One of Alyssa’s past sleep clients tells us her story about hiring an expert to solve her daughter’s sleep issues. She is honest about the fears she had going into it, the misconceptions and myths about sleep training that were dispelled while working with Alyssa, and how on the first day they saw improvement! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Hello! Welcome to Ask the Doulas. I am Alyssa Veneklase, and today, I’m super excited to be meeting for the first time and talking with Dominique. She was one of my past sleep clients. Welcome!
Dominique: Thank you for the welcome! I’m excited to be here!
Alyssa: Yeah! So I want to hear a little bit about what was happening at home and with sleep before you reached out to me.
Dominique: Yeah. So she is 11 months now, and before we reached out, it was getting to a point where she wasn’t taking naps, and if she was taking naps, it was, like, 15 minutes at a time. She was fussy all day. We were having to rock her to sleep for every single nap and bedtime, and that took 20 minutes.
Alyssa: So you would spend 20 minutes to get a 15-minute nap?
Dominique: Yes. Yes! So it was getting to a point where she didn’t seem like she was getting good sleep, and then we were just getting so frustrated. And I know you can’t expect a brand-new baby to sleep amazingly and to sleep through the night all the time, but she was not getting enough sleep, so it was just…
Alyssa: And she was nine months when you reach out? Does that sound about right?
Dominique: I think she was seven months when we reached out, yeah, just because I had read that if you were doing some sleep training, to kind of wait until about six months, so we decided to reach out around seven months, yeah.
Alyssa: I have different opinions about when to reach out!
Dominique: We may have waited a little too long!
Alyssa: Well, even by six months, that’s six months of forming some really bad sleep habits. And so before then, it’s really more of healthy sleep habits. You can’t really train a nine-week old baby. They’re not ready to sleep through the night, but there are some really healthy things that you can start incorporating during the day and at night to set yourself up for success at six months. So, yeah, it would have been a lot easier if you’d reached out earlier, but I’m glad you didn’t wait until 18 months!
Dominique: Yeah, I’m glad too, and I think if we have more kids in the future, we probably will incorporate some of the stuff that we learned, yeah.
Alyssa: Start a little earlier, yeah. So were you hesitant to start? What kind of fears or maybe even misconceptions did you have about sleep training before I worked with you?
Dominique: So I guess the biggest thing was that doing research and reading, I read a lot about crying it out and how it increases cortisol levels in babies, so they’re stressed out, and then they are learning how to cope on their own and they stay elevated, so they’re not learning how to be comforted, and instead they’re just crying themselves to sleep. So I was like, well, I don’t want to do that! I don’t want to set her up for not wanting to reach out to us for comfort, but then it also seemed like she was not happy because she was fussy and irritable all the time because she wasn’t sleeping.
Alyssa: So she was still crying all day, anyway.
Dominique: Yeah! So I was like, okay, there’s got to be some other ways to do this.
Alyssa: It blows my mind that people can still find information about cry-it-out online because I don’t know any sleep consultant who — I mean, letting a baby cry themselves to sleep just doesn’t even make sense to me. They don’t cry themselves to sleep. They might fuss themselves to sleep because they’re hearing themselves chatter, but yeah, those elevated cortisol levels for crying for two hours? No baby should sit in the crib alone and cry for two hours. I can’t stress that enough. I don’t even know who recommends that.
Dominique: And people say, well, oh, so you just let her cry in her crib? Well, no, we don’t just let her cry in her crib, but she had no self-soothing methods. She wasn’t self-soothing at all, so it was just like she doesn’t know how to go to bed unless we rock her.
Alyssa: So from what you remember, how long — well, I’ll go back. When you got my plan, was there anything that you were like, oooh, I don’t know about this? Or did it make sense?
Dominique: I think it made sense, all the different methods that you had mentioned to us. They all seemed pretty reasonable. The method where you sit in the room and kind of back out —
Alyssa: Oh, a gradual withdrawal?
Dominique: Yeah, gradual withdrawal, yeah. It seemed worse. When we were in the room, it was like she — it wasn’t — she wanted to lay down and know that we were right there. It was like, why are you in the room and you’re not picking me up? So that did not work for her.
Alyssa: Yep, you have to figure out and know your baby’s temperament. It’s first and foremost what drives the sleep method you use, because oftentimes these ones where the parents are in the room with the child, it’s way too stimulating. Baby is either like, you’re here; why aren’t you touching me? Why aren’t you holding me? Or, hey, it’s party time. I’m going to get up and I’m going to sing and dance in the crib because you’re here. So I’m glad you noticed that.
Dominique: Yeah, we kind of figured out that it was better for her that we didn’t sit in the room, but it did help for us to go back in periodically and soothe her.
Alyssa: So how long, do you remember, until you started to see results?
