Sleep techniques known as "controlled comforting" and "camping
out" are a cost-effective way to help infants sleep better and
reduce mothers' depression levels. Some parents and health
professionals want to know if the benefits of the sleep techniques
Murdoch Childrens ran the first study to examine whether an early
sleep program has long-term effects. Researcher Dr Anna Price
answers some frequently asked questions from parents that will help
all parents make informed decisions when considering using these
What is controlled comforting?
Controlled comforting is a technique that helps teach babies to
fall asleep by themselves so they don't rely on mum or dad (e.g. to
rock, feed, or pat them) to sleep. It involves putting a baby to
bed tired but awake, and leaving them for short periods of time
even if they cry. It's up to the parent to decide what timing works
for them. Common periods are 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 minutes, or 5, 10, 15
minutes. If parents feel they can only leave for the shorter
periods of time, that is fine. If the baby cries, the parent leaves
them for the set amount of time, comes back in to the room to
reassure them and settle the baby, and then leaves them for the
next period of time. It usually only takes a few days to work.
What if it takes more than a few days for controlled
crying to work?
If it takes longer than a week to work, chances are that it's
not going to work for your baby, or you might need some help
getting the technique right. It's a good idea then to speak to your
maternal and child health nurse or GP for help.
What is camping out?
Camping out is a more gradual method than controlled comforting
where a parent sits next to their baby's cot on a chair or camp bed
and slowly moves their chair or bed out of the room. It can take
2-3 weeks to work.
What if it takes more than 2-3 weeks for camping out to
If it takes longer than a month, chances are that it's not going
to work for your baby, or you might need some help getting the
technique right. It's a good idea then to speak to your maternal
and child health nurse or GP for help.
Is controlled comforting the same as
Controlled comforting is not the same as crying-it-out.
Crying-it-out involves putting a baby to bed and leaving them for
the whole night, even if the baby is crying, before returning at
morning time. We do not recommend using crying-it-out because it is
distressing for parents, and controlled comforting and camping out
are options that work well for, and are accepted by, most
What do you mean by 'safe'?
Some parents find it very difficult to leave their baby to cry
for any period of time, and are worried about not responding to a
cry immediately. We found that there are no long-lasting effects,
which means, when used correctly, techniques like controlled
comforting and camping out are safe to use.
How do you know that leaving a baby to cry for short
periods is not harmful?
This was addressed in our study, which showed no negative
effects of the program. We need to remember that there are many
times when parents can't respond to their baby immediately - you
might be stuck in traffic, or you have a toddler or a phone call to
manage - and this isn't harming your baby, especially if you're
caring and responsive when you're with them.
Could parents leave their babies for
It's often very difficult for parents to leave babies to cry at
all. If you're baby is not settling at all, and is inconsolable,
it's ok for parents to stop the techniques and try again another
Why is 6 months of age the minimum for using these
We don't think that babies are developmentally ready before six
months. Six months is around the age that children understand that
something still exists when it is out of sight. Using these
techniques before that age will probably not make sense to a
What can parents do before 6 months of
The most important thing a parent can do is set a good bedtime
routine, which reinforces to the baby when it's time to go to bed.
This may be a feed, a bath and a little cuddle or a story or
massage, and then in their cot in a room with low light. Keeping
the sleep area dark with low stimulation helps our bodies know that
it's time for sleep.
Can parents use these techniques for older
The same principles apply - helping the child learn to
fall asleep by themselves without relying on mum or dad. There are
some different challenges when children are old enough to walk and
talk. A great starting point for parents looking for this
information is the Raising Children Network which is a
government-funded not-for-profit website that is free to use and
provides excellent, evidence-based information on children's