WHY SLEEP TRAIN? A Q&A WITH OUR SLEEP COACH

How to contact Ashley: ashleyjeanneb@gmail.com

Ever since Logan was born, I have been pretty vocal about how we have been using a sleep coach for Logan and it hands down was and is the best thing we have done. Matt and I talked a lot about this while I was pregnant and it was something we felt strongly about. I remembered one of my blogger friends, Beth, raving about Ashley and sharing testimonials from others who found her to be life changing as well. Without hesitation, I reached out to Ashley and the rest is history.

She has helped us in so many ways, especially being first timers with this whole parent thing. Several weeks after Logan was born we started to get him on on a schedule throughout the day, and worked towards his nap and nighttime sleep as well. And she has been there every step of the way. She also helped us come up with the best game plan when traveling internationally and answered all my crazy questions, while reassuring me I am being the best mom I can be. I sing her praises every single day to Matt and anyone who will listen. Our family is blown away with how happy and great of a sleeper Logan is and it honestly makes it easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved. You can see a few testimonials from others below that have used Ashley as well! (I reached out via Stories to ask for these from anyone who used her as sometimes it is nice not just hearing it form me)….

Anyways, I could go on about Ashley forever, but she is the BEST and offered to do a Q&A for you all to help answer some of your sleep training/coaching questions. I reached out on Instagram and had you all write in questions you wanted answered. The response was crazy, so I went through and picked out the ones that were common and sent them to Ashley. When she sent me her answers back, I was blown away by the time and effort she put into this. It truly just speaks volumes to the person she is and I joke around and call her my BFF I haven’t ever met (she is virtual!). So, without further ado, lets have Ashley take it away!

WHO IS THIS MAGICAL “ASHLEY” I SPEAK OF?!

I’m a thirty-seven-year-old mom of two (with a third joining us in May!), who has a full-time career in management.  When I had my first child, I knew that I needed sleep to continue to manage our home, my career and our new adventure! I read every sleep book out there, every blog, every newspaper clipping… you get the point.  While I gravitated to some more than others, I took bits and pieces of different books and research to put together a plan that worked for our family.  And low and behold our daughter slept through the night at five weeksBy six months, she was sleeping twelve hours a night and taking two, two hours naps a day.  Around eighteen months she continued to sleep from 8pm – 8am but transitioned to one three-hour nap every afternoon.  She is seven years old and still sticks to that sleep schedule when home.  She started full day school two and a half years ago and does not nap at school anymore, but we still take naps on the weekends! While I had many people tell me I had gotten lucky and she was just given a sleeper, I had many who were curious what my methods were, so I started helping some friends when I had the time.  All those babies started sleeping as well.  At this point I started taking certification classes and consulting with pediatricians, OBGYN’s, educators and even pediatric dentists.  Somewhere between having my second child and advancing my career, I was getting so many inquiries I realized I need to formalize the process so I could help all the families who are out there not sleeping!

I currently offer three different sleep training options.

1. A Sleep Manual built for expectant mothers or families whose children are ten weeks or younger, this will give you everything you need to know to get your child on the path to sleep and continues through their sleep journey until the toddler years.

2. An Individual Sleep Manual which is a customized plan built specifically for your child, based on your needs and an interactive questionnaire. This is designed for children over ten weeks who may have some habits to break or need more individualized coaching.

3. A full time sleep coach option, which is how I have been working with Kendall.

If you have more questions about me, my process, or pricing I recommended emailing me at ashleyjeanneb@gmail.com and I can answer your questions or share next steps. 

WHY SLEEP TRAIN?

I always like to start my consults with a pep talk around sleep training (so I’ll do the same here for this blog), because it will not always be easy, but it is so worth it and we need to remind ourselves that throughout the process.  Somewhere along the line, saying you were “sleep training” your baby became a bad thing in some circles. It is assumed that you care about your sleep more than your baby’s comfort and I am here to say that could not be further from the truth! I truly believe that giving your child the gift of sleep is the best gift you will ever give them. You know the first thing people who I work with tell me? That their babies seem happier. Not only does overnight sleep make the baby happier in the short term, there are many studies that say babies who do not sleep well become middle schoolers and high schoolers who do not sleep well. Middle school children who do not sleep well do worse on tests and high school children make poor decisions on no sleep.  I could continue with the ramifications of not sleeping as a college student and adult, but I will just say, sleep training is a lifelong gift for your child. While all the benefits of sleep training sound great, it is important to remember sleep training is not always easy and there is no magic pill. That is why there are so many babies and families out there not sleeping! Because if this was easy, everyone would do it.  Unfortunately, sleep does not come naturally for most kiddos and you will see throughout this post that there are even things their own body is doing to confuse them. All babies want to sleep through the night and nap well, but we must teach them how

WHERE CAN YOU START SLEEP TRAINING?

