Gentle Sleep Training – Teaching Baby to Sleep Without Tears

No cry sleep training – is it REALLY possible?

This is a guest post from Jilly Blankenship, a Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Registered Nurse with a degree in Psychology.  She began providing in-home sleep consulting services for babies and toddlers in 2009 – she’s sharing about no cry sleep training today!  

Note from Carly:

I personally have chosen not to sleep train my babies – because the idea of cry it out just DOES NOT appeal to me. I have no interest in it, and would rather be tired, to be honest. Even during all the baby sleep regressions, I don’t feel compelled to sleep train – even using a gentle sleep training method. BUT I 100% get why a parent might want to, and I know that there are ways to sleep train without tears!

When I first spoke to Jilly I told her that I hadn’t ever read anything anywhere that gave me the impression sleep training would work for us. I explained that our toddler still co-sleeps with us, and I was feeling a little desperate about how I would handle a toddler and a new baby in the same bed, but that crying it out wasn’t something I was going to try.

Jilly is the first sleep training professional that has ever given me hope that we could sleep train without crying it out, and also the first one that I felt actually respected my feelings about CIO. She gave me suggestions that no one else has ever mentioned, and I know her baby sleep program is FINALLY going to be the answer for so many parents who want to avoid CIO. I am super excited to share this post from her today on how to teach baby to sleep without crying!

If you need FREE advice to get your baby sleeping ASAP, check out this FREE Survival kit for Exhausted Mommies! 

Ask any new Mom her three biggest fears and I bet most will mention cry-it-out sleep training (CIO).

The definition of CIO differs a bit, depending on who you ask. But most Moms agree that leaving your baby alone to cry himself to sleep (and never checking on him) qualifies as “crying it out.” And for many Moms, this is terrifying.

Admittedly, a lot of parents get quick results with this method. But let me reassure you, you don’t have to do CIO to teach your baby to sleep well.

There are infinite ways to approach gentle sleep training, and teach babies to fall asleep on their own and sleep long stretches at night. In my work as a baby sleep consultant, the best approach is one that caters to your baby’s age, temperament and your parenting style.

As long as you have time and patience to spare, sleep training without crying it out IS possible!  You can help your baby learn to sleep well in a gentle way that minimizes tears.

Allow me to explain…

2 essentials for gentle sleep training, to teach baby to sleep without crying

Let’s take a moment to discuss sleep training. In general, sleep training is the process of teaching your baby to sleep well. For most parents, this usually means falling asleep easily and sleeping long stretches.

In my program that teaches exhausted parents how to gently sleep train, we focus on two things:

Setting up a consistent sleep routine and showing your baby how to fall asleep on his own.

Babies thrive on consistency. Doing the same bedtime routine each night before your baby falls asleep helps him associate the routine with sleeping. Each night it gets easier for your baby to settle and fall asleep because of the repetition of this routine.

The way that a baby falls asleep at bedtime is how he will prefer to fall back to sleep during the night when he wakes. If your baby is used to being nursed to sleep, then this becomes the only way he knows how to fall asleep. So each time he wakes at night, he’ll need to be nursed in order to fall back asleep. And if your baby is waking every 2 hours, this quickly becomes exhausting.

An essential aspect of sleep training is showing babies how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime. That way, when they wake during the night without any immediate needs such as hunger, they’ll be in a familiar environment and know exactly how to settle themselves back to sleep.

Related: The Best Baby Sleep Tips EVER 
Related: The ONE THING That Will Change Everything About How You Think of Baby Sleep

Does sleep training have to involve crying?

No. The slower you go with sleep training, the less likely your baby will cry.

Remember, sleep training involves setting up a consistent routine AND teaching your baby to fall asleep on his own.

Gentle sleep training methods involve focusing on only one change at a time. In my baby sleep program, first we create a peaceful bedtime routine. Next, we adjust baby’s bedtime, if needed. Once those steps are going well, we work on getting baby to accept falling asleep on his own. Obviously, this approach takes longer because we’re separating out each step. With a gentle method, parents are trading time for fewer tears. Time is the “cost” of a no cry sleep training method.

