Does the idea of sleep training your baby leave you feeling uncomfortable, stressed or anxious?
Looking for gentle methods to get more sleep (for you and your baby!), but nothing seems to work?
You’re definitely not alone.
In fact, research has shown that as many as 71% of parents would not choose or continue to use what are known as extinction methods of sleep training, due to the excessive stress they cause both parents and children.
So what other options do you have when your baby or toddler’s night-waking is taking a toll on your sleep, your body and your relationship?
Luckily, there are things you can do to help everyone get a better night’s sleep.
Gentle Alternatives To Sleep Training Your Baby Or Toddler
The evidence is very clear: no form of sleep training should be used in the first six months of your baby’s life.
Between six and 12 months, any modifications to your baby’s natural sleep pattern should only be undertaken if she is feeding and growing well, and has no underlying health issues.
Beyond your baby’s first birthday, gentle sleep training methods can help your child adjust to sleeping, with less parental support – if you choose to.
#1: Create a Night Time Environment
You can help your child wind down and prepare for sleep by creating a restful environment and routine that gently leads him to relax and become sleepy.
For some families, this might mean sacrificing some existing evening activities in the short or long-term.
It’s hard to accept going to bed if your parents or older siblings are enjoying television, computer games or dessert!
Things you can do include:
- Low lighting
- Warm bath
- Gentle music
- Quiet story-time
- A breastfeed, bottle or cup of warm milk (try to replace bottles with a cup after 12 months, to reduce dependence)
- Snuggles in bed or on the couch
You can use the end of dinner to signal the start of this wind down time.
For older children having trouble sleeping, a new book Sleepy Magic by Danielle Wright helps you create a night time ritual for calm, connected and conscious children.
Aimed at 3-7 year olds, the book uses mediation, affirmations, imagination and breathing techniques.
If your baby or toddler’s sleep issues are compounded by those of older siblings, this approach might help the whole family create a calmer bed time atmosphere.
The flip-side is to create a day-time environment to start the day, to support your baby’s developing circadian rhythm.
You can learn more about that in our article about why your newborn has night and day mixed up.
#2: No-Tears Methods – The Good Books
As most parents well know, there are many books selling the promise of a sleeping baby.
Most rely of variations of extinction methods, such as cry it out and controlled crying.
If these don’t fit your style of parenting, you might be left wondering if there are any books offering a gentle approach.
Luckily there are a growing number of writers offering alternatives.
In addition to BellyBelly’s best baby sleep books, here are some of my favourite titles:
- Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s Gentle Sleep Book which claims to be “a guide for calm babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers” is just that. The Gentle Sleep Book looks at the problems with modern sleep training and offers gentle alternatives.
- Dr Pamela Douglas’ The Discontented Little Baby Book explores the reasons babies cry and how you can help them sleep. Douglas is Founder of Possums for Mothers and Babies. She’s been practicing as a General Practioner with a special interest in women’s health since 1987.
- Sweet Sleep from Le Leche League International offers night time and nap-time strategies for the breastfeeding family. Written by renowned breastfeeding specialists including Dianne Wiessinger, Diana West and Linda J Smith, the book has a focus on supporting mothers to meet their breastfeeding goals while working through sleep challenges.
- Boobin’ All Day, Boobin’ All Night – A Gentle Approach To Sleep For Breastfeeding Families by Australia’s-own “The Milk Meg” — Meg Nagle IBCLC. This easy-to-read book based on Meg’s popular blog offers gentle suggestions to help you choose the most suitable approach for your baby- and your family.
#3: Make the Most of Your Own Sleep
Many adults have poor sleep habits, which make handling interrupted sleep even harder.
In a desperate quest for adult time, to catch up on work, or to complete domestic tasks, are you:
- Going to bed too late in the evening?
- Staying awake once your little ones are in bed?
- Extending screen time on mobile devices and bedroom TVs?
Or perhaps you’ve been indulging in excessive caffeine consumption.
Other problems include:
- Eating dinner too late
- Mattresses and pillows which need replacing
- Sleeping in
- Hitting the snooze button frequently
- Napping too much on weekends.
Poor sleep hygiene is a common cause of insomnia and poor sleep.
You might not be able to make big changes to your baby or toddler’s sleep patterns. But you can take action to improve your own.
Read our article 6 Things To Do When You Need More Sleep for more ideas.
#4: Surrender and Accept
Sometimes, you just need to surrender and accept.
For some families, coming to terms with interrupted sleep during the early years of parenting means accepting there’s little that can be done to make big changes.
These families embrace their baby’s natural sleep patterns as part of their family life.
Babies go to bed when their parents do, sleeping in or alongside their parent’s bed.
Mama continues with night feeds, until their child stops needing them, developmentally.
This can be part of an attachment parenting approach right from the start.
Or just an acceptance that nothing they’ve tried has worked, so they surrender to this temporary life stage.
Interrupted sleep is one of the hardest parts of being a parent.
Coming to terms with the reality of it can be made easier by learning about how sleep patterns develop and change in the early years.
We live in a world which promotes self-proclaimed “baby whisperers” and celebrities as experts.
Those who are truly the experts in biologically normal and healthy infant sleep are often overlooked.
Learn more about them in our article 6 Awesome Baby Sleep Experts Worth Following.