Gentle Sleep Training: How We Weaned Our 3-Month Old From Needing Movement To Sleep

Well, here we are – officially out of the newborn phase… or, as my husband puts it: past the rookie wall.

Not only are we in 3-6 month clothing and on the brink of a size 2 diaper – we have come such a long way from the fumbling, sleep-deprived, total chaotic parents we started out as. For me, it is such a relief to part ways with this stage! Watching Leo be more alert during the day and witnessing all of his new skills emerge is a wonderful experience that I can’t quite put into words… but, the most refreshing part about this maturation is that Leo is learning to fall asleep on his own without the need to be rocked or bounced.

Now, with all that being said, Leo doesn’t just happily wisk into Dreamland without a fight; my husband and I have been working on gradually weaning him from needing our presence to be able to fall asleep for naps and bedtime. He probably could learn this milestone on his own (as most babies apparently learn to self-soothe between 4-6 months) – but, because of the wear-and-tear that rocking and bouncing has been doing on my body, I thought it would be best to try to wean him from needing some type of movement for sleep. Happy mama, happy baby.

So, here is our typical bedtime routine followed by how we are weaning Leo from being rocked or bounced to sleep.

First, a couple of disclaimers:

  • This is a gentle approach and does not involve crying-it-out.
  • We have found that this works best when we are within Leo’s sleep window once he starts showing that he is tired. If we miss his sleep window and he becomes overtired, the whole weaning process goes down the drain and we do what we must to get him to sleep.
  • This is not a get-your-baby-to-sleep-through-the-night post. At Leo’s age, it is still normal and expected for him to wake 1-2 times during the night to feed before he is capable of extending sleep and feeds on his own; it is what it is. Our focus here is not on getting Leo to sleep through the night.

Bedtime Routine

I believe having a short, solid bedtime routine helps to set the tone for the night so that Leo can easily fall asleep. Though naps are a bit harder to conquer, we still do the same weaning process during the day. (It just happens to be that Leo fights daytime sleep a bit more.)

  • Once Leo wakes from his late afternoon nap (ending between 5:00 – 6:00 PM, depending on how the day has gone) – he will feed. By this time, the shades have already been drawn and the house is more dim to signal that it is nighttime. We still maintain a level of household noise, but the TV is not as loud and there aren’t as many appliances running other than for cooking.
  • Leo will casually play or chill on the couch with my husband while I prepare his bath. We don’t give him a full bath (with soap) every night, but have found the warm water really helps to wind him down for the evening.
  • After his bath – he gets a clean diaper and pajamas, a coconut oil massage, a lullaby, and some snuggles.

Here is where the weaning part starts:

As to be expected – when Leo was a fresh newborn, we would rock, bounce, swing, or sway him to sleep. However, over a period of time, the bouncing and rocking started causing terrible pain to my back and knees. (Think about it: bouncing or rocking an increasingly heavy baby before or during every nap and/or nighttime sleep. Yikes!) At times, I found that it was becoming difficult to walk or stand. Thus, we desperately needed to get Leo used to not requiring movement to sleep.

  • When Leo is done playing and starts to fuss a bit or shows signs that he is tired, we swaddle him and give him a pacifier. (He is slowly transitioning out of the swaddle, but it helps him to fall asleep faster vs. without it.)
  • If he is extremely fussy and fighting sleep, we subtly bounce him either on the yoga ball or while standing until he calms down.
  • Once he is calm and has stopped crying, we immediately stop bouncing him and just hold him in our arms. We usually do this for about 30 seconds so that he can get used to falling asleep while still. (If he isn’t crying or fighting sleep, we will skip the bouncing step and just stand and hold him next to his crib until he starts to doze off.)
  • After 30 seconds of holding him, we put him down in his crib. He usually takes about 15-45 seconds or so to settle himself into a comfortable position before falling asleep. If he doesn’t settle himself and starts to cry, we simply stand next to his crib or put our hand on his tummy unless the crying starts to escalate.
  • If the crying starts to escalate, we pick him up and hold him until it stops… and, repeat until he is sleeping.
  • Once we walk out of the room, if he starts to fuss moments later – we let him. Usually, he will fall back to sleep on his own. If he doesn’t and his crying starts to escalate, we walk in and give him the pacifier and put our hand on his tummy until he settles himself again.
  • We don’t pick him up and start bouncing him at all unless he is in full panic mode and unable to be soothed.

All of the above takes quite a bit of effort and patience – but, if you’re into a gentle approach to sleep training and prefer not to rock or bounce your child to sleep after a certain point, I believe this might be worth trying. After doing this for a couple of weeks, we are now reaching the point where we can lay Leo down in his crib awake or slighty drowsy without needing movement.

Of course, we are expecting the sleep struggle to continue once Leo starts teething – but, for now, we will take what we can get!

Next on the list – ditching the pacifier.

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