The goal with gentle sleep training is to move so slowly that your baby has time to adapt to each change in his sleep routine. So the slower you go, the less your baby resists and cries. Of course, slower methods require lots of patience and dedication on your part. I typically tell parents to expect 3-4 weeks before seeing big results.

Quicker sleep training methods involve making all necessary changes to your baby’s sleep routine at the same time. The goal is quick results. For some babies, this could mean starting a new bedtime routine, changing the time your baby falls asleep AND teaching him to sleep in a new space. That’s a lot of changes! And because it’s so abrupt, it often leads to tears. But many parents are drawn to quicker programs because they fear they don’t have the patience or stamina for a longer method, and that’s ok.

How can I minimize crying while sleep training?

Go slowly. Focus on making only one change at a time to minimize your baby’s resistance and tears. No cry sleep training methods are not INSTANT RESULT methods.

Here’s how we do gentle sleep training in my program:

Step 1:

The first step is starting a peaceful bedtime routine to help your baby relax at bedtime. Research shows that a consistent bedtime routine helps children fall asleep quicker at bedtime and wake less often at night. (source)

I recently worked with Charne, mom of 6 month-old Olivia. After one week with a consistent bedtime routine, Olivia went from waking 8-9 times a night to only twice! That’s a lot of progress from one gentle step.

Step 2:

Next, you want to give your baby an age-appropriate bedtime. Our body clocks are hard-wired to sleep at certain times. If your baby’s bedtime isn’t in sync with his body clock, he’ll have trouble falling asleep.

If bedtime is too early, he’ll fight sleep because he’s not tired enough. If bedtime is too late, and he’s been awake too long, his system will become overstimulated. This makes it hard for him to relax enough to fall asleep. Trust me, this step works magically.

Getting your baby down to sleep at his “sweet spot” bedtime results in fewer night wakings AND later morning wake ups!

Here’s a guide to age-appropriate bedtimes:

Newborn: 10-11 pm

2-3 month old: 8-10 pm

4-6 month old: 7-8:30 pm

7-8 month old: 6:30-8:30 pm

9 mths to 2 years old: 6:30-8 pm

2-4 years: 7-8:30 pm

If your baby is an early riser, go with an earlier bedtime. Late risers can have later bedtimes (but still within the recommended range above.)

Step 3:

Now it’s time to slowly wean yourself off of being a sleep prop. Remember, in order for your baby to sleep long stretches at night (and eventually through the night) he needs to fall asleep on his own. How you handle this part depends on your baby’s specific sleep props.

Here’s an example of a gentle approach

Let’s say your baby is used to being fed to sleep in the rocking chair and you want him to learn to fall asleep in his crib.

Going cold turkey and not feeding your baby to sleep on night one would probably result in tears. Instead, your approach is a gradual wean off feeding to sleep.

First, you’d decrease your feeding time by 2-3 minutes (or 30 ml) each night and instead rock your baby to sleep.

After several days, he’d no longer need to feed to sleep. That’s a win!

Next, you’d focus on rocking him less each night and placing him in his bed drowsy. This may take a few days as your baby gets used to falling asleep in his crib, rather than in your arms. You could pat his bottom or rub his head to help him settle.

Once he’s used to falling asleep in his bed (another win) you’d slowly dial down your hands-on assistance. So you’d pat his bottom less and do more singing, for example. Slowly over the next few days you’d do less patting and more singing.

Now your baby is falling asleep in his bed without your hands-on support (a third win!)

Finally you’d sing less and less each night, allowing your baby to learn how to fall asleep on his own.

Related: Is Sleep Training NECESSARY?

A final word on sleep training without crying 

Remember, sleep training does not have to include cry-it-out. You can teach your baby to sleep well without lots of tears. You just have to go slowly. Focus on one step at a time and give your baby time to adapt to each new change. What I’ve found works best is first creating a peaceful bedtime routine. Then make sure your baby has an age-appropriate bedtime. And finally, slowly wean yourself off being a sleep prop.

In my experience as a pediatric nurse, we always measure progress by the week. Never by the day. Your baby may respond well for several days, then have a bad night and move a step back. That’s ok. You can make big progress in a few short weeks by being patient and consistent. And you can do all this while minimizing your baby’s crying.

