Help with teaching a baby to self-soothe (Sleep Sense program?)
September 21, 2012 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Help with teaching a baby to self-soothe (Sleep Sense program?)

Our son is almost 11 months old and is not a great self-soother. Now he gets up about once a night, but I know he's just waking out of habit and for a comfort-feeding. I'm going to try and stop the night bottle (just give him water). I'd also like to help him go down on his own at bed/naptime, to help him put himself back to sleep.

I used to rock/bounce him to sleep in the past, but now he pushes away from me and wants to be put down. He can sorta fall asleep on his own. The problem is it's on our bed (his room is TINY and is basically a little office space off our room... not much room to do a routine in there. And this also carried over from when his crib was beside our bed). I give him a bottle there, clean his teeth, read him a story and then he gets sleepy and rubs his eyes. I'm kind of tired myself and just put him down on the bed where he mashes his face into our soft down blanket, and drifts off. Sometimes he pushes himself up and crawls (especially if overtired) so I have to keep grabbing him, lay him back down, and he eventually just rolls over, mashes his face in, does a snow angel kind of thing, and goes to sleep. I then transfer him to his crib.

If I put him in his crib while he's drowsy, his eyes spring open and he must stand! He rolls over and crawls to the end/sides of the crib, pulls himself up and starts laughing, smiling, talking, jumping! etc. He'll look around, wave his stuffed doll around, spit out his soother (I'll still use this for a bit - I know it's a crutch) and start gnawing on the crib side, leaving me panicked about the paint in his mouth :(

I've been reading the Sleep Sense program by Dana Oberman, on a friend's recommendation, just to try something. I stay in his room with him, chair beside crib. It says, if the baby stands, to lie them back down repeatedly, and if they cry/get upset, let them stand for a bit, then pat the bed and encourage them to lie down. They should submit after they realize they're pretty tired. I am on day 3 of trying to get him to sleep in his crib and don't see this being the case... He just wants to stay upright. No improvement either. It can take well over an hour of putting him back down after he stands, encouraging him to lie down, not paying attention to him and pretending to sleep in my chair, leaving the room for a little bit, etc. He just wants to stay awake and gets more overtired in the process. I tried starting the routine once I saw the first cue of sleepiness, so I knew he wouldn't be overtired, but he ends up overtired anyway! He's rubbing his eyes like crazy, but keeps standing, laughing and getting more hyper. I'm doing this during naps too, and his naps are getting all pushed back because I'm spending an hour trying to get him to nap where it would normally not take that long.

Apologies for the lengthy post. Feeling frustrated and just wondering if anyone had any advice, or even have heard of/used this program before? Should I just be more patient and keep persisting? Many thanks in advance from a sleepy mom...
posted by branparsons to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have a terrible sleeper (18 months) so I will give you the few tips that I have learned.

One, pick your battles. I think trying to tackle the naps and bedtime at the same time is more trouble then its worth because your baby is just not going to get enough sleep so everything will be harder. I suggest just doing the bed time training for now and doing whatever it takes to get a good nap (rocking etc). That way you are not starting with an over tired baby.

Two, early bedtimes help a lot of babies. I am not sure what time you are putting him down now but I would suggest that he be in bed no later than 7 pm at his age.

Three, for some kids it takes a lot more work. You might need to spend a week or even two working at it so you need to be able to make the commitment up front to see it through even though it can be hell when its 4 am on night 5 and all you want to do is just bring him to bed with you so you can just get some sleep. The training has to be worth the effort to you to stick with it. Otherwise you have just taught him that if he resisits enough you will cave. And as for that whole lie him back down when he's standing, it will eventually work but it can be hard. It took more than 80 put downs the first night we did the pick up, put down thing and by night 3 we were down to only 40 something :( that was a long road to the 0 to 2 PUPDs nightly that we are at now.

Four, sometimes they/you are just not ready. You might have to try again in a month (note how this advice contradicts point three, that's just how these things go).

Good Luck!
posted by saradarlin at 8:32 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not a parent, just a parent to be, but I noticed one thing in your post.

You describe him going to sleep in your bed like this: night bottle, teeth brushing, story time, rolling around in a soft downy blanket for a while. It sounds very relaxing!

Then the description of going to sleep in the crib, which sounds like getting put into the crib and then just getting into the game of getting up and getting laid back down. It sounds like an exercise routine...

You mentioned that it is harder to do a bedtime routine in the little nook room that he has, but have you tried doing a night bottle, tooth brushing, story time, and having a downy blanket for him to fall asleep on while in his room/crib? If you've got room for a chair next to the crib, then shouldn't there be room for these things too? (perhaps I'm not picturing it correctly?)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:58 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is he walking yet? One thing that popped into my mind is that my son's sleep has always gotten much worse right before a developmental leap. The fact he wants to stand so much may mean that his little brain is focused on getting himself walking and that's disrupting his sleep.

I agree about the picking your battles and variations on the Sleep Sense routine has worked well for us and for a bunch of our parent friends. It does take some patience, and with some kids a lot of patience before it works. The key is that you are not responding to them at all other than a comforting pat or two and laying them back down. When he's jumping, smiling, laughing, etc. you have to be sure you are not responding at all in any way that he gets an idea you might be ready to play and hang out together. Maybe try sitting facing away from him unless you are putting him back down?

