5 Things I Learned from Doing Sleep Consults

February 18, 2013 |  by  |  parenting, Q&A, Sleep Consults
what I learned from sleep consults

A few weeks ago I decided to give away a few free personal sleep consults on Facebook. I fully expected to get a handful of comments and end up doing 1-2 free consults. I ended up with over 400 comments and 13 families to work with.

Thirteen. Not one or two. THIRTEEN.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

And while they’ve taken a ton of time it’s been incredibly refreshing. When you spend hours typing away on posts, comment replies, etc. you sometimes forget that there are actual people out there. Delightfully smart funny people with adorable squishy babies. With crazy baby hair. And monkey toes.

So I’ve been Skyping, emailing, and chatting with a range of tired families. And they taught me a lot.

What I Learned from Sleep Consults


People don’t really know what a “bad sleeper” is.

ALL of the parents I had the pleasure of chatting with started the conversation by telling me what a terrible sleeper their beloved peanut was. But truth be told, less than half actually HAD a bad sleeper on their hands. What I gathered from this is that ALL babies are HARD. Even the easiest baby is a lot of work. So no matter what is going on with your baby, from your perspective, it is a real challenge.


Put down awake isn’t enough.

Everybody in the baby sleep universe stresses the importance of putting down baby awake. So it’s almost impossible to find a new parent who hasn’t come across this concept and is either currently struggling with it or plans to as soon as they muster up the courage to do so.

But “put down awake” isn’t really the FULL solution. The SOLUTION is to put down WITHOUT SURPRISES. This includes putting them down awake so they aren’t surprised to find you missing later. But that is just one possible surprise. So if you are putting your baby down awake WITH A PACIFIER, you aren’t quite done. Unless your baby is one of those savant babies who can happily find and replace the paci during the night on their own, putting baby down awake with a pacifier in their mouth often leads to waking up all night because they’re a) surprised when they wake up with the paci (mysteriously) missing and b) are unable to fumble about to replace it.


There IS no quick fix.

Everybody is looking for the magic elixir that will fix things. And they want immediate evidence that whatever they are doing is working. Babies don’t work like this. You need to commit to a new plan for a few days or possibly a week. Not a day, or one nap. A week. Too often people try things once or twice and write it off as a failure. When the only failure was not sticking with it long enough to really know.


Desperate measures are for newborns.

Newborns are really really hard. Soothing newborns is tricky business. Getting them to fall and stay asleep can be arduous and relentless. So for a while, you do whatever you need to do. Baby only naps on your lap, baby only sleeps attached to your boob, baby only sleeps while being pushed in a stroller, etc. Sometimes you need to just make it through the day and nobody should look askance because you are doing what you need to.

But eventually you need to work on breaking out of desperate habits. Or instead of being “what we did you survive a particularly bad phase or sleep regression” it becomes “what we do every day.” And this will backfire on you on two fronts. For starters, desperate acts to get baby to sleep are generally not fun and often drain the ever-loving life out of you. It’s just not sustainable. And secondly as your baby gets older (definitely older than 2-3 months) many of these desperate acts lock you into the path to cryitoutsville. And I KNOW nobody wants to go there.

So at some point, ideally sooner than later, you need to develop some alternative methods to help your baby sleep. Which is hard because…


Everybody is absolutely TERRIFIED of change.

Change is scary. People are so exhausted that the thought of things getting worse, even temporarily, is absolutely horrifying. Even people who are so brutally sleep deprived that it would literally be impossible for things to get worse are afraid of doing things differently. This is how they get locked into non-functional sleep situations for months or years. Not because they haven’t read the right books. Not because they aren’t smart enough. Not because they don’t care.

Change is scary. But the key to solving any challenge with your child (and trust me when I tell you that sleep is only the first of a billion you will face) is to be willing to do something different. YOU need to do something different. You can’t wait it out or hope your child will change. It all starts with you. This is scary and uncomfortable. But there is no other way.