Learn more about Jilly’s gentle baby sleep program here.  Or check out her FREE Exhausted Mom’s Survival Kit. It walks you through the first steps of getting baby to sleep well, with short, helpful videos and visual guides.

no cry sleep training

25 thoughts on “Gentle Sleep Training – Teaching Baby to Sleep Without Tears”

  1. CIO was my big fear as well! I decided to skip on that and try to teach my baby on my own with tips from different blogs. It worked… somehow. We had a good routine but I was still rocking as I couldn’t find any way out of it without crying. Fortunately my friend told me about this method without CIO and it was a great great help! I trained my little one without any guilt! And it worked so fast I would never imagine! So you are totally right – it is possible!

    • I am looking to try this method as I don’t want to do CIO. What was your routine and how did you stop rocking as we do that AND feed to sleep?

  2. What age is a good age to start sleep training? I’m desperate for sleep but my Little one is only 3 weeks old. I know the newborn stage is a little different because their bodies actually need to eat every few hours so I know its probably too soon to start now.

    • goodness, I’d say 4 months at the VERY YOUNGEST, and even then, it’s on a case by case basis.

      • Agreed. Recommended after +4 months (being this the youngest). Newborn stage is hard and you feel tired and sleep-deprived but it will pass 🙂 (being there, done that, my girl is 11mo)

    • Lauren – I was like you!! Desperate within the first few weeks. Haha every mom is different. We “sleep trained” from week 1. It’s not really “sleep training” at that age but our system ends up with babies who sleep well. There’s a bunch of posts on my site if you’re interested 🙂

    • From what i have read so far, best age to start sleep training is between 4-6 months. As younger babies don’t have an ability to self soothe and need to be fed every few hours. My baby girl is 16 weeks old and we always nurse to sleep… we do have a usual bedtime and a bedtime routine since she was 10 weeks old, co-sleeping since birth. i’ll probably wait a couple more weeks before slowly starting sleep training and moving her to her own room.

  3. Thank you SOOOO VERY MUCH for being a voice of reason amidst the insanity!!!
    I never liked the CIO method, and yet that was about the only advice out there when my daughter was born!
    And now there are countless articles coming out about studies showing that CIO only causes your child to be more stressed and have more issues like depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, and even lower IQ as a result!!!
    Another thing they did not even mention is that I think it unwittingly desensitizes the parents to the cry of the child – which for me, always evoked a very emotional, if not panicked response if I was trying NOT to respond to it!
    Thanks again!

    • Latara,
      Thank you for the kind words! And I agree – we can see a lot of bad effects from CIO methods. Each parent must do what they think is best, but it’s definitely NOT for my family! Good luck with everything!

  4. Thank you for the article. I have done all those things since my LO was a newborn. Bedtime routine, in bed by 7pm, falls asleep on her own in the crib. But my issue is she wakes up 2x a night desperate to feed. She is 9months now and finally hit 15 pounds. Any tips on how to get her to soothe herself back to sleep or stay asleep? This mom is a waking zombie and I need my sleep back.

    • Oh Nicola that’s a really hard one..what works with one baby won’t work for another baby. It may be worth talking to your Dr. and seeing if they have any recommendations for you – because most little ones CAN sleep through the night at this age. If nothing else, remember that it’s just a phase and eventually will pass. If you can, ask for help so that you can get some sleep. Hang in there and good luck!

  5. How do you help a baby stay asleep? My son is 5.5 months old and we have a bedtime routine, put him down awake about 7:30 and leave the room, he might talk for a few minutes but then puts himself to sleep most nights on his own (occasionally i have to go put the pacifier back in or sushhh him). The issue we’re having is that every night he will wake up at 11pm, then again at 2 or 3am, then again at 5am and the routine for bedtime is not working in the middle of the night (he screams/cries).

    Would love some suggestions or ideas I could try as I cannot stand CIO and just want my guy to be happy!

    • Rebecca – I am sorry I KNOW how rough that can be!!! How is he napping during the day? Does he eat right before bedtime? What time does he wake up in the morning? These can ALL factor into any advice I could give you. Regardless of what I tell you, I think the most important thing to remember is that this WILL pass and things will get easier. It takes time, but sometimes telling myself this can help me feel a lot better. I wish you the best! <3

  6. I love this gentle approach! I am wondering about naps – how did you go about teaching them to nap on their own? My little one uses a pacifier during nap time, but not bed time. How could I gently remove this habit.

