The Truth About Infant Self-Soothing

Infant self-soothing is often misrepresented by descriptive terms like tough love, crying it out, leaving babies to “deal with it” on their own, and even neglect. Apparently there are people who misunderstand the concept, or use it as an excuse to ignore a child. Perhaps it’s in reaction to those people, real or imagined, that others have wholly rejected the idea, shutting the door on the possibility that babies could ever benefit from being allowed to calm themselves.

As is often the case, the truth isn’t black or white. When a sensitive, responsive parent or caregiver is open to allowing a baby to initiate self-soothing, and supports that, but does not force, demand, expect, or abandon a baby to do it, the result is healthy and productive. Affording babies the bit of room they need to help them develop their individual coping strategies in our presence is a loving, mindful practice.

Supporting a baby to self-soothe can mean listening to her complaints for a minute or two while she finds her thumb, rather than immediately giving her a pacifier. It can be about remembering to offer two teethers and allowing the baby to choose one and grasp it herself rather than automatically placing something in her mouth. It might mean allowing our baby to cry in our arms to release her feelings at bedtime instead of rocking, patting, or jiggling her, etc., as explained in “Helping Young Children Sleep” from Hand-in-Hand parenting:

Children’s systems are built to offload feelings of upset immediately and vigorously. But our training as parents is to stop them from offloading their feelings! We are taught to give them pacifiers, food, rocking, patting, scolding, and later, time outs and spanking, if the crying or screaming goes on for more than a minute. We are taught to work against the child’s own healthy instinct to get rid of bad feelings immediately. So our children store these upsets, and try many times a day to work them out, usually by testing limits or having meltdowns over small issues. If they can’t offload them during the day, the feelings bother them in the night” – Patty Wipfler

Staying open to the possibility of self-soothing allows babies to actively take part in their care to the best of their ability. As Magda Gerber writes in Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect, “Infancy is a time of great dependence. However, babies should be allowed to do some things for themselves from the very beginning.” This encourages and empowers our children and ultimately makes our job easier.

In “Helping Children Learn To Take On Challenges” a story from her book Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky shares findings from studies of pre-term infants (born 10 to 12 weeks before their due date) in neonatal intensive care. When the nurses and doctors took charge of the babies’ care without taking the time to read their cues or allow them to actively participate, the researcher, Heidelise Als of Harvard University, noted, “It seemed we were wasting a lot of the baby’s energies that were very precious.”

As Galinsky explains, When a baby who was initially feisty gave in, the medical charts would record that the baby had become well adjusted. But Als saw a different reality: “The baby had given up. The baby just let the world happen.”

After documenting and recording behavior, they launched into a study where the nurses “read” and then responded to the baby’s behavior in ways that built on that baby’s coping strategies, and thus gave the baby more control. The results of this experiment were impressive. There was reduced severity of chronic lung disease in these premature babies, improved brain functioning, improved growth and earlier release from the hospital. In addition, their care was significantly less costly,” notes Galinsky.

She then concludes: “Children, even those as young as premature infants, are less prone to the harmful effects of stress when they are supported in managing their own stress by being helped to use the strategies they have for coping and for calming down.”

So, how do we understand and enable a child’s natural ability to self-soothe?

1. Believe babies are competent and capable whole people. Experts who have dedicated their lives to studying infants, Dr. Emmi Pikler, Magda Gerber, Dr. Kevin Nugent, and Alison Gopnik, to name a few, have concluded without reservation that even newborn babies are aware, competent, unique individuals.

A recent article in The Irish Times shares passages from Dr Nugent’s new guidebook for helping parents decode newborn communication: “A baby’s “remarkable ability” to get his hand or fist into his mouth -even when he is not hungry – is no random movement. He may do it when he is upset and then settle himself by sucking on it, enabling him to remain alert and examine his surroundings. By this simple act, “your baby is showing you how competent he is and how, even in these early days, the urge to explore his new world is paramount”.

Trust your baby’s competence. She wants to do things for herself, and she can do things for herself. –Gerber

2. Be an observer. Tune in. Learn about your baby. Familiarize yourself with your baby’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities. Try to read her cues and respond accordingly as best you can.

The role of a parent is to continuously assess whether the infant is capable of handling a situation.  For instance, when an infant looks at an object (or maybe reaches for it), many adults rush to hand the object to the infant – not realizing that, by doing so, they deprive the infant of acting spontaneously and learning from his own actions.  …You also know that sometimes your infant does need help, but try to provide just that little amount of help that allows the child to take over again. Let her be the initiator and problem solver. -Gerber

3. Wait. Therein lies the challenge. As singer songwriter Tom Petty said, “The waiting is the hardest part”, and that couldn’t be truer than it is while waiting a moment or two for a baby attempting to soothe herself.

Here’s a video of 4 month old Joey self-soothing, shared with me by her parents, whom I know to be sensitive, responsive and loving. Joey is a happy, securely attached toddler now. (There is a video of her at 15 months in A Creative Alternative To Baby TV Time.) I had planned to edit this video for time, but then realized that leaving it at 2 minutes made it feel more like real time – and just as uncomfortable to watch as it would be in real life. When our babies experience even the slightest frustration or discomfort, seconds can feel like hours (and no matter how old they are it doesn’t get easier!).

As I say so often, “Observe and wait.” Sometimes you may even find out that what you believed the infant wanted was only your assumption.  It is natural to make mistakes and easy to misunderstand pre-verbal children. Nevertheless, it is important to keep trying –Magda Gerber.

Being sensitive to the possibility of self-soothing is the beginning of believing in your baby.

Recognize that challenges and stress are a natural and important part of a baby’s growth. The ability to manage stress and muscle through challenges builds self-esteem and self-confidence. – Matthew Melmed, Executive Director, ZERO TO THREE.

Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts…



Babies’ Mental Health Matters“, by Matthew Melmed

Helping Children Learn To Take On Challenges”, by Ellen Galinsky, Mind in the Making

Helping Young Children Sleep”, by Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting

Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect, by Magda Gerber

Know Your Baby“, by Sheila Wayman, The Irish Times

Your Baby Is Speaking To You“, by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

My new book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Ummm… I agree! Wholeheartedly! You’re not surprised are you? But seriously, thank you for this very important post, and for making clear the distinction between allowing and supporting a baby to develop her ability to self soothe versus leaving her to cry it out, and “deal with it” on her own. The importance of sensitive observation and tuning in (to the baby!) is made so abundantly clear here. (Thanks too, for linking to me.<3)

    1. Thanks, Lisa! The suspense was killing me there for a moment!

      1. I am a fist time mom who has an 8 month old son. I am new to this site, so sorry if I’m posting incorrectly. I desperately need advice on teaching my son how to self sooth during the day time. His caregivers and father are distressed about his crying and fussing when he isn’t picked up. When I sit next to him while he is playing, he is fine. But as soon as I get up to walk away, he starts to cry. The caregivers say he will get so worked and crying so hard they eventually pick him up. We don’t know what to do! Please help. Thanks for your advice.

        1. avatar PrissyMA310 says:

          This advice is on point! One of the things I use to soothe my little one is a Zipadee-zip from sleeping baby. The way it comforts my son to sleep is amazing. He usually averages about two more hours of sleep per night. The soft fleece material, cut and sewn in a star shape with a taught wingspan works like swaddle, but its a sleeping suit. Check it out!

  2. Great info as always! Your posts always give me so much to think about.

    I’m seeking advice about my nearly 6 month son. At around 4.5 months, he proudly mastered the art of rolling from back to tummy. When on his tummy, he’ll sometimes push with his arms and lift his head, sometimes just lay down and rest. Other times, he’ll shift his hips side to side and make efforts – it seems – to roll back to his back. He gets frustrated with this task pretty quickly and falls to his typical self-soothing method – sucking his fist. But, while sucking, he seems to still be trying to roll and grows ever more frustrated, because it’s gotten even harder without the use of his hand! For a month now, this activity has always dissolved into intense cries. I’ve tried giving more and more time, letting him know I’m there and acknowledging his frustration, but it just feels like he isn’t making any strides. Am I doing all that I can to support him? Should I be trying to encourage a different method of soothing so both hands stay free? Am I just expecting too much too soon?

