Gentle Sleep Training: The Four S’s

How to sleep train a baby without crying. This is a gentle baby sleep training method to get baby sleeping independently. No-cry sleep training method.

How to sleep train a baby without crying. This is a gentle way to sleep train your baby and get baby sleeping independently.

Can I let you in on a secret? I hate sleep training a baby. I don’t find it enjoyable in the least.

I fully believe in my children being capable of falling asleep on their own, however. The benefits of sleep are well-documented and I want my children to be able to sleep as babies, toddlers, children, teens, and adults! Healthy sleep habits are very important to me. 

My desire to help my children be good sleepers overrides my dislike for sleep training. I forged on with sleep training in order to establish healthy sleep.

When my third child came along, I discovered something amazing. There are many baby sleep training methods out there, and I had just discovered a gem.

Sleep Training Baby

When McKenna, my third child, was born, I wasn’t sure exactly when I was going to start sleep training with her.

I like to start sleep training baby early because I hate to teach the baby to need one way to fall asleep (like rocking) only to take that all away several weeks or months later. I think that makes things harder on the baby.

However, I also hate listening to my babies cry (who doesn’t?) and didn’t look forward to the whole sleep training process.

Please note, I have no problem with cry it out as a sleep training method. My oldest two were sleep trained using cry it out and it worked well. CIO is fast and efficient.

I do prefer this 4 S’s way to sleep train a baby, however. If you are considering cry-it-out, I have a lot of helps to get you started. Check this post first: Everything You Need to Know About Cry It Out

Baby in a bassinet with a text reading How to Sleep Train Baby the Gentle Way

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No Cry Sleep Training

When McKenna was three days old, I read Hogg’s Four S plan for teaching a baby how to sleep on her own in The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. The Four S’s is a gentle sleep training method that involves no crying. I decided to give it a try.

It worked! It worked and McKenna still did not cry for a nap until she was three months old. Not only that, but she woke at sleep transitions (as babies do) and went back to sleep without crying.

I could even transfer her from a stroller or car seat to her crib when she was asleep and she would go back to sleep with no fuss.

McKenna was a phenomenal sleeper and continues to be. 

I am sure many of you are very interested in what these Four S’s are. I am going to share them with you, along with my own tidbits. However, if you want to try these Four S’s yourself, I highly recommend you read what Hogg has to say. I read over the Four S’s about 30 times before executing it. I wanted to be sure I understood the method. These are found on pages 182-186.

>>>Read: Sleep Begets Sleep? The Truth About Baby Sleep

The Reason You Want to Sleep Train Your Baby

Every 45 minutes, your baby has a sleep transition where he moves from one sleep cycle to the next. At this point, a baby has a high likelihood of waking up unless he is able to self sooth and fall asleep independently.

When your baby is good at self-soothing, then everyone can enjoy a good night’s sleep and solid daytime naps.

Establishing good sleep habits as close to the beginning of life as possible sets up everyone for success.

When baby takes predictable naps, baby’s sleep schedule is predictable, which makes the entire day predictable.

Sleep Training Newborn

One of the best things about this sleep training method is that it works best with newborns. That means you can teach your newborn baby great habits from the beginning.

You start as you mean to go on.

Newborn sleep is how you want your baby to sleep. You avoid sleep issues and sleep problems from the very beginning of your child’s life. This is infant sleep training that is gentle on the newborn and therefore gentle on mama’s heart. 

When my fourth child was born, I had no question in my mind how I would sleep train her. Gentle sleep training all the way! I used the Four S’s for sleep training with Brinley, also, and it worked just as well for her as it did McKenna. 

I can’t recommend this method enough. I have recommended it over and over in the last decade and I continually hear from you readers about your great success stories. 

Video Instructions for the Four S’s

Watch the video with this post to see a visual of the Four S’s. I use a doll to demonstrate exactly how I used this method on my babies. 

4 S's Sleep training steps graphic

How to Sleep Train Your Baby Without Crying

Here are the instructions for this baby sleep training method in text form. Take note, we never did more than the first three of the four S’s. I know people who have done all four, even with twins, and the fourth worked for them. If you need to move on to the fourth S, do not stress. It will still work out.

Setting the Stage

The first S is setting the stage. This is your sleep ritual; it is your routine before a nap or bedtime. See my post Sleep Routine Ideas To Get Your Baby Sleeping Well for help getting a great routine. 

You want your routine to be the same before naps and same before bed. Routine is a signal to babies and children. Even a newborn can start to recognize patterns. Make your routine calm. Set the stage in the room to the needs of your baby for successful sleep.

Success in all aspects of parenting relies on consistency. This is no different.

You will use the 4 S’s before every nap and before bedtime, so be sure you have a nice consistent bedtime routine each day, too. You might do exactly what you do before naps or you might add a few things to your bedtime routine. 

Turn the lights down. I either dimmed the lights (we have a light dimmer) or turned them off. With McKenna, I also closed the blinds, but Brinley slept just fine with her blinds open, so during the day, we had blinds open and closed them at night.

