Camping Out: Baby and Child Sleep Strategy

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Camping out is a gradual strategy to help children over 6 months of age fall asleep by themselves. It can help with persistent child and baby sleep, settling and waking problems.

Camping out: What is it?

Babies and children need sleep to grow and develop well. Good sleep is also important for their health and immunity.

But babies and young children can have trouble settling to sleep by themselves.

Camping out is when you stay in your baby’s bedroom to help your baby settle at the beginning of the night. You gradually move further away from your baby and cut back on how much help you give.

The idea behind camping out is to help older babies and young children move away from needing you to feed, pat or cuddle them to sleep.

Camping out can help with sleep and settling problems in older babies and young children. It can also help with older children who are having problems getting to sleep, particularly if they feel anxious or frightened.

Working with a paediatrician on baby sleep problems can increase your chances of success with any child and their baby sleep strategy. You could think about getting this kind of support before you begin using the camping out technique.

Steps for camping out

Before you put your baby into the cot, make sure that your baby is fed, well and comfortable. Then put your baby into the cot and follow these steps to help baby settle using camping out:

  1. 1. Place a bed, mattress or chair next to your baby’s cot.
  2. 2. Lie or sit next to your baby and pat or stroke baby off to sleep.
  3. 3. When your baby is asleep, you can leave the room.
  4. 4. When your baby is used to falling asleep like this (usually within 3 nights), sit or lie by the bed until your baby falls asleep. Start reducing how much you pat or touch your baby until baby can fall asleep without patting or touching.
  5. 5. When your baby is used to falling asleep without patting (usually within another 3 nights), move your chair, mattress or bed away from the cot a short distance (30-40 cm). Stay in the chair, mattress or bed until your baby falls asleep.
  6. 6. Move your bed or chair gradually towards the doorway and out of your baby’s room. This could take 1-3 weeks.
  7. 7. If your baby wakes overnight, return to the bed, mattress or chair, at the step you're up to. Stay there until your baby goes back to sleep.

You might find it works better for both of you and your baby to modify these steps. For example, you might want to include more patting or longer periods between the suggested steps.

Tips for camping out

Here are some tips to help camping out go well:

  • Talk quietly and soothingly if you need to reassure your baby. For example, gently say it’s sleep time. This means it’s time for sitting or lying quietly, not playing or talking. Let your baby know that you’re staying until they’re asleep.
  • Avoid making eye contact. You could even close your eyes and say you’re going to sleep while you’re sitting or lying and patting your baby.
  • Try to keep things quiet and dim in the bedroom. Avoid music, stories, singing and bright light.
  • Try to do the same things in the same way each time you settle your baby. For example, keep the level of light in the room the same each night. It can also help to start using a bedtime routine.
  • If your child is waking frequently overnight, try sleeping on a mattress on the floor of their room. You can quickly respond to your child with your voice, which means you might not need to get up to them.

Crying and camping out: what to do

Most babies cry while they’re getting used to a new way of going to sleep. That’s because babies like their usual way of getting to sleep and might be upset by change.

With camping out, for example, your baby will probably cry when you move the chair out of the room. Your baby might also cry when they wake up overnight.

Here are some practical things you can do about crying while you’re doing camping out:

  • Listen to your baby. If you hear grizzling or whining but not crying, wait and see whether your baby settles. You could also call out gently to let baby know you’re nearby – for example, ‘I’m here. Time to sleep now’.
  • If the grizzling becomes crying, pat or stroke your baby to help them calm down. If your baby is very upset, pick them up and give them a cuddle. When baby is calm, try settling them in the cot again.
  • Remind yourself that it can take babies 1-3 weeks to get used to a different way of going to sleep.
But if things aren’t improving after a few nights or if your baby is becoming more upset, it’s a good idea to consult your pediatrician. They’ll be able to help you work out an approach suited to your child’s needs.

Will camping out work for us?

Camping out works for some babies and parents, but it doesn't suit everyone.

Some babies just find it harder to settle. Also, there may be times when happy, healthy babies finds it harder than usual to settle. This can be because of a period of rapid development that means babies need more reassurance.

Try not to blame yourself or your baby if camping out doesn’t work for you. There are other options you can try to help your baby settle.

Your relationship with your baby, and your health and well-being, are important for your baby’s development. A good sleep strategy should improve all of these things, as well as helping your baby to settle.

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