As the use of sleep consultants becomes increasingly common, we spoke to two exhausted mums about what prompted them to seek help, what advice they were given and how it worked for them.
Susan and baby Danny
Susan was initially unsure about using a sleep consultant, but when Danny, at six months old, was still waking on an hourly basis throughout the night she decided that they both needed to find a better way.
“Danny slept well for the first few weeks as he fed well and slept anywhere. But as he began to wake up to the world he refused to go to sleep anywhere except on me or my husband. Once he was asleep we would transfer him into his cot.
“We were blissfully ignorant of the need to teach Danny to go to sleep on his own, in his cot. Before we knew it, he was six months old and we were rocking him to sleep, walking up and down stairs, singing and shushing - for every sleep. Some nights we were waking 11 times to resettle him.”
“We discussed the idea of using a sleep consultant but we were apprehensive. We shared the idea that we wanted him to cry as little as possible, despite people telling us it was natural and just part of being a baby.” In the end Susan decided to at least find out what the sleep consultant would suggest.
“We were offered a number of strategies and we decided to try ‘pick-up put-down’. After the bedtime routine, I put Danny into his cot and sat on a chair beside it. When he cried I would pick him up and put him back into his cot as soon as he stopped crying. I would then shush, stroke his tummy and reassure him with my voice. But if he cried I was able to pick him up and put him back down when he stopped crying. This technique was ideal because it meant I was able to be there right beside him and I could touch him and reassure him with my voice. It felt like I was assuring him, “You can do this by yourself”, but I wasn't leaving him alone. After 40 minutes of pick-up put-down, Danny simply rolled over and went to sleep. When he woke a few hours later I did the same, but this time he only required 20 minutes of pick-up put-down before going off to sleep. He woke once more in the early morning but went to sleep after 10 minutes of pick-up put-down.”
“In the space of one night we were on the way to teaching him to self-settle, and I was able to be with him the whole time. Over the next couple of days, he would either settle himself straight away or we would do five to 10 minutes of pick-up put-down before he settled himself. After 8-10 days, not only would he settle himself to sleep with no crying, but he stopped waking at night and we all started getting the sleep that we desperately needed.”
Baby sleep facts
The ideal environment for baby to sleep is a room that is dark, cool (18-20°C) and quiet.
For babies up to four to five months old, swaddling their arms and tummy greatly reduces the startle reflex and makes it a lot easier to settle them.
As a general rule, don't expect your baby to sleep for more than four hours at a stretch in the first three months. They only have tiny tummies, so need to feed often.
At around six months old, and providing babies are eating well in the daytime and gaining weight, they should no longer need to feed at night for nutritional reasons. A good way to determine whether your baby still needs to feed at night is to check how hungry he is in the morning.
Baby nap facts
Having a good daytime routine that allows baby to have regular naps will help with night sleeping too.
A general guide to baby’s day sleep needs: - In the first few weeks don’t expect baby to stay awake for much more than an hour at a time. That means he’ll sleep 16-18 hours a day.
From three to six months, babies need around three naps a day. - From six to 12 months they drop to two naps. - Between one to two years old they usually only need one sleep of about two hours.
Plunket recommends a ‘feed-change-play-cuddle-sleep’ routine, particularly from around two months old. The time your baby spends doing each activity will depend on their age and stage, but watching out for tired signs during their play phase will help you know when it’s time to nap.
Tired signs include grizzling, rubbing their eyes, a fixed glazed stare, clenched fists and jerky tense movements.
Coralee and baby Brayden
For Coralee, the first months of her son’s life were marred by a personal tragedy that left her overwrought and depleted even before she had a chance to get to grips with the challenges of new motherhood. As time went on and she felt herself on the brink of another crisis, she had a chance encounter with a sleep consultant that prompted her to reach out for help.
“My dad had terminal cancer and he was very sick throughout my pregnancy. He passed away when Brayden was four weeks old. It meant that Brayden’s first few weeks of life were spent running around hospitals and me having to give him to other people so that I could spend time with Dad. I think he could pick up on all of that stress and I’m sure my breast milk would have been full of stress hormones. As a consequence I don’t think
I had a very good milk supply. He had a tongue-tie that went undiagnosed so I had shredded nipples and then we both got thrush. I also had mastitis several times. Feeding was a really big problem so I think he probably didn’t sleep well because he was always hungry, the poor kid. There were days where I would literally have him in my arms all day because he wouldn’t sleep anywhere else.”
“The sleep consultant came along to our coffee group and she started talking about things like routine, swaddling, sleeping in dark rooms and I thought, ‘This is all amazing, why don’t they teach you this in antenatal classes?’
I was a bit nervous because I had family members who were quite anti-sleep coaching but Brayden was exhausted,
I wasn’t coping and my marriage was in disarray, so I knew I needed help.”
Plan in action
“Basically, we created a nice bedtime routine so he learned that it was time to sleep. We gave him a bottle in his room, read him a bedtime story, put him to bed and then I would say the same thing every night: ‘It’s okay Brayden, Mummy’s here, it’s time to go to sleep.’ Then I’d put the white noise on and leave him. If he started crying and it was constant then I’d go back in at timed intervals. At first the timings were quite short, like every two minutes.
“I would go in and just rub his chest, say ‘It’s okay Brayden, Mummy’s here, it’s time to go to sleep’. As soon as he went quiet I’d leave again and then restart the timer. If he stopped crying for more than 30 seconds then you reset the timer when he started again - and it had to be proper crying, not just making grumbly noises. The sleep consultant taught me what his cries meant too, because previously I would run to him at any noise he would make.
“Even though I had a seven-day plan with different durations to wait, I didn’t need them all because by the third day he wasn’t crying when I put him to bed at all and he would just go to sleep. I was shocked. All of a sudden I went from being stressed out and anxious and dreading bedtime to having a sense of knowing what I was doing and feeling like I was doing something good for him.”
Tips & tricks
“She told me about not feeding him protein at night-time because it can be hard for their tummies to digest and so it affects their sleep. I started giving it to him at lunchtime rather than dinnertime and that really helped.”
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