When is it time to call in the experts?
This is a tricky question to answer.
There are lots of sleep issues you can solve at home yourself by looking at things like sleep environment, awake time, and how your little one goes off to sleep.
But how do you know when it’s time to call in the experts to help you get on top of things? I’ve put my top four tips below!
When you’re no longer coping ok
We see this all the time, and it’s so important to remember that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
We can go longer without food than we can without sleep. Lack of sleep, or extremely fragmented sleep, can take a deep toll on a person’s whole self and wellbeing.
I've had a mum tell me she wanted to throw her baby out of the window, and another who fell asleep at the wheel of her car at the gas station, thankfully when the car was stationary.
Lack of sleep is a torture that makes us negative, emotional, and decreases our ability to cope with stress hugely.
One of my all-time favourite clients had reached this point.
When I arrived at her home she was so extremely tired, she was tearful for the entirety of our visit and I spent most of it with my arm around her.
I could see she was such a good, loving, caring mum, and she wanted the absolute best for her baby, but their co-sleeping and feeding 12x a night was starting to affect her ability to function.
She’d had a cold for the last four weeks that she simply couldn’t shake.
She was starting to resent her baby at times. These are normal responses to not getting ample rest.
We utilized a really gentle method with her little one, because they had been sleeping together for his whole life, and within six days we managed to have him sleeping in his own cot, and her in her own bed, with just one night feed which she had wanted to keep.
At the end mum said she was surprised at how clear her thinking had become, how deeply she was resting, and how much she was enjoying her little one more. Not only this but she’d had three separate visitors tell her how happy her little one seemed!
When baby isn’t as happy as you think they could be
If your baby is constantly discontent it can be really frustrating as their parent – if only they could talk and tell us what they need right!?
If your little one is having really short naps or waking frequently overnight and you’re seeing that during the day they get grizzly really fast and nothing you can do seems to make them happy, they might be stuck in a bit of an overtired cycle.
Recently I had a mum call me to go and help her 9 month old to sleep better. Mum was up and rocking her up to five times a night, and for each nap.
She told me over the phone that she couldn’t even put the baby down during the day because she would just cry, her eating was suffering, she was fussy at the breast, and mum was at her wits end of trying to help baby be happier.
I went over for an overnight consult and asked mum what was happening when she was rocking baby – and mum informed me that the baby as actually kicking her and getting really upset until finally giving in and falling asleep.
I suggested we back right off and instead of jumping to the baby in the night we allow her a couple of minutes first to see if she would get more upset and need our intervention.
At about 7pm, after a period of 12 minutes where baby grizzled and cried on and off, she went to sleep!
On her own!
She woke again a few hours later and we decided to wait and see what happened.
I could see mum was finding it really hard not to rush directly to her baby, being so used to feeling she had to ‘solve the problem’ of baby being awake, so we decided we would give it three minutes. At 2mins30, baby went quietly back to sleep!
This happened again a couple of times overnight until I left in the morning, and continued as mum allowed her the space to find herself a comfy spot and pop herself back to sleep.
Mum said she couldn’t believe the change in her daughter from such a small thing as allowing her some space to pop herself back to sleep.
Mum had been so used to her being grizzly and upset during the day that she was going in to every noise and actually hindering the baby’s ability to pop herself back off to sleep and rest restoratively, and this became a vicious cycle.
Suddenly, baby was happier during the day, napping faster and for longer, feeding well at either breast or her solids, and sleeping all night without needing assistance. Baby started crawling three days later too – coincidence?
When there’s disharmony in the family dynamic
Parents are individuals too – we aren’t going to agree on everything all the time! The same can often be said about the sleeping situation, and if it’s starting to cause arguments or disharmony in your family because of lack of sleep or the way things are operating, it can be a really great idea for everyone to get on the same page and work towards a common goal.
I worked with a client recently who’s toddler, Lucy, was up and down all night long.
Now, this actually wasn’t a problem for mum, she was super relaxed and didn’t mind this.
Dad, however, felt a lot of stress around his little girl being out of bed overnight a lot and was worried about Lucy becoming overtired and not getting the rest she needed.
Mum had attempted to take on the nights alone so that Dad could get more rest, but he was waking every time he heard Lucy up, and the stress and fragmented sleep was starting to show in his relationships with the family, and at work where he felt he didn’t have the attention he needed to get his job done well.
This is a great example of where something might be ok for one parent but not the other.
Thankfully, mum could see the toll this was having on the whole family as a result, and they got me in.
I worked quite closely with Dad, as he was the one who was suffering the most as a result, and he decided he would like to take charge of helping Lucy learn to stay in her bed overnight.
The great thing about working with toddlers is they understand so much, so we can do a lot of background work with them which is really fun involving some basic rules, rewards, and a bit of roleplay, so they understand exactly what we want before we even implement a settling technique.
This makes the process a lot faster and more pleasant for everyone involved. Within three nights, Lucy was sleeping through, and Dad said he felt like a new man.
What’s more, he was no longer being snappy with the family and they were able to enjoy their time together again.
When things are about to change and your current situation just won’t work
I’m a really big believer in doing what works best for you.
If your little one is needing assistance frequently overnight or to fall asleep, and you’re happy, you absolutely don’t need to change a thing! I know right, a sleep consultant telling you that there’s nothing wrong with your baby waking, so long as you’re both happy!
The only issue here is when something is about to change and you know it isn’t going to work for your family anymore.
A really good example of this is the arrival of a sibling, or starting back at work. If you’re required to settle your baby or child frequently overnight, then considering how this might look when youre working or when their sibling arrives is a really good idea.
Melissa got in touch with me a couple of months before her second child was due to be born.
She’d foreseen that her current situation co-sleeping with her toddler was probably not going to be the best approach when she had a newborn to consider, and rather than make all of the changes when the new baby arrived, she wanted to gently work on having Thomas move into his own bed.
I was really impressed with how thoughtful Melissa was to Thomas – if his brother had come along and suddenly he was out of mums bed there may have been resentment towards his sibling, and feelings of anxiety around the situation.
Mum wanted to avoid these and so we worked together on a plan to have Thomas in his own room.
Because Thomas had always been in with mum, we initially started out with her camping out next to his bed so she was nice and close, and as he got used to lying in his own bed with her nearby, we returned her to her own room for some decent rest, and she would sit further and further away from Thomas if he woke in the night.
Within two weeks Thomas was happily settling to bed in his own room, and had nearly completed stopped waking overnight – and if he did all that was required was for mum to pop her head around his door to reassure him before heading back to bed.
As you can see, there are times when doing it alone work beautifully, and times where we can really help to support you in making changes if you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or unsure about how to make positive change for your family situation.
There's nothing we haven't seen before, and nothing we can't help you with.
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
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