    I’d appreciate your insight! Thank you!

    1. Hi Kara! Your little guy’s difficulties are common… Rolling himself back to the back position takes a bit of work, but I would continue to trust his process. I recently heard Dr. Brazelton speak about the way babies learn…they make a big stride (like his proud rolling!) and then plateau for a while before the next stride. When his frustration starts to escalate, I recommend picking him up (after asking and then telling him you will do that) and giving him a break in your arms for at least a moment before asking if he wants to go back to playing. If he seems to indicate “yes”, place him down on his back again. (This is less like “fixing” him than just turning him over would be.) It will take some time before he’s very comfortable in the tummy position, but he is obviously working on that right now. Don’t encourage him to do something different, just keep trusting him! And you’ll share many, many more proud moments!

      1. Thanks for the support and the advice. Patience – it’s so hard! Coincidentally, he rolled over last night. And, again, he looked SO proud and excited as soon as he did it. Since then, the instant we lay him on his back, he flips immediately to his tummy. He still gets a little frustrated, but he’s getting more and more adept at flipping himself back over. It’s all happened so quickly! It’s just amazing what they can do when we just trust their instincts and abilities, rather than imposing our own. We were certain we knew what he needed to “do” to roll – we were even tempted to move his arms to help him. But, he did it on his own, and in a completely different way than we were envisioning!

  3. I am still trying to learn this balance. My daughter is 20 months old now and has been a fussy sleeper since birth. That is a little bit of a misnomer – she sleeps great, but getting her into bed is terrible and then I feel like I am abandoning her when I walk out of the room while she is still upset. She gives all the cues that it is bedtime – eye rubbing, ear scratching, yawning. We ask her if she wants to go upstairs for bed and she nods vigorously and climbs the stairs in a flash, and then the trouble starts. She is fine as long as I am there rubbing her back etc (sometimes, sometimes she just cries and cries even while I sing and pat!) but the second I (or my husband) walk out of the room, crying all over. It is so hard to listen to her really cry for 5 minutes, but then she usually falls asleep or you will hear her yammering away to her monkey or herself, sometimes for up to an hour. So I know she is ok, it just feels so bad to hear her so upset.
    Thank you for your posts continuing to encourage parents and showing the wonderful results.

    1. Weissbluth (who I know is widely less than popular, but bear with me!) says that the best time to put a child to bed is just before the eye-rubbing starts. Does your child become obviously tired at the same time most days, or after a similar stretch following her last nap/meal/whatever? If you subtract 20 minutes from that and head for bed then, she might be tired enough to go but still have some resources in the tank with which to handle the transition.

      1. (Forgot to mention: better than calculating is recognising earlier signs – ours were losing coordination and momentary blank stares.)

    2. avatar Anonymous says:

      I would try telling her “I’ll be right back”, to give her a little time to settle down on her own, and then come back (consistently, so that she trusts you and soon enough that she doesn’t really cry). Gradually extend the time until she decides to fall asleep before you return. Even if she continues to use your presence to fall asleep for a while, she’ll at least get practice being happy in her crib. I wouldn’t try this if she was already crying, though.

  4. Waiting is the hardest part… So true. And I guess it is in fact the actual problem. We as parents can’t stand our baby cry and feel the urge to DO sometng. And this something is meant well, but can be so counter productive.

    I also thank you for taking on this difficult topic. It is one of those Pikler has bad reputations for because people think according to her babies “have to” self sooth and is painted in the picture of the crying baby alone in the dark. Instead this woman (and Magda Gerber as well) have had such better and complete different intentions in times, when babies were actually left alone quite often (to train their voice, to not be spoiled etc…). Thank you thank you thank you!

    1. You’re welcome, Nadine. I agree that this is a greatly misunderstood topic and appreciate all you are doing to share this information.

  5. Happy Friday Janet and fellow readers! Above you describe letting our babies cry in our arms, but not rocking, patting, or jiggling. It’s such a natural reaction to want to rub her back, sway a bit, give her little kisses (though I can resist “ssshing” her!). But are you indeed suggesting simply holding her with no movement? I get that we don’t want to artificially lull them into quiet via a swing (and my girl being nearly one wouldn’t get in one anymore, I bet!) but what about relaxing together on the glider, or walking around in fresh air — slowly, mindfully?

    I take your guidance very seriously and want to make sure I am getting it right! Thank you kindly!

    1. Hi Gena! I so appreciate your sensitivity and thoughtfulness. I would never suggest going against your instincts…and there are no right or wrong answers here… This is just about being mindful — asking ourselves why we are patting or rubbing or whatever it is. Is it because we just want to express our love (sounds good!)? Or, is it because we are feeling a little impatient and want the crying to end (understandable, but might be worth letting go and allowing the feelings to be expressed). And, is this really what my baby wants and needs….have I made the effort to find out? Might my baby wish to participate a bit more?

      There’s also the element of habit to keep in mind. All children are different and some are more sensitive to routine than others. Will my baby be unable to sleep without the glider? And will that be OK with me? These are all things to think about… Our natural reactions are definitely worth listening to… but rather than just reacting automatically, keep tuning to that wonderful awareness of yours.

  6. At one year old, my daughter got a bobby car from a friend. It was amazing watching her try to get on that thing by herself and then back down. 20 minutes straight. She’d get up, then go down and repeat. She cried (with tears!) and screamed a lot when it wasn’t working out, but then she’ll stop, kneel down next to it for a second and try again until it does.

    I felt lucky that I found the info on this site so as not to help her and just watch. I know most parents would’ve said: “Here let me help you on”.

    1. Hi Kay and thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story! I think if every parent could read stories like yours about a thousand times a day, we’d all have the faith to allow our children to struggle a little as they learn. Congratulations on giving your daughter the hardest kind of love to give.

  7. My son is 9 months old, and I have always nursed him to sleep. Part of me love this time we have; I’m not planning to have more children (my husband has two from his previous marriage), and I feel like nursing him to sleep and snuggling with him is a way that I can savor his infancy. And it has made us very close (which is very sweet, but sometimes he is so clingy).

    I am concerned that I am doing him a disservice at the same time. On the few occasions I have tried to just snuggle (no nursing) to sleep, he freaks out, crying harder and harder and looking at me like “why won’t you just nurse me already?” I always talk to him, prepare him in advance, but still he becomes frantic. I can’t bare to watch him like that, and it certainly isn’t helping him to sooth himself or move closer to sleep. All it does is make him even more clingy, frantically reaching for me if I put him down even to change his diaper.

    I always pay attention to him, and I understand what he wants so much of the time, even though he isn’t verbal yet. I see, at sleeping times and in the night, that he needs me. My husband keeps saying that no one ever goes to college still nursing, and I love nursing him.

    But am I doing him a disservice? This rattles around in my brain each night.

    1. Not a expert, but have you tried nursing him almost to sleep? He still gets to nurse and you get to cherish that time, but then you can try popping him off when he switches to comfort nursing vs actually eating and rocking him to sleep or standing by the crib so he is not nursing all the way to sleep if you are trying to avoid that aspect. I still nurse my 18 month old before bed, but he no longer falls asleep nursing unless he is super tired. He signs “all done” when one side runs out and we switch sides and then he does it again on the second side and then I hug him, rock him a moment and lay him down. We didn’t stop nursing him to sleep most nights until he was around 12 months though.

    2. Vicki, I like Jen’s advice… It also sounds to me like you are very ambivalent about the nursing…which will make it impossible for your boy to feel anything other than ambivalent and anxious about it, too. When you feel completely comfortable, confident and settled about your decision, he will be more able to let go of needing the nursing. Or, you can choose to wait until later when he might grow out of this habit.

