Gentle Sleep Training
Gentle sleep training is useful to teach independent sleep to children who are breastfed (or rocked) to sleep for all sleeps. Improvement is usually seen in the first few days and can be quite quick, however in some cases it can take up to three weeks for baby to learn to self-settle, depending on how quickly you back off your assistance and how consistent you can be with the process.
Before you begin
Offer your baby a relaxing wind down routine before bed so that baby is calm, happy and ready for sleep. Establish a bedtime routine with things like dimming the lights, popping baby in a sleeping bag, offering a feed and then having a cuddle or reading a story, so that your baby begins to anticipate that it’s time for bed. Have everything you need ready and on hand prior to bedtime. Place a cushion or chair on the floor beside the cot, have your phone ready and dimmed to use as a nightlight if you think you’ll need it overnight, and if you decide you might want to spend the first few nights sleeping in your baby’s room, you should have a mattress set up on the floor for yourself.
Stage 1: This stage will generally last for about three days
- After the wind down routine, lie your baby down in the cot whilst you say goodnight and reassure baby that mum is going to sit right by the cot whilst they go to sleep; then sit on the chair. You would sit on a cushion on the floor rather than a chair if your baby is standing up in the cot, as this will encourage your baby to lie down so your baby’s head is at your level. Sit silently and close your eyes and pretend to be asleep. If your baby begins to fuss or cry, count to ten or more to see if they will settle down without your help. Your baby may just grizzle a little as they try to get off to sleep. Don’t intervene at this point.
- If you feel your baby is not settling and is getting more and more worked up, try putting your hand into the cot and bouncing the mattress whilst you use your voice to quietly sing or ‘shush’ your baby. If after a minute or so you think your baby is not responding to this, you can also use your touch with patting and rubbing. If this doesn’t calm your baby, go ahead and pick baby up and give them a ‘boring’ cuddle for about one minute. If after a minute your baby still hasn’t calmed, you would put them back down anyway, as your baby may just need a little more space. If your baby is old enough to stand up in the cot, you would not pick them up. You would quickly lie your baby back down and resume sitting on the cushion, whilst you continue to soothe with your voice and touch. Continue this for one minute and try and stay calm because your baby will sense if you’re feeling anxious. It can be useful to count to one hundred in your head as this works out to be approximately one minute and it gives you a goal.
Soothe baby only ever until calm, not drowsy
- For breast feeding mums: assuming you’ve tried to soothe your baby this way with several pickups or put downs and you feel they are getting more and more ‘worked up’ and quite distressed or not calming down at all, then you can pick your baby up, sit on the chair and give baby some breast. Only give your baby enough until calm, and do not allow your baby to go to sleep on the breast. Important note: this feed is used as a last resort.
- Endeavour to increase the time between feeding to calm e.g. Day 1: 5-10-12-15 minutes, Day 2: 10-12-15 minutes and Day 3: feed to calm only every 15 minutes if needed.
NB: Do not proceed to stage two until you have reached the end of stage one, no matter how many days it takes.
Stage 2: Usually occurs around days 4, 5 and 6.
- Continue the steps above but with no more feeding, until your baby is fast asleep
- Leave longer time between pick ups/put downs, between two and five minutes or longer if possible
- You can either leave the room and go to your own room or sleep on the mattress in your baby’s room for a couple more nights or until you feel baby can settle without your presence
- Use this technique anytime your baby wakes overnight and is not due for a feed and for the main lunchtime nap
- If it gets too stressful for you or your baby at anytime during the process, cancel the settling and take baby out of the room with you for a break in order to ‘re-group’ and then try again
- Whatever happens, don’t regress and resort back to feeding or rocking to sleep!
Stage 3: Usually between days 7 to 10
- Before getting to this stage, your baby should be settling with no feeding at all. If your baby is not, then you’ll need to stay on stage one or two for longer and stay very consistent
- Only use pick ups/put downs to calm now every ten to fifteen minutes, with the pickups still being boring like before but for less time, before baby is put back down
- The more time your baby can stay in the cot and not in your arms, the faster your baby will learn to settle to sleep on their own
- Reduce the amount of touch you are giving and try and just use your voice and your proximity by the cot
- By the end of this stage, you should have also reduced the amount of voice you are using so that your shushing becomes intermittent rather than constant
- Be prepared during this stage or the next, for your baby’s cries to seem like they are worsening for a time, but rest assured your baby is not going backwards, it’s just a normal part of the process and should be short lived. If this does happen, the key is to stay consistent and ‘ride it out’.
Stage 4: Usually between days 11 and 14
- Only use your intermittent voice with proximity and no touch
- Your baby may take a long time to go to sleep so you’ll need to sit patiently by the cot modelling sleep
- Over these few days, try and make your voice more and more intermittent so that by day fourteen, you are sitting silently by the cot and your baby self settles!
Beyond stage 4 and day 14:
From this stage on, you will be trying to sit by the cot for less time to allow your baby to settle to sleep independently with less of your proximity, so leave the room if you feel you can. If you find your baby fusses as you leave the room, you can simply shush baby from the door way and then leave again. To leave the room gradually, you can move your cushion a little closer towards the door each day over the course of about a week so that by the end of the week, you are out the door and your baby can self settle without your presence. If you want to, you can always sit and wait until baby is fully asleep. Be aware that naps usually take a lot longer to fall into place, sometimes a week or two after night sleep consolidates, and you would continue with this same technique to work on the lunchtime nap if you wanted to after you’ve ‘nailed’ the nights.