If I have a baby that sleeps well with blinds open, I leave them open. My idea is that it will help the baby distinguish day and night. However, McKenna was fine with days and nights and slept with blinds closed. When the child moves to two naps a day, I will close the blinds for naps.

For more, see my post on Sample Nap Routines, Perfecting Your Babywise Bedtime Routine, and Essential Elements to Any Babywise Bedroom

Swaddling

The next thing you do is swaddle your little one. Hogg says to do this even if your baby does not like being swaddled.

I have been asked if swaddling is a sleep prop and something that will cause problems with baby sleep.

Swaddling is not a sleep prop.

Babies have no control over their limbs, and that startle reflex can really wake them up. Swaddling can really help your baby sleep better.

Some babies have better control than others. For example, McKenna had better control over her limbs as a little newborn than Kaitlyn did. If she broke her swaddle, she could still stay asleep. But those arms could get going and really freak her out at times.

Most babies stop being swaddled with no problems around 3-4 months. Some can stop sooner. Some go on longer. Some babies have some transition time. But most stop the swaddle and sleep even better because they have arm control and are able to sleep more comfortably. 

>>>Read: Everything You Need to Know About Dropping the Swaddle

Sitting

For me, this is where the real magic of the Four S’s sleep training method lies. With Kaitlyn, I had my sleep routine and my swaddling. I did those things with her.

So I had the first two of these S’s going on.

But I did not have the sitting. Sitting is the game changer.

Once your baby is swaddled, you sit. You don’t have to sit. You could also stand next to the crib. Just be sure you can be relaxed so your baby can relax.

You hold your baby with her in the vertical position. Plan on sitting like this for about five minutes. You sit still. You don’t rock, jiggle, pace, etc. You are sitting and holding her without stimulating her.

You tune into her. You wait for her to be ready to go down for her nap or bedtime.

When you do this sit, you give yourself the chance to really get that waketime down perfectly. You hit the perfect moment to put baby in bed drowsy but awake. 

You will feel her body relax and perhaps jerk a little. You then give a kiss, say the sweet things you say, then put her down in her bed.

You want her in bed before she falls asleep. You then leave the room so long as she doesn’t cry. You trust that she can fall asleep on her own.

You can see an example of my “sit” in the video above. 

Let me note, if your baby does fuss or cry a bit when you first put her in the crib, I would let baby fuss for a minute. I know this is a gentle, no-cry sleep training method, but some babies just need to blow off some steam before sleeping. Wait up to ten minutes before intervening UNLESS you feel like you need to intervene fast. 

This is how I did the sit part with Brinley as a newborn. We sat in the rocking chair in her room. I held her over my shoulder, patted her back, and rocked. As we rocked, I sang her lullaby to her.

Once the lullaby was done, I stopped the rocking and patting and just rubbed her back for a bit. Then I stopped that and we just sat. I waited for her to relax. She was not the obvious relaxer that McKenna was. With McKenna, I could feel her whole body relaxing. Brinley was usually quite relaxed from the start.

I then stood and placed her in bed. Then I turned off the light and left the room.

There were moments of exception. Sometimes she was in some sort of discomfort and instead of having her over my shoulder, I held her cradle style. I still rocked and patted her back.

If she was not relaxing over my shoulder, then I would do cradle.

Another exception is sometimes she was obviously not in the mood to be held. In those instances, I just put her in her bed. I don’t remember this happening with McKenna, but it happened a handful of times with Brinley in the first month. 

Hopefully this description will show you that you can make the 4 S’s work for you. Hogg says to not rock, but I find it very natural for me to rock my baby gently. I am not going fast, it is a just a slow, rhythmic gentle rocking. It feels right to me so I do it. Do what feels natural to you. 

Shush-pat

I haven’t ever had to use the fourth S. You use this S if your baby cries. You keep baby in the crib and whisper “shh, shh, shh” while patting her back. You just lean over baby’s crib. Hogg has a long description on how to employ this step successfully, so if you need it, I recommend you read her description, especially since I have no experience with it.

Great Sleep Training Books

The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise
The Contented Little Baby
Mom’s On Call
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
The Wonder Weeks
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom Book of Logs
The Babywise Mom Nap Guide
On Becoming Babywise

Middle of the Night Sleep Training

When your baby is up in the night, you might be wondering how much of this 4 S’s routine you need to replicate. Night wakings are very normal in at least the first 7-8 weeks of life. You will have them.

With my babies, I got them up, fed them, kept them swaddled through the feeding unless I needed to unswaddle to wake them up, burped them, and then just gently put them back in bed. They stayed drowsy enough in the night that we didn’t need to do the whole sit thing.

In the night, your stage is set and you have the swaddle. If your baby is awake and fussy, go to the sit so you can have baby nice and relaxed before putting baby back in the crib. 

Night sleep often follows daytime sleep. So when you get naps down, night sleep naturally follows suit. 

Why This Sleep Training Method Works

What is so great about this method? Baby falls asleep independently and learns to become an independent self-soother. This is all done without crying.

