5 Things I Learned from Doing Sleep Consults

February 18, 2013 |  by  |  parenting, Q&A, Sleep Consults
5 Things I Learned from Doing Sleep Consults

A few weeks ago I decided to give away a few free personal sleep consults on Facebook. I fully expected to get a handful of comments and end up doing 1-2 free consults. I ended up with over 400 comments and 13 families to work with.

Thirteen. Not one or two. THIRTEEN.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

And while they’ve taken a ton of time it’s been incredibly refreshing. When you spend hours typing away on posts, comment replies, etc. you sometimes forget that there are actual people out there. Delightfully smart funny people with adorable squishy babies. With crazy baby hair. And monkey toes.

So I’ve been Skyping, emailing, and chatting with a range of tired families. And they taught me a lot.

What I Learned from Sleep Consults

1

People don’t really know what a “bad sleeper” is.

ALL of the parents I had the pleasure of chatting with started the conversation by telling me what a terrible sleeper their beloved peanut was. But truth be told, less than half actually HAD a bad sleeper on their hands. What I gathered from this is that ALL babies are HARD. Even the easiest baby is a lot of work. So no matter what is going on with your baby, from your perspective, it is a real challenge.

2

Put down awake isn’t enough.

Everybody in the baby sleep universe stresses the importance of putting down baby awake. So it’s almost impossible to find a new parent who hasn’t come across this concept and is either currently struggling with it or plans to as soon as they muster up the courage to do so.

But “put down awake” isn’t really the FULL solution. The SOLUTION is to put down WITHOUT SURPRISES. This includes putting them down awake so they aren’t surprised to find you missing later. But that is just one possible surprise. So if you are putting your baby down awake WITH A PACIFIER, you aren’t quite done. Unless your baby is one of those savant babies who can happily find and replace the paci during the night on their own, putting baby down awake with a pacifier in their mouth often leads to waking up all night because they’re a) surprised when they wake up with the paci (mysteriously) missing and b) are unable to fumble about to replace it.

3

There IS no quick fix.

Everybody is looking for the magic elixir that will fix things. And they want immediate evidence that whatever they are doing is working. Babies don’t work like this. You need to commit to a new plan for a few days or possibly a week. Not a day, or one nap. A week. Too often people try things once or twice and write it off as a failure. When the only failure was not sticking with it long enough to really know.

4

Desperate measures are for newborns.

Newborns are really really hard. Soothing newborns is tricky business. Getting them to fall and stay asleep can be arduous and relentless. So for a while, you do whatever you need to do. Baby only naps on your lap, baby only sleeps attached to your boob, baby only sleeps while being pushed in a stroller, etc. Sometimes you need to just make it through the day and nobody should look askance because you are doing what you need to.

But eventually you need to work on breaking out of desperate habits. Or instead of being “what we did you survive a particularly bad phase or sleep regression” it becomes “what we do every day.” And this will backfire on you on two fronts. For starters, desperate acts to get baby to sleep are generally not fun and often drain the ever-loving life out of you. It’s just not sustainable. And secondly as your baby gets older (definitely older than 2-3 months) many of these desperate acts lock you into the path to cryitoutsville. And I KNOW nobody wants to go there.

So at some point, ideally sooner than later, you need to develop some alternative methods to help your baby sleep. Which is hard because…

5

Everybody is absolutely TERRIFIED of change.

Change is scary. People are so exhausted that the thought of things getting worse, even temporarily, is absolutely horrifying. Even people who are so brutally sleep deprived that it would literally be impossible for things to get worse are afraid of doing things differently. This is how they get locked into non-functional sleep situations for months or years. Not because they haven’t read the right books. Not because they aren’t smart enough. Not because they don’t care.

Change is scary. But the key to solving any challenge with your child (and trust me when I tell you that sleep is only the first of a billion you will face) is to be willing to do something different. YOU need to do something different. You can’t wait it out or hope your child will change. It all starts with you. This is scary and uncomfortable. But there is no other way.

Put on your big girl/boy panties. Have faith in yourself. Know that if billions of other parents can figure this out, you can too. What you’re doing isn’t working. Try something new. It’s the only way things will get better. And it will get better. I promise.

Most of the 13 sleep consults are wrapped up and if I can pat myself on the back, successfully so. To those of you who were willing to share your families and challenges with me, thank you so much! As you can see I got a lot out of the experience. I hope you did too!

