Do you want to sleep train your baby but you want to avoid leaving your baby to cry it out?
There is a way to encourage your baby to sleep in their own bed, and fall asleep themselves, without leaving them to cry. It may take a little longer than other sleep training methods, but if you want to avoid tears at bedtime as much as possible, this is the way to go for you.
First of all, I want to say that every parent and every baby is different. This means that there’s no one-size-fits-all method, and it’s impossible to say exactly how long it may take for your baby to pick up their new sleep skills!
For the record, I used a combination of gentle sleep training and cry it out with my girls. I suppose gentle sleep training can be defined in a lot of different ways, but most people would assume it means no tears.
I accepted a few tears, and went with an approach similar to baby expert Ferber, where I would comfort and then retreat from the room for longer periods of time as the evening went on.
If you want to read more about different types of sleep training, you can check out this post about the different methods out there.
However for the purposes of this post I’m going to assume you want a truly gentle approach to baby sleep training.
As a mama of two who has read a LOT on the subject, and used some gentle sleep training on both of my girls, these are the top tips you need for adopting a gentle sleep training method.
Before I go any further, I want to just add that sleep training before six months isn’t a good idea. Your baby grows rapidly in that time, still has a small tummy and may need cluster feeds in the evenings. There’s a huge amount of development in the first six months, so just hang in there before you start to try this method.
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If your baby is younger than six months, check out these posts for a bit of help with sleep:
Ways to improve baby’s sleep, and your own
Bedtime routine tips
25 tricks to get baby to sleep
What is gentle sleep training?
You might be here because you’ve already tried a cry it out method of sleep training and it just didn’t work out for you. Or you may not want to use cry it out at all. Whatever the reason, know that it is possible to get your baby to fall asleep on their own bed, without needing you to rock or feed them.
You’ll need a lot of patience when it comes to sleep training. Some babies may take to it within a fortnight, while others may resist for more than a month.
If you need to slightly change the method to suit you, then do it. The key is to remain consistent.
I completely understand that anything to do with sleep can be so stressful. Try to take a deep breath, and remember that one bad day is not the end of the world.
It’s also worth saying that although gentle sleep training involves fewer tears, there will be some crying, because you are trying to remove sleep associations (such as your boob) from your baby. The difference between gentle sleep training and cry it out is, you will be there with your baby the entire time.
Set the scene
First things first, get the setting and the lighting right for sleep.
Follow this checklist to get your baby’s room ready for bedtime:
Turn the lights down low
You may want to consider investing in some blackout blinds during the summer if your curtains are particularly sheer. A nightlight that allows you to see but keeps the light in the room low is a great investment too. You want your baby to take cues from their environment that it’s time to go to sleep.
Dial down the noise
Turn down loud noises such as televisions and lively music. Keep your own voice soft and calm. You can get noise and lullaby machines that make soothing noises. These can help become part of your bedtime routine (see below) and signal to your baby that they should be gearing up to go to sleep.
Use your scent
If your baby is particularly clingy, you can try putting a top you have been wearing underneath them to go to sleep. Alternatively try a muslin, which you could stuff down your top for a few hours before bedtime (motherhood is all about glamour, right?).
Follow bedding guidelines
Brands like the Gro Company offer all sorts of options for bedding along with advice on how many layers to dress them in depending on temperature. This takes the stress out of guessing how to keep your baby warm or cool depending on the season.
Establish a good bedtime routine
This has been the most important thing I have done when it comes to getting my girls to fall asleep on their own at the same time every night.
Of course there are some nights where it doesn’t work and they are up and down a bit, that’s just kids! However nine nights out of 10, they are in bed, quiet, at 7pm.
I have a whole post about the ideal bedtime routine for your to read, however the basics are:
Follow the above guidance on setting the scene in the baby’s room.
- Have a song or phrase you repeat at every bedtime. This could be Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or “it’s sleepy time now”. Repetition of things like this helps them to understand what is happening.
- Have bedtime at the same time every night. It’s also important to make sure your child is having an age-appropriate bedtime. For my two girls, who are four and two, they still go upstairs for bedtime at 6.30pm every night. They are up by 7am the next morning, which works well for us as we need to get them to nursery two mornings a week.
- Give them a massage after bathtime. This can really help their muscles to relax.
- Read a story. Pick something that’s calming and not full of action and load noises.
Swap sleep associations
If your baby likes to be nursed or fed to sleep, try to switch this sleep prop for gentle rocking instead. The idea behind this is it will be easier to then swap this less-well established sleep association than it will to go from being fed to sleep, to nodding off in bed on their own.
