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:
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.
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:
- Swaddle baby.
- Put her in crib awake on her back. She’ll cry.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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!