Positive Parenting: Help Your Baby to Sleep Independently

Our childcare specialists suggest a range of alternative Positive Parenting strategies to help babies fall asleep on their own.

The importance of attachment to primary carers, and parents in particular, has been studied for decades. The most influential psychologists, Bowlby and Winnicott, were pioneers in understanding that to develop strong bonds, human babies needed close and consistent adults.

More recent studies of brain development, and the assessment of the effect of stress on the brain show that high levels of stress in children and adults causes an increase in cortisol, the anxiety hormone. This hormone is essential in moments of danger when humans are threatened, because it allows our bodies to gather the strengths of mind and muscle required to save ourselves. However, in the home (and at work), high levels of cortisol can be very negative, and overload and distort perception and ultimately relationships.

When it comes to our babies, humans are programmed in all sorts of ways to bring them up as best we can. Our own experiences of being parented are often the most influential in making decisions about how to care for and bring up our babies and children. An additional pressure of modern parenting has been the need for both adults to be earning, and with that comes the need to help babies learn to sleep through the night as soon as they are able.

From this expectation there has developed a range of theories, methods and advice about how to achieve this goal. Positive Parenting is about using techniques that are based on a common sense approach and which meet the individual requirements and wishes of families. It is built on the principle that all humans need to develop confidence and independence within a loving, and close relationship if they are to become strong and resilient into the future.

Here are some Postive Parenting strategies for supporting your baby to fall asleep on their own:

  1. Babies need a consistent approach and therefore try to create a routine of feeding, playing and sleeping right from the start. This routine for the day enables your baby to develop an internal clock and to react proactively to the expectations that you set. Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, try to remember to create a moment of rest from drinking so that your baby does not become used after the first few weeks to falling asleep in the middle of a feed.
  2. Ensure that you create opportunities from the start for your baby to relax and play on a flat mat on the floor and outdoors. It is important that the baby is used to lying flat, on their front and back while they're awake. Use these moments to communicate by talking and singing, examining toys and natural objects.
  3. Babies' need for sleep diminishes over the first year from being awake for up to 8 hours a day to being asleep for only 12 hours in 24hours. Ensure that you make special, regular time for sleeping and set an expectation with yourselves as parents, that more often than not your baby is put in the cot to sleep during the day as well as in the evening.
  4. Give your baby a massage after the evening bath as part of the bedtime routine. This is an excellent way to help digestion and to calm your baby for the night sleep. Read these tips on massaging your baby
  5. When you place your baby in the cot put a cotton sheet over the sleep bag and tuck it into the sides of the cot mattress so that they will feel 'as snug as a bug in a rug'. Being tucked in will help your baby feel more secure and less likely to kick thenselves awake during the night by moving around. It also keeps the temperature more level helping ensure they're not overheated. Check when you go to bed that your baby is still firmly tucked in.
  6. Also offer your baby a sleeveless t-shirt that smells of you in the cot. The smell of you will help them feel reassured if they wake up.
  7. If your baby eats well during the day once they are weaned, this makes it less likely that they will need a bottle during the night. However if they feel discomfort during teething they may need the feeling of liquid to soothe their gums. Try to reduce the milk you give them in the night and replace it with water. This should soothe your baby.
  8. When you feel that they are likely to be able to get back to sleep without a drink, go into to your baby when they criy out for you, but try not to pick them up. Just whisper calmly and try to soothe them and tuck them in again. Sit beside them and pat them gently until they l drop off to sleep. Stay sitting by them without touching - in case they whimpers. If they become unsettled then start patting again gently. They are just making sure that you're there. Leave them when they fall back asleep.
  9. Each night try to implement the same process and you will notice that you have to be with your baby a shorter and shorter time as they'll be reassured and able to follow your expectations to fall asleep on their own.
  10. You will also notice in the next few weeks that your baby sleeps through the night more often. Just ensure that you have consistent responses each time. Make sure you give praise each morning when they have slept through, but don't refer to it if they have woken. Babies are already able to know through your communication when you are pleased with their achievements and commenting on them positively has a strong impact on them wanting to please you again.

These techniques are not time limited and they may be used for all ages of children up to 10 years old. By setting clear expectations and by supporting your babies and children, they will be secure in the knowledge that you are available to them when they need you. Feeling in harmony with your babies and children is crucial to embedding security and a sense of self-worth.


If you require an individualised plan to help your child learn to sleep independently, which means developing the skill to fall asleep by themselves, please contact Lena Engel through the Work and Family website at Speak to an Expert

Disclaimer: Here at Bright Horizons, we understand that you're the expert on your own body, child or children, pregnancy and parenting isn't homogenous and it's each to their own. Opinions are solely the views of the author, not Bright Horizons, and are there to inform, help provoke thought and reflection on parenting situations and life dilemmas that naturally have no right or wrong.