Has anybody else struggled with finding the courage to make a change? (Please note if you are struggling, there is no shame in it. Just about everybody else is too.) Or do you have some advice or experience that might help those that are struggling?

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295 Comments


  1. Hi Alexis,
    I just wanted to thank you for your site…. I really found it helpful if only to feel less alone! I have a six month old who was terribly unsettled for the first three mo the of her life that, paired with post natal depression, nearly broke me but some simple advise from your sight helped and once I sorted out the day time she slept through the night.
    However

    She has started to wake every forty minutes after her bed time for about3-4 hours SCREAMING. I use the word wake loosely because she is not really awake… Her eyes are closed and she wants to sleep…. It’s as though she can’t get into a deep sleep.often she still has the dummy in her mouth! Sometimes a rub on te face will calm her, sometimes I pick her up. It’s very strange and since it started happening she also wakes against around 4:30 – 5 am after having slept 7 til 7 for 3 months. I’m so confused!
    Her day naps are now all over the place too… She sleeps for forty minutes and wakes more often than not. she was never consistent during the day but I didn’t care because she was good at night.

    Could it be time to drop of her 4 pm cat nap? Or am I clutching at straws!!!

    • Alexis is way more qualified to respond here, but from what I have read on her site and know from experience, it sounds like a sleep regression. Assuming your little one isn’t teething or sick, it could just be that. It’s pretty classic to have one at 6 months. My first son’s WORST sleep regression was at 6 months and sounds exactly like what you’re going through. It’s like our sleep world just fell apart. There are some great articles on sleep regressions on the site that should help. For us, we just had to wait it out. It came right around the Christmas holidays for us and was made much worse with traveling, so it took longer than it should have to get back to normal. But after a few exhausting weeks it finally did. I would say just try to stick with what’s “normal” as much as possible, but also be willing to do a little extra soothing when needed. As long as you don’t start habits, it can help you get through the worst of it.
      Good luck!

  2. I have enjoyed your blog but have a question. My 11 month old grandson can self sooth and go to sleep by himself for bedtime and can sleep 10 hours however if he wakes up at night he screams and won’t go back to sleep on his own. He also is very hard to get to nap, but he is always such a happy guy while awake, any suggestions? We have him two days a week and I am working real hard to have set nap times and it only works about 1 out of 4 in getting him down awake. My daughter can’t get him to nap in his crib at home at all. He will bang his head on his crib and scream but this is the same crib he sleeps in every night without a problem. Help

    • Kathy,
      I have the same issue as you, except with my 18 month old. we have tried the CIO method for bed time and it works great to put her asleep. we put her down awake and she goes to sleep without a fuss or sometimes one or two minutes of crying…the issue comes in the middle of the night, she has been getting the tendency of getting up around 2am or 5am and she can’t put herself back to sleep, she can cry for 45 min or so and still not settle, if we go in the room and not pick her up this just escalates and we end up with 2hrs or missing sleep in the middle of the night. we always have to sooth her to get her back asleep….Nap are the same issue, we haven’t let her do CIO for naps mostly because her gradma watches her during the day and she is against CIO. However, she doesn’t even like going to the crib, the minute she senses she is being put down she wakes up and cries, so she ends up taking naps in her grandma’s arm…i really wish i have a solution. i really would of thought an 18month old should be sleeping thru the night by now, I was hoping Alexis would have some recommendations on what to do in these similar cases.

  3. Hi, my baby is 4 months and had slept 8-9 hours for few days, went back to 5-6 hrs then when the pediatrician told me to wean him from night feedings, he actually slept 9.5 hrs that night while i didn’t do a thing. Problem is that he still woke up numerous times wanting the paci and he has been doing this for 3-4 nights now! He goes to bed at 2030 then wakes at MN screaming. I give him his paci, back to sleep…then wakes up about 15 times between 2-4. He clearly is tired and wants to sleep so i give him his pacifier and he closes his eyes. But then anywhere from 3-30 minutes later he drops it and his arms and legs start flailing waking him so i do it all over again. It may be too early to drop the night feeding but he would normally act differently if he wanted to eat which i may just try to go back to night feeding until he is fully ready. He seems like he cries more from frustration than hunger because he can’t control his limbs from startling him and he tries to sleep when i soothe him and give him his paci…Any suggestions?

