By Raising Children Network
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Mum comforting baby in cot image copyright iStock/ jo unruh
Camping out is a gradual and gentle technique to help children over six months of age learn to fall asleep by themselves.

What is camping out?

Camping out is a way of dealing with persistent settling and waking problems in 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.

The idea behind camping out is to help children learn to settle themselves to sleep, rather than you feeding, patting or cuddling them to sleep. 

Steps for camping out

  1. Place a bed or chair next to your baby’s cot.
  2. Lie or sit next to your baby and pat or stroke baby off to sleep.
  3. When your baby is asleep, you can leave the room.
  4. When your baby is used to falling asleep like this (usually three nights), sit or lie by the bed until baby falls asleep. Don’t touch baby.
  5. When your baby is used to falling asleep like this (usually another three nights), move your chair or bed away from the cot a short distance (30-40 cm). Stay in the chair or bed until your baby falls asleep.
  6. Move your bed or chair gradually towards the doorway and out of baby’s room. This could take a period of 1-3 weeks.
  7. If your baby wakes overnight, return to the chair or bed (at the point you are up to with settling). Stay there until baby goes back to sleep.

Important tips for camping out

  • When sitting or lying next to your baby, keep things quiet.
  • Try to avoid making eye contact while you’re settling baby. This tells your baby that play time has finished. It might help to close your own eyes while sitting beside your baby.
  • If your baby gets upset, pat or stroke him until he settles. If he’s very upset pick him up and give him a cuddle. Check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable using our illustrated guide to soothing crying babies. When your baby is calm you can try settling him in his cot again.
  • When you’re trying any new settling strategy, it’s good to do the same things in the same way each time you settle baby. This can help your baby to learn to fall asleep faster.

If your baby isn’t settling any better after two weeks, talk to your doctor or child and family health nurse. They’ll be able to help you work out an approach suited to your child’s needs.

Getting support and further help

Camping out isn’t the only strategy you can use. For all the information you need on changing your baby’s sleep patterns, see our guide to solving sleep problems.

Working with a trusted child health professional can increase your chances of success in solving your baby’s sleep problems. You could think about getting this kind of support before you begin using the camping out technique. Read more about getting help with settling babies.
  • Last updated or reviewed 17-03-2016
  • Acknowledgements This article was adapted from the following source: Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital (2012-2016). The infant sleep elearning program. Melbourne: RCH.