We parents hear a lot about self soothing when it comes to baby sleep. The art of baby being able to fall asleep by herself. The elusive goal of self soothing is the ultimate in parenting wins. If your baby can do it, then your baby will sleep through the night and all your worries will disappear. Right? Well, not quite. I guess you didn't really want to hear that self soothing is a bit of a non-event, did you? But we don't like to sugar coat things when it comes to parenting, and especially sleep. The truth will always come out in the end, and there's no point fooling yourself otherwise. Here's what we know about the secret of self soothing.
Is it really a secret?
How do you think babies self soothe? Thumb sucking? Using a dummy? Possibly. But what we really mean by self soothing is simply that baby is able to soothe herself back to sleep when she wakes. And true enough, some babies will be able to do this. But many others will not. And there are so many reasons why! So while self soothing is not really a secret, the fact that your baby probably won't be able to do it might well be. We are so often told that babies need to learn to self soothe, but when your realise just what that entails, you might have other ideas!
Why babies wake up
We all know that babies wake up a lot through the night. Sometimes they give the illusion of sleeping through, but actually (just like adults) they all wake several times a night. The difference can be a baby that needs help getting back to sleep, and a baby who doesn't. So newborn babies wake because they have tiny tummies that need filling with food. And older babies wake for many other reasons.
The main reason why babies wake is all down to their sleep cycles. Babies go through significantly more sleep cycles than we adults do, and they experience more REM phases too. At the end of each sleep cycle, they wake. As do we. And mostly they will fall back to sleep again without assistance. Except for the times where they can't.
Maybe they're too hot. Too cold. Hungry. Thirsty. Wet nappy. Desperate to practise crawling. Whatever it is, some babies will wake at the end of a sleep cycle and call out to you for attention. And its these babies that we are told need to learn how to self soothe.
Can babies really self soothe?
So let's imagine you've woken at the end of a sleep cycle and you're feeling thirsty. Probably you will either go back to sleep anyway, or you will get up and get a drink. Then you'll go back to sleep. Now imagine your baby has woken for the same reason. How on earth is she then going to get up and get a drink? Or maybe she's woken because she's feeling cold. She can't pull her covers up over her and snuggle down like you can. She can't find her favourite comforter in the dark; she certainly can't put the light on either. Nor can she get up and close the window that's causing the draft that woke her up...
You get the picture. Sometimes babies just cannot self soothe, because they are babies. Because they need us to do these things for them. True, some babies might suck their thumb, or a dummy, and this might settle them off to sleep after each sleep cycle- and that's great! But to expect all babies to be able to do the same thing is just not fair. Just as we have trouble getting to sleep sometimes, babies do too. The only difference is that they don't understand why.
So your baby can't self soothe yet?
She will, eventually. When she is older and able to either solve her own dilemmas at night time (i.e. pulling up her covers when she's cold etc) it will all be a distant memory. For now, rest assured there is nothing wrong with your baby, and there may be actually nothing she 'needs' to learn right now either.