Sharing a bedroom can be a wonderful bonding experience for siblings. But when one of those siblings is a baby who isn't sleeping through the night, it can wreak havoc on the entire family. That was the case with Jill, a mom of two kids — Olivia, age 5, and 6-month-old Logan.
The family lives in a two-bedroom apartment, and the children share a room. The problem was that Logan, who hadn't yet learned to self-soothe, was waking up three times a night screaming. Jill would take him out of the crib each time and nurse him.
I knew that sleep training could help this family, so I discussed with Jill two possible sleep training methods that I thought could be effective in this situation: the interval method and the extinction method. The interval method involves checking on the baby when he is upset, and rubbing his back while he remains in the crib. If the baby gets more upset with mom or dad coming in, then interval isn't the best option, and the extinction method may be a better option. With the extinction method, mom only goes into the baby's room when it is time for the baby to feed.
To start the sleep-training process, I first had Olivia move temporarily into her parents' room at night, so we could begin to sleep train Logan. This could take from one to two weeks.
We then tried the interval method with Logan. When he was crying, Jill went in and placed her hand on his back. His cry became more intense, which told me that he was angry that she came back into the room. Logan had been trying to put himself back to sleep.
Jill had told me that she was okay with a more direct approach—and Logan was eating well, and we were implementing all of the foundational pieces at the same time. So when we noticed after just one try with the interval method that he was getting more upset with mom coming in to help, we moved to the extinction method. Within a day we saw progress. And within a week Logan was sleeping through the night and napping well.
Jill realized that she hadn't been giving her baby the space to self-soothe; she resorted to feeding because she thought he might be hungry, even when he was not. And she hadn't attempted to give him that space to self-soothe because she was so worried that he might wake up Olivia with all of his crying. As a result, she had inadvertently helped Logan develop a "feed to sleep" association.
In this case, the extinction medthod helped her learn to read what her child was telling her—something we all need to do. If all it takes for a baby to fall asleep is rocking, bouncing, or feeding for a few minutes, then we know that they are waking up because we have not taught them how to become independent sleepers. They are capable of it—they have just been used to us doing it for them.
Now, Olivia is back in ther bedroom—and not being woken up by Logan!