Development Blog

A Baby’s Ability to Self-Soothe



Our Readers Ask:

I currently have a 2 month old baby. Although I am a stay at home mother, I tend to the house and also pay the bills, which is time consuming. I love my baby and obviously do not want to leave him alone, or upset him while I am working. For this reason, I am wondering when and how does a baby develop the capacity to soothe himself? Is there anything I can do to help the process? Thanks! 

This is a great question because there is a common misconception that young infants should be encouraged to self-soothe. While the ability to self soothe starts in infancy, over the course of the first few months of life, a baby must first develop a sense of his mother taking care of him, from which he will create an internal model of soothing and care taking. Babies develop the ability to amuse themselves for brief periods of time around 2-4 months, at which time Mother is often surprised to come into her baby’s nursery and find him awake, looking around his crib, and maybe even babbling to himself or making cooing sounds. Later on, from about 4-6 months, this process can also include a developing interest in his feet and hands, reaching for things in and around his crib, and turning himself over. Eventually, a baby’s ability to explore his environment, and entertain himself without his mother in view, is wonderful and rewarding evidence that he has experienced his mothering as “good enough,” and now, he doesn’t need his mother to be there immediately at all times.

However, although the ability to self-soothe may be emerging during the first 6 months, you should neither depend on this, nor try to foster it. Babies as young as yours will not benefit from being left, even temporarily, to “figure it out.” They will become better self-soothers by reliably being soothed by you in this early period. Steadily, over time, as your baby begins to identify himself as a person, separate from you (6 months and beyond), he integrates his experience of being cared for into an ability to do the same thing for himself.
I appreciate how difficult this can be, but try to bring him wherever you go, in his bassinet or on some blankets, or perhaps you could carry him in a sling or pack as you work. Also, talking to him while you work is a great way to connect with your infant. Babies love to hear the sound of Mother’s voice, which they recognize more quickly than they recognize Mother’s face. And, check on him frequently during his “awake” time, smiling and cooing to him–it will pay off in the end!–Dr. S and Dr. G

More from Development Blog