  8. This post rings true to me. After reading it, I feel so regretful. I am a mother or twin 4 year-olds. I think I was hyper-responsive, especially to R, who’s cry was shrill and who seemed to be often very uncomfortable/needy. Out of my own anxiety of being a new (twin!) mom and having read a lot of anti-cry it out stuff, I was ALWAYS there, doing my best to soothe. R is still so needy of attention and still so quickly frustrated and has behavior problems that are significant. Of course, I REALLY tried to do my best, but there were things I didn’t know and wasn’t even aware of my own anxiety so that I could be more mindful. I worry I contributed to permanent problems for my sons.

    1. Oh, Ann, the last thing I want is to contribute to you feeling regretful! It sounds like you were under an incredible amount of pressure, and I don’t believe the problems you are having with a 4 year old could be permanent… I’m sure there are some shifts you can make that will help your son. I hoped that by sharing this information I could help ease some of the fear parents have about babies crying. There are some very extreme attitudes out there and a lot of misinformation. Regret or guilt is the last thing any of us need! So, please give yourself a break. And let me know if there’s any way that I can help.

  9. So this post came at the perfect time – I just read it yesterday and last night Runner was having quite a time trying to get to sleep – just tossing and crying and I just mentioned to my husband he is trying to let off the emotions of a very long day. And I said we’ll just let him cry for a few minutes to let it go, just holding him not moving and not 2 minutes goes by and off to sleep he goes. Now I always have to nurse him to sleep and this time he just went to sleep. It was definitely a nice change of pace.

  10. Thank you for the info.

  11. I have always considered myself basically an AP parent. I don’t babywear as often as they suggest, but at the grocery store or out for walks, occasionally when a baby is sick or overtired, often at church (it keeps people and their germs at bay). I respond to cries, but not grunts or fusses. That said, I also have 5 kids from 6 weeks to 8 years, so I can’t always get to the baby as quickly as I might like. I’m interested in this idea of self-soothing because none of my babies have done it well. My youngest (almost 6 weeks) is particularly fussy (similar to my oldest, but not the others). I’d really love for her to learn to self-soothe, but she’s already used to a pacifier and being cuddled, patted, rocked, etc. What suggestions do you have for me?

    I’m not interested in cry-it-out techniques, but it sounds like that’s not your style either. This little girl doesn’t seem to let up either, she hates her car seat and often cries the entire time she’s in it. We live in Las Vegas, so we can get stuck in nasty traffic, and she’s cried for 30min nearly straight. That idea doesn’t sit well with me, which is why the only time it’s happened was in the car seat when it is unavoidable. I’ve tried the Ferber technique with other babies of mine and that didn’t work well either. I like the routines and such presented in the No-Cry Solution. Although I know you don’t like the idea of NO cry, the information about sleep and babies/routines presented there are really great, in my opinion. I tell you all of this because I’m trying to figure out where you fit in the “spectrum” of parenting philosophies and so you can see where I am. I appreciate any help in advance.

    1. Hi Kristi! Great questions… It’s hard for me to answer “where do you fit in the “spectrum of parenting philosophies?” I have felt blessed to have found child-rearing tools and practices through my mentor Magda Gerber that felt instinctively “right” to me. But many were not things I would have ever thought of doing on my own. Nor were Magda’s ideas things I had heard from other experts. For me, she was a godsend, and that’s why I share about her here on my blog.

      If I were you, I would respond to grunts and fusses, too, not just cries. But, how to respond is the big question. Magda believed in responding person-to-person and actually asking the baby what he or she wanted, even before picking a baby up. She took respect several steps further than most of the experts I’ve read about. This made sense to me and has worked wonders with every child I’ve known whose parents embraced this approach.

      Our child’s crying will probably never “sit well” with any of us. The important thing to do is acknowledge it and respond with answers if we have them. Answers, not silencers.

      Our children adopt the habits we create for them. If you’ve been using pacifiers and rocking and want to do less, I recommend making changes very gradually, telling your baby what you will do differently beforehand, and acknowledging the feelings your child has about it… Unfortunately, there is usually crying involved in these kinds of changes. But allowing a child to cry in a our empathetic and supportive can be a very loving thing to do.

  12. Thanks! I should say I respond to cries by picking up, pacifier, etc, but not *necessarily* to grunts or fusses. It would depend on the situation at hand.

    I suppose the best parenting technique for any of us would be to take all the information available, use what we feel is right and are capable of doing, and not worry about the rest. So I’ll work on self-soothing, while still doing other AP techniques, and the routines and such from No-Cry Sleep. 🙂

    I do thoroughly enjoy and appreciate your blog and incorporate much of it, *especially* for my toddler.

    1. “I suppose the best parenting technique for any of us would be to take all the information available, use what we feel is right and are capable of doing, and not worry about the rest.”

      Yes! Sounds great to me, Kristi.

  13. Perfect timing and very encouraging! My daughter is almost five months old and I would say generally she is really easy going about sleep. But, I do want to make sure I’m thorough in this self soothing approach. Today was a little rough, I sat next to her, talked to her and rubbed her head, and after a few minutes would pick her up and just hold her til she would calm down and then tell her I was going to lay her down and do so. We did this over a period of 45 minutes. Finally I put her down, told her it was nap time, kissed her cheek and left. She cried for about 3 minutes and was out! Should I have just left her to cry the very first time? I wonder if she would prefer me gone, that maybe my presence was hindering her or a distraction?

    1. Hi Jessica! Glad to be encouraging you… I don’t think there’s a “should” about this, as long as you are being sensitive and responsive. Some babies do seem to have a harder time letting go and finding sleep when the parent is right there watching. The more you get to know your daughter and her patterns of behavior, and the more you are able to interpret her different cries and signals, the clearer this will be. At almost 5 months you are still in the “getting to know you” stage.

  14. avatar Allison roseman says:

    I completely understand the concept of reading your baby’s cues, letting them figure things out for themselves, etc., but what if you have a one week old that does nothing but scream in your arms until he is hoarse and coughing? I hold him, tell him I am there for him, but he just continues to cry. We let it go on for 20 min…basically all I could handle and at that point didn’t think he was going to calm down and it just seemed like torture for the poor guy. He had already been fed and changed so I don’t know why he was crying. It only took a couple of minutes of rocking before he passed out. But I really don’t like doing that because I know he will come to depend on that. And another thing – we can’t get him to sleep in his bassinet – always had to sleep on us. We have tried and tried, but eventually give in because we all need sleep! Help! What am I doing wrong??

    1. Hi Allison and congratulations on your baby… He is very, very new to the world. Give him time to settle in… He is figuring lots of things out right now and it can be overwhelming for all of you. This too shall pass! I wouldn’t worry about creating habits just yet, but remain aware. When/if he has a calm moment awake, maybe after a feeding, try placing him in his bassinet, stay near him and observe. The bassinet may feel like a totally foreign and uncozy place for him right now, so rather than having him sleep there, let him spend a moment or two there when he’s peaceful. That may not happen for another week or two. Try to be patient. I know it must feel like life will be this way forever, but it will change very soon. Try to relax and accept the closeness (and the little bit of rocking) your baby needs right now. Keep stimulation minimal. Please check in with me again in a couple of weeks!

    2. avatar Camilla Aldridge says:

      When a baby is one week old they cry almost exclusively because they are hungry or scared. Absolutely no point in letting them try to self soothe as they cry because they need something only you can give. I am curious as to when the implementation of self soothing is supposed to happen and to what degree. The level must be age appropriate surely?

      1. Camilla, there is no “implementation” involved. Self-soothing is commonly misunderstood as something parents ask of babies when, in fact, healthy self-soothing is child-led. Fetuses do it by sucking their thumbs in the womb. Our job is to understand that each baby is born a capable, unique person (with more than one or two things to express! Please!). But they need opportunities. Most parents don’t give babies the opportunities they need to find their thumbs or fingers. The pacifier or breast is given immediately.

    3. avatar Camilla Aldridge says:

      When a baby is one week old they cry almost exclusively because they are hungry or scared. Absolutely no point in letting them try to self soothe as they cry because they need something only you can give. I am curious as to when the implementation of self soothing is supposed to happen and to what degree. The level must be age appropriate surely?

