Most sleep consultants’ journeys starts with another sleep consultant. You have a child who doesn’t sleep, you hire a sleep consultant, and it changes your life so much so that you want to become a sleep consultant and give families the gift of sleep.
But that wasn’t my story; we never worked with a sleep consultant.
On my first day of training we went around the room and shared our stories. I felt kind of silly that I was sitting in the room to become something I didn’t have a personal experience with. And as I kicked off my business, I had a hard time sharing our sleep story because it did not look the same way it was going to for the families I worked with!
But now that I’m a year and a half into my business, I see how our own sleep journey supports the work I do as a sleep consultant all the more, so I want to share it with you. (Not to mention that my business is named after my oldest because her sleep habits exhausted us!)
It seems fitting to post our story now, as 3 years ago is when Olivia’s sleep had just started going HAYWIRE and stayed that way for the next six months.
I grew up pretending to be the mom of my baby sister (5 years younger) and babysat like a crazy person from age 11 on, and then I taught elementary for eight years, so to say I was comfortable with kids is an understatement. I did a lot of research about pregnancy and labor and couldn’t get enough of it, but I didn’t do much research when it came to newborn or baby life; I was confident in what I knew!
And I knew that sleep was a common challenge in parenting and that a regular question for new moms is, “Are you getting any sleep?!”, but because I was such an “expert” with kids, it would obviously be a breeze for me! Famous last words…
I don’t really know how, but Olivia was somehow an amazing newborn sleeper. Two weeks in she was giving us 7-8 hour stretches at night and it was amazing!
We had to hold her for pretty much every nap until she was around 8 weeks old, but because nights were so great, I looked past the naps. (Plus, who doesn’t love newborn snuggles?!)
I knew what overtiredness was and I knew to watch for tired cues, but I didn’t know about awake windows. I knew about putting newborns down “drowsy but awake,” but didn’t actually know how. So her sleep “success” wasn’t because of anything we did, she just slept. Until we hit four months…
I had never even heard of the four month regression until a friend mentioned it when her baby turned four months a few days ahead of Olivia. But it became very real very fast and hit us like a ton of BRICKS!
I vividly remember being home for Christmas and nursing Olivia for what seemed like the 100th time that night. As I was walking her back to her pack ‘n play, I fell. I was so darn tired I literally dropped to the ground.
Praise God for motherly instincts, because it was as controlled as a fall could possibly be, and Olivia didn’t actually hit the ground. Jason scooped her up and was able to lay her down, and we all went back to sleep. And I somehow kept going, thinking it was just how it had to be.
So from about 4-10 months old, Olivia woke anywhere between 3-7 times a night, and I would get her up, nurse her, and lay her back down, hoping she’d actually stay asleep. And if she wouldn’t, I’d re-rock or re-nurse her, eventually stick Jason on her to re-rock her, often having him pass her right back to me to re-nurse her to sleep.
Not to mention putting her to sleep initially! We often tried putting her down drowsy (little did we know that was only a newborn goal!), but it rarely worked. Sometimes we’d let her cry for 10 minutes, just to feel like we were attempting something, but then we’d always end up rocking her to sleep. Jason and I would often take turns rocking her, re-rocking her, bouncing on the yoga ball, etc., until she was finally down for the night.
I knew overtiredness was a thing and Olivia was a chronic short napper, so I would often try to explain her rough nights by saying she was just overtired. Or teething!
But after days that turned into weeks that turned into months, at some point you can only explain so much.
I knew enough to know it didn’t have to be that way, but I had no clue how to do anything differently. She must just be a unicorn baby!
My (Perceived) Options
I remember asking our pediatrician for advice and other moms I trusted, and I was given the following advice:
- You just have to let her cry.
- I have no idea what to tell you.
- Just co-sleep.
- She’ll grow out of it eventually.
While I know everyone was trying to be helpful, I was always left at square one.
Let her cry?? For how long?
Just co-sleep? Neither Jason nor I feel comfortable with her sleeping in bed with us, so now what?
She’ll grow out of it? When???
What We Did
Summer break hit as Olivia turned 10 months old, so now that mama was home for the summer, I couldn’t blame her poor sleep on overtiredness from how other people were handling her naps. And we all knew she wasn’t teething for 6 months straight. So I called it our sleep boot camp!