Before baby even arrives! Do your research, read the books, hire a coach, know your plan before baby gets here because you will be so sleep deprived and overwhelmed those first few months reading a book will be the last thing you want to do. People always assume sleep training means “cry it out” and therefore they need to wait till a certain age. It does not! Or that sleep training means a baby won’t get enough to eat or will slow down the breastfeeding process. Also, false. The earlier you start, the easier the training will be for you and baby and the quicker you’ll have an uninterrupted nights sleep.  I think the reason there is so much confusion here is because there are so many myths around what sleep training is. Sleep training a newborn looks completely different than sleep training an eight-month-old. With a newborn we are only focused on a daytime schedule and learning days from nights, but by the time they are eight months we are teaching all those concepts, but also reversing bad habits.  Start early and you won’t regret it. 

I’M PREGNANT NOW, WHAT ARE THE TOP 3 THINGS I NEED TO KNOW/FOLLOW WHEN THE BABY IS HERE?

  1. A daytime routine that lasts three hours.  This three-hour routine should always start with a feeding, followed by play/wake time, followed by a nap.  No matter what happens during that period, if it has been three hours during the day, you wake baby to start the process over again.  All day long. You will find nearly every sleep training book or coach starts with the three-hour schedule. Even NICU babies are put on a three-hour schedule… because it works!  Every system has a different time frame for when it’s appropriate to move to the four-hour schedule, so find a book or coach you trust and stick with it.  
  2. Help your little one distinguish the difference between day and night.  During the day, there should be lights on, blinds open, and noises even during nap time.  Have music playing, the TV in the background, visitors talking, etc. Don’t swaddle during the day and avoid putting baby to sleep in the same place they are sleeping overnight.  When its “bedtime” create a completely opposite environment to help signal something is different. This is preferably in their own room, in their own crib, but if you are not ready for that step they should still be in a completely dark room, swaddled (even if they act like they hate it!), in a bassinet or pack-n-play with no movement and a silent room except for a sound machine that plays loud white noise all day long.  Once you’re seeing longer stretches of sleep overnight, you can start to mirror your nighttime sleep environment during the day.
  3. Try your hardest to ignore the ridiculous amount of noise babies make during sleep!  The term “Sleep Like a Baby” is a joke. Babies move, grunt, fuss and fidget all night long.  Those sounds are normal. It is only because they cycle through sleep cycles so much quicker than adults.  Many times, we are feeding or tending to a baby who is not even truly awake. If your baby is sharing your room, try your best to not respond to any noise besides crying throughout the night. 

HOW IMPORTANT IS ROUTINE?

It is without a doubt the most important part of initial sleep training as well as long-term sleep habits.  Babies thrive on a routine throughout their lives. Not only does it effect sleep, but there is a ton of research on how it effects behaviors, grades and more.  A consistent routine and sleep standards are also incredibly important to good sleep habits throughout life. The less you prioritize sleep, the less your toddler will prioritize sleep and that prioritization will continue throughout childhood.

SHOULD YOU PUT THE BABY TO SLEEP AWAKE OR ASLEEP, THOUGHTS ON NURSING/ROCKING THE BABY TO SLEEP:

This recommendation changes with age, which is why having a sleep coach or manual can help so much.  First, we should never start the habit of nursing or feeding a baby to get them to sleep. During the day, a feed should always be followed by some period of wake time (the amount of wake time changes based on age).  Babies should learn that food is fuel, not a pacifier or soother. The last feed of the night is the only feed I don’t encourage wake time after, but you still shouldn’t feed them until they fall asleep. For many different reasons, but primarily because we want to ensure they get a full feed before bed, rather than a snack.  Teaching a baby to fall asleep on their own, putting them down for the night and naps “drowsy, but awake” is a skill that not only all your future babysitters will thank you for, but helps their overnight sleep as well. If you fell asleep on your nice comfortable bed, with your blankets and pillows and went through a normal sleep cycle two hours later to find yourself on the kitchen floor, you would wake up, and you would be mad! Same goes for a baby who falls asleep in the arms of mom or dad (or with mom and dad nearby) and wakes alone with their crib.  They are mad. This doesn’t mean they aren’t sleepy, but the confusion outweighs the sleepiness. It is completely normal to put a baby down drowsy, but awake and have a period of wake time, including fussiness or crying, before they fall asleep. A wind down time is normal and studies show boys need more wind down time than girls! Falling asleep on their own is a trait that can be taught, at the right age, once again consistency is the key.  