Dominique: Oh, man. The first night! So I think we started with bedtime, not her naps, because we got your plan, and I was going to be off work for a few days, so that first night, instead of rocking her for 20 minutes, we did her bedtime routine, which was another thing that we incorporated. Instead of nursing her to sleep, I was nursing her and then we would change into pajamas, wash her face, read her a book, and then put her to bed. And so that very first night, we laid her down, and she cried. We did three minutes, and then went in for 30 seconds, and then three minutes. And I think it was two rounds. So she cried for three minutes; I went in; she cried for another three minutes; I went in; and then it was quiet in her room.
Alyssa: You’re like, oh, my gosh; what’s going on? What’s happening?
Dominique: And I looked over at my husband, and I was like, this can’t be real!
Alyssa: Are you kidding me, right?!
Dominique: So it was amazing. She went to sleep, and I think that first night, she slept for about six hours, and then she got up to nurse, and then she went back to sleep fine. So yeah, the first night!
Alyssa: Yeah, so a lot of times, it’s just allowing them the opportunity to fall asleep on their own. I can’t tell you how many parents are like, oh, my baby has to be nursed; my baby has to be rocked; I don’t let my baby cry. Well, three minutes of crying — it’s not a lot, right?
Dominique: No, no.
Alyssa: If you consider all the crying she’s done because of lack of sleep and overtiredness, three minutes is nothing.
Alyssa: And that’s all she needed to literally soothe herself to sleep. That’s what she did!
Dominique: Yeah, and we felt good about it. It wasn’t like we felt like we were neglecting her by letting her cry in her crib. It was just like she put herself to sleep, and now she’s getting a good chunk of sleep. So we were really happy with it!
Alyssa: Yeah, sometimes it’s just kind of looking at sleep a different way and realizing that cry-it-out means you put your crying baby in a crib; you shut the door; you walk away, and you don’t go back in. And nobody wants to do that! I don’t want to do that! But, you know, talking about cortisol levels, it’s a natural response to anything. You know, your baby goes to the doctor; you go to the dentist. Our cortisol — it’s a flight or fight thing. The thing with a baby that helps bring that back down is a loving caregiver, so she has you and Dad right there. You’re the buffer in this situation, so even crying for three minutes, her cortisol levels might rise a little bit, but then you came in after three minutes, and she saw you were there. And I talk about sleep cues sometimes, like saying goodnight, I love you. You know, you have these sleep cues that you repeat, and then their cortisol levels go back down. And then they might fuss for a few more minutes, and then they’re out. It just happens!
Dominique: It was amazing!
Alyssa: Is there anything else that you had maybe thought that I would have told you — I guess were there any other surprises from those misconceptions? Anything that you felt like, oh, I can’t believe she’s telling me to do this, or I can’t believe she’s not telling me to do that?
Dominique: I guess in the first email we got with the plan, I think you had said her first nap should be 60 to 90 minutes, and then her second nap should be 90 to 120 minutes, and I was, like, there’s no way she’s going to sleep! Up until that point, her naps had been maybe a half an hour during the day, and she was getting maybe two naps a day. So then we tried it with her naps, and she did sleep an hour that first nap, and then we got a couple of longer hour and a half naps. We’ve only gotten a few two-hour naps out of her, but that was a big shock because I was, like, man, she really hasn’t been getting as much sleep as she should have been getting.
Alyssa: Well, and it’s funny because we think she’s so tired during the day; she’s not napping; she just has to be tired enough to sleep all night. And it’s counterintuitive. They need sleep during the day so they don’t get overly tired, and then they don’t fight sleep at night. So right now, at 11 months, though, that morning nap should only be 30 minutes, FYI. I don’t know what you’re doing right now.
Dominique: So her naps have still been a little bit of a battle, and we’ve kind of gotten to a point where we’re letting her sleep for that first nap because that seems to be her best nap of the day, and if we cut it short, sometimes she doesn’t take a good nap the rest of the day. So we’re still kind of tweaking that a little bit because —
Alyssa: Is she sleeping through the night with one feed, then?
Dominique: Yes, and we’ve cut out her nighttime feed now.
Alyssa: So she can go all night, like a full twelve hours?
Dominique: Not a full twelve. She will sleep from about 6:30 and then she’s still waking up around 4:30, 5:00, so then we put her back to sleep. So it’s not perfect, but we haven’t quite figured out how to make those little switches. So shortening her first nap, lengthening her second nap, and then putting her to bed closer to 7:00.
Alyssa: Yeah, so having a really long morning nap encourages that early morning wakeup. So I would try for a later bedtime; 7:00, 7:30. And don’t let her sleep longer than a half an hour in the morning.
Dominique: Okay! All right!
Alyssa: A little added tip there!
Dominique: I trust you! I’ll try it!
