The Life-Changing Magic of Shush Pat

 

I. Rock a bye baby… (please please please go to sleep)

I sway my hips, take a few steps, and dance slowly around the room. I do ten steady squats — my thighs have never been stronger. I dance again, softly singing, “Mary had a little lamb.”

I peer at the swaddled baby in my arms after doing this for five minutes. Her eyes are fluttering. They’re closing. They’re closing. Closed.

I take a deep breath. I do a few final squats. Then I gently, ever so gently, lower my daughter into her crib, pressing the back of my hand into the mattress so that I can slowly slide it under her neck without disturbing her.

I tiptoe out of the room and close the door.

Before I make it back to the monitor, I hear:

“WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

I sigh. I try to “pause” — wait a little to see if the crying will stop. It doesn’t. At least, it doesn’t during the one minute I can tolerate. I go back into the room, pick W up, and start the dance again.

II. Yeah, right.

When my daughter was around 6 or 7 weeks old, it became harder and harder to put her down for naps. Sometimes it would take over an hour of repeated attempts dancing and squatting until she finally fell asleep. And even then, she’d only stay asleep for 30 minutes — if we were lucky.

It wasn’t sustainable. She was getting heavier. My arms were becoming permanently sore. She wasn’t sleeping well. And I was grumpy.

I went to my best friend during the newborn stage, Google. Most of the articles and forums I read strongly recommended putting baby down “drowsy but awake.” It’s the only way baby will learn how to fall asleep on her own, they said.

But when I put my baby down in the crib awake, she started bawling. There was no way she was going to fall asleep on her own.

Another method I read about was called “shush pat.” Apparently if you lay your baby down awake, you can pat her steadily, while repeating a drawn out “shush” sound, until she falls asleep.

But when my husband and I tried it, we felt self-conscious and, well, more than a little bit ridiculous. As our tongues got dry from shushing, and as our baby wailed in confusion, we couldn’t help but feeling like we were being scammed.

I’d much rather rock her, my husband said.

He had a point. At least we got to cuddle our sweet baby while we were rocking her, and she usually got sleepy within 5 minutes. Shush pat could take an hour or more for all we knew, and it felt like torture — for us and the baby.

My husband came up with an alternative strategy; before she fell asleep, he would stop rocking her and hold her still before laying her down in the crib. He would stop rocking earlier and earlier until she only needed to be held to his chest to calm down and get sleepy.

III. Epiphany

One day, my nanny told me she got baby to fall asleep without having to rock or hold her. She told me that all she did was lay her down in the crib and shush pat her. I told her I wanted to see her do it.

Sure enough, she was able to put W down in the crib wide awake and shush pat her until she fell asleep. She fell asleep, and she stayed asleep. After I saw her technique, I was able to do it too after a few tries.

How to shush pat:

  1. Swaddle baby.
  2. Put her in crib awake on her back. She’ll cry.
  3. Softly pat her on her chest, while shushing. Adjust the volume of the shush and the speed of the patting based on how intensely she is crying. (E.g., as she stops crying and starts drifting to sleep, slow down the shushing and soften the pats as you prepare to leave the room.)
  4. It helps to lift her legs up and down with one hand as you pat with the other. This relaxes her body and creates a sensation of motion similar to rocking.
  5. Continue doing this until she falls asleep. It may take 10-15 minutes at first, but the time required will very quickly decrease as she learns that shush pat means sleep.

Because I couldn’t find a good video on how to shush pat when my husband and I first tried it, I made a video to demonstrate here.

The magic in shush pat lies in your baby’s inability to multi-task at a young age. She can’t process the sensations of the patting and the sound of the shushing while also crying. Shush pat becomes less effective as the baby gets older, so should only be used on babies younger than 4 months.

IV. Wonderful, magical, sleep

It took about a week of shush-patting W to sleep before she didn’t need it anymore. By 13 weeks of age, we could lay her down in her crib awake, give her quick pat and a kiss, and leave the room — and she’d fall asleep on her own within 5-10 minutes with minimal fuss. It was truly mind-blowing.

Even now, with W almost a year old, I’m still amazed at how good of a sleeper she is. She gives us a big smile when we put her in the crib, then embraces her two loveys. She might sit, roll, toss and turn, or play for awhile before falling asleep, but she always falls asleep on her own. I am so grateful because good naps and easy bedtime means more free adult time for us.

Since shush pat was the single biggest breakthrough I’ve experienced so far in motherhood, I wanted to share it with other sleep-deprived mothers out there. Happy to answer any questions you have.

