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Pick Up Put Down is a very gradual, gentle form of sleep training. Sources vary as to the exact ages that it can be used but many say it works best for babies under six months. Others say that there is no age limit and that it can work at any age… with enough parental persistence. It can be more challenging to use this method, though, once a baby can stand as the parent is then unable to lie the baby down.

A certified Maternal Well sleep consultant can help you determine if Pick Up/Put Down is the best sleep training method for your baby and your family. Remember, there is no one perfect method — they all have their benefits and drawbacks. 

As with any sleep training method, the best way to achieve success with this method is to have a clear and concrete plan. Otherwise, it will be too hard to stay consistent when you are exhausted and your baby is crying.

Here’s how you do Pick Up/Put Down:

  1. Start with your regular bedtime routine — and if you don’t have a predictable bedtime routine yet, get one started as soon as possible.

    For a newborn, under 3 months, it might just mean swaddling, singing a song, and rocking for a few minutes before bed. Once your baby is about three months or older, you can gradually make the routine a bit longer. If your baby is interested in board books — even if they are used more for chewing than reading — adding a book to the routine is a great idea. Then a song, closing the shades, turning on the white noise machine, and saying a brief goodnight mantra like, “It’s time to sleep; I love you.”

    All these elements in a bedtime routine signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. And starting these habits young can prevent sleep problems down the road.

    It’s important to start the bedtime or naptime routine before your baby is overtired. Try to start bedtime when you rubbing her eyes and yawning, before she starts to fuss. That will make it easier for her to fall asleep. It’s also important to end the routine before your baby is asleep.
  2. Once the routine is complete, put the baby in the crib or bassinet awake.

    This part is critical. If he fell asleep on your body, he’s likely going to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle and be totally confused as to where your lovely, warm body has gone. Naturally, he will cry, in an attempt to bring you back and recreate the conditions he had when he first fell asleep.

    Leave the room. If he starts to cry, wait a moment to see if he settles. You don’t want to interfere too soon — give him a chance to calm down on his own. If the crying escalates, go back into the room and pick him up. Hold him, shush him, rock him if necessary, but don’t jiggle or bounce him. Jiggling and bouncing are too stimulating and can make it harder for him to fall asleep. Once he is calm again, but before he is asleep, put him back in the crib.
  3. Repeat as needed. If the cry is whining or squawking than true crying, wait. It’s important not to intervene too soon because you could be preventing her from soothing herself.

    You may have to repeat the steps many, many times in the early days. It’s important to be extremely consistent and never deviate from the routine or progress can be slow or nonexistent.

This method can require a lot of patience from parents because it will take a lot of repetition.   

Proponents of it say that they like PU/PD is very gentle and that it doesn’t leave parents feeling like they are abandoning their babies. 

What To Expect In the First Year says, “Yes, with enough practice and patience, the pick up, put down method can teach your baby that it’s time to hit the hay. This process can be draining, however, as you’re on deck all the time and it involves a considerable time investment of several weeks or longer.

Critics say that it takes too long (several weeks or longer), is too frustrating for babies, and requires too much absolute consistency (not just at bedtime and naptime but every time the baby wakes during the night) on the part of the parent. It is especially difficult to stay consistent when the crying — and the parental wake-ups — go on night after night after night. Parents may start to wonder if there is an end in sight.

Critics also point out that as with all methods of sleep training, there is crying involved. If parents choose this method in the hopes that there won’t be any crying, they may be disappointed and give up. 

And Pick Up/Put Down may be too stimulating for some overtired babies, which can lead to the method taking a very long time.

No parent likes to hear his baby cry. Many exhausted parents find it helpful to get some outside help with creating a plan. That’s where a certified sleep consultant, like the ones at Maternal Well, can be so helpful. They give you a plan, customized for your family, which helps you feel confident that you are on the right track. 

Among sleep consultants who graduated from the Family Sleep Institute certification program, most don’t suggest it to their clients or use it only rarely. One told me, “I don’t use it. I think it’s awful to send such a mixed message of rescuing and replacing babies in the crib. The crying goes on for ages and it stresses babies out.” Another told me that she uses it temporarily with clients before switching them to timed checks.

It was hard to find a parent who had actually tried this method — other methods seem to be more popular — but here is one parent’s account of her experience.

We used a loose version of this method for my older son who had a ton of trouble learning to fall asleep on his own the crib, and was also an extremely strident crier and seemed terrified so we didn’t think we could stomach anything that required leaving him alone for long stretches. We started using it at about 4 months and continued through 1 ish on occasion as needed, during which time he became a solid sleeper and napper and continues to be at age 4.

After the first two nights, he was able to fall asleep on his own for the first time, and over time we had ups and downs with middle-of-the-night wakings and naps, but those did improve a whole lot too.

We did let him cry for 5-10 minutes before going into the room, and then would attempt to soothe him in the crib without picking him up. Only if that didn’t work did we pick him up and rock him gently.

He’s never felt afraid of going to sleep or being alone in his room, and I think this approach helped establish the bed as a safe place because it eliminated any fear/panic about being left alone while still persisting with getting him used to sleeping on his own in the crib.

It’s nice that this sleep training approach is compatible for a sick child, vacations…always being able to go in and offer comfort without worrying you’ll be setting yourself back is nice.

There is no perfect sleep training method. There also isn’t a single one with no crying. There is only the one that your family feels confident in committing to. The key ingredient to success with any of these methods is parental commitment. If you can commit 100%, your family can succeed.

Sleep training — whichever method you choose — isn’t easy. You are not alone!

It’s obvious that we all need sleep, but figuring out how to help your baby achieve is anything but obvious. Reach out to a certified Maternal Well sleep consultant to help you choose the best method for your family. 

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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