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 her settle. You gradually move further away from your baby and cut back on how much help you give her while she’s settling.
The idea behind camping out is to help babies and children move away from needing you to feed, pat or cuddle them to sleep.
Camping out can help with sleep and settling 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.
Working with a child health professional on baby sleep problems can increase your chances of success with any child and 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 his cot, make sure that he’s fed, well and comfortable. Then put your baby into the cot and follow these steps to help him settle using camping out:
- Place a bed, mattress or chair next to your baby’s cot.
- Lie or sit next to your baby, and pat or stroke your baby off to sleep.
- When your baby is asleep, you can leave the room.
- When your baby is used to falling asleep like this (usually three nights), start reducing how much you pat or touch your baby until your baby can fall asleep without patting or touching.
- When your baby is used to falling asleep without patting (usually another three nights), move your bed, mattress or chair away from the cot a short distance (30-40 cm). Stay in the bed, mattress or chair until your baby falls asleep.
- Move your bed, mattress or chair gradually towards the doorway and out of your baby’s room. This could take a period of 1-3 weeks.
- 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.
Your relationship with your baby is unique. You might find it works better for both of you to modify these steps. For example, you might want to include more patting or longer periods between 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 with her until she’s 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 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 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.
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 they 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 his room. He might also cry when he wakes up overnight.
Here are some practical things you can do about crying while you’re doing camping out:
- Listen to your baby. If she’s grizzling or whining but not crying, wait to see whether she settles. You could also call out gently to let her 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 him calm down. If he’s very upset, pick him up and give him a cuddle. When your baby is calm, try settling him in his 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 and more upset, it’s a good idea to consult your GP or child and family health nurse. 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 not all babies are the same.
Some babies just find it harder to settle. Also, there might be times when a happy, healthy baby finds it harder than usual to settle. This can be because of a period of rapid development that means she might need more reassurance from you.
Try not to blame yourself or your baby if camping out doesn’t work for you. There are other options you can try for helping your baby settle.
Your relationship with your baby, and your health and wellbeing, 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.