A baby asleep with a rabbit soft toy after gentle sleep training

Gentle Sleep Training – The Stress Free Method

We all need sleep. There’s no doubt about it. And when you’re a Mum, sleep can quickly become a distant memory, as I’m sure you’ll all agree. Frequent night wake ups and early mornings can leave us feeling exhausted to say the least. If you’re one tired Mama and interested in gentle sleep training, then this is the post for you.

A cup of coffee next to a bed
Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

When you’re thinking about sleep training, a quick search on the internet can bring up lots of results on different methods of getting your baby to sleep through the night. But, for lots of people, they don’t always work.

Babies and children just don’t have the same sleep patterns as adults. And this can make it difficult to get them into a routine.

If, like me, you hate the idea of sleep training and you’re wondering if there’s another option, then you’ve come to the right place. In this post I will be sharing our story on how we managed to get a proper sleep routine established without using any of the popular techniques.

And yes, it really can work!

As this post is quite long, feel free to jump straight to any section that interests you. Just click on the links below:

What is gentle sleep training?

How do you do gentle sleep training?

My experience with gentle sleep training

Conclusion

Putting it all together

baby sleeping with teddy while gentle sleep training

So what is gentle sleep training?

Gentle sleep training is a stripped back approach to sleep training. It means slowing down, listening to your baby, and taking your cues for bedtime from them.

With gentle sleep training, there’s no forced bedtime, no tears, and no counting to 198726 before you can go back in the room.

This means that, in time, you start to recognise when your child is ready for bed and build a routine around that, making bedtime a happy and calm experience for everyone.

How do you do gentle sleep training?

First of all, forget the guides. When a website says that your child should be going to bed at 6 pm every day, it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

All children are different, and all children get tired at different times. If you try to make them go to bed too early, especially when they’re still wide awake, they’re just going to fight it.

Gentle sleep training works with the child’s natural wants and needs:

  • Take note of when your child starts getting sleepy in the evenings, and create your bedtime routine around that. Bedtime then starts to become something that they want to do, rather than have to do.
  • Have a favourite teddy and some favourite books on hand when you get them into bed. This makes bedtime a happy experience.
  • Stay with them until they fall asleep and, in time, gradually start to step back if you want to.
  • Don’t leave them to cry. Let them know that you’re there for cuddles if they need them.

My experience with gentle sleep training

I knew from quite early on that I didn’t really want to try any form of sleep training with Cupar. Everything I read on baby websites said that you should start trying to establish a sleep routine from when your baby is about 4 months old. To me, that just seemed way too early.

The cry it out method, the chair method, and the pick up and put down methods were mentioned a lot on these websites. But, to be honest, I hated the thought of trying any of them. They all seemed a bit cruel to me.

Using a moses basket

Up until Cupar was around 5 months old he’d sleep downstairs in his moses basket in the evenings. He didn’t really have a set time to fall asleep, and apart from the few times that we did try to set a bedtime, we’d just let him fall asleep when he was ready.

He suffered quite badly from colic in the early days, so it was easier to have him downstairs with us. We could then pick him up, comfort him or feed him straight away when he needed it.

During the night he’d sleep in his moses basket next to the bed. He’d always wake up at least a few times in the night for feeding, but because he was next to the bed, we didnt have to do too much to get him back to sleep.

Aeron would get him up, I’d feed him, and then Aeron would put him back in his moses basket again. When you’re breastfeeding, it can get really exhausting, so you need to make things easy for yourself.

Sleeping on the sofa

When Cupar grew out of the moses basket, we switched to having him on the sofa for a couple of hours in the evening. He was in a bit of routine by this point of feeding and falling asleep around 8/9 pm, and then waking up a couple of hours later for another feed.

This worked perfectly for us, because when he woke up for his next feed, we’d all go up to bed together. He’d then go back to sleep upstairs after I’d fed him.

Having a go at co sleeping

Cupar then got a sickness bug and came down with an awful cold. To help him feel better and to make things easier on us, we started co sleeping.

I’d never really thought about co sleeping before, and it wasn’t something that we planned to do for very long. But we kind of just carried on.

Even though Cupar was still waking up every hour or so, we found it was much easier to get him back to sleep when he was next to us. I’d either feed him or hold his hand and he’d fall back to sleep almost straight away.

Toddler asleep in parents bed while gentle sleep training

If you’re thinking about trying cosleeping, always make sure to read the guidelines and educate yourself on the best ways to do it.

Returning to work after maternity leave

I went back to work after my maternity leave when Cupar was nearly 10 months old. And this meant changing the routine a little bit.

By now, we were finding that he wasn’t settling as well on the sofa in the evenings. The TV would wake him up, or there’d be too many toys around to play with, and he just wouldn’t want to sleep. So I started going to bed a bit earlier and taking him up with me when he was getting tired.