I know that this is so frustrating, and it will absolutely get better. Hang in there.
posted by goggie at 9:17 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My first is so sociable that when he was around 8 months and sleeping well through the night, we'd hear him playing quietly to himself for an HOUR after we put him down. He'd look exhausted, it'd be regular bedtime, we'd read a story, get him in the crib, let him take a favorite book, and have the shades so he had a little light, fading to no light as the sun set. He would, eve night, happily play an hour by himself before falling to sleep with no problem. If we tried to intervene -- push bedtime later, stay with him, whatever -- it was clear that what he needed was an hour to himself to settle down and relax, and that he had a very hard time relaxing when there were other people around to stimulate him.

We helped me along with suggestions of how he might entertain himself and with appropriate crib toys, but we always pushed books and playing quietly with one or two toys. He's 3 now and we can usually get him to wind down in half an hour or so.

Anyway, he pulled a lot of tricks yours does, but we just focused really hard on making bedtime into BEDTIME where he's by himself and sleep is the goal and only quiet activities were okay. Having me in the room was only making playtime more exciting; only letting him be by himself let him wind down enough to sleep.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:53 PM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the advice and encouragement, everyone! So much appreciated… even though I feel bleary-eyed and wasn't sure I included enough detail, made sense, etc.

saradarlin - Thank you - your tips make a lot of sense and are totally helpful. I feel like the picking my battles is the way to go right now -- I don't know why I'm trying to do this all at once. I kept reading consistency is key, so I was worried that I might confuse him and I should do the naps and bedtime the same way. It's so much stress right now. I'll just do bed for now. His bedtime is kind of late, especially with the inconsistent napping… It's about 9, sometimes bad and closer to 10. Do you think he'll wake up earlier than usual if he goes to bed much earlier? I'll remember that it will take a while and to keep at it…

treehorn+bunny - Guh, a sign of my tiredness… That does sound confusing. There is enough room to sit in the chair with him and do all that, but it's just tight quarters. The bed, with a nightstand, is more comfortable to settle with him. The blanket thing -- I did consider putting a nice fluffy blanket in his crib and seeing if he'd like that. I'd have to remove it once he fell asleep, of course (if it worked). It would be tricky to get it out from under him, but it could work.

goggle - He isn't yet, but I think he is on his way. He is standing quite a bit unassisted now. That makes sense too! I pretended (okay, 'pretended') to be asleep in the chair for a bit, and he still amused himself! I'll try to face the other way and be less responsive. I might be giving in a bit too much in that area.

Eyebrows McGee - Lucky! That sounds like a dream! He was doing this at 8 months too? Maybe I won't stick around the room and see if he wears himself out. I think when I left for a bit, he stared at things, jumped, whined and started to gnaw on the crib side.
posted by branparsons at 3:12 AM on September 22, 2012

My daughter went through this around 10 months and think my son started it at 8 months!

Are you staying in the room with him? My routine was supper at 6:00, warm bath, then story time, bottle or breastfeeding, then bed in their crib.

In particular, I remember my daughter yammering at 10 or 11 at night, and I was staying with my folks. I was getting frustrated, and my Dad told me to sit in the living room and listen. She would fuss, then stop and listen, then fuss a little louder and stop and listen. After 15 minutes, maybe 20, she was quiet.

I eventually started using music for my son. Maybe this helped because he might have heard us talking or the TV running in the living room and it drowned out any peripheral noises for him (his Dad had a loud voice).

The gnawing could be from cutting new teeth? Do you have a safe hard baby teething ring that he can take to bed with him?

I remember the transition from big bed/sleeping with us to be difficult, and thought I had it down pat, but when my son turned 8 months old, he all of a sudden started this routine of not wanting to go to sleep. I would set a timer (or phone on vibrate so there's no noise) and give him 15 minutes at a time in his crib, without you in the room. Unless he is screaming himself blue in the face, of course. But yammering and standing up and those sorts of things are normal at that age. It's like a release of excess energy and often they will cry and fuss the most just before they drop off to sleep.

I'd put him down cheerfully, give kisses and say, "night-night!" and leave the room. Set your timer, and then if he seems in distress, go back and stand in the doorway and say, "time for night-night!" But the more you pat him and pick him up, the more he's going to need that to put himself to sleep.

Bedtime was 8:00 and no later, after that they get overtired. I think the thing with my son went on at least a month but it seemed like a lot longer. Then he started it again when he was 2. I'd think he was sound asleep and I'd hear, "MORE MUSIC!" from his room and have to start the tape again or flip it. But that was a small price to pay considering the alternative.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:11 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

"That sounds like a dream! He was doing this at 8 months too? Maybe I won't stick around the room and see if he wears himself out. I think when I left for a bit, he stared at things, jumped, whined and started to gnaw on the crib side."