  15. avatar happykiwi says:

    Hi Janet,
    I’m going off on a bit of a tangent from the topic but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. My daughter is now 2 years and 8 months. She amazes and exhausts myself and her daddy in equal measure and I have no real concerns about her apart from one. She had a pacifier until she was around 4 months, at which point we decided to withdraw it slowly as it seemed to be causing her more distress when she lost it than the comfort it provided was worth. She had a little pink cloth at the time (in fact she’s holding it in my profile pic!)which she quickly became very attached to and used in much the same way as a pacifier. She used it to snuggle in to at night and also increasingly during the day. We ended up buying a few more exactly the same in case she lost it. She doeesn’t care if it doesn’t smell the same and will actually tell me when it’s ‘grubby’ and take it to the washing machine. My instinct was to let her use it until she naturally gave it up and found different ways to soothe herself (with our help) however we changed our minds about this as it reached the point where she would be holding it up to her mouth (but not in her mouth), with a glazed look in her eyes and retreat into a ‘daydream’. I also felt that she was not fully engaged in exploring, playing etc because she was clutching her cloth and therefore only had one hand free, or was preoccupied with checking where it was. She seems more ‘present’ when she doesn’t have it. We decided when she was around 2 that we would try to help her have it only at night-time and nap times and this worked quite well. She would put it in a drawer in her bedroom, say bye-bye and then leave the room. We have never taken it off her forcibly or ‘hidden’ it when she wasn’t looking. She managed this transition within a few weeks and she also did the same at her nursery, where she attends three days per week. However recently she has started to demand to have it during the day again, and has fairly dramatic ‘meltdowns’ when we don’t allow her to have it. I have been saying “I know you want your cloth – you can have it later, but not right now” and she eventually recovers and can move on without it. However I am starting to waver in my resolve as she seems so very upset. She refuses cuddles at these times and at the moment we are just staying with her and ‘waiting it out’ till she starts to feel better. This doesn’t seem to be getting any better though. When she is not desperately trying to get her cloth she seems very contented. In other ways she seems quite self -aware, she tells me when she is tired and takes herself off for a nap or to bed (to the amusement and envy of my friends) and can also tell me when she is sad. Some of my well-meaning friends have suggested that she might be lacking in confidence but I don’t agree as she is quite adventurous and outgoing and very affectionate and I just don’t see her as lacking in confidence. The nursery staff report that she is doing really well there too. We haven’t had any changes that might make her feel more stressed at the moment so I’m not sure why she is taking a little step back. Any ideas or advice?

    1. First, I really admire your sensitive and wise handling of this situation. You obviously have excellent instincts. It seems to me that giving her that gentle limit about using the cloth is affording her the golden opportunity to release some of the feelings she’s stored up. I’m glad you’re doing that and being consistent about it. No matter how ideal her child care situation is, she’s “holding on” a little while she’s there. Children do this with an in-home caregiver, in preschool and Kindergarten, even high school, to a certain extent. She’s doing well there because she is on her best behavior, and when she’s with the closest people her to (you and her dad) she can let it all hang out. She needs to release those feelings. This is how it should be! So, I would keep doing what you are doing and know that it is the best thing for her.

      One other thought, make sure you acknowledge all of these feelings when she’s calm enough to hear you. Talk about how much she wants the cloth and tell her you understand. Don’t be afraid that saying the words will make her dwell on this more, because it will actually make her feel better knowing that her wish for the cloth is perfectly okay and understandable.

      1. avatar Fiona Mathers says:

        Thanks so much for replying so quickly. Its helpful to know that we are generally on the right track. Tonight while in the bath she asked for the cloth and I gave the usual reply as above, but then asked her why she liked having her cloth. I know ‘why’ is not always a good question for a toddler but it just slipped out. She paused and then said emphatically ‘nice and safe’. This is a phrase that she hears from me quite a lot, in the context of ‘lets get your seat belt on so you’re nice and safe’, or ‘please put the scissors down, thank you, now they’re nice and safe’. However I was very surprised that she said this rather than repeating tearfully ‘I want my cloth’. I then wondered out loud what other things might help her feel ‘nice and safe’. She replied ‘Mummy, daddy, granny and teddy’. I have to admit to a little moment of smugness that I was first on the list! You were right that talking about it didn’t make her dwell on wanting it more – it seemed to contain her a little bit and she didn’t ask for her cloth till bedtime.
        Thanks for helping me to think this through, and for all the thought provoking and inspirational words on the site.

        1. Yes, you’re number 1! And I’m sure you’ve earned it.

      2. Hi Janet, just reading this post and I have a similar problem. My daughter has a blanky too, she is 3 y and loves it! We try to make it bed time and in the car only but if she has a meltdown about something else (anything else!) all she wants is her blanky. Even if it was a small meltdown as soon as she says ” I want blanky now” she will completely lose it and I say” not now he is for bedtime”. And she will cry almost until she is sick, I have sat with her for over an hour at times while she is raging and she has never stopped without getting blanky. Usually her little brother will need my attention so I will have to give in or some other reason where I just can’t sit with her any longer. I don’t want to leave her alone still raging though, I just don’t know if I should give in straight away, or gradually take it away completely ( with empathy). I think she could rage for hours if I had the time to let her, I wish I could one day but I can’t leave her 6 month old brother alone that long and I don’t really want him in there with us!

        1. Philippa, I don’t see a problem with allowing her to have her transitional object (the blanky), unless you think this habit is creating problems for her socially, or regarding play, etc.

  16. avatar Marie Duthilleul says:

    Dear Janet,

    I guess you do remember when I recently asked some advices about helping my 2 months old baby falling asleep on his own and you told me how it could be a difficult period for that now, maybe I could try during the day and still nurse him to sleep at night. So I’be been doing this for 2 weeks now, but then 2 days ago, my life completely changed! He found his thumb! That’s it, but I’m amazed, because his elder brother who is 18 months never sucked his thumb or had any object or tissue that would sooth him.

    And so now, he’s there, this tiny baby, playing on his mat, and when he feels to, he just put his thumb in his mouth and goes to sleep, it’s as simple as that. I’ve been taking loads of pictures and videos just to be sure it’s for real :).
    So I’m now sure that babies can self-sooth, which doesn’t always involve hours of crying, and with no limit of age! Thank you

    1. Wow, Marie, this is great to hear! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  17. avatar Passionate Mama says:

    Hi Janet,
    I’m very curious about your perspective in this post. It sounds like you consider thumb sucking to be a healthy self soothing strategy for a baby rather than a time of disassociation or way of numbing feelings? My approach has been (based on Aware Parenting model) to move in close and make eye contact and connection if I have seen my son thumb suck, suck his hand or now that he is older go to bite his nails. I would normally consider that the baby in the video was needing connection rather than to be left to work it out. Would you be willing to share your perspective on thumb sucking and the like?

    1. Interesting, Katinka. Does Aletha Solter not believe infants have a natural need to suck? After all, they do this in the womb. Are they disassociating then? And what about when babies suck thumbs and fingers while they sleep. Does Solter consider this unhealthy…a problem? When we use pacifiers, we are assuming the infant needs to suck, but if we allow her to suck her thumb or fingers, she can clearly indicate that this is what she needs. Nothing could be more healthy and natural, in my opinion.

      BUT, if babies aren’t allowed to cry — encouraged to express their feelings, I believe that the sucking can for some become a habit of “numbing” the feelings.

      I’d like to hear more about the Aware Parenting perspective on this, Katinka, because I certainly do agree with a lot of Solter’s views.