SWADDLES:

I feel very strongly that all babies should be swaddled for sleep, including the ones who act like they do not like it.  While it may take them two or three days to get used to the feeling, that two or three days of transition completely out weights six to eight months of a startle reflex waking them up.  I share a method called the “Double Swaddle” in my manual, which helps you ensure baby can’t break out throughout the night and is safe and flat on their back. There are a lot of “fancy” swaddles on the market right now, that are charging a lot of money and making a lot of claims.  In my opinion you can get a better effect with an inexpensive muslin blanket and Velcro swaddle. I do not transition my clients from a swaddle until they are rolling over while swaddled. Even a baby who is rolling both ways during the day, will remain happily swaddled while sleeping for months.  If your child does start to roll while swaddled and is younger than that six to eight-month mark where the startle reflex starts to disappear, I strongly recommend using the Merlin Magic Sleep Suit to help with the transition. Once again, many babies will fight it for a night or two, but that transition period is normal and will still be better than no swaddle at all.  Once your little one has started to roll in the Merlin, it is time to drop all forms of a swaddle for safety reasons, no matter what the age. The best way to do this is cold turkey for both naps and overnight. Expect two or three rough nights, but your child will adapt quicker than you think. I promise none of you will be headed to college to swaddle your child.

WHEN DO YOU DROP A DREAM FEED?

I do not recommend a dream feed for any child, as I believe it throws off their natural sleep cycles, therefore upsetting the rest of their night.  I cover how to handle those dreaded “witching hours” with a newborn in my manual. 

THOUGHTS ON PACIFIERS?

Love them!  Pacifiers are great self-soothers and even better because you can control when they are taken away.  Let me emphasize the SELF part of soothing. Pacifiers are not self-soothers if mom or dad is going in all night to give them back to baby.  Do not start this habit and if you have already started it, I would cut it completely. Pacifiers are doing us no good if we need to be attached to them.  Throw several is your child’s crib at night and over time they will learn to grab them on their own, if they want to. If they are not at an age where they can grab on their own, or they are still swaddled, you still do not want them reliant on you!  Again, that will become a habit and defeat the purpose of a pacifier in the first place. As for when to drop, I always recommend when your child turns one year the only place they get a pacifier is the crib. If you are good about this rule, and they truly only get the pacifier during sleep times, for the most part they naturally drop the habit on their own.  For those worried about long term problems, a child’s gums and teeth do not stop moving until after three-years old. So, if you remove the pacifiers by the age three, any teeth that have shifted because of the habit, will shift back into place on their own. Give your child some grace on the pacifier habit, reasoning with a 2.5-year-old is so much easier than reasoning with a 1.5-year-old, and no permanent damage will be done in between! 

THOUGHTS ON THE SNOO:

Clearly not an influencer, because I do not recommend the SNOO.  Primarily because I am an advocate of getting your child into their own room, in their own crib as early as possible and the SNOO seems like an extreme cost for a few weeks of use.  For those not comfortable moving their little one out of their room, I still recommend a regular bassinet or pack-n-play. Many of the features of the SNOO contribute to a child not knowing how to self-soothe, which is a skill vitally important to getting a child to nap well and see extended overnight sleep.

TRAVEL:

It is hard for me to completely coach around travel, as every trip, time zone and type of travel is different.  Overall with babies, the most important thing you can do is stay as consistent as possible. So, using the same pack-n-play while traveling, taking your sound machine, embracing the new time zone on day one and sticking to their normal schedule will all help your child adapt.  Even when on the go, the more naps you can come back to the hotel or place you are staying for, the more you’ll avoid an overtired baby. I wish we could teach babies flexibility, but it is a skill most just don’t master. They thrive on routine. This doesn’t mean stay at home and never go somewhere, it just means give your child and yourself some grace.  Realize they won’t always be the same baby on the go as they are at home and just use your training or schedule to get back on track once you are home.

Kendall here- Having Ashley coach one on one for our first trip away and going international was the BIGGEST GIFT. We came up with a specific game plan ahead of time which made transitioning while there and upon return way less scary.

