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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

Low-Cry Sleep Training for Tension Increasers

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

I’ve written emails to you in my head more times than I can count, but the issue always seems to resolve itself before I actually get words on the screen. Not this time.

I am a stay at home mom of 3 kids, 6 and 3 year old boys and an 11 month old girl.

The problem is with my daughter (again 11 months). She is a terrible sleeper. Somewhere around December, due to unfortunate circumstances (illness, teething, overtired/overstimulated from holiday parties), she developed a dependence on me to fall asleep at night. She still takes naps during the day completely unaided by me.

But bedtime is a different story. She requires (at least) 30 minutes of rocking before bed. By me. I am her preferred parent. Which means that my husband cannot do it. Babysitters cannot do it. It has to be me. Anyone else gets a blank, wide-eyed stare and continued wakefulness. Until she freaks out and starts screaming for me. If it were just at bedtime, I wouldn’t be as worried about it. But she is now requiring me to rock her any time she wakes up throughout the night. She will not self-soothe at night. It is not unusual for her to wake several times through the night. Nor is it unusual for me to have to rock her for hours in the middle of the night to get her into a deep enough sleep that I can transfer her to her crib without her waking and having to start the process all over again. I am so tired.

Complicating the matter is that she might be a stress increaser (the original article you have linked to seems to be gone). Any sort of sleep training that involves her crying seems impossible due to the fact that she works herself into a frenzy and takes an extra 20 minutes to calm down after she gets upset. For example, if she gets mad at being in her car seat, she won’t typically settle down a few minutes into the ride, she’ll scream until we get home and I take her out of her seat.

For reference, her sleep schedule looks like this:

* Wakes at 7:30-8:00
* Nap from 10:00-11:00
* Nap from 3:00-4:30 (changing nap times is difficult, as I have to drop big brother off at school at 12 and pick up at 3:00)
* Bedtime at 7:30.

Her routine before naps is essentially non-existent. Put her in her crib with a binky and start a white noise machine (it’s on a 45 minute timer).

For bedtime, we put big brothers to bed at 7, then have a bottle, diaper change, pjs, binky, white noise machine, then rock and rock and rock….

Due to my husband’s work schedule, most sleep training will fall primarily on me as he is gone at bedtime about half the time.

Any advice that you or your readers may have will be so appreciated. I can’t do this much longer. I’m so tired, and it’s starting to affect so much.

Thanks in advance,
Sleepless in Salt Lake City

First, for the peanut gallery, some context on what poor Sleepless means by a “tension increaser”: There are two kinds of babies. Babies who actually release tension or stress through a little fussing and crying vs. those that increase tension. I like this concept a lot because it can be really helpful when choosing the sleep training method that’s right for your baby.

If your baby is a tension releaser and you rush to the crib to intervene and talk/pick up/soothe at the first sound of a cry, you’re gonna have a bad time. If your baby is a tension increaser and you try to just let them cry it out (CIO), you’re gonna have an even worse time. A lot of babies, honestly, fall somewhere in between, which is why I usually tend to recommend parents try some variation on the Ferber extinction method, since you can change up the timing of your “checks” to your baby’s needs (i.e. give them a chance to fuss it out but get your butt in there before it has a chance to escalate).

But for a baby for whom any fussing immediately turns to real, prolonged, escalating distress, you simply have to go in a different direction. The other options are usually marketed as “no cry” solutions, although I think that’s an overly optimistic label. “Low cry” would be more accurate, and puts less pressure on the poor parent who’s TRYING SO HARD to follow the instructions and their baby is still crying/fussing every night so they think they’re doing it wrong and should just give up and never sleep again oh my god halp halp halp. 

But! Low-cry solutions exist! And they do work! They do tend to take longer to work than the extinction methods like Ferber, but again, as long as you KNOW it’s going to take longer to work (and there will still be some crying and protesting and backtracking involved), you can better manage your expectations and stick with it.

For a baby dependent on rocking, I’d recommend you try “fading.” This means whatever “thing” you have to do to get your baby to sleep, you try to very, very gradually do less and less of it each night. For rocking, you start rocking a little slower than usual. Then a little slower the next night. Continue until there’s little to no motion at all, and you’re just holding her in your arms. The same goes for night wakings. You can continue to pick her up and sit in the rocking chair, but gradually fade out the motion.

It might take a couple weeks to successfully get down to zero motion in the rocking chair, because yes, she might occasionally cry/protest the change in rhythm and you’ll need to step back and add more motion to keep it from escalating. Once she’s able to fall asleep in your arms without the rocking motion, you start the fading process all over. 25 minutes instead of 30, 10 minutes instead of 15 (or however long you’re holding her at that point), etc. After a few nights of this, you can try transferring her to the crib just before she falls asleep and give her opportunities to fall asleep on her own. If she startles and cries, pick her back up but do not rock or bounce. Let her settle and then try again. And again.

I’m sorry to only offer something so gradual and slow — believe me, if I knew an overnight sleep solution for tension increasers I would tell you, and also I would be a billionaire.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Caroline Bowman
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Caroline Bowman

Just out of interest, how long has the OP actually left the child to cry in actual minutes? I ask because when exhausted and worried, seconds seem like hours! I do get all kids are different, but the story of rocking for hours in the night seems, for a child of nearly-1, to be… no. And as for being ”the only one who can”, no. At bed time or close to it, go out all evening (obviously when dad is going to be home for a few consecutive nights), just go out. Go sleep at a friend’s house, why not?… Read more »

Myriam
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Myriam

I tend to agree, especially as we know the little one can do it during the day, but “choose” not to at night. You might want to replicate the “no-routine” part of the “nap-routine”, as that works?

Megan
Guest
Megan

The Sleep Lady Book: Good Night, Sleep Tight was a lifesaver for us. She is an advocate of “low cry” and more gentler approach to Ferberizing (doing timed checks when crying and slowly over a matter of days/weeks getting farther across the room and out the door while the baby is still awake). As far as your husband’s schedule, if it’s at all possible for him to be home two nights in a row it could be incredibly helpful. Or maybe family member could spend two nights with you to help? When we moved my son from co-sleeping to his… Read more »

Ann
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Ann

My daughter is a tension increaser. We sleep trained her at 16 months, after trying many other things. I’m the few weeks before that, we noticed that she goes to sleep nicely for daddy, but only when I’m not home. That’s when we figured she’s ready. Her crib was next to our bed. One Friday night, I hid on the far side of the bed while my husband settled in next to her and told her it’s bedtime. Two hours of annoyed crying, but I could tell she knows he’s right – none of the usual shrieking and flailing. When… Read more »

K
Guest
K

Interesting conundrum. I do find it interesting that naps seem to be a non-issue. And (it’s hazy now but!) I think at 11 months/almost one kiddos are right in that zone of testing responses, so maybe replicating the nap time non-routine routine for a few nights to start? And doing the non-routine routine again if she wakes? Quick cuddle, then noise then whatever, but no prolonged rocking or even sitting in the rocking chair if that’s only a nighttime thing? Maybe she can like…feel mom gearing up for the hard bedtime and sort of knows? I mean, worth a shot… Read more »