      1. avatar Passionate Mama says:

        Thanks for your reply Janet. It is helpful for me to ponder this and whether I could have been more relaxed around sucking. It is a while since I read Aletha Solters books but I did take from the info that non-nutritive sucking was not ideal but having said that I can see that it is a natural instinct as you point out. My experience was that my son, who sucked his hand in the womb and as soon as he was born gradually stopped sucking when we started to listen to his feelings and whenever he did do it I would (if I could at the time) connect with him …and usually he would not be ready to make eye contact at that point leading as well to my conclusion that he was disconnected/numbing feelings. I liked and took on board what Aleta said about never stopping a baby or child from sucking by removing their hand (too disrespectful) but instead giving a gentle stroke to the hand or their cheek and just letting them know that we are there for them (not her words of course). Having been a thumb sucker myself I re-connected to how that felt and why I did it and yes it was soothing but only due in my case to a lack of support and connection, so Aleta’s ideas on thumb sucking strongly resonated with me. The tricky part for me was teething …when was he sucking or chewing for teething purposes and when was it zoning out. Obviously there is lots of sucking and chewing through that phase but I still saw a similar pattern associated with staying connected, so the only way I could gauge was to see if he could still make eye contact and if he was for example jumping from one thing to another busily (one of his control patterns in Aletha Solter/AwP speak). Does that make sense? It’s late here and I’m tired… You have inspired me to re-read the relevant chapter in The Aware Baby. I’ll post anything relevant I find. Thank you Janet 🙂

        1. avatar Passionate Mama says:

          p.s. I had wondered about sucking in the womb. I have read that it is the babies way of preparing to breastfeed. I wonder if all babies do it or not? I had assumed likely responsibility for this because I was far to stressed when pregnant and to be honest I was quietly proud that I had supported him away from the need to suck his hand quite quickly. BUT, I’m not saying this is the way or correct… for all I know it is healthier for them to suck lots and I hindered something healthy… Hmm can’t say I believe that though since sucking and tension in his body seemed to go together. I think I’m liking the idea of convincing myself that if I have another baby it would be ok to leave them to work it out on their own via sucking as it would mean less time-in for me but then would it be something bigger to work on when older, eg. trying to re-connect with thumb sucking toddler who is not living life to the fullest.

  18. avatar Passionate Mama says:

    Hello again Janet,

    Here are a few quotes from The Aware Baby that are relevant. Aletha Solter does not go into more detail on thumb sucking specificially, but it does tie in strongly with her theories.

    Page 59
    “How Stress Release Crying is Repressed in Babies and Common Control Patterns”
    (point 5 in list)
    “Putting baby in crib, ignoring:
    Baby could suck his thumb or become attached to an object in crib (blanket, stuffed animal, etc.).”

    Page 60
    “Control patterns do not usually disappear by themselves unless the child begins to cry, but can be modified later on. For example, a thumb sucking control pattern during infancy can develop into nail biting as an older child and a smoking habit as an adult. This is because the need to put something in one’s mouth when upset will become a strong habit.”

    “When control patterns are operating, babies are feeling tense and stressed, but are not able to release stress. The control patterns seem to calm the baby down, but this is only a temporary effect. In fact, researchers found that non-nutritive sucking on a pacifier during routine physical procedures reduced the amount of crying but not the plasma cortisol levels. This iplies that the babies had a physiological stress response even when not crying.”
    … “Control patterns produce a mild dissociation (psychological numbing) that prevents active learning, exploration, or genuine interaction. You can see this in the blank, dull expression of babies with a pacifier or thumb in their mouth. Rather than assume that these babies are content, I assume that they are holding in painful emotions and waiting for an opportunity to release them.”

    I would personally add that it may not be a big build up of painful emotions as expressed above, but simply a break in connection, or overwhelm in a busy place … all simple things that are unavoidable but easily helped in the moment we notice, oops, he’s gone, time to help him know that I’m here at which point connection could be all that is needed to restore his/her presence or upon connection, thumb will come out of mouth and crying will start, now that it is safe to cry to caring listening ears.

    Page 75
    “Infants do not need to suck as much as many parents believe. Although repetitive sucking does have a calming effect on infants, there is no evidence that they need to suck for non-nutritive reasons.” …

    What are your thoughts Janet? I’m not familiar with RIE.

    Thanks and warm wishes,

    1. Hi Katinka! I finally had a chance to get back to you here… This is interesting. Certainly ignoring a crying baby or trying to control or suppress the crying is going to create problems. The RIE approach is about basic trust in the nature of the baby. When we trust the baby to be a capable initiator and communicator and to know him or herself best, then I believe we can gain clarity in these situations.

      At RIE we don’t recommend pacifiers (bouncing, shushing, etc.) because those responses are parent controlled. But when the child chooses to suck her thumb (as in the womb, or for self-calming, or during sleep), I believe that we can trust the baby. No, we should definitely not ignore a crying baby! We should always respond to crying — listen to the baby and communicate back to let the baby know that she is heard and that we will try to help, if possible. But I don’t believe that we should interrupt an infant following her instinct to place her thumb in her mouth.

      My personal experience is that I was a long term thumb sucker and have had to deal with far more damaging “control patterns” in adulthood. None of my 3 children sucked their thumbs past early infancy… None had pacifiers and I have made a great effort to accept, acknowledge, and hear their cries… I realize that this isn’t a scientific study, but it makes me wonder!

  19. Hi Janet,

    I really enjoy reading your articles, and I have picked up a lot of goof info and tips from you, thank you very much! I have a question on finger sucking and would like to hear your thoughts. I made up my mind n not giving my baby a pacifier before she was born, so I was very delighted to find out that my baby learned to self smoothe my sucking her fingers when she was 7 weeks old. However, one of her fingers got infected from sucking, and the only way it could heal was to not let her suck on it for a while, so about two weeks ago I had to make a very upsetting shopping trip to get her a pacifier so she could have something else to suck on. I feel bad having to pull her fingers out of her mouth and replace it with a pacifier when I see her sucking her fingers, but at the same time I feel irresponsible if I let her one finger to continued to be infected. What would you suggest me to do in this particular situation?


    1. Hi Vicky! Hmmm… How old is your baby now? If she is old enough to grasp toys, I would present her with two teething/sucking toys and allow her to grasp the one she wants to use. This is what we suggest when babies are teething, rather than just handing them something or sticking something in their mouth. It gives them more autonomy. If she is too young to do this now, I would switch from the pacifier to the teething toy approach as soon as possible. She might even like the choice of one of those little silky blankets.

      (Hope this wasn’t “goof” info :))

      1. Thank you very much for your suggestion! My baby is three and a half month old now and she is starting to grasp toys; I will get her some teething toys!

        While I have your attention here, I just want to thank you for sharing your insights on tummy time in some other articles. My baby does not enjoy tummy time at all, and my husband really wanted to get her to do it because we were told by health care professionals that it is good for the baby! It broke my heart every time my baby cries her lung out when we try tummy time with her. Your articles on tummy time really liberated me. First of all, I don’t feel like I am a bad mom when I don’t give my girl the recommended dose of tummy time every day. Secondly, there are so many great tips and ideas on your blog on engaging the babies to achieve things on their own that I feel like I can make tummy time work in a more meaningful way for my girl. After reading up on tummy time and indepnedent play, I put my girl on her back on the floor and placed a few toys that she likes around her. In a matter of minutes, she tried to roll to her side to get the toy! She hasn’t managed to roll over yet, but she is so determined to try that I am sure it is just a matter of time that she will achieve tummy time in her own! She really enjoys her independent play time, and I have time to make supper, shower, and do things around the house; it’s a win-win! Thank you so very much!

        1. You are very welcome, Vicky. Thanks for sharing about your tummy time experience. Yes, she will definitely do this on her own. Keep trusting your baby!

  20. Goof info is obviously not the same as good info, LOL! Sorry about my typing error.

  21. Thank you! This makes the difference so clear. I hope parents and carers everywhere read it.

  22. We’re so “trained” to not let babies cry… When I’m out in public with a fussy baby, I hate the looks I get if I don’t immediately do something to quiet him. This is a great reminder of just being there for the child and letting him work through the moment. I also appreciate the reference to letting them find their thumb as opposed to sticking in a pacifier. It took my son about 8 weeks before he found his fingers, and they were the hardest weeks of my life, but I’m so glad we didn’t shove a pacifier in his mouth because now he’s an expert self-soother who knows he has the right to grumble and complain. 🙂 Thanks for this, Janet, I’m going to share it with everyone I know!

