When I first held my new baby boy in my arms, I was a woman in love. I promised I would take care of him. Protect him from all harm. Never let him feel any pain. And so, whenever he opened his mouth to voice a complaint, I got ready to nurse. After all, it quieted him, and so, I thought, he must be hungry.
It is all a blur now, looking back, but all of a sudden, my little prince, my pride and joy, was 8 months old, nursing every 20 minutes, and screaming all night. Day and night merged. I stopped changing into pajamas to get ready for bed. Or maybe it was that I had stopped getting dressed in the morning.
One night, at 3 a.m., my husband found me passed out on the living room floor. There was breast milk soaked into the carpet and a pillow half covering my face as Baby tried to play peek-a-boo with me. I opened half an eye, and whispered hoarsely, “Sleep….please….”
The Questioning Begins
The next morning I made the phone calls. My sister said my only option was co-sleeping. My sister-in-law yelled Ferberize. My neighbor swore that if I went cold turkey it would only take three nights. My best friend said he would grow out of it. My mom just raised her eyebrows. I heard it over the trans-Atlantic phone wires.
I sat down amongst the cheerios on the floor and cried into my knees.
And on that day, out of the rubble, my life’s calling was born.
I dragged myself to the bookstore and was overwhelmed to find a whole shelf on baby sleep. I ended up with authors touting both extremes. One advocated being a human pacifier all night, and the other, leaving my precious baby to scream behind a closed door… for as long as it would take. My eyes widened in horror at both options.
So I searched out the in-between books, those that boasted minimal or no crying, in Baby’s crib. But I found that either they exchanged one problem for another, or they simply didn’t work. And the more I read, the more I wondered, how had we birthed so many insomniacs?
Myself, all I could think of was snuggling into my pillow and pulling up the covers. I had recurring daydreams of going into my room and turning off the light. But my baby? He’d rather stay up and cry. Why? Was he already displaying self-destructive behavior? Or could it be that he needed less sleep than I did?
I noticed that everything I was reading addressed only the symptoms: night-time wakeups, or not falling asleep, for example. But why was the baby fighting sleep? Wasn’t that an important question to consider before closing the door on a crying baby or agreeing to lay immobile all night and be a human pacifier? I thought it was.
Why is Baby Not Sleeping?
So my research changed from sleep-training methods to sleep itself. Circadian rhythms, chemistry, biology, sleep patterns, an infant’s nutritional needs. My parents schlepped books in English when they came to visit me in Jerusalem, and I read way too much info online. I spoke to educators and psychologists. Then I tried out all my budding ideas on innocent friends and neighbors, who, like me, weren’t sure they would ever get a good night’s sleep again.
Slowly I created a system.
Unfortunately, my own son could not wait this long. He was my first guinea pig. I spent a few days making him comfortable in his crib, rubbing his back and cooing to him while he lay ready for sleep. Then I gradually moved farther away. He was sleeping within a week, but there was more crying involved than I would have liked, and I am sorry for it. The gentle, in-tune-with-your-baby style that I have come up with is dedicated to my first born, Azriel.
By the time my second baby was born, I had it down. I had already informally coached dozens of fellow mothers, and I was clear on what I wished I had done the first time. There was going to be no missed sleep, if I could help it, and no bad habits, like nursing all night, that would soon need to be relearned. I put little Shevy on a schedule before she left the hospital. I know this sounds psycho, but I had read so much about sleep rhythms, I couldn’t not do it, no matter how many nurses rolled their eyes in the nursery. I eased her straight into a good schedule, and she never had to learn how to sleep. And what did I get for it? I had a week-old baby on a predictable schedule, and by six weeks, she was giving me seven-hour stretches at night. I was vindicated.
At the time, I had a job working for a Jewish outreach program, and my obsession with baby’s sleep was just for fun. But it was growing. Friends with whom I had lost touch would call me up and, after schmoozing for 10 minutes, would try to pretend they weren’t really calling to ask me about their baby’s sleep. “But you know, while I have you on the phone…” I loved helping these moms, but when it started cutting into my time with my own kids, I had to reevaluate. So a year and a half ago I quit my job and broke out on my own, and that’s how I ended up with a full-time consulting business.
The Sleep Coach System
Here’s my system in a nutshell: When parents contact me, I do a free, half-hour phone consultation in which we discuss their baby’s issues and their goals. To begin my program, they fill in my extensive two-day log so I can analyze the baby’s current habits, his developmental stage, and what issues are the cause of his sleep problem. I then block out a personalized sleep plan catered to this baby’s specific issues. Every baby is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all method. Then, I offer a one-hour phone consultation to discuss the plan in detail and address the parents’ questions. I then hand the parents the ball to follow my step-by-step plan. The success of my programs really lies in the follow-up that I offer, and clients can choose the plan that works for them, ranging from one week of e-mail, to three weeks of daily phone time. All these steps add up to a gentle and practical method that ensures permanent results.
I’ve always been the type of person who needed her full eight hours at night. I never could pull an all-nighter, no matter what my friends were doing. I depend on my sleep. And there is no greater feeling for me than helping another mom get back her full night’s sleep.