Alyssa: Yeah, we want her to sleep from — I mean, not every baby will sleep the full twelve hours, but if she’s going to bed at 7:30, I would think no earlier than 6:30. That’s eleven-ish hours depending on when she falls asleep.
Dominique: And that would be nice because getting up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning is not ideal.
Alyssa: And then remember that 2-3-4 rule. So after she wakes up, she’ll be tired after about two hours, and then three hours after that wakeup. So let’s say you have an ideal — let’s say she wakes up at 7:00 in the morning. She should go down for that first nap at 9:00 and sleep from 9:00 to 9:30, and then three hours after that, which would be 12:30, she should have a two-hour nap. An hour and a half is fine; not all babies sleep two hours. But at her age, she should want to sleep about an hour and a half.
Dominique: Okay, and we have been doing that, the 2-3-4. It’s just she’s been getting up so early, so if she gets up at 6:00, we’re putting her down for her first nap at 8:00 in the morning, which does seem really early to us.
Alyssa: But she’s also going to bed really early. 6:30 is pretty early.
Dominique: Yeah, and sometimes by 6:00.
Alyssa: And you can’t just put her to bed at 7:00 tonight if she’s been up since 5:30. It’s a slow, 15 to 30-minute increments. But you have the added fun of daylight savings time, which messes everybody up. And probably by the time this episode airs, it will be past daylight savings, but we can still talk about it. And it might actually help you. So let’s see: spring forward. 7:00 is really going to 8:00, so her 6:00, 6:30 bedtime is going to be 7:30. So you might not want to push it too far.
Dominique: Yeeha, I think our situation is a little unique for that because we need to adjust her bedtime, whereas some people, they want to keep their kid on their 7:00 schedule, so they have to adjust backwards.
Alyssa: Yeah, you have to do it slowly. Like, with my daughter, I’ve been putting her to bed early; every night, a little bit earlier, to get her to that point. But yeah, I would try for a later bedtime, and that morning nap is what’s screwing up your morning wakeup. It’s just too long.
Dominique: Yeah, unfortunately! I’m like, okay, her morning nap — I’ve got to get stuff done!
Alyssa: Well, make it in the afternoons, instead, because that’s the nap she’s going to have until she’s two, three, maybe even four, that afternoon nap. And think about when you go to childcare; you know, naps at 12:30 or 1:00.
Dominique: All right, we’ll make some adjustments!
Alyssa: Anything else? What would you tell people about sleep consults that you think people need to know?
Dominique: I would say it’s worth it, and I’ve had a lot of people say, you know, what did you do for sleep, and then I explain what we did, and I say, “But we needed some help.” Like, it was just getting too frustrating, and I would just say it’s not cry-it-out like you think it is, just shutting the door and letting them cry, because I do think that’s a big misconception. So I would just say, look in to a sleep consultant, or just don’t take everything you read on the internet and apply it!
Alyssa: Well, and there’s so much information, but again, adjusting it to your specific family and your specific child, because I could have just given you, hey, my method is gradual withdrawal, and there you go. And then you’re doing this with your child and she’s like, this is not working. Yeah, it’s way too stimulating for her. So you can’t just give an end-all, one-fix method for every family. So that’s the hard part. You could read a hundred books, but you would need to have the ability to discern which method works for your family, and then have somebody there coaching you and holding your hand. And a big part of what I do is holding you accountable. Did you do this? How is it going? So that nap… We’re not working together anymore, but I can’t help myself; I have to tell you that nap is too long in the morning!
Dominique: Yes, I figured you might say that!
Alyssa: You’re like, don’t ask; don’t ask; please don’t ask!
Dominique: But no, it was definitely worth it, and it was nice that you kind of explained the different methods and we could figure out which one would work best.
Alyssa: Sometimes, I know that there’s one that’s going to work, and that’s the one I suggest. Sometimes, I’m like, okay, based on your personality and your parenting style, I’m going to give you a few options. Here’s what I would recommend, but I want the parents to feel comfortable moving forward, and oftentimes, I still know which one I would recommend. Like you, you need to go through and say, oh, well, gradual withdrawal seems really more my parenting style, and I understand that it’s going to be a slower process. But you’re like, nope, didn’t work. So let’s move on to this one; let’s try that. Nope, didn’t work. But oftentimes what happens is a parent tries that one; it fails, and they give up and they’re done. They think sleep training didn’t work and it’s junk. So I get it.
Dominique: No! Keep going!
Alyssa: I get why parents feel frustrated. And how is she doing now?
Dominique: She’s doing really well. She’s starting to walk. Well, she is walking, so she’s very busy, so we’re keeping up with her now. But yeah, she’s doing really good!
Alyssa: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. I love hearing stories from clients! Did I ever get a picture of her? I love getting pictures of babies. You’ll have to show me before you go.
Dominique: I’ll do that!
Alyssa: Well, thanks again for joining me!