  23. About thumb sucking, in your experience with kids who take your classes,do they all eventually stop sucking their thumbs at a reasonable time? I would like to allow my baby due next year but then there is the fear of orthodontic problems and would hate to cause problems in the future by allowing it. At the same time, after all I have been reading on your site I felt super excited when my cousin’s baby started self soothing the other day but then as soon as she noticed she took the hand away from the baby and said she would not let her suffer what she did, she had pretty severe orthodontic problems but I am sure the thumb sucking extended to childhood, I really felt bad in that moment, I feel her pain but also felt so bad for the baby.

    1. Vanessa, if you make it a point to encourage your baby to express her feelings, the need for thumb sucking will probably not extend past age 2 or 3, and might even disappear way before then. Psychologist Aletha Solter has written much about this… I would check out her “Aware Parenting” site:

      1. I will check it out Janet, thank you so much! Is there such a thing as a baby never finding their thumb? My son never did but I am pretty sure is in big part because I fell into the idea that I was supposed to respond right away so I probably didn’t really give him the chance.

        1. There are some babies who suck fingers, fists, etc., instead of thumbs, but only if they have adequate opportunity. So, I think you’re assessment is probably right.

  24. The topic of sleep is always present in our house as we navigate through all the possible ways to help our baby sleep better. We don’t have all the answers as parents yet, and I think I’m beginning to realize we never will. Tonight, however, I had a breakthrough that I wanted to share. Our daughter is 25 months. She has been neither a stellar sleeper, nor a terrible sleeper. My spouse and I really want to go out for a date night when we don’t have to put her to sleep before we leave because by then, it is late and we can barely keep ourselves awake for our date. Our brother is our babysitter and he has tried in the past to put her to bed, but she just ended up staying awake. So, we decided to start helping her learn to put herself to sleep. We have been following the same routine every night, ending with reading her a favorite book in the bed with her, then leaving the room. She gets up, we take her back to bed, repeat, repeat, repeat, until she finally falls asleep. Tonight, I was doing it alone and after I read her the book and started to get up, she put her arm around my neck and said, “I’m just going to hold you and keep you safe.” It was so sweet, I didn’t want to ever leave. But, I really want that date night. It was so difficult. Every time I got up to leave she said the same thing and had a strong hold on my neck. Guilt was creeping in because she obviously didn’t want me to leave. So I decided to do something differently. I told her, “I’m going to get out of the bed so you can fall asleep. Tell me when you’re ready for me to go.” Less than a minute later, I said, “are you ready now?” She released my neck and rolled over. I took this as a readiness sign, got out of bed and left the room. She fell asleep immediately and silently.
    After thinking this over, I believe I just needed to give her some control and say over what was happening. I’m so excited over this and will probably mull it over for a while, and really wanted to share this with others.

  25. Hello there,

    I found your website today just as I was feeling guilty about encouraging and guiding my almost 5 month old son Max to self soothe for sleep. I am on the 3rd day of doing the pick up/put down method. I felt it was time for both of us to change Max’s sleep ascociations as the only way he could sleep was through me breast feeding him and even then I could see him struggling to stay asleep if I left. I felt for him and I observed him putting his fingers into his mouth as I was breast feeding. He has been doing so well with learning this new skill, but I still feel guilty and am feeling quite clingy! I think I am learning major things too!

    I believe parenting to be a very spiritual and intuitive role. If I did not listen to my gut I think I would be feeling more lost.

    I am really looking forward to watching that video of baby self soothing and looking at the links you have so aptly included in your clear and clever website…thank you!!!!


    1. You’re welcome, Elly! Your awareness and sensitivity is wonderful.

  26. Hello! I just found this post after doing some self-soothing research online.

    My daughter is 4 months old and has great difficulty falling asleep (once she’s asleep she’s fine). She was colicky for the first couple of months so we were quite attentive to her cries. Now she still cries when we put her down to sleep (naps and bedtime).

    I’ve unfortunately fallen into the trap of using the swing for naps. She fusses herself to sleep but she sleeps well in it.

    At bedtime she cries but once we get her to sleep she sleeps through the night in her bassinet (I assume she wakes up and falls back asleep throughout the night??).

    I try to give her plenty of opportunities to self-sooth during the day and when it’s time to sleep but once her cries reach a certain pitch, I intervene (and it takes a lot of rocking to calm her down).

    She’s so wound up and fights sleep like nobody’s business. If I’m already trying the self-soothing techniques, is there anything else I can do to improve things?

    1. Yes, MC, there are other things you can do… Protect her from being overstimulated with the understanding that her absorbency level is very high, so she can get “overdone” and too wound up very easily… Crying helps her to discharge this energy.
      Keep her days as peaceful as possible. Give her plenty of time when she is free to move (which means on her back) in a safe place, preferably in the fresh air outdoors on a blanket. Give her a “boring” predictable day and share with her ahead of time what will happen next. “After play time outside we will have some milk and then go to your bed for a nap.” Slow everything down — your life, your pace, your words.

  27. I am glad I found your web site.
    I’m a grandma who watches a grandson that is six months old now. His parents don’t allow him to cry at all. His daddy says ” I don’t want him to think I won’t be there for him”. As a result when I have him he will not let me put him down at all. ( ever ) I have spent the last five months holding, and lugging a baby around. He is very insecure. How do you suggest I help him gain his independence?

  28. avatar Liz Jordan says:

    Hi everyone!
    Nice coming across this!

    I need some help;
    I have a 3 month old daughter and she is such a great baby. 2 days before she turned 3 months, she starting acting a little different than her normal self. She started only taking two 45 min naps throughout the day (she sleeps at least 10hs at night, with a few feelings) and got really fussy. It’s almost like I don’t recognize her anymore.

    She wines and doesn’t seem happy. So I started to wonder if I was doing something wrong, but since nothing really changed, I’m puzzled.

    I heard that before certain milestones happen, babies can act different. Could this be the case?

    She is normally a great self soother (sucks her thumb), but she gets so worked up that she haven’t been able to even do that…

    Help please!!
    Any light on the situation will be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hey Liz
      Just saw this post that Janet has, and your comment….
      I’d be curious to know if you girl had anything “out of the ordinary” happen to her before this? A doctors visit? A startle? Maybe a fall?
      And then, did anything change in your life that would cause you to be more stressed or on edge – the little ones can feel and sense the slightest changes in their environment.
      I remember reading Gabor Mate’s book on ADD called Scattered Minds, and in it he recounts his own personal story of being a baby growing up in Nazi-Occupied Hungary….his mom called the paediatrician saying that her little Gabe won’t stop crying…and the doctors response was “Mrs. Mate, all my Jewish Babies are crying….” !


    2. Yes Liz Jordan, Babies do get fussy before entering a new stage. I chalk it up to frustration due to knowing what they want to do but not having mastered the skill required for the task. Once your baby masters what’s frustrating she’ll be a happy camper once more.

  29. Hey Janet

    Great article – I watched the video – Of course my Feldenkrais movement brain would love to know if this little one would’ve been happier if the ground under wasn’t so soft….he was able to roll to this stomach no problem, but perhaps the sensation through to the harder ground wasn’t very clear and therefore he couldn’t support himself fully.

    Parents have to know that these little ones are OK on harder surfaces….

    As always, love your posts! A colleague of mine re=posted on FB and I just saw it now.


    1. Great point, Irene. Thanks for sharing your observation

  30. This really made me feel better about how I parent. I have a 7 month old & he whines daily. I normally run to his every whim but I’m learning to let him self soothe and in a few minutes he will have calmed down on his own.

  31. First off, that baby in the video wasn’t crying. He was merely frustrated at learning to move.

    The trouble is, with the bogus “research” in the 70s, mothers left their children to cry it out during the night. My mother believed this myth and told us stories about “how we would cry for hours… can you believe our stubborness!” She even likes to tell the story of how when we were on vacation, at 10 months old, I was put in a little crib to sleep for the night and even though I was screaming, she wouldn’t pick me up because of this nonesense. Well, she thinks the story is so funny, because someone called the police and they came to our hotel door. Someone was that concerned.