The sitting is where the magic of this method lies. If you have your baby’s nap cues right, she isn’t over-stimulated when you start to put her down, waketime is optimal, etc. then you have done everything right so far (for help on waketime length, see Optimal Waketime Lengths).

With the sitting, you are holding baby until she is at the perfect moment to fall asleep. She is relaxed. You didn’t rock her to get her there. She got there without external forces.

The sitting helps you time things perfectly.

Through careful observation, you can do this all without the sitting, but when you add the sitting you ensure baby is primed for falling asleep easily on her own.

Another thing I really like about the sitting is that it is a quiet time for me to hold my baby at the end of each eat, wake, sleep cycle. I hold my baby a lot during feeding and burping, but those aren’t moments where all I am doing is enjoying holding the baby. I am focusing on her taking a full feeding and getting that air bubble out.

With the sitting, I am able to just relax and hold her for a few minutes before her nap. Any mom with more than one child knows that this is harder to come by.

This method is great because it teaches your baby to fall asleep on her own from the beginning of life without other things that can be props (like rocking to drowsy). As the baby gets older, I see the need for the sitting becoming less pertinent.

If you plan to use this method, I recommend you also read my Cry It Out Bootcamp. This post will help you time things right and help you to know how to read your baby so you can start sleep at the right moment.

The more you know about sleep training in general, the more you will be able to get things right as you sleep train baby even with a gentle sleep training method. 

>>>Read: Tips to Get Baby Waking Up Happy From Naps

4 S' Infographic

Best Age for This Sleep Training Method

The best age for this sleep training method is anywhere from one day old to a three month old.

You can still use it as your child is four months old and even as a toddler (McKenna still loved a nice little hug that acted like a sit before her naps when she was two years old), but it will be harder to start this method with an older baby.

If you have an older baby, I would try this and see if it works.

If not, look into other methods. Cry it out might be a better option than this one for your baby. Tracy Hogg also has a Pick Up Put Down method that is designed for older babies and is a no cry sleep training method. Many people like the No Cry Sleep Solution. 

If you are comfortable with a crying sleep training method and can handle some tears, some good methods are basic Cry It Out, the Ferber Method (also called graduated extinction or the Interval Method), Extinction Sleep Training, the Fading Method (or Camping Out Method), and the Chair Method.

The best sleep training method is the one that works best for your baby and for you. Sleep training is something that just needs to be done, but the HOW does not matter.

>>>Read: Best Baby Sleep Training Books to Get Baby Sleeping

Four S’s Down the Line

Want to know how I liked it as the years went by? Here is my post The 4 S’s Three Years Later. You can also see how I did it with my fourth baby, Brinley, here at “Four” S’s In Action.

If you use this sleep training plan, I would love to hear how it went! Comment here or give me a shout out on Instagram or Facebook! Your experiences can really help other parents. 

Valerie Plowman

Follow me on YouTube to view videos of all of your most pressing parenting questions!

Related Sleep Training Posts

 The Babywise Mom Book of Naps

Do you need more help with sleep? See my Babywise Mom Nap Guide for help getting great naps.

Reader Comments and Questions

Whitney said:
We’ve used the 4 S’s with our second baby (now 4 months old) and have loved it! I also think holding him upright over my shoulder helps him relax without needing a paci. Whenever I held him in a cradle position, he’d root around like crazy and would start to cry. He wasn’t hungry, I think it just reminded him of nursing and he wanted to suck for comfort. As soon as I started holding him upright, he calmed down immediately.

Amanda said:
We used the 4 S’s with Peter and it was a lifesaver! He didn’t even need any CIO (which was good since he had reflux) and just fell asleep happily. I do the “sit” part standing up since he was attached to an apnea monitor with a limited cord and would cry when I sat down and kick his legs against my lap. Standing worked well, I just sang 1-2 verses of a lullaby and then would shhh him and lay him down, then walk out. Emily, you might try an even louder shhh and firm pats on her butt while she’s in your arms, and definitely try standing. Also, if short naps are also a problem for her then she may need a waketime adjustment (1 hour, 15 minutes is average ideal for 3 month olds) or maybe there’s some discomfort waking her. Especially since she cries at naptime, sleeps well in the swing, and has early waking you may want to check and be sure she doesn’t have a touch of reflux. Some babies have reflux and it’s not too severe so it goes unnoticed. This is usually easily fixed with burping very well after feeds and before nap, inclining the mattress, and using a SnuggleU like Valerie makes. Those things definitely helped Peter sleep and he had severe reflux and food intolerances. I hope you find something that works soon!

Gigi M said:
When you are done with steps 1 & 2 and then u place baby down to bed, do u make sure baby still awake but sleepy or ok to be asleep? Thank u!

The Babywise Mom said:
Best to be awake, but if baby is asleep, I wouldn’t wake the baby.

Sleep Training Tips and Info

These posts will help you sleep train your baby with confidence. Learn how to sleep train in the method that best suits you and your baby.

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