STICKING TO A SCHEDULE WITH A DAYCARE BABY:

I find daycare babies are some of the best scheduled babies I work with.  Because daycares are caring for so many children at once, they need a schedule to survive!  Especially with infants, most daycares will stick to your eating and sleeping schedule. When they get to a toddler room, most need everyone on the same schedule, but this is usually very close to what you’d be on at home during that time anyways.  Talk to your daycare provider during interviews and understand how they treat schedules. Even the best sleep trained babies will not sleep as well at daycare as they do at home. It’s louder, more going on and kids have a fear of missing out. On daycare days this means you might just have to adapt with a longer evening catnap or earlier bedtime and it will be vitally important to your long term sleep goals to really get back on schedule and catch up on some of that missed sleep during the weekends or off days from daycare. 

CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE IN NIGHT CRIES:

Without being in your home, it is nearly impossible for me to explain what might be a tired cry vs hungry cry vs bored cry.  This is why implementing a schedule from birth is so important. You won’t need to be a magician who can differentiate between cries, the clock will do that for you!  You will truly know if you child is bored, hungry, sick or tired based on their routine. My favorite part of sleep training as a new mom was I felt like I had a true guide to understanding my daughter’s needs, it made me feel so much more confident and in control.  

MOVING THROUGH SLEEP CYCLES VS HUNGRY:

As an adult we cycle through sleep every two-hours, but we have had so many years of practice we rarely even notice or wake up.  A baby on the other hand goes through a new sleep cycle every forty-five minutes and because they have very little practice, they wake up during many of those cycles.  Especially at nap! Which is why so many people have children who only nap for forty-five minutes, when they should be sleeping for two hours. You can help a child learn to cycle through those sleep cycles by giving them the appropriate amount of time, based on their age, to self-soothe when they wake early from nap or overnight.  If a baby wakes after a forty-five-minute nap, and the response they get is an immediate response from mom or dad or you allow nap to be over at that time, how will they ever know naps should be longer? They don’t figure this out on their own, they are watching you for cues on how long they should be sleep.

EARLY MORNING WAKINGS HELP:

I just talked about sleep cycles and the 5-7am period of sleep is the lightest sleep cycle a child will go through all night.  I don’t subscribe to the belief that some babies are just early risers or need less sleep than others. Science says that just isn’t true.  What I do see though, is a baby who is woken from a sleep cycle at 5:45am and the response from mom and dad is to let them wake for the day.  Again, I ask you, if that is the response, how does your child know they are doing something wrong? Their body woke them, and mom came and got them.  All signs point to it’s time to start the day. Instead, if you give them the appropriate amount of time to self-soothe based on age or you leave them in their crib until the designated morning wake time, they will learn what time they should be sleeping until.  It’s very normal to have a child who wakes from 5:45 – 6:15 am every morning, they may even cry during that time, but then put themselves back to sleep until 7 or 8 am. You just have to give them that chance!

DO YOU STOP WAKING BABIES UP AT A CERTAIN AGE IN THE MORNINGS?:

Once a baby is “sleeping through the night” which is defined differently at each age, but for this example we’ll go with twelve hours of uninterrupted overnight sleep, you do not have to wake them at a certain time and can let them “oversleep.”  I would never let this time be later than an hour past their normal wake time, as that will throw off the rest of the day, but if you have to wake your little one up during the week to head to work and daycare by 6am, it is perfectly ok for you all to sleep in on the weekends.  Just adjust the schedule throughout the rest of the day, and do not let them oversleep so much that you notice a setback in their overnight sleep.

HOW TO HANDLE TODDLER REGRESSIONS & WHEN THEY START CLIMBING OUT:

First, I recommend keeping your little one in a crib as long as possible, hopefully until 3.5 or 4 years.  Prior to that it is nearly impossible for a child to understand consequences or the rules for staying in bed.  Reasoning with a 2.5-year-old about staying in bed all night is a sure way to lose your mind. I know many times I have families say they need the crib for a new baby and my recommendation is to invest in a very inexpensive crib during that time.  You can find great cribs at Ikea for only $100 and I assure you that $100 will be worth every penny to avoid multiple middle of the night wakings from a child who is just too young to understand why they should be staying in bed. If you have a climber, I recommend moving the crib mattress all the way to the floor, with the crib around them.  Meaning you aren’t using any of the levels the crib comes with, the mattress is quite literally on the floor. This usually gives you enough space to buy you a few more months.  

HOW LONG SHOULD NAPS BE?

