My daughter’s sleep journey has been a complicated one, and I know that we are by no means special in that regard. I must say I was well informed of the sleepless nights that come part and parcel with bringing home a newborn. However I was certainly not prepared to have it drag on for almost 2 years!
I feel that I need to start at my daughter’s birth to fully understand how and why we’ve struggled with sleep. Some of it may be completely unrelated, but I believe my birth experience has played a role in some way, big or small.
I consider myself to have had a traumatic birth experience, where several interventions were used and my daughter was separated from me before I could even hold her or really look at her.
She was sent to the NICU for observation, because she emerged with a weak cry, perfusing poorly but with good vitals. My husband went to the NICU to be by her side while I waited, alone in the room. It was the longest hour of my life. Gratefully, she was returned to me an hour later, still pale but not grey, and my husband and I finally got to breathe a sigh of relief. We were grateful for our healthy newborn daughter.
Despite things having had a positive outcome (which sadly isn’t always the case), I felt an incredible amount of emotion, guilt and sadness around the fact that my daughter entered the world so scared and alone in a plastic tank…when all she wanted and needed was the warmth and comfort of her mother’s skin and heartbeat after an exhausting journey into this world. They say you don’t remember any of it… and surely no one has any memory of their birth, but there’s something to be said about being able to comfort a newborn with your warmth, heat, breasts and chest. No matter how I tried to rationalize everything, how grateful I was/am, there was that bit of my birth that I felt deep sorrow and regret over. I wished I had pushed harder for her to stay with me, or that I refused the induction while literally still recovering from a bronchitis that left me bedridden with a fever and no appetite for days, and completely depleted of any energy. “We were all just operating on the best information we had at the time”, I would keep telling myself. Eventually, I was able to recount the details of my story without breaking down in an overwhelming wave of sorrow.
But wait, what does this have to do with sleep? I believe this experience changed my approach thereafter, and my “tolerance/willingness” to let my daughter cry. It is as though I wanted to compensate for that lost time and let her know that she is safe and that I would always be there for her.
I allowed her to nurse for comfort, fall asleep on the breast, rock to sleep… I did all the things you’re “not supposed to do”.
She was also a very small baby (only 5.8 pounds!!!) which added to my feeling that she was delicate and needed to be protected. And so she woke every two hours in the night to feed and was on the breast every 2 hours, if not more, during the day.
From day one she had reflux-like issues that the pediatrician insisted was normal and that she would grow out of by around 4 months. I tried not to be “THAT” first time mom, so I put my full trust in the pediatrician and decided not to worry about it too much. When she didn’t grow out of it, we were assured that she would soon enough. This meant even less sleep for me, as I was terrified she would choke in the night (she once vomited a fountain in her sleep!). So we’d wake every 2 hours, she’d feed for just a few minutes, then would lay on me upright for 30-45 minutes, I’d set her down in the “next to me”, tilted on an angle to help with reflux, and fall asleep for maybe 20-25 minutes before starting the cycle again. This went on for many months. Finally at 6 months, we decided to move my daughter from the bedside cot to her crib in her very own room. We hired a sleep consultant to help with the transition. While she definitely helped us transition to the crib, her technique didn’t really help with night wakes, falling asleep, falling back asleep or naps. We tried to follow the routine which looked a lot like many of the other resources online, but it was impossible as she just wouldn’t sleep.
I’d spend over an hour trying to get my daughter down for her hour nap, miss the nap window altogether while trying to get her to nap, then wonder if I should continue this futile effort or return to the schedule which by now was completely off again.
When I reached out for guidance, it seemed the things I was told to try weren’t tolerated by my daughter. She hated to be patted or shushed or touched for that matter, she wanted to be picked up or she would scream, (the furthest thing from a calming wind down). I tried religiously to follow the rules, had a routine down pat, and it just seemed to make things worse. We gave up and returned to feeding/rocking to sleep.