  7. My baby is 6.5 months. I really don’t like cry it out but my sleep has suffered so much so the last 2 nights I’ve let him cry some. We co-sleep, sometimes using a bedside sleeper other times he is in our bed. I decided to not nurse him every time he wakes up any more, he was starting to wake every hour especially in the early morning. To make things easier i put him in his crib for the first time ever. I feel rather anxious about the changes though. I need the sleep but I want to make the changes gently. How can i cut back his night feeds and get him in to sleep in the crib without crying? Also I don’t want to loose my milk supply too quickly, is one night feed enough?

    • Jen – so sorry you’re struggling! I would talk to his pediatrician and see what they think. Babies have different needs, but a six and most six and a half month olds SHOULD be able to sleep through the night with just one night feed. Best of luck! <3

      • Excuse me but I want to ask how you prevent tears when you place your baby to your crib once he is rocked in your arms as you recommended I mean for me is the most difficult part. That’s where the most tear are she’d. He crys and crys even me gently singing or rubbing his head and so.. How you manage that?
        He is used to be rocked to sleep but the moment I place him in his bed either awake or asleep he wakes up and crys.

  8. i think we have to try this as our 10 month old has taken to not sleeping unless he is in bed with us. we are exhausted but I don’t know if I can let him CIO.

    • Laurie – yes it’s definitely understandable. You have to do what feels best for your family. <3

    • I am excited to start with this approach! My daughter is 4 months and my goal is to have her sleep trained by 6 months. We have a consistent bedtime routine that I start around 9pm. I’ve been trying to move it earlier but her last nap dictates how early we can make it.
      Currently I feed her, read a story, sing then rock to sleep. Sometimes her eyes open and she cries as soon as I put her down. I’ve tried to soothe her in the crib but I didnt know how long to keep trying to soothe her until I give up and rock her again. What do you reccomend? I know that she’s learning cause and effect so I don’t want to pick her back up too early.

  9. Hi there!
    What’s your opinion on how long you should try each night? Our daughter is 5 1/2 months old and needs to be rocked to sleep every night. She sleeps thru 11hrs just fine but she’s getting too heavy for me to rock and hold for 15min every night. We tried the other night and the second she hit the crib she started screaming and crying and even hyperventilating. I picked her up each time until relaxed but gave up after an hour because I didnt want to risk a sleep deficit which interferes with self soothing. Am I really supposed to do this until she falls asleep? What if it takes 2,3,4 hours???

  10. Such a helpful read.
    Sometimes all the screaming and the crying can be more overwhelming than the exhaustion of soothing the baby to sleep. I feel like I understand babies better after reading this. No one likes abrupt changes. We all need time to adjust to new situations and can get cranky when change is sprung upon us. This gentle approach is so ideal because you and the baby both have time to ease into it.
    I will definitely recommend this method.

  11. When I first read it I was just all skeptical. And once I tried it didn’t give the needed result at once. All I’m willing to say is that you should sleep train your baby consistently following the plan and schedule strictly. Then the result will be fast to come. Finally, we got rid of those heartbreaking tears before bedtime! Thanks!

  12. I think telling a mother who breastfeeds not to nurse to sleep is detrimental. Especially as the baby gets older and is becoming more mobile and more distracted. Breastfed babies fuel up and get most of their calories at night. If we stop nursing at night and the amount of nursing sessions during the day have decreased- what will happen? A baby does not need to be trained to sleep. It is a biological norm and a baby willl sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready. I have never met anyone who is still breastfed to sleep as an adult. Eventually they will stop we need to normalize infant sleep . Sleep training is just not necessary and it is ideas like this that is ruining breastfeeding relationships.

  13. My question is the same as Eirini.
    When I lay my baby in her crib, she starts to cry. And not rescuing her from the crib makes her increasingly upset. She’s a stubborn girl. But I just can’t get on board with the CIO. And letting her down gets her upset and I’m worried she will fall over or hit her head on the crib. I do recognize some things to adjust to help our night time routine. Just not sure how to transition her to the crib when she likes to fall asleep breastfeeding or cozied up next to us. Desperately seeking advice. Thanks!!


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