  4. Sounds like you need to swaddle

  5. Hello wonderful website! I enjoyed your article ! It is exactly how I feel. I have an 11 week old (7 week adjusted ) who only sleeps if attached to my breast or in a bjorn. I’ve tried putting her down drowsy but awake several times. She does not self soothe. She has pretty easy tempermant but increasingly difficult to put down even After being out Down in a deep sleep. Your article mentions that after about 2 months if no change is made to current sleep associations( that is how I understood it) that one is doomed for cry it out. So what to do by 2-3 mo. I only can imagine teaching my baby to self soothe now with crying. I don’t mind this as long as I know it will work and that I can comfort her everything I read says baby 2-3 months are often too young to self soothe. What are your thoughts?

  6. Hello thanks for your reply. I’m panicking because I return to work nov 1. I just got my schedule and scheduled for several evenings and overnights. My husband not able to get baby to bed. She and I have been cosleeping. Worried sitter won’t get her to nap. Wondering about swing. I’ve tried it and it worked once a day for the last three but she’ll cry within mins following naps. Is it ok to let her stay in swing and cry for more. ( how much?) to see if it works? Also possible to do the same at night? And how long cry before you give up? She’s addicted to the breast but it won’t be here every day and night next month ! Help!!

  7. One more question. How long would you recommend attempting nap in swing. I left baby for 15 mins but had to get her as crying escalated then it took another 15 mins to soothe her. She really seemed inconsolable. Now I’m really panicked because I don’t know what we’ll do when I return to workI fear she’ll cry hard again with next attempt. Not sure if I should try again tomorrow and if so how often. I’m really at a loss ( used the varsity technique)

  8. Hello Alexis,

    I wrote to you a few days ago asking if a guide on CIO for naps was coming anytime soon (well, not exactly asking, more like expressing my wishful thinking).

    Anyway, my problems pale in comparison to what I read on this site, but I wanted to thank you. Reading #5 really helped. I knew I was headed to Cry-It-Outs-ville for naps and put it off for as long as I could, but I had recently realized that this was something I HAD to do. It was time, and I was terrified. But I took a deep breath, remembered your words, darkened our room by putting aluminum foil over the windows (not on your site, I know but just something to get it darker), dragged out my husband’s old alarm clock to create some white noise, and told him that I could check these off as things to get done to help with the naps and that I’d have to stick with the plan for something like a week.

    Day 1 was insanely difficult, probably because dark room and white noise were not in place, and I’m only on day 4, but it is getting better for now. So, thank you. Even though I knew I was going to do it anyway, #5 in this post resonated very strongly with me. And your site is a good reference for ideas to help.

  9. Hi Alexis,

    I am not sure where to leave my post as long as you can see it but here it goes:

    My little girl is nine and half weeks old, since she was 4-5 weeks old, she would only sleep in my arms during the day. She sleeps in her cot at night totally fine(4-6hrs). She would sleep for long periods 1-2hrs in my arms but as soon as you put her down, within 15 mins she would wake up crying for at least 15-20mins. I normally wait for a little then pick her up and comfort her ( rocking, patting) she may go back to sleep in my arms again after 10-15mins. I do swaddle her for day and night sleep and use white noise during the day. But still, she wakes up easily by any noise or just spontaneously if she is not in my arms. She sleep through anything if I carry her.

    She sleeps in the pram if we take her out for walks,but as soon as we are home she wakes up : (

    Is there any method to get her sleep in her bassinet/cot for day naps? She is getting to six kg, my arms are hurting….. Could I use CIO to get her to sleep in the cot during the day or is she too young for it?

    • Ina–do you have a swing? Try this:
      http://www.troublesometots.com/the-ultimate-baby-swing-sleep-guide-for-swing-hating-babies/

      What you are describing is totally normal and your baby is still so very tiny-way too young to CIO. The swing will probably help you a lot. Babies love motion. At this age if you have to rock her to sleep and THEN put her in the swing, that’s ok. But keep trying the put down awake method at least once a day over the next few months and I guarantee that will really help. Good luck! My first baby was a terrible sleeper but my second is doing so much better, partly just because she’s a great sleeper but also because I have read every part of this website about 15 times. :-)
      Kate

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