Did you use another method to teach your baby how to sleep? Please share your story in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “The Life-Changing Magic of Shush Pat”

  1. hi…
    i’ve tried this method with my 7 week old son but he keeps waking up… I give him his pacifier too while I pat him ’cause he is used to it when he sleeps… do you think I should drop the pacifier and keep doing the patting and shushing longer so he stops waking up?

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    1. Hi Dajana,

      We didn’t get shush pat to work until my daughter was about 11-12 weeks old… until then, it was a lot of rocking and a lot of short naps. :/ (At 7 weeks, we were also dealing with the transition to the big crib, which definitely resulted in a lot of short naps as well). I think it’s great that you are starting early so your son can get used to being put down to sleep while he is awake though. Your patience and effort will pay off!

      We never used a pacifier so I’m not sure if removing it will help, but you can certainly try it so that there is one less thing he is dependent on for sleeping. May be hard at first but worth it in the long run. Good luck!

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  2. Hi, I found your video on YouTube and it looks very helpful!
    My son is 12 weeks old and until now I’ve swaddled him, rocked him until he’s drowsy while patting his back and shushing, then I put him in the crib and keep on shushing and patting until he’s asleep. The problem is the first phase: rocking until drowsy can take even 30 minutes and my arms just can’t bear it anymore… What do you suggest? Should I put him in the crib from the beginning, when he’s wide awake? I’m afraid he would cry for all the time…
    Thanks in advance from Italy! 🙂

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    1. Hi Daniela,
      Sorry about the late reply. I just had my second baby so unfortunately neglected this blog for awhile. Hopefully your son is sleeping better now!

      I hear you that rocking until drowsy can take a long time! Eventually you do want to move to putting him the crib from the very beginning. If you keep track of his awake period (e.g. you know your baby can only stay awake for 2 hours at a time) and watch for his sleepy cues, hopefully he’ll be ready for sleep already (and not yet overtired) when you put him in the crib so it isn’t such a fight. Additionally, blackout curtains, white noise, and eventually introducing a lovey were all things that signaled sleep for my daughter so that when she was placed in the crib, she knew it was time to sleep. In the beginning, she fussed (as you saw in the video), and I needed to shush pat her to calm her down, but after awhile she learned what all the sleep signals meant, so as soon as she was put down in the crib she was ready to self soothe herself to sleep.

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  3. I am so grateful to you. There was no video for shush pat technique when I did it for my first baby. My attempt at sleep training for her was a failure and 3 year later she is still a bad sleeper (of course it is also due to her temperament). My second baby is 3 week old and I am learning all about the sleep again. (I felt really stress last week). My question is always which kind of shush pat my daughter will like. I have tried your way for 2 naps. Suddenly it works. I am praying it will go smooth from now on like you. I want to ask more: I think when you lift the legs up and down, you create a feeling like jiggle for the baby, which may be the reason for her to calm down and settle. Can it become a prop later? I know it is okay for your baby, when do you stop the lifting legs (when she completely sleep or only when she is drowsy)? I use your technique and my baby will close her eyes for a bit and I slow down the pat and shush, but then she will jolt awake and I back to pat from the start. I have to keep patting for 20 minutes until she past all the jolting and into deep sleep? Is it okay? I am from Vietnam. Sorry for bad English. Thank you very much for your video and post.

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    1. Hi Hanh,
      I’m happy my shush pat technique is working for you! That’s a good question about it being a prop. The key for us was adding other props, or rather signals, that aren’t inconvenient for the parents, e.g. blackout curtains, white noise, swaddle, a favorite stuffed animal lovey, and a consistent bedtime routine. The shush pat technique is in some ways a prop in the beginning, but what’s most important about it is it enables you to put your baby in the crib while she is awake —and thus teaches her to associate the crib with sleep, as she gets used to drifting off to sleep while you are shush-patting her.
      For my daughter, we also had to shush pat her for a long time in the beginning, but with all the other signals in place, the time required to shush pat her decreased until it was very short (as you saw in the video), and eventually we did not need to shush pat her at all. We could just swaddle her, pull the curtains, turn on the white noise — and she would put herself to sleep in less than 5 minutes! (Keep in mind that when babies put themselves to sleep, they may fuss and cry a little… it’s important to let them do that before you go in and soothe them. Read about the 15 minute rule here.)
      We didn’t use these techniques until our daughter was 10 weeks old though, so I’m not sure how long it’ll take for your daughter to not need shush pat anymore. It sounds like you are on the right track however. Good luck!

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