Put on your big girl/boy panties. Have faith in yourself. Know that if billions of other parents can figure this out, you can too. What you’re doing isn’t working. Try something new. It’s the only way things will get better. And it will get better. I promise.

Most of the 13 sleep consults are wrapped up and if I can pat myself on the back, successfully so. To those of you who were willing to share your families and challenges with me, thank you so much! As you can see I got a lot out of the experience. I hope you did too!

Has anybody else struggled with finding the courage to make a change? (Please note if you are struggling, there is no shame in it. Just about everybody else is too.) Or do you have some advice or experience that might help those that are struggling?


  1. Hi Alexis,
    I just wanted to thank you for your site…. I really found it helpful if only to feel less alone! I have a six month old who was terribly unsettled for the first three mo the of her life that, paired with post natal depression, nearly broke me but some simple advise from your sight helped and once I sorted out the day time she slept through the night.

    She has started to wake every forty minutes after her bed time for about3-4 hours SCREAMING. I use the word wake loosely because she is not really awake… Her eyes are closed and she wants to sleep…. It’s as though she can’t get into a deep sleep.often she still has the dummy in her mouth! Sometimes a rub on te face will calm her, sometimes I pick her up. It’s very strange and since it started happening she also wakes against around 4:30 – 5 am after having slept 7 til 7 for 3 months. I’m so confused!
    Her day naps are now all over the place too… She sleeps for forty minutes and wakes more often than not. she was never consistent during the day but I didn’t care because she was good at night.

    Could it be time to drop of her 4 pm cat nap? Or am I clutching at straws!!!

    • Alexis is way more qualified to respond here, but from what I have read on her site and know from experience, it sounds like a sleep regression. Assuming your little one isn’t teething or sick, it could just be that. It’s pretty classic to have one at 6 months. My first son’s WORST sleep regression was at 6 months and sounds exactly like what you’re going through. It’s like our sleep world just fell apart. There are some great articles on sleep regressions on the site that should help. For us, we just had to wait it out. It came right around the Christmas holidays for us and was made much worse with traveling, so it took longer than it should have to get back to normal. But after a few exhausting weeks it finally did. I would say just try to stick with what’s “normal” as much as possible, but also be willing to do a little extra soothing when needed. As long as you don’t start habits, it can help you get through the worst of it.
      Good luck!

  2. I have enjoyed your blog but have a question. My 11 month old grandson can self sooth and go to sleep by himself for bedtime and can sleep 10 hours however if he wakes up at night he screams and won’t go back to sleep on his own. He also is very hard to get to nap, but he is always such a happy guy while awake, any suggestions? We have him two days a week and I am working real hard to have set nap times and it only works about 1 out of 4 in getting him down awake. My daughter can’t get him to nap in his crib at home at all. He will bang his head on his crib and scream but this is the same crib he sleeps in every night without a problem. Help

    • Kathy,
      I have the same issue as you, except with my 18 month old. we have tried the CIO method for bed time and it works great to put her asleep. we put her down awake and she goes to sleep without a fuss or sometimes one or two minutes of crying…the issue comes in the middle of the night, she has been getting the tendency of getting up around 2am or 5am and she can’t put herself back to sleep, she can cry for 45 min or so and still not settle, if we go in the room and not pick her up this just escalates and we end up with 2hrs or missing sleep in the middle of the night. we always have to sooth her to get her back asleep….Nap are the same issue, we haven’t let her do CIO for naps mostly because her gradma watches her during the day and she is against CIO. However, she doesn’t even like going to the crib, the minute she senses she is being put down she wakes up and cries, so she ends up taking naps in her grandma’s arm…i really wish i have a solution. i really would of thought an 18month old should be sleeping thru the night by now, I was hoping Alexis would have some recommendations on what to do in these similar cases.

      • Oh my goodness! You described my life so accurately. My 7month old sleeps from 8:30-12am and screams from 1-2am until I breastfeed. He can sense being placed down in the crib and starts crying hysterically. I have no choice but to let him slef soothe for an hr or two. Sometimes it takes me 1.5 hrs to put him to sleep and then he awakes at 4am screaming until I repeat the process. My husband feeds him solids and changes him at 6am and gives him back to me at 8am before he goes to work. He’s never been a good sleeper so we are both so desperate for sleep.

