Sleep Training And Self-Soothing Tips From A Baby Sleep Consultant

Become an expert in no time with expert techniques.

placenta for post-partum depression, baby in crib
Image: Bianca May Cheah
Chantal Murphy is a qualified baby and child sleep consultant based in Australia. Her business Baby Sleep Magic offers flexible routines — not ridged schedules! Children thrive on routine and consistency so by following an age-appropriate routine it makes them feel secure knowing what comes next.

This parenting gig, whilst rewarding, can be tough at times, so it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Just remember you’re not alone and to always follow these tips.

Follow a Feed – Play – Sleep Routine:

  • Feed: By keeping your little one’s milk feeds at the beginning of their awake window will reduce the likelihood of him/her becoming drowsy whilst feeding, in return this results in your baby feeding better, being content for longer and sleeping sounder. When feeding, ensure your baby is completely awake and engaging with you and the whole time.
  • Play: During awake time encourage lots of “Active playtime” right up until your baby is due to go down for their next sleep. Just like adults, babies get bored too, so keep each activity to a maximum of 15 minutes. After this time your little one will show signs of being board which is often confused with hunger or tired. They are just trying to tell you they want to do something else. Be mindful that babies at this age get tired easily, so watch for those “Sleep cues” to avoid your little one becoming overtired.
  • Sleep: Ensure the focus remains on winding down and not over stimulating before a nap. Now your little one is 3months, ideally, he should go into their own sleep environment wide awake when sleep is due.

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Sleep Training Methods I Always Recommend

1. The Drowsy But Awake Method

For babies, under 6 months it’s not about sleep training, but implementing healthy sleeping habits! There is no one size fits all, however before selecting a sleep training method, it is important to consider what you are prepared to follow through with along with the child’s temperament.
It’s very common for your baby at this age to struggle with napping in their own environment. Practice makes perfect. Even if you do one nap a day in their cot whilst the other 1 in some cases 2 naps are done on the go or on you — that’s better than none. With each and every day you do this they will get more practice.
Self-soothing is when your baby can calm down, relax and go to sleep again in his bed. Babies who can self-soothe sleep for longer periods and have longer total sleep times at night. If your baby associates falling asleep with rocking or feeding, he might want rocking or feeding if she wakes in the night. Of course, it’s completely fine to rock or feed your baby to sleep in the night if this suits your baby and you.
1) Ensure your baby is FULL, or not long ago had a feed before you try for a nap
2) Ensure the white noise on
3) Ensure you darken the room environment where your baby will be sleeping. Be sure to close the door behind you – babies are not afraid of the dark or the room they are in.
4) Complete your bedtime routine. Spend 15-20 minutes winding your baby down in the room they will be going to sleep along with offering them their last feed; change nappy, read a book, sing a song, quick cuddle, then place your baby in their sleep attire. This process would be replicated for nap time, however, the wind-down time can be less. 5-7 minutes is fine
5) Choose a self-soothing option that you are comfortable with and that will suit your baby.

How Long Should You Try To Sleep Train Each Time?

I suggest trying the chosen settling technique for 8-10 minutes (or as long as you are comfortable with). If your baby is still upset after this time I recommend you get your baby up, offer a cuddle, calm him down and once calm, try again. If after 20 minutes your baby is still resisting sleep, I recommend you comfort your baby to sleep any way you feel is necessary. (Rock, bounce or feed are just to name a few). If this happens, don’t panic, practice makes perfect. You can always try again at the next nap.

When you are implementing some settling techniques and your baby continues to cry and seems unsettled, you need to eliminate the following:

  • Hunger
  • Temperature. Too hot or cold and check nappy
  • They need a burp and are uncomfortable
  • Sick or congested
  • Teething

2. The Gradual Method

This method is suitable for Newborn – 12 months of age and is recommended for parents that are either rocking or feeding their child to sleep and would like to transition them into independent sleep with more of a gradual and gentle approach.
Process: With the gradual method, continue with whatever method you were using to help your baby fall asleep (such as rocking, feeding or nursing), but decrease the amount of time you spend doing it until, in theory, you don’t have to do it at all. This is a great technique for minimizing crying, but unfortunately, many parents find it difficult to sustain as it can be a lengthy process to commit to.

