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After I had a terrible time trying to sleep train my first daughter using a range of cry-it-out methods that never seemed to stick and left all of us feeling horrible, I was DETERMINED to find a tear-free sleep training solution for my second baby.
If you are a CIO (cry-it-out) advocate, no judgement here, I just knew I was not going to put another baby (or myself through that again).
To my amazement, my new method worked like a charm and my second baby, who had been co-sleeping and waking 4+ times a night since the 4-month sleep regression was going to sleep in her own crib with no tears in less than ten days!
It may sound too good to be true and I do think that a child’s personality plays a factor in how hard or difficult it is to sleep train. Some babies have more ..ummm.. determination than others.
However, this gentle sleep training method worked like an absolute charm and if I ever have a third baby, I will be sure to try this first.
The other thing I like about it is that it doesn’t require you (or your baby) to be ready to sleep through the night without eating which is something many babies don’t do until they are 12-18 months old.
Instead, this tear-free sleep training routine just helps baby gain confidence in sleeping in his or her own crib and learning how to self soothe without crying and becoming distressed.
I will also note that this probably works best for babies who have been sleeping in your room or co-sleeping and rely on some level of comforting by mom or dad to get back to sleep. If your baby is already an independent sleeper, they may not require this level of tear-free sleep training program.
Important Note: Most pediatricians do not recommend any type of sleep training program until baby is 6-months of age due to the nutritional and sleep needs of infants. I agree wholeheartedly with this advice.
How Do I Get My Baby to Sleep Without Crying?
It is very possible to get your baby to sleep well without crying it out as long as you are willing to put the time and energy into the process and be consistent.
Here’s how it works!
Create a Good Bedtime Routine
I know, I know. You have heard this before. I used to get very frustrated when I would read a an article about how to get my baby to sleep and it would read something like tell a story give a bath and then BOOM MAGIC.
SLEEP ALL NIGHT.
I am going to be really honest with you guys, that is NOT THE CASE! A good bedtime routine will not get your baby to sleep all night. However, it will definitely help.
Humans are creatures of habit and that applies to babies and toddlers as well. Bedtime routines send important signals to their brains that they should be getting ready for sleep.
The perfect bedtime routine can be a quick 10-20 minutes. There is no one-size fits all routine and each family should do what works best for them, but here’s sample routine we use.
Sample Bedtime Routine for Baby
30 to 40 -minutes before bedtime
After dinner and about 30-minutes before bedtime both my kids take a bath. They have always taken a bath in the evenings since they were newborns, so they understand that a bath is part of winding down the day. We use calming organic bath products and lotion after the bath.
Did you know that Lavender has been shown to calm anxiety and improve sleep?
Nurse or Bottle
25- minutes before bed
If you are in the habit of nursing to sleep, NO JUDGEMENT!
I did this for many months. I actually didn’t mind it at all and the only reason I stopped was because I learned that my babies were using nursing as a sleep prop.
When they reached the 4-month sleep regression and were up every hour wanting to nurse I realized I had a problem with the association between nursing and sleeping.
Breaking this association is key to baby sleep, so by not nursing or feeding baby directly to sleep you are starting to break this association. Hence why the last feed should be at least 20 minutes before bedtime and before other activities.
I will tell you right now, babies who are used to being fed to sleep might be a little bit grumpy about this change, but most babies love books and being held, so the following steps in the routine should help them get back on track.
15-minutes before bed
The American Dental Association society recommends brushing baby’s teeth once the first tooth erupts. I love this little Banana Brush teether.
It helps babies start getting used to the concept of brushing teeth.
For baby and toddlers, this little Colgate toothbrush/toothpaste set is great.
10-minutes before bed
Reading a book or two is an amazing way to bond with your baby. I’ve been reading my kids books before bed since they were a few days old.
Toddler books are super short and it takes just a few minutes to read a book or two. It’s amazing how much they absorb just from hearing the words and looking at the pictures.
One of my absolute favorite books to read to babies and toddlers is called On The Day You Were Born – it’s a sweet story about love and the illustrations are beautiful!
If you need some good ideas on books for babies and toddlers, check here.
5- minutes before bed
Last minute diaper check before bed. Unless your baby gets really upset and fired up about diaper changes, changing one last time before bed will keep them sleeping longer and prevent leakage at night.
