How to Sleep Train Your Baby Without Using Cry-it-Out

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Nothing is as universal in new parenthood as the exhaustion that a baby brings. Whether it’s your first or your third, the early months of a baby’s life are simply tiring. Beyond the work of caring for a new, totally helpless person, you’re also up numerous times in the night attending their needs (and neglecting yours) as you work to feed, change, and settle them. A big moment that most parents look forward to is the night that their baby finally sleeps all the way through. So, what happens when that moment doesn’t come when parents expect it to? Often, that’s when parents begin to sleep train their little ones. The goal of sleep training is to help a baby learn to fall asleep on their own and to settle themselves if they wake in the night – both things that most parents want. How to sleep train, though, can be a controversial topic.

The two broad categories of sleep training are the cry-it-out method and gentle method.

Using the cry-it-out method (which covers lots of more specific sleep-training plans) parents essentially make sure that their baby’s physical needs are met and then step away to let them figure out how to soothe themselves. Those who use the cry-it-out method often believe that self-soothing is a vital skill and that both they and their baby benefit from the full nights of sleep that result when it works. They also often say that it can be hard to hear their baby crying without responding. Parents who choose not to use the cry-it-out method often feel that it damages the parent-child bond and that babies need to know that their parent will respond to their needs in order to feel safe and happy.

Just as there are numerous variations of the cry-it-out method, there are several different ways that parents teach their babies to sleep using a gentle method. Some parents wait until their little one naturally falls into a pattern of unassisted sleep, some choose to co-sleep, and some take their time (it often takes longer than the cry-it-out method) to set up a routine that works for both themselves and baby. These parents say that their kids benefit from a trusting bond but that it can be a long process to get it right. If you’re interested in sleep training your baby, but don’t want to use the cry-it-out method, check out the tips below to get started with gentle sleep training. 

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1. Make sure your expectations are realistic

Newborn babies don’t sleep through the night. They just don’t. While it’s often hunger that wakes new babies (their tummies are so small they need to be filled every few hours) they may also wake frequently because they’re just not used to being in the world. Changes in light or sound, sensations of cold or a dirty diaper, or discomforts associated with gas or reflux can also cause your baby to wake up crying. Before you start trying to sleep train your baby, check in with your pediatrician about when it’s realistic to expect them to sleep for longer stretches and then add a month because, really, every baby is different.

2. Create a routine 


Once you know that your baby is old enough to potentially be sleeping more independently, you should start your sleep training journey by establishing a calming evening routine. Your baby’s bedtime routine doesn’t just involve the 15 minutes before you lay them down but should encompass the hour or two before you plan to lay them down as well. After supper, you should start winding down: save the wild games for earlier in the afternoon. Many parents find that some combination of a warm bath, a snuggle, a story, and a final bottle or nursing session is what prepares their little one for bedtime. The key to any routine is consistency, so once you decide how to help your little one wind down, stick to it.

3. Gently and slowly help them become more independent 

For some parents, this means rocking them for increasingly shorter increments before laying them down to sleep. For others it might mean sitting with your hand on baby's tummy for a few days, then just sitting next to the crib for a few, then standing in the doorway and then, finally, simply leaving after you lay your baby down. Whatever your baby's usual get-to-sleep routine is, simply dial it back slowly over a few weeks. The same goes for how you respond to night wakings.

No matter how you choose to soothe your baby in the night, do so with love, compassion, and an understanding that this too shall pass! 

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Did you decide to sleep train your baby?

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How to Sleep Train Your Baby Without Using Cry-it-Out

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at ... More

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  1. Brittany says:

    When my baby was a newborn, she actually DID sleep through the night. After 2 weeks, she was up to 6 hours and after a month, she was up to 10+ hours a night. It wasn’t until she turned 6 months that she wakes up an hour or two after me or my husband put her to bed at night. She’s 7 months now and we are working on sleep training. I’m hoping to find a method that works best for all of us!

  2. Olivia says:

    Sleep training made such a difference for me and my babies so I wanted to share my short story to help other parents. I’m a mom of two adorable girls. Alice is almost 4 years old now and Jane turned 14 months. They were both pretty bad sleepers. I needed to rock them to sleep, feed them at night a few times for a long time and they nap for 15-20 minutes.
    I was so tired after a few weeks with Alice that I decided to do something with it. I read a lot in the internet and there were a lot of people saying good things about “How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone” by Susan Urban and her HWL method ( ). I was sceptic about any sleep training method but it’s a method without CIO so I decided to give it a try. When my second daughter was born I started sleep train her when she turned 4 months.
    In both cases it took me a few days to make my girls to fall asleep on their own, they stopped waking up so many times to eat at night and they started to nap longer. So the HWL method seems to work on anything related to sleeping.
    I tried it so I can really recommend it. I’m just glad I found this guide!

    • Renee says:

      I’m one lucky mom to see this post! 4 days ago I got Urban’s guide and I’m loving it! A few days ago my daughter turned 9 months and the method from the guide has worked extremely well! I don’t want to speak too soon but it looks like my big girl is finally able to fall asleep on her own in her crib! niiice 🙂

    • Chloe says:

      Finally somethong that works! Thanks Oliva for the information – awesome guide!

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