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Sure, babies don’t always sleep well: They cry, they wake, they need to eat often. He was the stuff urban legends are made of.
Eventually I became so severely exhausted that my postpartum depression reached frightening new heights. It became medically necessary for us both to get help. At the suggestion of our pediatrician we hired a sleep consultant.
I wasn’t alone. The baby sleep industry is a big deal. Huge. $325 million in 2016 alone, according to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. I’m not surprised, the cost of the sleep aids my husband and I purchased was in the thousands. We could have saved most of that by starting with a sleep consultant.
Something to keep in mind for hypothetical baby number two.
When I first spoke with our sleep consultant, Kerrin Edmonds of Meet You in Dreamland, I made one thing clear: I would not, in any way, be comfortable letting my son “cry it out,” or the more modern term for this method, “extinction.”
She assured me that wouldn’t be a problem. She explained she had several methods we could use to teach my son how to sleep. I laughed at the idea of teaching someone how to sleep, but she explained that while the ability to sleep is inherent, babies need help perfecting it. Sort of like breastfeeding. My son latched on within minutes of being born yet we needed a few months to hone our skills.
So it made sense that falling, and staying, asleep is something babies must learn. And my husband and I needed to learn how to teach our son.
While Edmonds works with many clients remotely via phone and email, we lived close enough for a house call. She evaluated everything, from the lighting in the nursery to decor around the crib (sleep distractions!).
A few days later we received a customized sleep plan, no extinction required. The schedule was built around our son’s natural sleep cycles. Our method of choice, called “pick up put down,” had us walk in and out of our son’s room to -- you guessed it -- pick him up to soothe and then put back down at specific time intervals, several times for each nap and at night until he fell asleep.
The first weekend was brutal. We didn’t leave the house. My son wasn’t used to sleeping anywhere other than in my arms. We went in and out of his room 23 times that first night, but when he fell asleep it was for 10 hours. My engorged breasts almost exploded!
Yes, there were some tears. But he also cries when I set him down to go to the bathroom or if I don’t get a spoonful of food into his mouth as quickly as he’d like. And we continued to go into his room and reassure him that we were there, but also that it was time to sleep.
Edmonds was available to us for two weeks to answer questions and help tweak and perfect our approach and schedule to suit our son’s specific needs. During that time we moved his schedule around, sometimes by just a few minutes, and made changes to his bedtime routine (we had to stop reading a book in the nursery because it infuriated him and threw our entire routine into chaos). Some tweaks were so minor I didn’t see how it could help...but it worked. We found our sleep rhythm.
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it (I've been documenting the highs and lows on my Instagram if you're interested in the visual journey). He sleeps. We sleep. My postpartum depression turned a corner. We successfully transitioned him from bassinet to crib, and even mastered the seemingly elusive trick of sleeping in hotel rooms and grandparents’ homes. On schedule, no less.
Being eternally exhausted doesn’t have to be a motherhood rite of passage. And think of what you can buy with the money you’ll save on undereye concealer...like panty liners for bladder leakage. Because I don’t think that part of motherhood will ever change!
Images by Becky Vieira
This post was originally published in April 2017
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.