The Sleep Consultant: A Doula’s Perspective

Breastfeeding is a tool. Bottles are a tool. Breast pumps are a tool. Cribs are a tool. While personally I am a huge supporter of  breastfeeding, professionally I am a huge supporter of “do what is right for you and your family and don’t feel bad about it”. Professional doulas are able to set aside their personal preferences and bias and support clients unconditionally. We can provide access to tools but it is up to the client to choose which ones to use.

Sleep consulting, especially for newborns and younger infants, catches a lot of flack in many parenting circles. There seems to be this assumption that babies are left to CIO (cry it out) maybe for 30-minutes or more, that their needs are not being met, and that sleep training is not compatible with breastfeeding. And I’ll admit…I was skeptical at first. I wasn’t sure how I could get on board with training a baby to sleep! After all, training is for animals, not children, right? It sounded so…..foreign to me.

I am a professional. So, what does a professional do? They learn more about the service, item, product, person, etc in question. I decided to meet with Annie Henderson of Annie’s Child Sleep Solutions and I am so glad I did! It is clear to me that sleep training is simply another tool in a parent’s tool box that the parent can choose to use or choose to leave. Below are some of the things that stood out to me during my talk with Annie.

Why do newborns have their “days and nights confused”?

One of the most interesting points Annie made was how a newborn’s circadian rhythm—or “body clock” which tells them when to sleep, wake, and eat—is based off of mom’s physiological cues during pregnancy. What does this mean? Well, baby just spent months being lulled to sleep during the day by mom’s constant moving around. At night when mom is ready to sleep, she lays down and the movements stop which makes baby more active. This is one reason babywearing newborns is so popular. Baby’s are use to the warmth, confined space, movement, and sound of mom’s heartbeat. So after birth, a newborn’s circadian rhythm is immature and will not be established until about 8 weeks of age.

Props and sleep cues…

Babies can become overstimulated very quickly so it is important to pick up on their sleep cues. Not identifying baby’s sleep cues can result in an overstimulated, overtired, impossible to console, baby. When babies get to this point, stress levels are high for both baby and parent. At this point we usually reach for the common props because they’re easy; the swing, car rides, rocking, breastfeeding, babywearing. And let me be clear here… There is nothing wrong with using props. We all need a break and a helping hand. But the fact is that they are props and they do get in the way of developing healthy, lasting sleep habits. If you, your baby, and your family are happy with current sleep situations, and it isn’t frustrating or an inconvenience to continue to use props, then by all means….continue! Through talking with Annie, I’ve learned that no one is telling anyone that they have to stop. But when you’re ready to stop, there is a solution!

Create ‘awake’ and ‘sleep’ environments.

It makes total sense and this, along with the others to be honest, were all “duh!!” moments for me. To start creating healthy sleep habits you have to mimic the circadian rhythm—and you can do this right from birth which will make setting your baby’s circadian rhythm easier (enter: our new, exclusive newborn sleep package). Simply put, during the day you expose baby to stimuli such as lights, sounds, and taking baby out and about. In return, when baby needs to nap you take them to their healthy sleep environment which has a reduction in stimuli. Parents have to find a balance that fits into their lifestyle, which is normally easier said than done! Splitting the 24 hour day into two 12-hr chunks is a good guideline to go by (example: 8am-8pm is awake time).

My baby always wakes up the second I put her down!

One of the most common questions we receive from clients, and see asked over and over in parenting groups is “my baby wakes up every.single.time I put them down! Why?!” Simply put: fight or flight. Baby is going to wake up when put down because you’ve drastically changed the environment in which they fell asleep. Their bodies feel safe when being held. When put down, baby no longer feels safe and is woken up. Eliminating the use of props and utilizing proper awake and sleep environments can lessen these frustrating and exhausting moments.

4 Month Sleep Regression….?

At 4 months of age your baby is sleeping more like an adult and chances are, they’ve never learned how to fall back asleep on their own. Why? Because, props. A 4 month old (or maybe a 3 month old, or 5 month old….) does not enter deep sleep right away. When we lay our baby down too soon they wake—remember fight or flight from above—and then they need help falling asleep all over again. And how do we put our baby to sleep? Rocking, babywearing, breastfeeding, etc. It is a literal cycle.

It is obvious that there are several components at play here when it comes to an infant’s sleep. So what is a parent to do? Thankfully you have choices. You get to choose to continue on in the same manner if it is working for you and your family, but you also have the choice to seek out professional guidance when you’re ready for change. We now offer an exclusive package available only to clients of The Fayetteville Doulas. It is available for ages 0-4 months and includes so much information and education in addition to the following:

  • In-home Consultation
  • Newborn Sleep Plan
  • Digital Sleep Logs (to track feedings and sleep)
  • Three follow-up phone calls (over 3 weeks)
  • Sleep Solutions Healthy Sleep Package guide

Annie is so full of science-based information about sleep and she loves to educate new parents so they can make sense of their baby’s actions surrounding sleep (or the lack of!). Annie will come to your home and help you and your partner develop a strategic sleep plan for you and your family. There is no pressure to start immediately. And you have the freedom to implement the plan at a pace you are comfortable with. You’ll be supported and encouraged every step of the way! If you’re interested in learning more, please contact us. We’re here for you!

By: Melissa Cruz, TFD Owner

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