Meanwhile, the spitting up, sputtering, gagging/coughing continued well past the 4 month mark. Still we were told there’s no need for concern even though my daughter would get visibly uncomfortable and cry when laid flat anywhere. I sensed this was a big part of why we were struggling with sleep. Finally at 9 months, her appetite started to decrease. As a dietitian I knew the appetite of a child can come and go, but this wasn’t normal, it was slowly disappearing. Still the pediatrician didn’t seem concerned other than me.
By 11 months, my daughter had stopped eating or drinking, and stopped gaining weight. She was diagnosed by a pediatric gastroenterologist with reflux and started on medication.
Gradually, her appetite returned. However, all these months of suffering clearly affected her sleep and ability to self-soothe in light of her discomfort and pain, it also explained the constant need to feed for comfort at the breast throughout the night and day.
I felt so guilty… again.
By the time we reached 16 months, hubby and I were suffering from the lack of sleep. Our daughter was up multiple times a night sometimes for up to an hour at a time. Our sleep deprivation was causing us to be short tempered, snappy and not have the endless patience required to be a parent. I quickly learned that by giving in to my daughter’s every need, I was sacrificing my own health and wellbeing, which ultimately would only end up hurting us both. I decided it was time to make a change. Desperate for some rest, we tried the cry it out method that we had avoided like the plague up until this point, as it worked for so many friends and family members. We were assured that it would work for us too. The first night was horrendous (as expected). My daughter fell asleep standing in her crib after just over 2 hours of screaming and crying. The next day it was worse, she still wasn’t asleep at the 3 hour mark (how could this be we thought). The third night she again would not sleep and screamed for 3 hours, the only breaks being those she inadvertently took because she’d choke on her tears, mucus from crying so much. That was it, I couldn’t take it anymore.
Not only had I traumatized her more, I had to now climb into the crib for the next week to get her to sleep, and then once asleep, climb my grown a$$ out of there.
We hit an all time low, feeling pretty hopeless. When recounting this story to a friend, she recommended I check out the Instagram account of a pediatric sleep consultant. I wasn’t sure what more this would help us as I had read the books and spoken to sleep consultants before. I was also unsure if the sleep consultant would be able to appreciate the long history of reflux and sleep issues and my inability to have my daughter cry for hours on end. However I was so exhausted and afraid to grow my family because I had no idea how I could manage in this state. I reached out to Kristin and immediately she had a calming, reassuring effect. She understood, immediately. I had also converted my daughter’s bed to a toddler bed (yes, technically early at 18 months), because she absolutely hated her crib. This was one of my last ditch efforts to get her excited about sleep.
She was excited about the bed and loved it, but it didn’t mean she would magically sleep through the night.
While most sleep consultants insisted I would have to go backwards and put my daughter back in the crib, something I couldn’t imagine doing, Kristin met me where I was at, was empathetic to my experience and agreed to work with it.
Her advice, and more importantly and uniquely, her playful demeanour, empathetic approach and availability to help me troubleshoot in the most difficult of times was a real game changer for us. Despite my skepticism, Kristin helped us to get my daughter sleeping through [most of] the night within a week. Something we had NEVER experienced before. I cannot describe how rejuvenated I felt to get 6 straight hours of sleep consistently. There are things we continued to struggle with, events that set us back a few paces (because #regressionsandfevers) and Kristin never gave up on us! She was determined to get us there, and I’m so incredibly grateful for her. She literally changed our lives.
To any parent struggling, I wholeheartedly recommend reaching out to Kristin. She is an excellent sleep trainer and a stellar human being! As a dietitian, I constantly talk about the importance of sleep, managing stress and diet, and I felt like an imposter as I wasn’t able to take care of myself in the same way. Kristin didn’t just help my daughter and I get the sleep our bodies so desperately needed, she allowed me to finally break out of my fog and take care of myself in the ways that I needed to be a more present, mindful and patient parent. My only regret is not having found her sooner <3
Sabah, 2 year old girl