My third son is the most curious, lovable, and adorable creature on Earth. He just turned one, and his brothers, his Daddy, and I are all nuts for him. He also, for the last six months of his life, has been a positively horrendous sleeper. His nights were so unpredictable. One night he was up every three hours, the next a slightly longer stretch at first, then inconsolable for a bit. He was usually easily nursed back to sleep, but when he wasn’t, he was absolutely miserable (and so were we). Even the first few hours of sleep wasn’t a guarantee, and I spent plenty of evenings rocking him in his room instead of watching bad television with my husband.
My first two sons had been good (even great) sleepers, who had eventually figured sleeping through the night out for themselves. I consulted some friends whose babies hadn’t slept well, and most of them told me that things had gotten better once they hit one year old. So I just kept on going and hoped that would be how things worked out for us too. I rationalized that even if he was still sleeping poorly at a year, I would be more comfortable co-sleeping and we could resort to that.
But mamas, constant sleep deprivation is ROUGH. Throw in a pandemic and it’s downright tortuous. I had no energy to do all the things I needed to do to keep my family running, let alone fun things with the big boys or anything that I found fulfilling for myself. I was always grumpy, my brain barely worked, and by the time I hit the couch in the evening all I could muster was a few scrolls through Facebook. And because I was up so often at night, it felt like I never got a break from parenting.
Then Baby Boy turned a year old, and instead of better, things in the sleep department just got worse. More miserable evenings. Shorter stretches of sleep. Harder to get to sleep. And he had no interest in co-sleeping past an hour or so after nursing. I was confused, and frustrated, and frankly really irritated at my boy. Not fair, I know, but I’m only human. I knew about sleep training, but the thought of my baby crying for an extended amount of time just killed me (never mind the fact that he was already crying for extended periods every night while he waited for me to drag my exhausted tush out of bed). It wasn’t something I had been willing to try. But I just couldn’t go on like this, especially with no end in sight. I needed some help. That’s when I decided that I needed to hire a sleep consultant.
As per usual with me, this idea had been rumbling around in my brain for months, and by the time I pulled the trigger I was beyond ready. I reached out to Camie at Sleep Baby Consultants, and grabbed the first appointment she had available. If you’re considering hiring a sleep consultant, I hope the rest of my piece will help you with your decision.
How did you get started?
I did some exploring on social media to find a company that fit with my preferences and budget. The great thing about hiring a sleep consultant is that most work remotely, so you can pick one from anywhere! (Just keep in mind the time zone of who you’re hiring!) After filling out the contact form on the website, I received an email from Camie within a few hours, and set up a phone appointment for later that week. After filling out an info sheet, I had an hour long phone call with Camie and word vomited up all my problems. She seemed very sure that we could fix my situation quickly. The next day I received a four page long plan about how we were going to get my boy on the road to better sleep, starting with getting him to fall asleep solo. I implemented the plan and was able to speak to Camie about any issues I ran into.
Was there crying?
There was crying, but the first night was the only night that was really tough. He cried for an hour and twenty minutes at bedtime, woke an hour later and cried for fifteen… AND THEN SLEPT THROUGH THE ENTIRE NIGHT. We went in and comforted him often in his crib, lots of hugs, soft talking, and singing. Night two he cried for 25 minutes, night three 15… and it just continued to decrease from there. Plus, bonus, he wasn’t up crying all night.
Aren’t you into gentle parenting? Didn’t you feel terrible when your baby was crying?
Yes and yes! I absolutely am not in favor of dropping baby in the crib and letting him cry forever. But one of my favorite parenting experts, Janet Lansbury, says that if you are feeling annoyed and resentful towards your child, that’s a clue that you probably need to set a boundary somewhere (check her out at janetlansbury.com or listen to her podcast Unruffled). I was getting annoyed, and I needed to set a boundary so that I could be a better mom for all three of my boys. Gentle parenting takes both energy and patience, two things that I was in short supply of. My consultant specifically asked me how much crying I was comfortable with and kept that in mind while writing my plan. My husband or I went in every 10-15 minutes and hugged him, sang to him, and spoke to him softly. I could stay for 5-10 minutes, which made me feel much better, because I could be in the room comforting him almost as much as I was out. Also, Camie pointed out to me that part of the crying is your child protesting a change in a routine that they were comfortable with, which made total sense to me.
Did the consultant come to your house at bedtime?
This was one of my fears, because frankly it sounds super awkward, (and also, COVID) but the consultant I worked with did all her work remotely.
Isn’t it expensive?
It certainly wasn’t cheap, but after going through the process, I’m one hundred percent happy with my investment.
Couldn’t I just read a few books about this subject and figure it out myself?
You definitely could, but many of the theories contradict each other. Plus, with all that lack of sleep, I didn’t have the time or brain power to do that research in my current state of mind. Also, the package I purchased with Sleep Baby allowed me to text back and forth with my sleep consultant for two weeks while we implemented the plan. So if my son was taking an extra long nap one afternoon, I could ask her when to wake him so I wouldn’t screw up bedtime. And that first night when he cried so much, I definitely texted her to make sure things weren’t going too far off base (she thought he might be overtired, and he knocked out by the time she had texted me bank). Lastly, what a sleep consultant can do for you is tailor your plan to your family’s preferences and your child’s specific issues (early waker, poor napper, etc).
Is the consultant going to pressure me to do things that I’m not comfortable with as a mom?
In a word, no- although most sleep training does involve SOME crying. My consultant was awesome with this and asked about my comfort often as we formulated the plan. Once my son was sleeping well at night, Camie initially suggested totally night weaning him, but she could tell I wasn’t comfortable with that. So gave me some alternatives, which I really appreciated.
Initially, I was afraid I would feel regretful and terrible after sleep training. What actually ended up happening was that by the end of the process, I felt that I had set an appropriate boundary with my child so that he and I could both be the best, most rested versions of ourselves.
Did it work?
By a week into implementing the plan, I put my son into his crib at bedtime, he snuggled up, and went right to sleep with zero crying. Every night since we started he has either slept straight through the night or woken up just once. He even got sick a couple of weeks after the training and continued to sleep the same! His daytime naps now are a more appropriate length and he’s eating more solid food because he’s not so full of breastmilk from waking up all night. So yes, I would DEFINITELY say it worked.
But what if it doesn’t work?
I can’t say for every sleep consultant, but Camie works with a group of professionals who all consult with each other when they have a client who isn’t making progress as quickly as they’d like. This was one thing that drew me to Sleep Baby.
So was it worth it?
Short answer, yes. Long answer? I cannot tell you how good it feels to be garden variety, mom-in-a-pandemic tired instead of the kind of tired where you don’t know how you’re going to make it through the day. The kind of tired where everything annoys you and you have no patience. Now, when I get some kid free time, I can actually do things that I enjoy, instead of being too exhausted to think. I don’t have a strict (and obscenely early) bedtime for myself. I can put the baby down for a nap in just a few minutes, and then spend quality time with one of my big boys. Although I still want to be the one who puts the baby to bed most of the time, I don’t HAVE to be the one who puts him to bed (!!!). And I know that at bedtime, he is going to go to sleep and I am going to get a break. Honestly, it’s been life changing. I don’t know how I did it as long as I did. I hope if you’re driving the struggle bus through a sleep slog, you find a way to make some of these things happen for you too, independently or with help from an expert sleep consultant.
For information about local sleep consultants, visit our Bloom Pregnancy and Postpartum Guide!