The Sleep Lady

Getting babies to bed is often a tiring task — for the parent, that is. Fortunately, the Sleep Lady may be able to help…

I had a conversation with my friend a couple weeks ago that went something like this:

“My son slept for 10 hours straight last night!”
“I hate you.”
“It’s amazing, the Sleep Lady was totally right!”
“I hate you.” I take a sip of coffee. “Wait, what sleep lady? The book?”
“No, the sleep consultant. I talked to her on the phone.”
“Give me her number, like yesterday.”

Okay, that’s really a dramatized re-telling, but you get the point. There are people out there — like lactation consultants or doulas — who specialize in infant, toddler (and parent) sleep. I had no idea that such a person existed! But they do, and that’s a beautiful thing. Even if you’ve read all the books (and I have), it’s likely you found yourself disagreeing with or unable to apply some of the information for one reason or another. That’s because every child is different, and every family is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all sleep solution (sorry Elizabeth Pantley). But taking what they know about sleep science, child development, and the emotional landscape of parenting, baby sleep consultants tailor a plan to your family’s unique circumstances, which is something no book meant for mass consumption can do.

My consultation with Meg from Baby Sleep Science (herself a mother of three) involved a few e-mails, a questionnaire, and an hour-long phone conversation to go over the three-page sleep plan she devised for Coraline based on the information I provided her. The goal is to night-wean Coraline so that she is able to fall asleep (and hopefully stay asleep) without me. The plan accommodates the fact that she is a mobile toddler, we do family bed, dad’s not around to help with bedtime five nights a week, and I am not comfortable with her “crying it out” (at all). These are all factors that seemed to conflict or not be accounted for in any of the books I read.

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We’re about 10 days into the plan and are still working out Phase One: Getting Coraline on a schedule. This phase was supposed to take four to seven days, but it’s been challenging establishing regularity. That said, Coraline is on as much of a schedule as she’s been her whole life, so I’m feeling good about it. So good in fact I’m second-guessing night-weaning. Knowing her day ends around 8 and starts around 7 has offered me a surprising freedom that makes me think I can take the nighttime nursing just a little bit longer. Or maybe it’s the cumulative sleep deprivation talking. I should probably check with my Sleep Lady.

Here’s a few interesting tidbits I learned from Meg that have helped me get a grasp on Coraline’s sleep habits and needs:

  • While some books advise “anticipating sleep” with sleepy cues to find the magical no-fight bedtime window, this can be a dangerous game. Little ones have something called a “sleep maintenance period” just before their bodies are ready to bed down. Trying to wrangle them to sleep during that period can lead to lots of tears and frustration — on both sides of the nursery door.
  • The biological urge to sleep is strongest at night, so best to try to break sleep habits like nursing, rocking, etcetera, at night first. Once you have nighttime down, tackle naps.
  • Schedules are your friend. Having a regular time for wake-up, naps, and bed sets a baby’s circadian rhythms, making sure their biological need for sleep is being cued consistently. Cues like consistent place and pre-sleep routine help as well by preparing them psychologically.
  • The most important part of any “sleep training” (or really any parenting at all) is to implement with loving consistency!

Valley mamas out there: What have you tried to do to get your little one to sleep? Are you struggling with any issues that the Sleep Lady may be able to resolve? Let me know in the comments box below!

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