Nap expectations change by age!  A newborn may spend most of their day sleeping, while by four months we usually see two, two-hour naps and one catnap per day.  A general rule of thumb is from four to eight months you should strive for 3-5 hours of daytime sleep, broken out by one two-hour morning nap, one two-hour afternoon nap, and a catnap in the evenings that lasts anywhere between thirty to sixty minutes.  Around the eight-month mark, they drop that catnap but keep the two, two-hour naps. That schedule sticks around for the longest, until around the 16 to 18-month mark when we transition to one nap per day, in the afternoon, that should last between two and three hours.  While naps change, overnight sleep goal is always twelve hours and does not change until they are well out of the toddler stage.

ADDRESSING SHORT NAPS AND HOW TO EXTEND: 

Remember a child’s sleep cycle is forty-five minutes long so many children are waking early from a nap can be blamed on sleep cycles, that is very normal, but the reaction they get from us is why they continuously wake from naps early.  Their bodies are telling them to wake and then by responding quickly and letting nap time end, we teach them from a very young age that forty-five-minute naps are ok. The best way to get longer naps out of your child, is to set that expectation with your response.  When your little one wakes early, you should give them the appropriate amount of time to self-soothe, based on age, to see if they can put themselves back to sleep. Also keep in mind that while strive for good naps at all ages, naps do not formalize until around the four to six month mark, so if you are struggling with naps prior to that mark, know it may take a little more time for them to learn the skill.

WHAT IF YOUR BABY CRIES OR WAKES AS SOON AS YOU PUT THEM DOWN?:

This is normal!  Think about yourself.  When you go to bed do you immediately fall asleep when your head hits the pillow? (Answer for yourself, not your husband. 😊) Probably not.  If you’re anything like me you think about your to-do list for the next day, the grocery list, how you forgot to text your friend back, etc.  It takes our mind some time to wind down before sleep comes. Why do we have different expectations for children? It wouldn’t be normal to expect to put them down drowsy, but awake and then they fall asleep immediately.  They need some wind down time. And because they aren’t great at making grocery lists in their head yet, that wind down time involves crying. This doesn’t mean they are hurt, or hungry, or not tired. It simply means they are listening to their body and trying to cycle into sleep.  Give them some time, don’t respond to every cry or peep and they will learn to fall asleep on their own. As they get more practice with falling asleep on their own, the time it takes will lesson, but some kiddos will always need a small amount of crying before they are able to fall asleep.

DO YOUR TECHNIQUES WORK FOR MULTIPLES AND/OR OLDER CHILDREN?:

Absolutely!  Their needs aren’t any different than any other child, and I would argue if you have two babies you need a schedule more than anyone.  While I recommend starting as soon as you come home from the hospital for the easiest transition to sleep, I know that isn’t everyone’s situation.  I have trained children up to four years old and can even offer advice for kids older than that. Keep in mind, the longer you wait to start the longer the self-soothing times will need to be, which means more crying.  After a year, children are pretty smart and a little manipulative when it comes to sleep so our techniques for older children will need to be more aggressive than what we are implementing with a three-month-old. I’m upfront about this during the consultation process, but important to understand the value of my services is every child’s situation is unique and we can work together to find a solution for your particular situation!

THANKS FOR LISTENING!:

If you’ve made it through this entire post, CONGRATULATIONS!  It was a doozy and I never had any intention of sharing so much overwhelming information at once, but there were so many questions and I am passionate about babies and their sleep.  With that being said, this post is meant to inform and help, not overwhelm.  I know when you haven’t slept in months and then you read a post like this, it is easy to focus on all the things you are doing wrong.  I want you to know you have done NOTHING wrong.  Can we all put the mom guilt away?  Can we agree we are all just trying to survive these first few months, hell, I have a three year old and I’m still just trying to survive.  Babies are big business these days, so there is so much information out there it can be overwhelming and make an already hormonal, postpartum woman even more exhausted.  I am here to tell you that you are doing a GREAT job.  I haven’t met you and I already know you are an AWESOME mom.  Stop right now and give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve it.  Sleep training is not for everyone, and that is ok.  My methods are not for everyone, and that is also ok.  Mom gut is real and you should listen to that first and foremost.  If your mom gut is leading you towards me, great, I want to help.  If you mom gut says I’m crazy, that’s ok too.  I’ve got plenty of best friends who don’t even listen to what I have to say! Raising babies is so very personal and every choice you make needs to feel right for you.  Sleep training or not, breast or formula, daycare or stay at home mom, co-sleeping or not….. These are all choices YOU get to make every day.  Because you’re the mom.  And as we say in my house “Mom’s the boss!”  Enjoy the good days, know the bad days pass quickly and take a moment each and every day to tell yourself you are the best mom in the whole world, because to your babe, that is 100% true.