Sleep Training My Baby (and why I hired a Sleep Consultant)
I used to think that people who hired Sleep Consultants were lazy rich people, too precious to put their own children to bed. But then I had a boy who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 1 and a girl whose first birthday came and went without ever getting more than 4-5 hours of consecutive sleep. So combined, I’ve had over 2 years of never sleeping through the night myself. My exhaustion was affecting everything from my memory to my overall health.
Part of the reason I’ve had such a hard time letting my baby girl learn to self-soothe at night is because I enjoy these precious visits with her at 12am, 2:30am... 5:00am. The smell of her skin, her sweet baby breath and the softness of those chubby cheeks I can’t stop biting! I don’t think I was truly ready to give these moments up, even though I knew it was necessary for the well being of my family.
This summer, I hired Tracy Braunstein, a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant from Sleep Tight Solutions to help us get our sleep on. Though we are in different cities, she works remotely via Skype and text message and assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. At first I thought this arrangement was odd. How would she evaluate my baby and find out why she wasn’t sleeping without meeting her in person? But sleep training it turns out, isn’t for the infant, it is for the parents. It’s for us to realize that after a certain age, they can and should be sleeping through the night and are only screaming because they are p-ssed off that you, lazy servant, have the nerve to lie down when late night fun and snuggles could be had!
Doing everything but sleeping..
The first step of operation Go to Bed (and Stay There) was a customized sleep plan where Tracy evaluated everything from the nursery environment to the feedings and daytime naps. The nap schedule she set out was definitely the most effective part of the program because I learned I had been putting her down too late for her day time naps so she was already over-tired long before going down for the night. Changing the times based on her recommendation led to an immediate, pain-free improvement.
Tracy laid out the different sleep training methods we could try, which ranged from timed crying (you go in at certain intervals) to sitting in the room in a chair moving farther and farther away (fun!) to full out cry it out. I surprised myself and chose Cry It Out, a method I always thought was cruel. I chose this because I knew that at 3 a.m, I would not have the wherewithal for the chair method or the stop watch.
Tracy's plan offers unlimited text support all day until about 10pm. She armed me with the advice and encouragement I would need for the night ahead, but it was up to me to carry it out.
I had been warned by friends that the first night of Cry It Out would be terrible, and it was. She cried for over 2.5 hours while I watched on the monitor as she clung to her bunny wailing. I had a fight with my husband because I wanted to go in and save her and he wanted to follow instructions. I hated watching her scream on and on with nothing to soothe her but her favourite pink bunny (Bunny doesn’t let her down like Mommy does). But before we got to the third hour, I caved and went into get her, feeling like a horrible parent for letting her cry that long, and for failing at our first night of sleep training.
The next day’s naps were relatively uneventful and then it came time for night #2. I dreaded going through this again. Movies were rented, wine was had and my husband and I hid in the basement, hoping to drown our guilt in Baco Noir and comedy. In reality, we watched the video monitor like it was a top rental on iTunes. Tracy had advised me not to pick her up before midnight but said, “if you really feel strongly you can feed her at 11pm at the earliest”.
I felt strongly and when the clock reached 10:59pm, I fed her and I paid for it with another unsuccessful night. Not my fault though, right? I felt strongly. I thought I was following instructions.
Night 3 wasn’t as bad, but we still weren't sleeping all the way through. I started to believe that would never happen. Then we went off to Vancouver for ShowCase, kids in tow and added a 3 hour time zone difference to the mix plus sleeping in a hotel in unfamiliar beds. All progress was swiftly unraveled.
By the time we got back from our travels we were back to square one. Fail on all levels. But then, something amazing happened: I had to travel for two days on business and left my husband with the kids (evil laugh). It turns out, Alex is much better at following Tracy’s instructions than I am. This was the solution to everything! My dear man - bless him - happily watched movies with headphones on while my girl learned the art of self-soothing. After two days away, I came home to a miracle. My big girl now sleeps 12, sometimes 13 hours a night without a peep in between. My 3 year old on the other hand, has reverted to a new infant's sleep schedule, waking every 2 hours for a pee break, chat, or to climb into our bed. Did I mention we didn't teach him to self-soothe?
There are 3 key things that lead to my baby sleeping through the night:
#1. Timing for naps and bedtime is everything. I would not have figured this out on my own without Tracy because we had a nap and bedtime routine I thought was reasonable, but it was all too late. Timing is EVERYTHING and if you wait until they are tired, you are already too late. Babies self-soothe very quickly if you put them down at the right time.
#2. Daddy's Balls. You need to either have, or grow a pair of balls to get through the screaming and resist the urge rush in and pick them up. Otherwise you are actually reinforcing the nightly wakings.
#3. Sleep Consultant Support. Tracy's text support was really important for keeping me on track and figuring out the timing for everything from nap time to bed time. I had relied on my instincts for all of that (mother knows best, right?), but mine were wrong. Bedtime at my house used to take an average of 3 hours. Now it is less than 5 minutes.
If you are suffering through this and need some expert guidance you can find Tracy over at www.SleepTightSolutions.com. And let me say - there is no need to spend thousands of dollars hiring your Sleep Consultant. Tracy’s most popular plan is about $340, which is well worth it.
If you are going through this right now, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or you can join our forum discussion here.
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