Example of The Gradual Method:

Week 1: Reduce the amount of time you are rocking or feeding, before then replacing the rocking or feed with a motionless cuddle until asleep.
During Week 2: Rock, feed or nurse until your baby is 90% drowsy, then allow them to do the last 10% in their own sleeping environment with your assistance
When You Hit Week 3: Rock, feed or nurse until your baby is 80% drowsy, then allow them to do the last 20% in their own sleeping environment with your assistance
Finishing Off Week 4: Rock, feed or nurse until your baby is 50% drowsy, then allow them to do the last 50% in their own sleeping environment with your assistance. And so on…

Step 1: Reduce the amount of time you are rocking or feeding your baby over a 3-5 day period, before then replacing the rocking or feed with a motionless cuddle until asleep.
Step 2: Once your baby has settled into the changes continue to hold/cuddle your baby until drowsy, then begin to place your baby into the cot before they completely fall asleep. If and when required you can offer hands-on settling to assist them falling asleep.
Step 3: Once your baby has mastered this technique, it’s time to reduce your input and slowly remove yourself from the bedroom.

  • You can start by no touching for 3 days, however, you can still be present and can use your words and shushing for comfort whilst hovering over the cot.
  • After 3 days I recommend you move further away still continuing to shush.
  • After another 3 days move yourself to the door and only shush if and when required.
  • Day 10 — leave the room!
If your baby still requires overnight feeds. I recommend offering a dream-feeds, as this will eliminate your baby waking and getting rewarded with food. This will also assist if your baby was waking for a comfort feed or relied on yourself for the bottle or motion to get back to sleep. For more information, and tips on how to introduce a dream-feed, read this post on the “Dream-Feed“.

3. The Tucked In & Patting Method (Suitable For Babies Between 3-6 Months)

This is a great method for babies who are ready to have their arms out but still need to feel a sense of security. This also allows the parent to offer comfort without them being able to see you!

What you will need:

  • 4 muslin wraps
  • 1 top sheet
  • Comforters
Sleep training
Image from Baby Sleep Magic
The process:

  • When you put your baby into their cot always put them in awake.
  • Wrap from the torso down (or you can use a sleeping bag) and use a top sheet and tuck them in securely around the mattress. You will need to place a swaddle (x 3) around each side of the top sheet, between the mattress and the rails. The purpose of this is to create things nice and tight across your baby’s tummy. This gives them a sense of security, restriction, and tightness, something babies love… (see image)
  • Drape a muslin cloth over the side of the cot so your baby can’t see you. This is KEY.
  • When your baby starts crying put your arm through the bars and start patting the nappy. If they are kicking, try to hold their legs down and pat them a little firmer to avoid them getting worked up. Adjust your patting depending on your baby’s temperament.
  • When they are crying hard – pat firmly, however, when they are crying down and getting sleepy, soften your patting and eventually reduce it altogether.
  • From here it would reduce to just fingers, then remove your arm when your baby has settled and asleep. Use this same process for day naps.

If your baby wakes up early from a nap or during the night, the same settling techniques should be used to encourage them to go back to sleep. For babies under the age of 6 months being prompt when attempting to resettle is paramount. Re-settle when your baby wakes after 30-45minutes, get in there ASAP and start resettling. I recommend attempting resettling for up to 10-15 min with your chosen settling technique.

How to settle & lengthen naps

By following the “Tucked in patting method” you can follow the below steps.
1. Ensure your baby doesn’t see you
2. Crouch down beside the cot/bassinet
3. Put your arm through the bars (or over the bassinet) and start patting the nappy area. If they are kicking, try to put some pressure on their legs and pat them a little firmer to avoid them getting worked up. Adjust your patting depending on your baby’s temperament & cries.
4. If they cry hard – pat firmly, however, when they are crying down and getting sleepy, soften your patting and eventually reduce it altogether.
5. I recommend using this technique for 10-15mins to encourage them to go back to sleep.
6. If your baby does not go back to sleep, simply get them up and start their wake window. You can always try again later. At this age you will still have some great nap days and not so great nap days — practice makes perfect.

