The Sleep Doula Saved Us!
It’s one of the most controversial and emotional topics that every parent seems to have an opinion on – sleep training.
Making the decision to have your baby “cry it out”, is stressful. No parent wants to hear their child scream uncontrollably for an hour or more! But some babies keep their parents up so much at night that it is hard to function.
I was definitely finding it very hard to function when my son was about 5 months old, when he would be up an average of 7 times a night. The only way I could get him back to sleep was by nursing him. Rocking him wouldn’t work, patting his back, giving him a soother… nothing. I woke up exhausted every morning feeling like I could barely face the day.
I remember very clearly the day I hosted a playdate and one of my friends started talking about the sleep troubles she was having with her son. Her little guy would wake up about 13 times a night. Desperate for some sleep, she called the Sleep Doula.
Of course, my very sleep deprived ears perked up when I heard these words. A sleep doula?! I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that I wanted one!
The sleep doula is Tracey Ruiz and she lives in Toronto. For people who don’t live in the area she does phone consultations. I knew that I had to hire her to get some help!
The process begins with a questionnaire. Tracey looks for as much history and medical information as possible. Sleep training isn’t exactly a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Different approaches may be recommended depending on the age of the child (she will help get school aged children to sleep), habits, and environmental situation.
I started the training when K was exactly 6 months old. It is not recommended to start much before this age, with a few exceptions (I’ve heard of some people starting at 4 months in extreme situations). You also should not begin sleep training if your child has recently had any immunizations, or has been introduced to any new foods. It’s also best to start sleep training when your child is healthy, and when you are ready. Being ready does not only include emotional readiness, but also includes a commitment to being at home in the evenings for the bedtime routine for at least a week.
Here is the plan we got from the sleep doula:
1. Establish a bedtime routine. In order for K to learn how to fall asleep on his own, we had to eliminate his nursing=sleeping association. This meant we had to reverse the order of our bedtime routine. Rather than nurse him until he fell asleep she told us to make sure he went into his crib awake. The new routine had to consist of: Nurse, bath, story, bed. She told us to make sure we did the same thing every night.
2. Commit to a nap schedule. In order for babies to have good sleep habits at night, they need to be on a nap routine. The amount of sleep a baby needs varies by age and you can check out some sample schedules at babycenter.com. Tracey made it very clear that babies should NEVER nap past 5:30 pm.
3. Apply the doula method: The doula method is a crying it out technique where you go “shshshshshs” at the same volume as the child’s cry. The shushing has to be done where they cannot see you (either lying down at the base of their crib, or just outside the door). After a while you can do what Tracey calls “intermittent shushing”, where you shush, leave, go back and shush after a few minutes. When you let your child cry it out, you have to commit. You cannot go back into the room, no matter how long the crying has gone on, or how awful the cry is. The only reason you would go into the room is if your child threw up. If that happens then you go in and clean up in a very no-nonsense way. This means no interacting with your baby and keeping the lights as dark as possible.
This technique should be done at night and during nap. The idea behind the doula method is that it reassures the baby that you are there and that you are with them. I feel I should warn parents reading this that shushing does not have a comforting affect. Well not at first. Over time the baby will come to associate your shushing with sleeping, but this will take a few days.
4. Dream feed at night. It is important to do the dream feed so that you break the “I need to have a bottle or a boob to fall back asleep habit”. To do the dream feed you go in to their room, take them out of their crib and feed them without waking them up. What I especially love about the dream feed is that it makes it much easier to commit to the training knowing that your baby is not waking up due to hunger. The dream feed can be dropped as they get older. By 8 months babies don’t “need” to eat in the night anymore, but every baby is different.
After applying what we had learned, our little guy started sleeping through the night in less than a week. It truly felt like a miracle.
I was so nervous to start this process, but one thing that Tracey said that I will never forget is “Have faith in him. He can do this”.
And he did.
Now I am starting the same process with my daughter. We are starting her at 10 months because her sleep habits used to be good, but went downhill as she got more social! It’s a little bit easier doing it the second time, knowing how successful the training was with my son!
I realize that sleep training is not for everybody. I wasn’t sure if it was for us either, but knowing we were doing it the best possible way with the guidance from a professional really made everything easier. To help me get through the first 3 nights (It’s usually only really bad for 3 nights, then a miraculous improvement happens), I just kept reminding myself that this process was “short term pain, long term gain.
If you are struggling, I really recommend giving the sleep doula a call. Tracey can help with a variety of sleep problems, including transitioning from a crib to a bed.
I strongly believe that because of Tracey’s help we have an almost 3 year old with excellent sleep habits. Our bedtime routine is usually very smooth, and K never gets out of bed after we tuck him in. Today, I still think that sleep training our son was one of the best decisions we ever made!
Are any of you struggling with getting your baby to sleep? Any other methods you have found to be successful that you would like to share? Have any of you tried the doula method? Please tell us about it!