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3 Common Baby Self-Soothing Techniques

Falling back to sleep after an unexpected wake-up can be challenging even for adults, so how do babies do it? There are a few methods of self-soothing that you may notice your baby using to lull themselves back to sleep after startling awake.

It’s usually best to encourage self-soothing behaviors before separation anxiety kicks in full force, around 8 to 9 months. It can be hard for your little one to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep when they’re already worried about being separated from their favorite adults.    - Healthline

In This Article 

What is Self-Soothing?

When Can Babies Self-Soothe?

Baby Self-Soothing Techniques

How to Encourage Self-Soothing

Common Questions from New Parents

Baby sleeping in Nested Bean Zen Sack.

What is Self-Soothing?

A baby who is able to self-soothe can fall back asleep with little or no crying and no caregiver assistance after waking up during the night or naptime.  An infant’s ability to calm themselves back to sleep sometimes develops naturally with age, but sometimes parents or caregivers have to nurture self-soothing behaviors in their baby. Whether by natural progression or encouragement from caregivers, there are a few common techniques babies use to self-soothe. 


What to do

How to do it

Why it works

Keep in mind




Look for clues to the problem. Is your baby opening her mouth? She may be hungry. Is her diaper wet? She may need to be changed. Is she rubbing her eyes? This is a sign of fatigue

A baby usually cries to indicate she’s uncomfortable – hungry, tired, wet, or gassy. The tears frequently subside once you give her what she needs.

If your baby has outbursts of inconsolable crying, awakens shrieking and cannot resettle, or is unable to sleep for one three-hour stretch at night, contact your pediatrician.


On a receiving blanket, hold your infant’s forearm straight against his right side. With your free hand, pull the fabric from his right shoulder down and across his body. Repeat on the left side.

Swaddling provides security and comfort and keeps babies from hitting themselves. When you restrain their movements, they focus on your soothing attempts, not on what was bothering them.

Since it limits their movement, swaddling is best only for newborns. The key to successful swaddling is tight wrapping. A loose blanket will pop back open and can pose a breathing hazard.




Give your baby a pacifier or your clean knuckle to suck on (your fingernail may have bacteria underneath it).

Babies may receive instinctive comfort from sucking even when they’re not hungry because many of them start sucking their thumb or other fingers in the womb.

Use this method only after you’ve successfully established breast or bottle feeding. For most breastfed infants, this is around six weeks; with bottle-fed infants, wait three to four weeks.





Put your baby over your shoulder, or try what pediatrician William Sears, M.D., calls the “colic curl.” Slide your baby down your chest and cradle your hands under his bottom, tilting his legs up slightly.

Agitated babies often arch their backs or tense their stomach muscles. Changing positions moves them out of these postures, and the close contact with your body calms them down.

Fathers can also try the neck nestle. Snuggle your baby’s head against the front of your neck and hum a low-pitched melody. The vibration of Dad’s deep voice may lull a tense infant to sleep.



Place your infant in a cradle, baby swing, sling, or front carrier and rock her. Take her for a car ride, or strap her in a bouncy seat on a clothes dryer as you stand beside her.

Gentle, rhythmic movements and vibration are comforting to infants because they are similar to what fetuses experience in the womb.

Rock your baby at the same rate as your heartbeat (60-100 rocks per minute). With the car ride technique, put her in a car seat and drive for 20 minutes or so. Carry her back into the house in her car seat.


Place your baby on a flat surface such as a bassinet or a changing table, and apply a natural, cold pressed fruit or vegetable oil. Gently stroke your baby’s skin and knead his muscles.

Baby massage calms your infant because of the skin-to-skin contact, which can result in improved sleep, less fussing and gas, and better breastfeeding.

Parents benefit, too, as infant massage causes them to relax as well.


Hum a lullaby or have your baby listen to a white noise-a vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, or fan. You can also buy CDs or sound machines that play a range of white noise selections.

Musical rhythm is regular and steady, so it lulls infants to sleep. And the whirring sound of white noise mimics what they heard inutero.

Lullabies work well for babies 2 months and older, who can begin to associate music with sleep. White noise is best for calming newborns as it can be heard over their crying.

When Can Babies Self-Soothe?

It is completely natural for babies to wake during the night, and even after your little one begins to learn self-soothing techniques they may not be able to soothe themselves each and every time they wake up. However, anywhere between 3 and 6 months old, babies begin to be developmentally able to self-soothe. Once your baby reaches this age range you may begin to notice some repetitive behaviors that act as a mechanism for self-soothing.

Baby asleep in Nested Bean Zen Swaddle.


Newborns cannot self-soothe as older babies and toddlers can. But, their caregivers can employ soothing techniques that will help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Some great soothing techniques for newborns include:

Baby Self-Soothing Techniques

  • Head Movement 

When your little one reaches an age where they are developmentally able to self-soothe, one of their go-to techniques could be shaking their head. It is common in infants and can even be a sleep-aid moving into their toddler years. 

  • Limb Movement

Leg and hand movement can be soothing even for adults when trying to fall asleep! You might find your baby kicking their legs out or thumping them against their mattress, or they may rely on playing with their hands until they drift off to sleep.

  • Thumb or Hand Pacifier 

A very common method of self-soothing in infants and toddlers is to put various fingers or their whole hand in their mouth. It almost simulates a pacifier and can be very calming. The Zen One has adjustable features that allow for arms completely free or in mesh sleeves, perfect for thumb suckers!

Baby asleep in Nested Bean Zen Bodysuit.

How to Encourage Self-Soothing

Even if you don’t subscribe to methods of sleep training that involve not intervening when your baby wakes-up during the night. It can be helpful to take steps to encourage self-soothing behaviors in your baby to minimize the number of times you need to check in on them during the night. Some ways to encourage self-soothing in your infant or toddler are:

  • Putting baby to bed tired but not asleep
  • Letting baby sleep in their own space
  • Giving them baby some time to try to self-soothe before intervening

Common questions about baby self-soothing techniques

Can Newborns Self-Soothe?

No, newborns are not yet developmentally able to employ the baby self-soothing techniques discussed in this blog. But, their caregivers can employ soothing techniques that will help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

How Can I Encourage My Baby to Self-Soothe?

There are a few ways to encourage your baby or toddler to self-soothe when putting them down to sleep, or when they wake up during the night. Some of the most common techniques are putting your little one down tired but not yet asleep, making sure they have their own sleep space, and giving them a chance to self-soothe before you intervene to comfort them.

Why is the Zen One Good for Babies that Suck Their Thumb?

Many babies suck various fingers or their whole hand as a way of soothing themselves to sleep. The Zen One’s adjustable features are ideal for this baby self-soothing technique because the mesh sleeves allow the baby's hand to reach their mouth. You can even remove the sleeves altogether if Moro Reflex is no longer a concern for your baby.

How Does Zen Sleepwear™ Help Get Baby to Sleep?

Zen Sleepwear™ is safely weighted in key areas to mimic a parent’s touch on their chest to soothe them into sleep faster and help them stay asleep longer. Over one million parents who have introduced Zen Sleepwear to their baby’s daily routine have seen improvements in sleep. It’s great to use as a part of your baby’s sleepwear!


You Might Also Like:

Other Resources

National Library of Medicine: Nighttime sleep-wake patterns

Nationwide Children’s Hospital: Healthy Sleep Habits for Babies

National Library of Medicine: Effect of soothing techniques

Healthychildren.Org: Self-Soothing

American Academy of Pediatrics: Why Do Babies Cry?


Athena S.

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