    So here you have many naive mothers and fathers who believe that this practice is good. Research has shown time and time again that it is NOT good to let a child “cry it out.”
    If what you are calling “cry it out” was the video above, then it’s utter nonesense, because the child wasn’t crying. He was making regular little fussy, baby noises.

    This isn’t overly, doting moms who pamper their child’s every whim. We are talking about… but millions of average moms who believed that it was okay to neglect their children… and now we, the grown children, are the ones suffering from it.

    1. Beth, I hear your anger about your mother disrespecting you and your needs and I consider her treatment of you abusive. Please don’t compare this to what I teach and write about. I teach respectful care practices.

  32. I always find it exciting when a child in my care masters a skill. I hear your amazement and excitement in your post. 🙂

  33. As for the topic of “zoning out”, I don’t see this as bad. Young children can get over whelmed with the stimulation surrounding them. I remember “zoning out” helped give me the break I needed. In a few minutes I was ready to rejoin the activity or tolerate the stimuli once again. IMO.

  34. I am a second time mom with a 4 week old baby and a 4 year old girl. I was wholeheartedly an attachment parent with my first daughter, and though I feel at peace with her babyhood, I know that I did my very best for her I also feel like I made it so much harder than it needed to be for me! And I also see how I robbed her of opportunities to experience and overcome her own struggles. Now with my new one and I am having a very hard time transitioning from the attatchment parenting mindset to feeling more comfortable with allowing this new baby to struggle and cry and fuss. Im not sure how much crying is okay and when. How does a Mama know when to step in?

  35. I have a 3y and a 4m and with my 3y we did the whole cry it out technique and that was Soo hard. I don’t want to do it with my 4m. But the past couple days have been Soo frustrating for me. I feel like I have been holding and breastfeeding her all day long. I hav to breastfeed her or bounce her to sleep every time. If she wakes up she just wants the boob right then and there screams her head off until I breastfeed her. My husband wants to dothe cry it out technique again but I don’t know if I can handle it again. I tried it a couple of weeks ago n she cried for about an hour on and off (I checked on her after 20min incrimints) and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know what to do. I can’t get anything done

  36. Thank you for helping reassure me that I am trying and am hopefully doing things mostly “right” 😉

  37. Hi Janet, I have just been reading your articles on self soothing and child led play and just wanted some help if it’s not too much trouble. We introduced the paci at 6 weeks as bub would only settle on the breast and it was very tiring for me as a new mum. Reading your articles makes a lot of sense and I’m wondering If me always in bubs face trying to stimulate her during playtime is too much and is also leading to her meltdowns at the end if the day.? I’ve let her have her own time noe which is great however I wonder now as she does get very frustrated during play have we taught her out of self soothing with the paci, will she pick this up again? She only has the paci for nap time however she seems to really need this to know its switch off time what’s the best way to transition back out of this?

  38. I have been a follower of your blog for a while now and generally love the advice you give and your approach very much fits in with what I instinctively feel is right for my daughter. However, I’m confused about the crying and self-soothing opinions expressed here. My daughter in the first year of her life barely cried. I responded to her cues before she needed to cry. I knew when she was hungry before she had to cry to tell me. I knew when she was getting tired and would put her to bed before she got so tired that she needed to cry. Occasionally, usually before bed time she would scream unconsolably and it was obvious she just needed to let of steam. In these instances it was impossible to nurse her, singing made her scream more and the only thing to do was to hold her until she was done. All of her other crying was her trying to communicate some other need. So, what I don’t understand is why you suggest just allowing them to work it out themselves. If my daughter was starting to grizzle a bit because she was hungry then surely I should just feed her, not wait until she resorted to sucking her thumb. If she needed a cuddle, surely I should just pick her up and cuddle her, not just wait until she soothed herself by sucking her thumb. If she needed to be close to me in the night surely I should just bring her into bed next to me to feel my warmth and closeness, not just sit next to her while she figures out how to get back to sleep by herself. If I didn’t respond to these cues then her grizzling would turn into full blown crying which of course is releasing her stress, but stress from not being fed when she was hungry or stress from not knowing when mum will pick you up. Surely it’s better to avoid that stress in the first place. Now that my little girl is a toddler and there are stressful things in her life that can’t be avoided she is learning to cope with that and sometimes does just need to have an outburst to let it all go but when she was a baby I really preferred just to avoid anything that would be stressful to her until she was old enough to understand her environment better. She has never had a pacifier, never sucked her thumb or had a soother, not got any attachment to any particular toy. When she needs to cry she will clench her little fists and shout ‘I’m mad’! Then usually it’s all done and she’s back to her giggly self. I don’t see how I’ve done anything wrong for her by ‘avoiding’ her crying when she was a baby, allowing her to sleep with me, nursing her to sleep etc. I’m very pro AP (although I dislike the label) and I just can’t understand how something so natural as co-sleeping and baby-wearing could be the wrong thing to do. Your posts on self-soothing sound so convincing but there is something in it that just doesn’t sit right with me. I’m also interested to hear your views on breastfeeding and how feeding on demand fits in with the RIE approach. Perhaps you could direct me to any articles you may have written on the subject. I look forward to hearing your views as this is all something I’ve been mulling over for a while now.

    1. Good intuitive and logical points! Wish you got some answers. But it’s hard to argue against so just continue doing it.

  39. avatar Cristina G says:

    Hello Janet, I’m new to this blog and have found your article in self soothing very on point with our situation. My son just turned five months and has found his thumb since four months. I have a few problems here: First: he has recently stared rolling on his tummy and has trouble rolling back-During the day time he does not mind and finds his way but at nap time or night time he rolls over on his tummy and wakes up crying a few minutes after-I’m not sure if it’s because he can’t roll back but I come to him and allow him to suck his thumb while he drifts off to sleep again-it used to work but in the past weeks it does not and he cries desperately. I’d pick him up and allow him to once more find his thumb (while in my arms) and sleep-he cries so hard and loud and something what used to take seconds has turned into up to 10-20 minutes until he drifts off while sucking his thumb. This whole things repeats it self at least three times during the night-my son used to sleep from 8:30pm to 6am straight-I would hear him awake at times but the moment he would put his finger in his mouth he would put him self back to sleep in seconds-ever since he started rolling over; this thumb sucking will not sooth him-what I’m I doing wrong here?
    Second: the stroller- we have struggled with the stroller since birth-the moment I put him down it’s intense loud crying that can go up to 20 min-he finds his thumb but goes out of his mouth over and over. I talk to him in advance and during and explain to him that it’s okay and mommy is there-id pick him up and just hold him waiting for him to sooth him self and the moment I’d put him down-it all starts all over-I have tried turning the stroller facing forward or facing me and nothing. He is old enough to use the incline and he still not letting go. I do not know what to do here…
    Third: nap time (I guess this is closely related to my first point). He gives out all the cues that he is tired so I would remove him from activity time and wait a few minutes before attempting nap time-after changing his nappy if hold him in my arms and tell him it is time to take a nap and give him a kiss. At times he would immediately put his thumb in his mouth and drift off but lately it’s all cries-again, this intense loud crying-finger goes in and out and minutes later I’d see him defying off is lay him on his cot half awake and off to sleep. This only works if I do it-with any one else he would cry desperately for up to 30 minutes and there is no way on finding his thumb. I’m quite confused here and do not know what to do-why this new way of crying and what am I doing wrong that my boy doesn’t seem to self sooth appropriately. I’d appreciate any feed back and thank you in advance!

  40. Do you believe in this stuff about “offloading” “stored up” emotions that Patty Wipfler asserts? I know Wipfler was a spokesperson for re-evaluation counseling, which is all about the catharsis of offloading emotions — but that idea (RC) was founded by some sketchy psychology trends of the 1950s and 1960s (by a guy who broke off from dianetics and Scientology). Personally, I find these ideas of holding children while they cry and “release” their stored up emotions to set off red flags of pseudo-science and cult-like thinking. You seem very rational, so I’m confused by your including that quotation in this article. Are they in fact evidence-based?