        • YES!!! My son will be one in Jan. He had a double ear infection followed by HFM and his schedule has gone to the birds. He never was great but I he was at least predictable and for a good month was sleeping through the night around 9-10 months. Now he’s better and we are trying sleep training AGAIN and he’s up every night aroudn 3 am until 5 am. We can’t do CIO as he will vomit. Ive tried the go in at 5,10,15 min and he ends up puking before 20 min. I don’t rock him or pick him up, I stick my hand through the crib and sit beside him and try to get him down. I walk out as he calms and then within 20 min he starts screaming again. I’ve tried baths, I’ve tried only one nap, I’ve tried going to bed later EVERYTHING.

  3. Hi, my baby is 4 months and had slept 8-9 hours for few days, went back to 5-6 hrs then when the pediatrician told me to wean him from night feedings, he actually slept 9.5 hrs that night while i didn’t do a thing. Problem is that he still woke up numerous times wanting the paci and he has been doing this for 3-4 nights now! He goes to bed at 2030 then wakes at MN screaming. I give him his paci, back to sleep…then wakes up about 15 times between 2-4. He clearly is tired and wants to sleep so i give him his pacifier and he closes his eyes. But then anywhere from 3-30 minutes later he drops it and his arms and legs start flailing waking him so i do it all over again. It may be too early to drop the night feeding but he would normally act differently if he wanted to eat which i may just try to go back to night feeding until he is fully ready. He seems like he cries more from frustration than hunger because he can’t control his limbs from startling him and he tries to sleep when i soothe him and give him his paci…Any suggestions?

  4. Sounds like you need to swaddle

    • Some babies hate being swaddled. Mine is one of them. He freaks out.

      • If he’s a newborn I would encourage you to experiment with swaddling even if he seems to hate it. Babies OFTEN get really upset while you’re swaddling (especially if they’re tired). And yet the swaddle still helps them fall asleep and stay asleep. If he’s over 2-3 months and has never been swaddled, then yeah just let it go.

  5. Hello wonderful website! I enjoyed your article ! It is exactly how I feel. I have an 11 week old (7 week adjusted ) who only sleeps if attached to my breast or in a bjorn. I’ve tried putting her down drowsy but awake several times. She does not self soothe. She has pretty easy tempermant but increasingly difficult to put down even After being out Down in a deep sleep. Your article mentions that after about 2 months if no change is made to current sleep associations( that is how I understood it) that one is doomed for cry it out. So what to do by 2-3 mo. I only can imagine teaching my baby to self soothe now with crying. I don’t mind this as long as I know it will work and that I can comfort her everything I read says baby 2-3 months are often too young to self soothe. What are your thoughts?

    • Wait what? No. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. No I’m not saying that you are doomed to CIO by 2-3 months because that’s not at all the truth!

      The truth is that it’s HARD but that at 11 weeks you still have a lot of options at your disposal. Check out everything here:

      Consider options – white noise, swaddling, maybe even a swing? Give LOTS of soothing, focus on the TIMING of when you’re trying to put down, see if you can’t help your baby sleep without nursing. Babies who love Bjorns often love swings too.

      If all else fails, many moons from now, CIO might be an option for you. But you’ve got LOTS of moons and options to go between now and then. Have faith – you CAN do this 🙂

      This may help too?

  6. Hello thanks for your reply. I’m panicking because I return to work nov 1. I just got my schedule and scheduled for several evenings and overnights. My husband not able to get baby to bed. She and I have been cosleeping. Worried sitter won’t get her to nap. Wondering about swing. I’ve tried it and it worked once a day for the last three but she’ll cry within mins following naps. Is it ok to let her stay in swing and cry for more. ( how much?) to see if it works? Also possible to do the same at night? And how long cry before you give up? She’s addicted to the breast but it won’t be here every day and night next month ! Help!!

