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July 14, 2016

Baby Sleep Consultant Emma Purdue shares her five key principles to successful gentle sleep training.

Sleep training often gets a bad rap, as some people believe it involves letting your baby ‘cry it out’ in any context and this simply isn’t true, particularly when it comes to gentle or no-cry sleep training. Sometimes there can also be misunderstanding around the definition of ‘no cry’. A child’s cries are simply a form of communication, and gentle/no cry sleep training simply means you respond differently to that communication than you would other types of sleep training, such as controlled crying.

1 - Respect

You need to have respect for your baby’s physiological need for sleep; overtiredness will make this process more difficult. There needs to be respect between the parents, and both parents need to be on board with the gentle sleep training and be supportive of this decision to sleep train. There also needs to be respect for your baby’s need for space and desire to explore their sleep space.

2 - Communication

Think about what you are communicating to your child. “I know you are tired and upset. I love you and respect your need for sleep. I am here for you and I will be patient and calm while you learn to go to sleep.” How will you communicate this message? Verbally with shushing or quiet singing, and non-verbally with consistent behaviour and responses such as cuddles and nursing, and by remaining calm, consistent and patient.

3 - Consistency

This is the most important part of sleep training. Without consistency we confuse our children and extend the time it takes to sleep train from 2-3 weeks to 5-6 weeks. The most consistent approach is actually the gentlest of all.

4 - Patience

Gentle sleep training or no cry sleep training really does take a good two weeks plus. You need to be committed to the process and have the energy and resources available to see this through successfully.

5 - Calmness

Imagine the emotional turmoil your child is going through as you move them to their own room and teach them to self-settle. You need to ensure that you provide security through calmness throughout this process. Be the anchor or the rock in this time, don’t be part of the turmoil.

Techniques for gentle sleep training

  • Moving from bed sharing to independent sleep

Moving from bed sharing to independent sleep is a common situation where we would recommend a gentler approach. I would suggest you sleep in your baby’s new room with them for a few nights, and then when they get upset use nursing or a cuddle, or your voice to calm them, but not make them drowsy or sleepy. Gradually reducing how much you physically intervene, and relying more on your voice over a period of 1-3 weeks, makes this process very gentle. This is often a really beautiful process where the mother is singing and offering support but then moving away, and learning what her baby needs, and what her baby is capable of. 

  • Moving from feeding-to-sleep to independent sleep

This would be a similar approach as above. I do believe, however, that because your baby does not know any other way to self-soothe other than feeding, that you do need to offer him a feed during the settling process if he is becoming distressed. Simply nurse him until calm, and then back to bed after a cuddle – not drowsy just calm. Remember your patience for this one. 

  • Moving from rocking- or holding-to- sleep to independent sleep

Your response can be less than nursing in this situation: try a boring cuddle with a back pat and shushing and singing until calm. Try to avoid walking and bouncing and rocking. Once you have calmed your baby, remember your consistent message: back in the bed to go to sleep. Always try first to calm your baby in the bed with your touch and voice before picking her up, as this allows her time to try to figure out how to go to sleep without the rock or hold she is used to.  

Does it work?

It does! We help thousands of mums each year and a lot of our clients simply don’t think a CIO (cry it out) approach fits with their parenting philosophy so we teach them these gentle techniques. Sleep is such an important physiological part of children’s health. I think it’s important for parents to know they don’t have to wait a problem out for two to three years. I love hearing from determined parents who have successfully finished with gentle sleep training. The accomplishment is huge, and the effort required by the parents is admirable. I take my hat off to them!

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