Why We Chose Gentle Sleep Training
Before we gently sleep trained our daughter, she woke up 3 or 4 times at night and wanted mom’s and dad’s help to go back to sleep. At around 9 months I was frustrated and wanted to change the way we put our daughter to sleep. My husband and I were very reluctant to use “cry it out”. We strove to find all gentle paths to sleep training and a parent’s checklist was what we created.
My Mental Checklist
Before we considered sleep training techniques each night I would go through a mental checklist to rule out other issues. My goal was to avoid my baby crying for a real reason that we as parents took too long to address. Here is my mental checklist, hopefully you can use it as a reference to come up with yours (in order of priority).
1. Do they have a poopy diaper?
This is usually a concern when my toddler’s poop game has been off schedule. If I suspect this to be an issue, I quietly walk into the room, do not turn on the lights, say nothing, and gently tap my toddler’s bum to check.
2. Could your toddler be constipated?
If they have not pooped all day and could be constipated, in this case I give her a prune packet to get things moving along. I have prune packets ready to go at all times in the pantry.
3. Are they hungry?
Toddler’s finicky taste buds make it hard sometimes to get all their calories in during the day. You may have to provide a small snack to help them go back to sleep.
4. Are they sick?
I usual give my daughter some Tylenol if I suspect she may have some bug that is causing discomfort.
5. Is your toddler congested?
I would, without taking your child out of the crib, squirt some saline up their nose and use a nosefrida/blow their nose to help clean their nasal passages. I also offer a little water in a sippy cup. The sucking motion of drinking from the sippy cup helps release ear pressure.
6. Are they teething?
This one we usually knew earlier in the day was an issue. So it was easier to prepare for it. We would give our toddler ibuprofen after dinner, since it has better lasting power. It took her through many teething nights. If your toddler has molars coming in, talk to your doctor about how you can give ibuprofen in conjunction with Tylenol for better pain relief.
7. Is it a nightmare or night terror?
When my toddler is having a nightmare, which I can usually tell by the way she cries. In this case, I find it easier to take her out of the crib and read a short story to her. This is a calming activity she enjoys so she is able to recover quickly and we can transition back to sleep quickly. If it is a night terror, again I can tell by how she cries, she takes a much longer time to recover. Usually, there is a lot of crying and I am there to console her. I hug her, hold her, and comfort her until she regains composure. Sometimes I have relied on a little screen time to help her focus on something else more positive to get her out of the night terror.
8. Is there too much stimulation?
Lights and sounds can mess with your toddler’s sleep. We like to make sure our toddler’s room is dark and also use a smart sound machine in the room. This cancels out any ambient noise that might interfere with their sleep (i.e. July 4th Fireworks, hanging out with friends, noisy pets etc.). We use a smart sound machine because we usually only turn it on when we have to. In this way our toddler is not dependent on a sound machine to fall asleep.
Too much stimulation can also come from new activities your toddler experienced throughout the day. New events and meeting a lot of people could mean your child could get over tired much sooner than normal. In our experience, it is better to avoid over stimulation before it happens. However, this is not always possible, so if you have an over tired baby, then buckle up and get through the night.
Keep in mind any support in the middle of the night could turn into consistent wake up times over the next couple of nights, where your toddler wants to interact with you. This is a sleep association and is different from the many real reasons a child might wake-up in the middle of the night. Check out this article about sleep associations for more information. I always try to keep my assistance in the middle of the night to the bare minimum and when she comes to rely on me after we have overcome an issue together, I have to rely on our sleep training methods to get her back to a normal routine. This is an important point, sleep training is not a one-and-done endeavor.
There is a lot of upfront work to get your toddler to sleep through the night, but if you keep supporting them to sleep through the night after dealing with teething, illness, hunger, etc., then any child can sleep through the night.