Hands-on Settling and Responsive Settling Techniques

Hands-on Settling and Responsive Settling Techniques

Nicolette Harris |

New parents only get 5 to 6 hours of sleep, and they're likely not in a row when it comes to feeding a newborn. This is expected, but after a few months, most parents find it utterly exhausting unsustainable. 

That's why sleep experts and paediatricians recommend sleep training your baby through things like the responsive settling technique and hands-on settling technique. Teaching your baby self-settling techniques from birth, may help reduce the number of night waking’s and help them develop a good sleep routine and positive sleep associations. Learn more about how sleep training or a sleep program can help both you and your baby get a better night's sleep.

Newborn Sleep Patterns

The first thing new parents need to reckon with when it comes to sleep training a newborn baby is how to be realistic about newborn baby sleep patterns. We covered what reasonable expectations are for newborn sleep patterns in our comprehensive guide.

For the first two months, newborn babies will sleep for most of the day (about 16 hours), but they won't be all in a row. They also won't necessarily be when you want to sleep!

As your baby's stomach grows and can take more milk, from around 3 months, they should be able to sleep for longer periods at night time without waking for feeds. By 6 months old, most do not need a feed throughout the night and theoretically could sleep through.

Sleep training can begin as early as the 1-2 months' old. The sooner you can start getting them familiar with going to sleep on their own, the more likely they are to link sleep cycles and sleep for longer periods.

What Is Settling?

Settling is the transitional process for babies from wakefulness to sleep. You can assist with settling by using several techniques that help your baby feel safe on their own. As your sleep training progresses, you'll start to notice that your infant can soothe themself to sleep.

Soothing is effective for the early months of life all the way through toddlerhood. As you employ a night time routine and gradually reduce light and noise to make a comfortable sleeping environment, your baby learns the signals of when it is time to sleep. They become more comfortable drifting off.

There are several methods of settling, including settling in your arms and hands-on settling technique. Through some experimentation, you will find which routine works best for your tired infant.

Responsive Settling Technique or Hands On Settling

Responsive settling techniques means comforting your baby and responding to your baby's cues and signals. It is a highly recommended way of how to sleep train your baby. Generally, it’s a 2 week process to get consistent sleep patterns.

One of the most important things you need to learn and understand are your baby's tired signs. Timing is everything, starting too early may make it difficult for them to fall asleep. Too late, and you'll just have a cranky, overtired infant on your hands. You'll want to start your sleep routine or bedtime process right as they are beginning to show they tired signs. They may signal some discomfort, clench their fists, rub their eyes, become grizzly or their little hands may become a little shaky.

Give yourself enough time for a final feeding and change. Establish a "winding down" routine, like a story or song. 

Make your babies room conducive for sleep. Try to lessen light and noise that may keep your baby distracted from the task of sleeping. Wrap your newborn in a baby swaddle, put your baby gently on their back in their cot. Keep them calm and relaxed by letting them know you are there by placing a hand on them or shh'ing

Gradually form a sleep pattern where you offer for 10 mins of settling in the cot. The main idea is to give your baby the opportunity to self settle by, listening to 4 or so cries. If they are calm or begin to settle, then we allow them some more time to settle / don't change anything. If your baby is not coping, then you need to add in the settling techniques one at a time. 

To clarify this, if after 4 cries they are settling, then do not change anything. If however, after 4 cries they are escalating in their cries then we need to add another settling technique/step. 

Steps are as follows: 

  1. Try Shh’ing noises first, reassure them verbally that it is ok and that you are there. You can make gentle sounds while sitting next to the cot or rub the surface of the mattress. Help them associate this time with safe things. When you make these touches, sounds, and motions routine, it is a pattern they will learn to respond to with sleep.
  2. Sit or kneel beside the cot, staying low so they know you are there but not picking them up. (parental presence + verbal reassurance) Try positioning bub on his side initially and allowing him to roll back on his back when asleep…. Foetal position more natural to get comfortable.
  3. Offer your hand, first on their shoulder then if needed if they escalate then 2 hands on the baby. (Remember to apply one technique at a time and allow 3-4 cries to see if that additional step works to lessen the intensity of their crying)
  4. Begin to rock baby gently or pat baby gently or pat the mattress. Slowly, gently, we are not matching the cries of the baby, we are trying to bring them down, calm them down.
  5. If they calm you can gradually withdraw your techniques. If they don’t calm down after a couple of minutes after trying all the above steps and allowing them time to respond, then pick your baby up for a cuddle if you think they need it.
  6. As they calm in your arms and before they are asleep then try and settle them in the cot again. Try for another few minutes, initially they will cross/cranky because they have been disturbed again after been settled in your arms. Repeat above steps, allowing the baby time to respond to each step.
  7. Another tip is they may be calmer and settle faster for Dad as they don’t associate Dad with Breast Feeding.
  8. If they don’t settle within a few minutes after 2nd attempt then pick bub up and Breast Feed or settle him as you would do normally, this is not a waste of time/effort but a learning opportunity for your little one. Over the 2 week period this settling time gets easier and shorter.
  • Remember to stay low beside them so that they realize that you’re not going to pick them up as soon as you walk into the room.
  • Remember that we want about 10-15 mins in total, then after that amount of time, you can do whatever you need to do to get them to sleep for example Breast feed or settle in arms or dummy.
  • Baby’s sleeping on a flat mattress is much more preferable then sleeping in your arms due to their posture and your peace of mind…. The bed is also preferable to the lounge as well, more supportive and not as soft for them to roll into.
  • Darken the room, allow them to sleep in their room due to reducing the activities of daily living.
  • If Bub wakes within the hour, then try and resettle them for a period of 10 mins in the cot. Trying to get them back to sleep. If this doesn’t work, then pick them up and go about your day. We are simply trying to present them with the opportunity to go to sleep, they may not wish to take this opportunity.

Once calm, asleep or almost asleep, you can withdraw and quietly leave the room.

It is different from controlled crying or controlled comforting, which permits the baby to cry for some time before responding. With responsive settling, you respond immediately by comforting in a way that doesn't development negative sleep associations.

What Are the Benefits of Sleep Training?

Sleep training is good for both parents and their babies. It allows you to have a more predictable time when your baby should be sleeping. This can help you have some more time to yourself or get tucked in for your own early night.

One of the best predictors of healthy sleep habits throughout life is going to bed at a consistent time. Establishing healthy sleep habits for everyone in the family can improve health, energy, and mood.

Sleep training also teaches the infant to soothe themselves. This is an important skill to learn early in life. Being able to relax in the absence of stimulus for sleep will help regulate your infant's sleep pattern now and later on.


Babies are learning how to do everything for the first time. Just like walking, learning how to sleep through the night or settle in may take them some time as well.

When you begin to learn the responsive settling technique, make sure you leave yourself enough time to give it a chance. It may be weeks before seeing solid results, but each night will bring you closer to more successful sleep practices. 

This may mean splitting up some shifts between both parents so that you can reasonably handle sleep training. This is a great idea, as your infant will learn to feel safe falling asleep with either of you or a caregiver, and you will each learn to be a good baby comforter.

Learn This Now, Sleep Better Sooner

You may feel overwhelmed trying to implement yet another new practice into your life with a newborn. But using the responsive settling technique now and staying steady with its practice over the next few weeks will get you all sleeping better sooner.

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