4 Gentle Alternatives to Sleep Training Your Baby Or Toddler

4 Gentle Alternatives to Sleep Training Your Baby Or Toddler

Does the idea of sleep training your baby leave you feeling uncomfortable, stressed or anxious?

And by sleep training, I mean leaving your baby to cry it out with no attention overnight, or by using controlled crying.

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
  • Massage
  • 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.

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#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.

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Yvette O'Dowd CONTRIBUTOR

Yvette O'Dowd has been a breastfeeding counsellor and educator since 1992. She has three adult children and a two year old granddaughter - the best sort of bonus baby! Yvette runs a popular natural parenting network, is a babywearing educator, and runs antenatal breastfeeding classes for parents expecting twins and more! She is a keen photographer and scrap-booker and a keeper of a fairy garden.


8 comments

  1. My baby and I have been co-sleeping and I need to move him into the crib now that he 11 months. I have so many people telling me I need to try cry it out methods. I can’t!! So I have been putting him in his crib and waking up every 30 to 120 min for the last 5 nights because that is how long the baby sleeps in his crib. HELP!!!! I am exhausted. Is this going to work? I rush to his side every peep he makes and nurse or snuggle before putting him back.

  2. I’ve been co-sleeping since my son was a few weeks old. He’s now 9 months old and I’m still breastfeeding and hope to continue till around his second birthday if possible.
    Currently he very seldom falls asleep without the breast, but in a month’s time he has to go to the nursery and I have to return to work, so he needs to be able to fall asleep without me.
    I am against letting him cry, but it seems that’s the only way to teach him to fall asleep without me. I’ve even been told that he should be sleeping for 10 to 12 hours through the night by now and that I should just stop offering the breast at night.
    Any and all help would be greatly appreciated!!!!
    Thank you

    1. Hi, did you ever figure an alternative to CIO? I see this reply is a little older and I’m currently goin through this. Any advice ? Thanks !

  3. I won’t cosleep with my kids bc I am just not comfortable, so right now I nurse my daughter to sleep. Once she is asleep, she will rest in her crib till hungry again. She does really well most nights, it’s just actually getting her to sleep I struggle with.

  4. I am currently trying pick up put down method from the baby whisperer. My baby is 6 months and was realiant on falling asleep on me or the boob. This is more gentle that cio or cc as you don’t leave the baby. It was tough the first few times but we aregradually getting longer stretches of sleep at a time. 2 or 3 hours compared to waking every hour and not settling. And baby has even put himself to sleep in his bed himself with me just there to reassure!
    It’s a method worth reading about.
    We are still feeding through the night and I’ve not worked out if he’s walking out of habit or hungry so I’m still feeding 3+ times. Not sure how to reduce this or if I should.
    I’m going to have a look at the books listed! See what they say 🙂

  5. For mothers who are worried re starting nursery/creche. I can never get my son now 4 months to sleep anywhere else but on me longer than 40mins. In creche within a couple weeks he was sleeping 2-5 hours in a cot, on his own! So dont worry, babies will adjust themselves.

  6. I think Susan Ubran’s book is worth adding to the list. It’s very fast and gentle. No guilt for the parent and (almost) no tears for the baby. She’s the best!

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