“Self-settling” the Natural Way

By Alla Zaykova

Just over a year ago I was blessed with a beautiful little girl who fought sleep with such vigour and zeal it was almost commendable. And since I’m quite passionately against sleep training (and also because I’m almost certain any form of it wouldn’t work on my spirited, high-need, sleepless barnacle of a baby) our typical bedtime routine involved a lot of bouncing, and rocking and more bouncing.

I have to admit – it was back-breaking labour. Because as she got heavier, I was quite literally starting to feel like my back was breaking. Ouch!

But over the past few weeks something changed. At 14 months old my baby started to self-settle, all of her own accord.

These days I take her to bed, turn off the lights, put on relaxing music and breastfeed, as I have always done. But after her big nurse she doesn’t cling on to me to be rocked and bounced like she used to. Instead, she rolls away from me…and the self-settling begins!

The process involves her rolling into her sidecar cot, then back into our big bed, getting up several times, lying back down on her back, rolling onto her tummy, giggling, standing upside down, climbing on top of me and doing a few jumps, crawling away, coming back for another breastfeed… and it all repeats again.

I stay in bed meditating, making sure she doesn’t fall, comforting her if she gets upset (because learning something new can be frustrating), and letting her roll away to try again.

Eventually, within one or two hours she falls asleep. Usually in some bizarre pose in some part of the bed or cot. I wait a few more minutes to make sure she’s genuinely out and if she looks safe and comfortable, I let her snooze, if not, I gently transfer her into her cot and make sure she is (safe and comfortable and still genuinely out). Then I go and make myself a cuppa, proud that my baby has “self-settled.”

During the night she still needs me to nurse her back to sleep, but that’s OK. Learning is a gradual process.

Now, I understand if you feel that I misled you and this is NOT the self-settling you were hoping to read about. It’s certainly not the type advertised by sleep consultants. But guess what? It’s natural, gentle and responsive. And quite frankly, I’d rather spend two hours lying in bed with my daughter watching her acrobatics than bounce on its edge, with her in my arms. For us, this is real progress. My back agrees.

I know some babies fall asleep easier from the get-go than others, but so do some adults, (though you don’t hear people asking whether they’re a “good” person based on their sleeping habits). Others have to apply various techniques to relax (be it meditation or counting sheep) – techniques that a one-year-old’s brain won’t be capable of for several years.

See page 2 for the rest of the story…


  • Thanks for this. My 9 month old has started doing this sometimes during the night – rather than feeding to sleep he will roll away from me after a feed, not want a cuddle but flail around the bed for a while until he falls asleep in some obscure position or gets upset and needs another cuddle or feed. This has helped me understand that he wants to, and is, learning to settle himself back to sleep.

  • Yes! To all of this. My little guy just turned 2 and still the “song and dance” at bedtime. He nurses, does what I refer to ask his yoga (sometimes while nursing) jumps around some, comes back to nurse, and eventually settles down, calms his busy little body, and falls asleep, usually latched. But I know it won’t be much longer! And he’s never been one to accept the “drowsy but awake” line of thinking. Just not his jam. And that’s totally ok!

  • I did exactly this with my daughter, and she slept in her own bed, by herself, before she turned 3. “Children need security before they’re capable of being independent”, best advice my mother ever gave me.

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