The only tangible advice I was given was to let her cry, so that’s just what we did. Jason was heading out for the day and I said, “She’s just going to have to cry herself to sleep.” And then I gave the caveat of, “But once she gets to 20 minutes I’m pulling the plug.”
Well let me tell you, those were some of the most miserable 20+ minutes of my life. She was sleeping in our walk-in closet at the time (small-space living!), so I sat right outside the closet door the entire time. For some reason, it made me feel better about leaving her to cry knowing that I was as close as possible without her being able to see me.
And I texted Jason updates every 5 minutes or so, saying, “It’s been xx minutes, and she’s still crying. I don’t know how much longer I can do this!” When we got to 20 minutes, I so badly wanted to “give up,” but then what would happen the next day?? She needed to sleep! So I kept going, and it was around 29 minutes she finally fell asleep.
I was so relieved and also so emotionally exhausted. By some miracle, she only cried for a few minutes for the next nap, and most sleeps thereafter, rarely crying more than 10 minutes. And within a night or two she was sleeping through the night. In essence, it “worked!”
While Olivia was now a “great sleeper” (meaning she fell asleep on her own and slept 11-12 hours a night), it seemed to only really work at our house.
When she was sick, we couldn’t just let her cry, and we had no other tricks up our sleeve. So I’d try to pull her into bed with us to save some of our sleep, which meant Jason would quickly head to the couch, I’d lay in a crazy position trying to prevent her from falling off the bed in any direction, and she often thought that meant party time, so no one would get much sleep.
When we’d travel, she’d scream her head off, and our only options were letting her cry to sleep again or rocking her to sleep (which then left us back-tracked once home).
And then she became a toddler…
Right before Olivia turned two, we entered a season of life where we moved five times in 7 months, so talk about transitions! Several moves, mom going back to work after summer break, and a toddler about to become a big sister all equaled a recipe for disaster when it came to sleep.
The good news is, I had just become a sleep consultant when we entered this season, so I had more tricks up my sleeve. And although we tried, CIO just didn’t work with our toddler anymore. She was older and there were so many more dynamics in play (language, fears, stresses, new places, etc.), and we just couldn’t do it again.
And it made me realize she really hadn’t been a great or confident sleeper before, she just knew the routine at home and was comfortable there. But transferring sleep skills anywhere else wasn’t a thing.
So how did we get Olivia back on track? We essentially “hung in there” at first, because we lived with one family for one week, another friend for three weeks, and I knew for older kids we need a solid three weeks in the same place to fully sleep train again. So it wasn’t until we were back with that original family and would be there for a few months that we could really dive in.
As a new sleep consultant, we carried out a plan I’d lead my toddler and older clients through. While most kids will cry or protest to some extent, we didn’t have to leave her alone; we comforted her while also creating boundaries!
So as Avery was born, and as we moved a couple more times in that season, Olivia was now a confident sleeper. And we were confident in the skills she had and in knowing how to respond when she had an off night.
It’s been a WORLD of a difference!
Fortunately, I don’t have as much to report with Avery! When I was pregnant with her, I knew we couldn’t handle another 10 months of sleepless nights, especially with a toddler! I had started learning more about the world of sleep consulting and wanted to make a career switch that gave me more time with my girls and it seemed like the perfect mix of my love for teaching and all things babies and parenting!
Avery was born three months after I had become a sleep consultant, so we knew how to help establish a sleep foundation from the start. And we didn’t have to officially “sleep train” her because those skills continued to mature as she got older, and again, we knew how to continue supporting those skills and how to adjust with her age. (For my top newborn tips, read this post!)
That doesn’t mean her sleep has always been perfect; she’s certainly had her rough days and nights. But she has those sleep skills to fall back on, and again, we have the knowledge and tool kit to help her along the way.
And what a difference it makes!
I have felt stuck and like there were no real options for us. I have “winged it” without any sort of plan and or knowing if it would work. And I look back at that exhausted mama and want to tell her there is another way!
If this resonates with you and you want to hear more, I would love to talk to you, parent to parent. Book a (free) call with me so I can hear more about what your child’s sleep currently looks like and then I can share more about how I can help!