What is responsive settling?
Responsive settling is a sensitive way for you to settle your baby when they need help going to sleep. Babies need to learn the skill of going to sleep.
If your baby is under 6 months old they may need more help to go to sleep than an older baby. It's normal for very young babies to fall asleep when they're being nursed or fed. If you always nurse, feed or rock your baby they will find it harder to learn to sleep on their own. It's a good idea to feed a young baby just after they wake up instead.
How do I know my baby is tired?
Like adults, babies give cues or signals when they're tired. If your baby gets overtired it can be harder for them to settle. Crying is a sign of being overtired.
Look out for these signs that your young baby is ready to sleep:
- jerky arm or leg movements
- closing their fists or sucking their fingers
- facial grimacing or rubbing their eyes
- having trouble focussing or going cross-eyed
- eyebrows going red
- arching their back
Some more signs that an older baby is ready to sleep are:
- pulling at their ears
- being clumsy
- demanding more attention
- being fussy when feeding or eating
What should I do before I settle my baby?
Check that your baby:
Be sure to give your baby a cuddle if they need one. You may want to use a swaddle or sleeping bag for your baby.
Always follow the safe sleeping guidelines and place your baby on their back to sleep.
How can I settle my young baby?
Your baby needs to feel safe and relaxed to fall asleep. Try to respond to their cues.
Here are some ways to settle your baby.
Settling in arms (up to 3 months)
This method is ideal for young babies. You can also use it when your older baby has difficulty settling.
- Hold your baby in your arms, you can gently rock them until they're calm.
- Place your baby in their cot, on their back.
- You may need to keep holding your baby until they fall asleep.
- If your baby gets upset when placed in the cot, comfort them until they're calm.
- If your baby becomes distressed, pick them up and go back to the first step.
Hands on settling (3 to 6 months)
This a good method for babies aged 3 to 6 months. Try set a routine when settling your baby. For example, you can change their nappy, read them a story and cuddle them. Then you can practice hands on settling.
- Gently place your baby in their cot, on their back, awake.
- Watch and respond to cues from your baby.
- If your baby remains calm, allow them to settle on their own.
- If they start to cry, try placing your hands on your baby to reassure them.
- Leave your hands on your baby until they have gone to sleep.
To help them settle, you can also:
- make 'shh' sounds
- talk to them quietly with comforting tones
- gently tell them 'it's OK', 'time for sleep'
- do gentle rhythmic patting of their thigh, shoulder, tummy or the mattress
- gently stroke their head, arm or leg
- rock the cot in a gentle rhythm
You may want to sit on a chair beside their cot and pat through the cot rails.
If you have had enough or your baby is not getting calmer, it's OK to stop and try something else.
How do I settle my baby aged over 6 months?
Comfort settling, or controlled comforting, is sometimes recommended for babies aged 6 months and older. The idea is for your baby to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
- Start with your usual sleep routine, such as nappy change, story, a cuddle.
- Gently place your baby in their cot, on their back and tell them it's sleep time.
- Pat or shh for a few minutes if needed to calm them, then leave the room.
- Stay close by and listen to the noises that your baby makes.
Babbling, whinging, brief cries and movement are common when your baby tries to settle.
If your baby's cries go up and down, wait a short time to see if they settle.
If your baby's cries get louder, go back and comfort them in the cot.
If this doesn't work, try comfort settling again another time and instead use hands on settling, or the in arms method.
Transition settling, also known 'camping out' is a sleep technique for a baby or child aged 6 months or more.
You gradually teach your baby to fall asleep by themselves. The idea is that you are still by their side to provide reassurance, but you do not physically help them to fall asleep. Over about 1 to 4 weeks, you begin sitting or lying further away when they are falling asleep.
Camping out is different from comfort settling, where you calm your baby and then leave them alone in the room. Read about the camping out method.
Responsive settling tips for all ages
Remember that everyone has sleep cycles, where you move between light and deep sleep. If your baby can settle themselves, they will not wake up from a light sleep too soon.
- Try to learn your baby's tired signs.
- Younger babies need more sleep than older babies and can get overtired easily.
- Your baby will probably sleep best when it is darker and quiet.
- Try to be patient, flexible and realistic when helping your baby learn sleep skills.
- Listen to your baby's cry and what they are trying to tell you.
- Respond in a calm and confident way to help your baby relax.
- You will need to do the same thing consistently to help your baby practice a new way of settling.
- Create a sleep routine that works for your family.
Resources and support
Learn about safe sleep for babies.
Read some more tips for getting your baby to sleep.
Speak to a maternal child health nurseCall Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: May 2023