  7. One more question. How long would you recommend attempting nap in swing. I left baby for 15 mins but had to get her as crying escalated then it took another 15 mins to soothe her. She really seemed inconsolable. Now I’m really panicked because I don’t know what we’ll do when I return to workI fear she’ll cry hard again with next attempt. Not sure if I should try again tomorrow and if so how often. I’m really at a loss ( used the varsity technique)

  8. Hello Alexis,

    I wrote to you a few days ago asking if a guide on CIO for naps was coming anytime soon (well, not exactly asking, more like expressing my wishful thinking).

    Anyway, my problems pale in comparison to what I read on this site, but I wanted to thank you. Reading #5 really helped. I knew I was headed to Cry-It-Outs-ville for naps and put it off for as long as I could, but I had recently realized that this was something I HAD to do. It was time, and I was terrified. But I took a deep breath, remembered your words, darkened our room by putting aluminum foil over the windows (not on your site, I know but just something to get it darker), dragged out my husband’s old alarm clock to create some white noise, and told him that I could check these off as things to get done to help with the naps and that I’d have to stick with the plan for something like a week.

    Day 1 was insanely difficult, probably because dark room and white noise were not in place, and I’m only on day 4, but it is getting better for now. So, thank you. Even though I knew I was going to do it anyway, #5 in this post resonated very strongly with me. And your site is a good reference for ideas to help.

  9. Hi Alexis,

    I am not sure where to leave my post as long as you can see it but here it goes:

    My little girl is nine and half weeks old, since she was 4-5 weeks old, she would only sleep in my arms during the day. She sleeps in her cot at night totally fine(4-6hrs). She would sleep for long periods 1-2hrs in my arms but as soon as you put her down, within 15 mins she would wake up crying for at least 15-20mins. I normally wait for a little then pick her up and comfort her ( rocking, patting) she may go back to sleep in my arms again after 10-15mins. I do swaddle her for day and night sleep and use white noise during the day. But still, she wakes up easily by any noise or just spontaneously if she is not in my arms. She sleep through anything if I carry her.

    She sleeps in the pram if we take her out for walks,but as soon as we are home she wakes up : (

    Is there any method to get her sleep in her bassinet/cot for day naps? She is getting to six kg, my arms are hurting….. Could I use CIO to get her to sleep in the cot during the day or is she too young for it?

    • Ina–do you have a swing? Try this:

      What you are describing is totally normal and your baby is still so very tiny-way too young to CIO. The swing will probably help you a lot. Babies love motion. At this age if you have to rock her to sleep and THEN put her in the swing, that’s ok. But keep trying the put down awake method at least once a day over the next few months and I guarantee that will really help. Good luck! My first baby was a terrible sleeper but my second is doing so much better, partly just because she’s a great sleeper but also because I have read every part of this website about 15 times. 🙂

  10. Hello,
    Sorry I don’t know where to go with this question but I came across this section whilst listening to my little monster screaming the house down.
    My 12 month old can self soothe, goes down for naps and bedtime fully awake and only complains for a few minutes BUT she will wake up about 11pm onwards howling, screaming and nothing seems to settle her. Crying it out worked when sh was 7 months and we have had ‘never the right time’ syndrome since then and as a result have now hit Rock bottom. She we’ll scream for about 2hrs then be up at 5 again expecting a feed. How long should she be left to cry it out? Is she too old now? Thanks x

    • Well that’s a tough question to answer because the truth is there are a lot of things that can be getting you to where you are. But here are some of the things you probably want to look for:
      – Is anything happening near or AT bedtime that could be creating sleep associations (EVEN if she falls asleep on her own). A big clue here is what does she need from you when she wakes up at 11?
      – Is she awake too long or not long enough? At 1 year there should be at least 4 hours between nap and bedtime.

      Almost always the answer is that there is something ABOUT bedtime tripping you up so I would start by looking there. And no it’s totally not too late to turn this boat around. Check out the post I link to below for more – good luck!

