Words matter. A reader shares why she was confused about self-soothing

I wanted to share this reader comment on my original post about self-soothing. What she says about the struggles she went through trying to fit conventional expert wisdom with her own experience is a perfect example of why I feel so strongly that the notion of self-soothing (as it is used by most child sleep pundits) needs to be challenged. I could elaborate but I think this mom expresses it very well.

Here’s the comment:

“THANK YOU! I love love love this post. This makes so much sense. I’m a first time mum and a self-confessed geek and have spent insane amounts of time reading about everything baby on websites, books, articles, you name it. The concept of self-soothing is all too often mentioned but never explained, and I simply could not figure out how it all worked.

Example; for the first four weeks of my son’s life he was a very drowsy baby requiring no assistance to sleep at all. Then he went through a mental leap and suddenly he was a lot more awake and interested in the world around him – it was around this stage he started getting harder to put to sleep. He is now 12 weeks and will drift off to sleep with no help for his morning nap, but needs more and more assistance as the day goes on, with lots of cuddles, rocking and patting when going to sleep at night. I was totally confused. How can he be able to self-soothe in one instance and not another? Was he born with the ability to self-soothe and somehow lose it at 4 weeks? What???

The few details about what self-soothing really is are decidedly sparse and conflicting. Some books say babies develop this “ability” around six months, others say three, others 4.5 months, but the general consensus is 3-6 months. But then if you believe in this concept, the ability to self-soothe comes across as a natural developmental milestone, much like rolling over, walking, talking, etc. which everyone seems to agree that babies develop in their own time and the margins for normal are quite vast (eg. my nephew didn’t start talking till about 3-4 years of age). But then why are we putting so much pressure on babies to magically have it as soon as they turn six months?

I’ve also heard that thumb/fist/finger sucking is one of the ways that babies self-soothe. But some babies do this in utero and still can’t put themselves to sleep after they are born (I am thinking of one of my friend’s babies here).

Nothing I read about this before made any sense and couldn’t be applied to my son. This post actually resonates with my experiences and what I know, and it just simply makes sense. I feel like I get it now.”


I wish I could get the “sleep experts” who tell parents that six-month-old babies can “self-soothe” to read this post. Then they might understand that need to be a lot more careful about they say to parents about babies and sleep.




About uncommonjohn

I am one of Canada's top parenting writers. My areas of expertise and interest include debunking bad parenting advice (especially about sleep), self-regulation, fatherhood, child development, children's mental health, childbirth and breastfeeding.
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3 Responses to Words matter. A reader shares why she was confused about self-soothing

  1. Nicky says:

    I love these posts! I advise new mums to ditch (most of) the baby books,and read these posts instead! Full of common sense and instinctive prenting advice. After reading this post above,it really hit me how scientific and,in many cases illogical,parenting has become. It can be really hard to find your way through the maze! Thank goodness there are sites and forums like this. Keep up the great,much-needed and valuable work!

  2. jayden says:

    This post genuinely peaked my personal interest.

  3. Zrinka says:

    I have readjusted my thinking after spending some time (maybe too much for work) on your blog. I have a question if you have a moment … my six month old slept through the night from week 7 on without any “training.” yes, i am blessed. however, in the past month or so, she wakes up about 1 or 2 every morning. i offer her a breast (for comfort since there is nothing left in there) and she easily falls asleep. however, when i put her back in her crib she starts moving around like crazy, and hits her head on the crib, rubs her eyes and can’t settle down. i have been taking her into my bed, where she can settle down, so i could get some sleep, but i do not want her in our bed. the pediatrician yesterday told me not to even offer her a breast, but to try patting her for a bit so she continues sleeping on her own. this was a huge fail last night. any ideas? is this maybe a phase? thanks 🙂

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