    1. Alexis, I have a question for you… Do you believe babies have emotions? Studies prove that they do. Do you think emotions should be suppressed? Or should humans of all ages be encouraged to express their feelings?

      1. I believe babies have emotions and parents should not encourage them to suppress them. However, I do not in any way think that babies wake up in the night because of “emotional tension that bubbles up in the child’s mind during sleep,” as Patty Wipfler says on her website that you link to.

        All babies rouse in the night, right? I think babies probably have sleep cycles, including stages in the cycle where they rouse or wake, and when they wake, they act in accordance with their personality and/or their conditioning (i.e. some kids cry more or less, some suck their thumbs or pacifier, some kids have been trained not to cry at all through extinction methods, etc). We can influence these behaviors, sure. But I do not think we can pretend to understand the origin of children’s emotional lives or personalities. To say we can, as Wipfler does, seems dangerous to me, personally.

  41. I’m a little confused on this. This topic is about self soothing but is it saying crying it out is a good or bad thing? The jump from infancy to 4 months and then older is pretty extreme. Each stage seems very different to me. For my first we did the cry it out method which worked fine, her independence, development, positivity, etc were all extraordinary. As for my second, she is a newborn but I feel completely different with her. I want to soothe her every chance I can. I just want to do what is best for her. With my first I didn’t exclusively breast feed the entire time & she was on pacifiers, bottled expressed milk, & formula. My second is only on the boob, hates the pacifier & refuses the bottle. So, I feel what I need to do with her is going to be very different then my first.
    Is there a specific guideline through these various stages from
    Infancy plus? I always follow my instinct but love to get as much information as I can.

  42. Self soothing my buns! Get the cell phones out of your kids faces…stop posting every fact about your lives on Facebook. Self soothing is an excuse for mothers to sit on the sofa watching the Kardashians and other useless reality shows! Let’s try self soothing techniques with these mothers when they are in need of human interaction, or need to be touched, comforted and feel secure. Can you imagine the self soothing behaviors your child will explore when they are teens! We’re not splitting atoms here. We’re taking care of little people that have feelings and needs.

    1. Leigh, you are not understanding this concept. It is about tuning in to your babies…and allowing them to do things they are capable of doing. It takes far more mindfulness to tune in and be patient than it does to make assumptions about children’s needs.

  43. I find that standing near the crib so the baby can see you helps. I started self soothing on my 1 year and 2 month old son. He’s gotten so used to my caregivers (aunts) putting a bottle in there (even after he finishes the one before he goes to bed) with him. I kept telling them no there is a lot of things wrong with that. I bought a light projector 5 months ago and it helps too. Right now I’m working on keeping that bottle out of the crib and keeping him in my lap to drink. He cries for about 3 minutes with me standing next to his crib and then finds his hands and falls asleep. It works! I wouldn’t just plop him in there and let him cry it out. I think he realized that with me there watching him go to sleep that he has more confidence that he can do it. He sees me, I see him and we are both calm. Yeah, it can be frustrating to hear him cry for a few measly minutes but take a deep breath, keep assuring the baby that he/she can do it, and they will eventually go to sleep. The only thing I use to help back me up is that light projector because the music drowns out the noises in the other rooms and its soft, soothing music. A cd or a tape works just as well.

  44. Janet, reading this post gives me some confidence in my current parenting dilemma, but I definitely have some specific questions. My 16-month-old girl is smart and strong-willed. Bedtime is such a struggle; she gets up about 3 times a night like a newborn, and always nurses to go back down. Nursing is also the only way she goes down for a nap, other than a car ride. I attempted a couple times to put her to sleep without the breast, but she will scream and cry for 45 minutes solid. I thought she would grow out of it, like her older brother easily did, but no luck. I had been taught that crying it out was for evil, lazy parents, and my pediatrician has no suggestions, so I kept nursing her. I haven’t had a solid night’s sleep since I was pregnant with her, so I continued nursing just because I was too tired to do anything else. We lived with relatives for a while who were extremely light sleepers, and if my child cried once in the night, said relative would be unable to go back to sleep at all and unable to effectively function at work, so I nursed her to keep the family peace. Now we have been in our own house for several months, I am 2 months pregnant with our 3rd child, and my breasts are getting too tender to keep this up. We both need and deserve restful sleep, but as soon as she wakes every time, she cries and asks for “boo” (boob) over and over til she gets it, then falls asleep at the tap and wakes if she is even removed. Lately things have been backtracking even more, and she is asking to nurse (even saying please!) whenever she has a trying experience during the day. How do I gently give us both the independence we need? When she starts crying, it all sounds like suffering rather than struggle.

    1. Wendy, I don’t believe she is “suffering”, as she would be if in pain or great need. I believe she is angry and appalled. “Give me what I’m used to right now!” And we certainly can’t blame her for wanting this and believing she needs it, but we can also lovingly offer her a healthier way. Here’s a post that might be helpful to you: I would also check out my other sleep posts… Most are written by RIE Associate and sleep specialist Eileen Henry: Eileen has helped many of the parents I’ve worked with over the years and I can’t recommend her highly enough.

  45. avatar Billie Feathers says:

    I am a grandmother to a beautiful 6 months old little boy. I am finding your articles very interesting, albeit a bit confusing as I am in the process of learning and practicing attachment parenting. Your theories seem somewhat in line with it and somewhat different. I also am concerned about the pacifier use in that from what my daughter has explained to me, that the pacifier helps to minimize SIDS risk. If that is so, why would you be against it?

  46. I have a 4 month old baby and I would try the let him self soothe but I would always give in. Today I decided to let him cry (after I had taken care of all his needs) and check on him every 5 minutes just to reassure him I was there. After 20 minutes he fell asleep. I was so ecstatic, I don’t know why I was always so hesistant to let him cry. Tomorrow I will increase the time to 10 minutes before I go check on him and hopefully sooner than later I won’t have to rock him for an1hr. Before he falls asleep.

  47. I have a 4 month old baby and I would try the let him self soothe but I would always give in. Today I decided to let him cry (after I had taken care of all his needs) and check on him every 5 minutes just to reassure him I was there. After 20 minutes he fell asleep. I was so ecstatic, I don’t know why I was always so hesistant to let him cry. Tomorrow I will increase the time to 10 minutes before I go check on him and hopefully sooner than later I won’t have to rock him for an1hr. Before he falls asleep.

  48. My son is an energetic 15 month old (a Leo)who is having some trouble with getting upset and crying every time something happens he doesn’t like. Sad, sad cries, as if we’ve done something to hurt him even.
    We’ve tried explaining to him the behavior/danger/whatever and sometimes he reacts by hitting and getting further angry…? We do not spank or hit each other and his social experiment is lasting longer than a few weeks.
    What do you recommend for “redirecting” his hitting…and throwing (he has an excellent arm) oh and biting. Yup, trifecta.
    I try REALLY hard not to get angry, but…I’m human. The other day he decided to throw himself back, straight into my nose. I dropped an f-bomb, started yelling, it really hurt- like couldn’t see straight hurt- left a substantial bruise. What do you do in those situations??

  49. My one-year old will only fall asleep when I breastfeed her. How can I teach her to relax sufficiently so that she can fall asleep by herself?

  50. Hello!
    I have a 5 week old that has been co-sleeping since we got home from the hospital. I had to have a csection and could not move well the first few days at home and placed her on my chest for ease of all the nightly feedings. She now sleeps beside me or on me. Part of me loves it and part of me knows I should get her into a crib or bassinet. I have tried several times but she hates it. My dr recommended letting her cry in 5,10&15 minute increments and when I would check on her at those times to just sooth with my voice or light patting. I tried one night and it was terrible. My little one never even came close to “self soothing” or stopping crying except for right after I helped her sooth. I laid her down at 10 after a feeding and she never slept more than 10(on the dot) minutes straight from then until 12:45 when it was time for her next freeding. She didn’t just cry either, she screamed. I could only go one 15 minute increment the rest were more like 5-7 a couple of 10s but I ended up crying most of the time as well and when I picked her up for her feeding I couldn’t go through that again. I held her and we both slept peacefully the rest of the night…any advice?

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