Yeah, we felt like bad parents at first, but the truth was that he liked being alone for a while and needed it to wind down. I basically sat on the floor in the hallway reading a book the first couple nights to make sure he was fine, but he was fine. Sometimes he'd throw all his toys out of the crib and then get mad they were on the floor, but usually he'd go to sleep from boredom after that if nobody came in to pick them up. After a while he realized they were finite and if he threw them ALL out he'd have none to snuggle with. Once I'm sure he's asleep, I always sneak in and remove hard toys and books, pick up the toy-mines on the floor, and make sure he's warm enough. (Even now that he's three.)

They do make teething bumpers that go on top of the crib rail for gnaw-ers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Marie Mon Dieu - I stay in the room, and he keeps trying to engage me, so I close my eyes and pretend to sleep. He's still jumping. I then leave the room, he's jumping. I think you're right in that he's just releasing excess energy. I just worry he'll be up for hours, if I didn't intervene after an hour, and it probably doesn't help that I keep walking back in after a few minutes, usually to stop him from gnawing the crib side (teething for sure... just puts EVERYTHING in his mouth and would ignore a teething ring and go for the railing, since he's standing mouth-level with it. Just saw the teething bumper suggestion below, though.) So I might not be giving it a chance. I'll try the 15 minutes of alone time to see and even time it so I'm not running back in (unless he's screaming). When it was past 8pm, did you just do what it took to get your son down? Thanks!!

Eyebrows - At least you figured that out and were able to leave the room, knowing he would eventually settle, and without fuss. Also, I didn't even know teething bumpers existed! I'm going to look for some of those. Thanks again.
posted by branparsons at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2012

Frankly, if he wasn't crying, I left him alone. You could use a baby monitor to listen in. I was into attachment parenting and Dr. Sears and all that, but it being my second child, I was less likely to just rush in whenever he made a noise. I say this as the youngest of 5 kids, who definitely kept my mom up at night wanting to play, and climbed out of my crib because I heard guests over and peeked around the corner of the living room. I was definitely a nightbird myself.

The key points with babies and kids is consistency and routine. Meal, bath, story (even if it's those floppy books or Pat the Bunny), last bottle or breastfeed, then bed. Unless they are obviously in distress or have a fever, etc. NO sugar or chocolate: my niece used to get chocolate nightmares.

I also fed my son with the Mommy Made and Daddy Too recipes (no commercial baby food), and I highly recommend oatmeal with some bits of chicken or turkey (tryptophan!) and maybe sweet potato if he likes it. It was just before he walked, and he was pretty mellow, but he just wanted to be social, I think. Even years after, it was, "just one more story, Mom," or, "lie down and talk to me some more." I think every kid has their own personality and you have to roll with it.

But on the other hand, Mom has to get her batteries recharged too. You are both at the point of weaning from the constant touch, and while it's great to all snuggle in bed, it's not teaching him to sooth himself in the long run if you're there. It's actually a distraction for him. He may yammer at the thing on the wall or toss toys, but eventually, he will say, "huh, I'm tired, I have my snuggly blankie here," and go to sleep on his own. It's really okay to leave him alone to figure out sleep for himself: he's going to have to do it for the rest of his life. I remember when my son stopped nursing. No more Nobby Boobies. :-( As he liked to call it (especially in front of my conservative MIL, ha-ha).

I eventually gave up the naptime battle in favor of the nighttime sleep routine. He just didn't want his nap any more. And realized they all go through these phases. If he's up for a few hours and not injuring himself, let him be up. Get your sleep while you can, so you can deal with him during the day. And always do the snuggle "I love you, you're the best little boy in the whole world," before you put him down. Then take a BREAK.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:29 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Weirdly, I played classical when I was pregnant and the music when he was a tot and now he plays 6 musical instruments and was very good at math in high school. So the music thing was not so bad, I guess. People have told me he has perfect pitch and is the best musician they have ever met. And we did do a lot of singing while he was in the bath and when drying off. Then again, when he was 6, he again wanted to sleep with me and I was treated to "I'm the King of the World!" ala Titanic, his older sister's movie. But he did kiss my hand while escorting me out of the car after grocery shopping. So thanks, James Cameron.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:49 PM on September 22, 2012

yes, branparsons, I was thinking you would just use your same blanket or something similar just as a reminder of what he's supposed to be doing in the crib, since he's used to that, sort of like a training tool - then you could remove it when he was asleep and once he got the hang of sleeping the crib, he wouldn't need it. Also he is almost 12 months and then blankets are supposed to be safe.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:45 PM on September 22, 2012

I suggest giving the early bedtime a try. In my own experience he didn't wake any earlier with the early bedtime, he just got more sleep which really helped. There is a saying in baby sleep training land, "sleep begets sleep". Basically the more time the baby sleeps, the better the rest is and that an overtired baby will fight sleep but a well rested child will accept bedtime (and everything else) more willingly. I have found this to be true. So it might be worth trying. And with all changes it helps to give it a few days before giving up.

I also liked to make a little chart of bedtime routine,bedtime, night wake up(s), morning wakeup, night nursings and what new technique I was trying. This way I could actually see if something was helping or hurting over the course of a week. It seemed like a lot of work at first but I found that my lack of sleep really did a number on my memory and I really couldn't tell if one week (and technique) was better than another.
posted by saradarlin at 10:10 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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