1-minute before bed
If your baby uses a sleep sack or swaddle, now is the time to bundle them up. If you aren’t sure where to start with swaddles, you can check out this post on how to choose the best swaddle based your baby’s sleep personality.
Sing a Song
Right before bed
When walking from wherever you complete the routine to the crib/bassinet you can sing a little song which is the last cue signaling your baby that it’s time to sleep.
Even if your voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard like mine does, your baby will still always be comforted by the sound of your voice!
Right before bed
Pacifier use is a hotly debated topic amongst parents who are trying to sleep train. Some experts and parents believe that you must absolutely remove all “sleep props” including pacifier to get a baby to sleep well.
In my experience, babies can learn to sleep well while still using pacifiers if they have the ability to put them back in their mouths when they lose them – this is typically possible for most babies at around 5-6 months of age.
I had success with gentle sleep training a pacifier loving baby using two easy trick:
#1 – Invest in glow-in-the-dark pacifiers.
#2 – Scatter multiple pacifiers around the crib so if they lose one or if it drops to the ground through the crib slats they can find another one. Try to strategically position the pacis in the crib before bed each night so they are easily accessible to baby.
Place your baby in their crib/bassinet.
HAAAAAAA, NO. JK, JK. I can’t tell you how many blogs, “baby sleep courses” and books I read by “baby sleep experts” that were thousands of pages to basically just tell me to walk out of the room and baby will cry and then go to sleep.
To be honest, I am not sure how this is legitimate sleep advice or how these people are making so much money on these courses.
The fact of the matter is that babies do need to learn to sleep independently without sleep props. This improves the quality of sleep they get and helps their brains grow. BUT, you do not have to let your baby cry his/herself to sleep.
You don’t have to stop feeding your 5-month old baby in the middle of the night and you do not need to take away pacifiers for your baby to learn to sleep independently.
If you are still co-sleeping or night feeding or using a pacifier, is teaching your baby to sleep independently it going to be as quick as it would otherwise? Being honest, probably not, but if you are not interested in harsh cry it out methods, you can have success using other techniques if you are patient and consistent.
The method that I used for my second baby was a variation of a method called the sleep lady shuffle.
Here’s how it works.
How to Get your Baby to Sleep Without Tears
The first three nights of this new routine you walk through your bedtime routine (as above). You put a chair next to the crib. When you put baby to sleep you stay in the room until baby goes to sleep.
You can pat or put your hand on the baby – in my case, my baby always wanted to hold hands. You do that exact same thing for the first three nights and whenever baby wakes up in the night after feeding (if you are still feeding at night).
You keep your chair next to the crib but try hard to limit the touch. If baby starts to get upset you can comfort him/her, but get your hand out of the crib as quickly as possible to help baby get used to falling asleep.
You can use reassuring words and phrases like “Night, night” “Mommy is here, go to sleep”, etc.
You still have the chair in the room, but now you move it to the middle of the room. You sit in your chair and use reassuring words or phrases if your baby gets upset.
You put your chair as close to the door as possible while still in the room, but try hard not to get close to the crib so baby can fall asleep.
You put your chair right outside the room so baby can hear you, but not see you. If baby starts getting upset, you can reassure him/her from outside the room.
At the end of two weeks, most babies have learned how to fall asleep independently. More importantly, they learned how to do so while their mother or father was there reassuring them.
They were not scared or left alone to cry in the dark. In my opinion, this type of gentle sleep coaching actually gives baby a lot more confidence than other, more harsh methods.
They learned a new skill with the support of their parents. In my experience, my second baby is a much more peaceful and calm sleeper than my first ever was and I believe it’s because we used gentle, trust-based sleeping training with her.
If you would like more details on this type of gentle sleep coaching, I recommend checking out Kim West’s book, The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight. However, I will say that as a parent you need to trust your instincts to some degree. If you think your baby would respond better to a different variation of this routine, you should trust your gut.
Many sleep training routines call for parents to adhere to routines even when baby is sick or going through a mental leap or adjusting to new circumstances, etc. My view is that babies are still human beings and they need to be comforted differently at times.
Travel is another thing that can throw off good sleep schedules. If you are planning to travel with baby, check out this post on how to get your baby to sleep while traveling.
It’s extremely important for new moms to get enough sleep, so you should always ask for help and support from a spouse or family member if you are feeling depleted.
This routine should help you get baby on track and gain independent sleep habits so you can also get back on track with your own sleep!