Having a baby or toddler sleep so the entire family can sleep is a healthy goal. Sleep recharges our bodies and our immune systems, so it's a critical piece of our health. When I met Mariana and her 9-month-old son, Channing, no one in the household was getting the sleep they needed. Channing was nursing day and night to fall asleep, and, if he didn't wake up when Mariana put him down in his crib (which he often did), he woke up several times during the night crying and wanting to nurse.
Desperate for sleep, Mariana did what mant exhausted moms do: she brought Channing into the parental bed. Mariana had added a child safety rail to try to make it safe—but the rail failed, and Channing fell out of his parents' bed. Although he wasn't injured, he could have been, and Marianna needed another plan for her and Channing to get the sleep they needed.
One solution would have been to place the parents' mattress on the floor, but Mariana was looking for a resolution that would help Channing become an independent sleeper as well as help everyone else in the family get as much undisturbed sleep as possible. I suggested using "hug-it-out" sleep training. Hug-it-out is a sleep-training method I created in which parents hug their child until the child then lays him or herself down to sleep. Here's how we made it work:
The first things we did were implement a sleep schedule, since Channing didn't have one, along with a feeding schedule. Whether it was a nursing or solids session, Mariana needed to make each feeding count. Channing had been snacking day and night, and it was interrupting his sleep.
We then moved Channing into his crib, which at that time was in Mariana's bedroom, because it was not safe for him to sleep in his parents' bed. (We also made sure Channing's crib was a safe environment—free of stuffed animals, pillows, and blankets!) Since Channing wasn't used to his crib, we needed to introduce him to it slowly. At first, I had Mariana put Channing in the crib and allow him to play with her nearby. If he didn't cry, there was no need to go to him. If he did, she was told to go over to Channing and hug him, while making soothing sounds, until he calmed down—while he was still in his crib.
With this method, after hugging your baby, you shouldn't look at or engage him, or physically lay him down after hugging him. He'll be looking for engagement—but when he doesn't get it, he'll go back to playing on his own—and he'll eventually lay down on his own. (If you lay your baby down, then you're teaching him that he's not capable of doing it on his own—not the message you want to send!) With the hug-it-out sleep-training method, you're teaching your baby that the location he's in is safe. If you constantly take him out of the crib, then you reinforce the idea that it's a place from which he need to be rescued.
Over the next few weeks, Mariana continued using the hug-it-out method, slowly expanding from having Channing play in his crib in her bedroom, to placing him in his crib in his own bedroom where, after a hug, Channing would lie down and fall asleep. Slowly, but surely, Channing began to embrace his crib. Today he's an independent sleeper, and confident that he is in a safe space. All the entire family—Channing, Mariana and her husband—is getting the rest they need to live happy and productive lives.