4. The Co-Sleeping To Own Bed/Room (Suitable For Newborns – 2.5 Years Old)

Week 1: The goal this week is to apply some hands-on settling while you are still co-sleeping. If you were previously feeding to sleep this is where you would only feed till drowsy then apply some hands-on settling and some quiet shushing to help your baby drift off to sleep. By the end of this week, you want to be placing your little one next to you without the need for much settling by yourself, to allow your child to begin learning how to settle independently. If your baby is still needing consistent assistance, stay within this week and process until your baby has progressed further.
Week 2: The goal this week is to get your little one to fall asleep independently in their own sleep space — right next to you!

  • Step 1: Set up the sleeping arrangements. Keep your baby at arm’s length. For newborns to 6 months consider using a Co-sleeper. Co sleepers allow you to have your little one by your side while you sleep. They are a convenient option to keep your baby close to you and make it easier for those late-night feeds and resettling in the early days. For babies older than 6 months, bring the cot over to your side. Instead of putting your child in his cot in his own room from the get-go or even if the cot is already in your room you may want to put his cot right against your side next to you.
  • Step 2: After your bath and bedtime routine has taken place, keep the lights on dim and offer your baby a feed…but it’s important at this stage not to let him fall asleep (hence the lights on). Once feeding has finished place your baby in the cot/Co-sleeper and use the same hands-on settling and shushing you used last week until your baby goes to sleep. By the end of this week, you want to be minimising the amount of settling you do to just a light touch or even just shushing. If your little one wakes during the night continue to use your settling technique until your baby goes back to sleep (unless it’s been 4 hours and is feed time)

Side note: It’s important to remain consistent during the early hours…It’s very easy to bring your little one in with you just to get those last couple of hours uninterrupted. BUT remember babies don’t know the time and if you do it once they will try every night/morning and the times will range and become earlier and earlier with each and every day. Then before you know it — you will be co-sleeping again.

Day Naps:

Once you have reached week 2. Continue this process for day naps too. If your baby wakes prematurely from a nap in some cases you can offer some settling.
PROMPT: For babies under the age of 6 months being prompt when attempting to resettle is Paramount. Re-settle when your baby wakes after 20-40minutes, get in there ASAP and start resettling. I recommend attempting resettling for up to 10-15min with your chosen settling technique.
STALL: For babies over the age of 6 months, your best chance to lengthen naps is to stall (for up to 10minutes). You need to give your child the best opportunity to go back to sleep and if he sees mum or dad your chance of getting them to go back to sleep is GONE. If after 10mins your baby is calm… then continue to leave them for as long as possible. You never know, they may wake, cry, winge, play and after 40mins if given the opportunity. Not seeing mum or dad may help them go back to sleep.

Week 3: Time To Step Away

Your little one should be familiar with the new sleeping arrangements and expectations by now. When you put your baby to bed you can move yourself further away from the cot/co-sleeper. Ideally out of sight and if need be, use your shushing to soothe.

Moving Forward:

When the time is right, you can move your little further one away from you and eventually into their own room. If you find moving them into their own room is daunting, you can opt for the “camping out method”. This is where you will sleep on a mattress in your child’s room for a period of 3-6 nights. You provide comfort and reassurance.
Persistence and consistency are key. Be sure to do the same for day and night sleeps. Babies are fast learners and more adaptable than we give them credit for; Once given the chance – they may just surprise you!

Can I Fast Track The Process?

Absolutely! If you feel your baby has picked up this process well, you can most definitely speed things up. However, be mindful you don’t want to rush things or go too quickly. Babies often respond well to change. But they can also regress quite quickly. If 1 week per process is too long, you might be best to try 3 days with each stage.

While you’re here, check out the three-month breastfeeding crisis that is affecting women worldwide

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