I was in a bit of a dilema for a few months because I didn’t want to go to bed early every night, but I also didn’t want to leave Cupar upstairs on his own.

We were still co sleeping, and I obviously didn’t want to leave him on our bed while we were downstairs, because I was afraid he’d fall off. I was also worried he’d wake up and cry and we wouldn’t hear him. And I couldn’t have that.

Transitioning to a toddler bed

We didn’t want to buy a toddler bed just yet, because Cupar was still a bit too young. And I didn’t want to try him in the cot again because I knew he’d be able to climb out. So Aeron decided to make him a bed.

He used the mattress from the cot and made a small low down frame that’s just off the floor. We put the bed in the box room so that he was still close to us.

Bedtime story as part of gentle sleep training

We then tried a few times to put Cupar in his own bed. He didn’t like it though, so we went back to co cleeping. Every couple of weeks we’d try him in his own bed again and eventually he got used to it.

The last thing I wanted to do was to force him to sleep in there, so we didn’t push it. If he really didn’t want to be in there, he’d be straight back in the bed with us.

Making it fun

Cupar has a moutntain of toys in the living room, so we decided to take half of them out and put them in his bedroom. We’d then spend an hour or two each day taking Cupar up to his room and letting him play with his toys and explore his new space.

He came to see his bedroom as a fun place to be, and liked spending time in there. We also started taking him upstairs for his naps so that he got used to being up there when he was tired.

Developing his own routine

Now, at 17 months old, Cupar seems to have developed his own little routine.

He’ll usually ask to go to bed around 8.30 pm when he starts getting sleepy. I’ll take him upstairs, lay next to him on his bed and feed him, and he’ll be asleep within about 10 minutes. He’ll then sleep until around 2 am which means I’m free to go back downstairs and have some time to relax.

I then go up to bed around 10/11 pm. Cupar usually wakes up around 3 am and climbs into bed with us. We then co sleep for the rest of the night until we get up around 6 am when I get up.

Conclusion

It has been hard at times, but I’m glad that we’ve done things the way we have. Sleep and bedtime have never been a battle for us, and Cupar has never seen it as a bad thing.

He enjoys going upstairs and getting into bed and he seems to see it as a treat. When we brush his teeth he gets really excited and points upstairs.

I’d rather he sees bedtime as something exciting, than something that he’s being forced to do.

I think the thing that worked for us was by not making a big deal out of bedtime. By letting Cupar fall asleep naturally when he’s tired, rather than telling him when he should be going to sleep means that he’s figured out a routine that works for him, and which also works for us.

I realise that gentle sleep training may not be for everyone and it may not even work for everyone. But it’s always worth giving it a go.

Putting it all together

If you decide to give gentle sleep training a go, the most important thing to remember is to take it slow.

It’s not something that you want to rush because you want your child to get used to things in their own time.

You do need a lot of patience, but in the long run, it’s definitely worth it.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have happy bedtimes than ones that are filled with tears and stress.

Have you tried a gentle sleep training approach, or did other methods work for you? Please let me know in the comments as I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.

Share this post with other Mamas!

8 Replies to “Gentle Sleep Training – The Stress Free Method”

  1. I applaud you for being strong and NOT leaving your little one to cry. I think many methods of sleep training are cruel and teach mothers not to follow their hearts and instead deny the instinct of a parent to support their baby.

    I love how you found and alternative and came out on this side of it with a good routine that works all around.

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment 🙂 I also think many methods of sleep training are cruel, which is why I made the decision to not follow any. As I said, it has been hard at times, but it’s worked for us and we’re so much happier for it.

  2. I’m also not a fan of sleep training; our little girl (now 2) was always a terrible sleeper. So we, also, put her in a bed at 18 months and it really helped – think she just hated the cot. She’s now in a single bed with a bed guard and sleeps most nights (last night not included!) on her own until 5am when she comes into our bed for another hour.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s not a fan of sleep training 🙂 I was beginning to think I was alone! I think my little boy prefers the bed to the cot because he has more space and can move around more. It is amazing when they start sleeping better, isn’t it?

  3. It took my little one a while to sleep through the night. I think she was actually almost 2 before she did it. We tried several different sleep training methods, but they never helped her fully in terms of sleeping all night.

    It’s awesome that you let your little one lead the way in a sense!

    1. Ah, thank you for the comment 🙂 My little boy hasn’t slept all the way through yet, but he is getting a lot better. It seems like 4 am is his limit at the moment before he comes into bed with us, but I can live with that!

  4. We are kindred spirits in parenting. In fact, I could’ve written this post myself. Don’t like sleep training or forcing things, not even potty training or weening. Loved the honesty in your post.

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment. We’ve yet to try potty training, it’s next on our list. I’m thinking we’ll be the same way as the sleeping and just take our little boys lead. I’m actually looking forward to it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *