Conventional Sleep-Training Methods Didn't Work For Us — Here's What We Did
When my kids were infants, I think I spent more time researching ways to solve their sleep problems than the average law student spends studying for the bar. My son had issues with early waking and not napping at all, and I couldn't get my daughter to fall asleep at all let alone sleep through the night. I've learned a lot about infant sleep in this process, but sometimes the information I needed was really hard to find or not there at all. There's plenty of information out there about sleep-training methods, but not every baby needs the same thing to sleep well.
My first child was a really good nighttime sleeper but a terrible napper, so by 7 pm he was exhausted. We let him cry it out a bit as needed, but he never cried for long, then pretty quickly fell asleep on his own and slept through the night from a very young age. I felt confident about my ability to do the same thing when my daughter Annabelle came along, but she had other plans.
Annabelle napped very well during the day, but I couldn't get her to fall asleep at night after the first month. Since she was so young, I tried to nurse her to sleep, rock her to sleep, gave her a pacifier, swaddled her, used white noise, tried different bedtimes — nothing worked.
After struggling for a couple more months, I figured it was time to start sleep training, so I tried to let her cry it out. Her crying would go on for well over an hour, and on subsequent nights, the crying did not get shorter the way it's supposed to. It was agonizing for my entire family, and I knew we couldn't continue on that path.
I started spending even more time online trying to find information about sleep training that could help me. Some of the methods I read about required more crying than I knew we could handle, so I knew they wouldn't work for us. One method suggested I sit in a chair next to the crib and slowly move it away from the crib, but I knew this would make my daughter more alert and upset rather than help her sleep. Other methods assumed I was rocking or feeding my baby to sleep, which I wasn't. I needed a get-to-sleep method that I could fade, but I was having such a hard time finding that.
My inability to get Annabelle to sleep at night started to take more and more of a toll on my family. My husband didn't have the patience for sleep training and very little tolerance for her crying. The crying was also upsetting my young son. And I was developing an unhealthy obsession with the subject. Luckily, I came across some British-based parenting boards that referenced Tracy Hogg, aka "The Baby Whisperer." She's known for a sleep-training technique called the Shush-Pat, in which you pat your baby on the back and make shushing noises as she lies on her side in the crib.
I began experimenting with patting Annabelle. It didn't really work; she didn't seem to respond to being patted on the back, but I found she did really quiet down when I put my hand under her bottom and bounced her lightly up and down on the mattress. This worked especially well when she was fully swaddled. She usually quieted down in less than a minute when I did this and fell asleep within about seven minutes. I generally did not need to make a shushing sound but found if she was unusually upset, it did help her if I did so.
Bouncing was a boring job, so to keep myself focused I started counting 10 bounces and then doing a pause and repeating. I slowly reduced the number of consecutive bounces, slowed them down, and increased the pause length as she started to drift off the sleep. Once I got down to four or five bounces I slowly snuck out of the room. If she re-escalated then or at any time during this physical settling, I returned to faster, harder bounces with fewer pauses. I also always waited at least five minutes before going in to bounce her, and only went in if she was getting very upset, so that she had an opportunity to fall asleep on her own.
It felt like a miracle to finally have something work to get her to sleep! She was still waking up one to two times per night to nurse, which I was okay with due to her age. If she woke up more than this, I also used the bouncing technique to get her back to sleep. Within a couple of weeks, she started falling asleep on her own. In a month's time, I was almost never having to bounce her, but it was still a helpful tool to have for the rare occasion she was having trouble settling. As she got older and started flipping over onto her stomach to sleep, I found she also liked having her bottom jiggled from side-to-side, and sometimes used that technique to help her fall asleep in the same way. While it took me months to find something to help with my daughter's sleep problems, I'm glad I finally found a solution that taught her to fall asleep on her own.