we moms can yearn for more than a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep — or gasp — an entire night, can’t we?
With that yearning in mind, many of us look to some form of sleep training. There are various approaches (Dr. Ferber's is the most well-known), and many of them involve a measure of "controlled crying," also known as crying it out (CIO). Since listening to your baby cry is never a walk in the park, it's helpful to keep your eyes on the prize: a baby who can self-soothe.
So, what's the trick to this? Is it even possible?
According to many Circle of Moms members, this mission is not only possible, it's worth the work.
“This is going to take a few to several nights and lots of patience on everyone's part,” advises Kristin G. in the Breastfeeding Moms community. And Debbie C. says, “Whatever method you choose, be sure to stick with it for a few weeks. Be strong.”
While there are many training methods being bandied about these days, all claiming to have the highest success rate in getting a baby to self-soothe, moms posting in various threads around Circle of Moms all hit on the same key ingredient: smell.
As babies' eyesight isn’t well developed early on, they identify mom by smell. This can be a help and a hindrance, depending on how you use it.
“Get your smell on something in the crib," writes Mary R. “Help [baby] get attached to a lovey (a little stuffed animal or blanket). Let him snuggle with the lovey while he nurses and let him have it in his crib with him to keep him company. Try to get your "smell" on the lovey by holding it against your skin while you nurse.”
“A blanket that you and your husband have slept on will have your scent and may help him,” shares Kristin G.
“Sleep with it (the lovey or a blanket) a few nights or put it in your bra while you're home. Sounds crazy, I know, but the idea is to get it to smell like you so as to help him relax and feel comforted when [he's] in his crib and you're not around,” posts Julia R.
Not crazy at all, Julia. It worked for me.
My now 13-year-old son was just a few months old when the military moved us from New Jersey to Alaska. Ian's familiar crib and bassinette were packed up and gone for an indefinite period of time. We spent nearly three months in a guest house (essentially a nice way to say hotel) waiting to be assigned to housing. By this time the pack and play was his new, at least for now, permanent bed. Obviously the little guy was not happy. He was waking up several times each night wailing and other folks in the guest house – especially the Navy Seals sent to this remote part of Alaska for cold weather training – were not enjoying his fuss. I was pulling my hair out trying to come up with a solution to make the pack and play a place he felt more secure. Then it dawned on me: maybe he'd feel safer there if it smelled more like me! This was worth a try. So after the older kids were off to school and would not witness this procedure, I stripped out of my top and bra and rubbed Ian’s blankets and his toys all over my breasts. (I prayed housekeeping wouldn’t come by to interrupt me.) For good measure, I sorted through the laundry to find a shirt that smelled the most like my body odor, and rubbed it all over the walls of the pack and play. I then let it lay in there. That afternoon, when naptime came along, I nursed Ian and put him down, semi drowsy. He was quiet. That shirt never did make it to the laundry.
However, smell can also backfire.
Once we were in our new home and Ian was settled into his crib in his bedroom down the hall, I quickly learned that he’d fuss for mom if he got even a slight whiff of me. I learned to not go back upstairs when he was napping.
Meghan A., posting in the Recipe Swap community, knows exactly what I'm talking about. Her mom had to be the one to comfort her son until he learned to self-soothe, because he would "flip out if I went in."
“It might be easier to have your husband/significant other rock him and get him drowsy and be the one to go in and soothe him, so he doesn't smell you,” advises Amanda K.
Seems in the self-soothing realm, familiarity does not breed contempt -- but rather contentment.
Smell isn’t the only sense available to foster self-soothing; many moms suggest using sound.
“I recorded some of her books on tape and would put it on (to) make her cozy and she listened to my voice until she drifted,” shares Lori M. “It worked for several of my friends too.”
I also used sound. I personalized the lullaby song to include my son's name, gently singing, “Lullaby and goodnight / Ian Robert goes sleepy / in his bed, his warm bed / Ian Robert goes goodnight. Close your eyes my little boy / In the morning you’ll wake. / Jesus watches over you. It will be okay.”
And then I'd pray that my little song's prediction (that he’d wake in the morning, and not the night) would come true.
While Ian's probably not thrilled that I'm sharing this tidbit, I can still see his big blue eyes succumb to sleep. I know this worked because when he was a toddler and I temporarily worked outside the home, his caretakers at the child development center told me he hummed himself to sleep at nap time.
3. A Predictable Routine
Routine is also a building block to successful self-soothing.
“My son was put on a schedule around the age of ten weeks. Bath, lotion, watching motion soother, bottle, bed at eight,” writes Heather H. “I give him hugs and kisses, say its night-night time I love you, and set him in his crib. I rub his head and shhhh him. When he is calm, I walk to the corner of the room where he can’t see me. I have just enough light to see him in his crib but can’t tell if eyes are open or closed. If he starts to fuss, I go over [and] say it's night-night time, rub his head, then walk away. I never pick him up”
The first night she let him self-soothe to sleep, it took about 20 minutes. Within five days, she reports, he was down to five minutes.
“Now he self soothes every night. He sucks his fingers or blows raspberries, and then all of a sudden, silence. I feel he knows the routine and that’s what helped him.”
For another perspective, read Is "Crying It Out" (CIO) Cruel?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.