To do this, try feeding your baby for two or three minutes less. If they are just about to nod off in your arms, stop feeding them and rock them off to sleep in the final few moments. Build this up until there is a gap between your baby having their last feed, and them falling asleep in your arms. Work towards giving your baby their feed straight after their bathtime, then reading a book, then rocking them to sleep.
Once you’ve established this, then you can work towards helping your baby to nod off in their own bed.
You could skip this step if you want, and go straight to the next one. Your baby could be more resistant, it really depends on the child.
Getting your baby to fall asleep on their own
Now that you’ve set the scene and are ready to help your baby fall asleep on their own, follow these steps:
1. If you are feeding your baby to sleep, take away the nipple or bottle just as they are about to fall asleep and then put them down in the cot. If you have been rocking your baby to sleep, put them down when they are drowsy, but awake.
2. If they cry (they probably will), say “shhh” and pat/rub their belly until they settle down. If they do not, pick them up and comfort them.
3. When they are settling down for sleep again, put them back into their bed.
4. Repeat this until your baby is asleep in their bed. This may take many, many attempts and this method can take several weeks to work.
The author Elizabeth Pantley, creator of the “no cry sleep method” recommends giving the baby the nipple/bottle again every time the baby cries for you. This is a judgement call for you. Some say that this just continues the association with feeding to sleep. Others say this is giving the baby what they need, and a more “gentle” way of helping them to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Gentle-ish sleep training
I have to mention my own method of sleep training, which is a bit of a mish mash of several different things I tried.
I hope that by telling you this, you’ll see that everyone finds a different method that works for them, so it’s a bit of trial and error to find the sleep training method you are comfortable with and that your baby responds to.
So, The Mummy Bubble tried and tested method of sleep training (which got my little sleep fighter sleeping through within three days)
1. Follow bedtime routine, finish with a book and then clean teeth after baby has finished feed.
2. Give baby a cuddle and a kiss, say “night night” and put them down in their cot. Leave the room.
3. When baby cries, go back into the room and pick up very briefly to comfort them. Wait until they stop crying. Put them back down in the cot and leave the room immediately.
4. Next time you have to go back into the room leave it an additional minute before going in to comfort the baby.
5. Continue increasing the amount of time until you are waiting five minutes. Repeat until baby is asleep.
As with all sleep training methods, you may be at this for hours the first few nights. Persevere and it will get easier.
Of course this method does mean baby will cry a little more, but I think it’s down to personal preference and what you can cope with. In my opinion, if baby is fed and been well looked after during the day, a little crying to help them get off to a healthy night of sleep is not the worst thing in the world.
I understand it is distressing to hear your baby cry, but you may be surprised how quickly sleep training can have an impact.
Once you’ve managed to get your baby to nod off at the start of the night, then your next goal may be getting them to sleep longer at night.
If you have shown your baby how to fall asleep on their own at the start of the night, then hopefully they will be self-soothing when they wake up.
A baby aged six months is likely still waking for at least one milk feed a night. My youngest was still waking three or four times at this age!
The key to night weaning is to offer something less exciting than milk. What I mean by that is, that milk not only tastes good but the method of delivery is soothing and relaxing, making it a fun and sleepy activity for your baby.
So for me the key thing that worked was offering water in a sippy cup instead. I only began doing this after weaning had been well established.
You don’t want to try this with a younger baby, who is likely to be still requiring the calories at night.
By offering water from around seven to eight months, you will hopefully get your baby to realise there’s no yummy meal to be had at night.
Gradually they will fuss less for milk at night. It may take a week, but if your baby is truly getting enough food in the day, they will stop waking for milk at night if you stop offering it.
All babies should be capable of going through the night without night feeds from age one.
Another key thing to try and do in the night is not to rush to your baby’s side when they start crying. It may feel like forever, but leave it for at least three minutes and see if your baby settles themselves.
The best no-tears baby sleep training books
These are some books that could give your further information about gentle sleep training:
Accept gentle sleep training may take a little longer
The key to any kind of sleep training is patience, however gentle sleep training is likely to take several weeks.
Stick with it. Teaching my baby to fall asleep on their own really was the key to regaining my sanity! It meant I got more me time back, and in the middle of the night when my babies wake up, they are able to put themselves back to sleep because they know how to do it themselves.
If you have any questions at all about this post, please do get in touch!
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