Babies are not born with self-soothing/regulating skills, these skill develop over the first four months of life. Self-soothing tends to be associated with babies who are able to fall back to sleep on their own with little to no crying out. However, some babies might exhibit a variety of behaviors to help them self-soothe or self-regulate.
It is pretty common to see infants using a pacifier or a thumb to suck and help soothe themselves. Something you might also see is babies sucking on their fists, toes and feet. Although it doesn’t necessarily look “normal” it’s just a common self-soothing technique.
Humming and Babbling
Many babies will make all sorts of noises at night and not all of them mean they are in distress. Sometimes it can sound like they are singing or having some deep conversation with themselves. They often enjoy the feeling of vibration from humming or babbling and it helps comfort them.
Many children like gentle and repetitive movement. Just like they enjoy being rocked by a caretaker, they might also rock themselves to sleep. Although this behavior is often associated with people with anxiety or developmental delays, it can be soothing to anyone and can help a baby soothe themselves back to sleep.
Headbanging and Foot/Leg Tapping
These self-soothing behaviors can get a bad rap, especially headbanging. Again this a repetitive movement that some children find soothing. The repeated movement and sensation they get from hitting their head on the mattress or kicking their legs against the mattress can be very comforting. Although headbanging can be very normal and very benign, if the behavior begins suddenly or they appear to be hurting themselves it’s important to contact your pediatrician. (Headbanging can be a sign of pain, or a sign of sensory seeking, its best to at least give your pediatrician a heads up if your little one does this)
This is another comforting repetitive and tactile behavior. This could be rubbing their eyes, touching their ears, or rubbing a tag or fabric. You may notice that repetitive and tactile/sensory motions are soothing to infants. Just one more seemingly odd behavior that can be totally normal and helpful. When to be concerned? If it appears your little one is tugging on their ears – this can sometimes indicate they have an ear infection- or if they are appearing to harm themselves, you definitely want to check in with your pediatrician.