  11. Hi Alexis,
    Me and my husband are not sure how to handle our six month old daughters sleep, or lack of.
    We have a two year old son who was always able to self soothe and loved napping in the day so out experience isn’t helping us now.
    Since about 16 weeks our daughter could no longer be settled in her cot with a hand gently on her tummy rocking her. I was so exhausted with being up every 45 minutes either trying to settle or feed that I put her pushchair in her room and rocked her to sleep in that. It worked, but since then it’s the only place she will sleep apart from the odd nap in her cot (very rare).
    On top of this she is still waking up multiple times in the night (after she used to go 7 hours when she was young at bedtime) and I can’t remember the last time she slept for more than two hours at night and that is a good stretch. She then wakes up about 6 for the day but needs a nap about an hour later. I also can’t get consistent naps in the day, sometimes she will sleep for up to two hours but most of the time it’s 45 minutes and I can tell she is still tired when she wakes.
    I know I need to tackle these issues as I’m not sure how much longer I can get by on so little sleep. However, I’m not sure where to start. She is on bottles during the day now but doesn’t ever seem to take more than 4oz maximum at a time, it’s more like 2 to 3 but I still breastfeed at night, though she seems to have that more to settle now.
    Do I move to bottles at night first or should I get her back in her cot first. My husband has a fortnight off from Friday so I want to tackle it then as I don’t think I can do it on my own.
    Please help, I’ve read so many different things that it leaves me confused as to what I should concentrate on. We all need sleep especially my daughter who I can tell is not getting quality sleep.

    • I could have typed your post verbatim.. please let me know if you figure out any solutions. I’m getting desperate and nearing CIO. I have a 4 year old and between him and the sleep deprivation I’m just a zombie. I feel like I’m just trying to survive the day.

  12. Hi Alexis,
    Like many of the mum on here, I am desperately searching for a solution to get my 7 month old to sleep at night. I have a 3 year old who slept like a dream from 9 weeks old (12 hours at night with two long naps during the day). I was expecting my 2nd one to be the same and since it hasn’t worked out like that, I don’t know what to do. She wakes up consistently at night (every 1-2 hours on a good night) and will only settle when we give her the dummy – but will be up again 20-40 minutes later. She is established on solids and eats and drinks well through the day so I don’t think she is waking from hunger though I’ve been giving her a dream feed around 11.30pm but she’ll only take an ounce.
    She has been sleeping with me on the bed in the spare room since she grew out of her moses basket at around 4 months and I’ve tried various types of ‘bedding arrangements’ – she seems to prefer sleeping on a pillow.
    I’ve started putting her down for her naps and at night without a dummy and she seems to go down fine without it but still gets up constantly without it. I tried the shush-pat method from the Baby Whisperer which seemed to work for a week (baby would go 4-5 hours before waking up again) but after a week, the method just doesn’t work for her anymore. Please help! I’m considering the controlled crying method but only want to use it as a very last resort as I’m back at work now and need to be out of the house by 7.30am – it’s not fun with chronic sleep deprivation 🙁

  13. Hi Alexis
    I just want to say that you have a great site here! I love this post because I do sleep consultation to help parents also so I got a lot out of reading this and a few smiles. I am hoping to get my sleep consultation certification eventually – who knew they had something like that! It’s funny – cause I am a huge babywise/ eat-play-sleep advocate and you are not. I have used it for three children sucessfully even though the nap phase from like 2-5 months can be annoying (to your point) – but I still found it the best for my family. But none the less I highly respect your point of view and the tons of great information you have on this site! I like having many cards in my pocket to help the struggling mommy cause some of them just can’t take the crap nap phase of eat play sleep and I direct them here so they can work on teaching their babies to sleep apart from that. Thanks again! Your site is a great find!

  14. Hi alexis..

    I’ve never posted before about this but so much of what you said rings so true for me and my 10 month old son. I know we have to do something it’s not fair on either of us but it’s hard to know which one and in my tired state it all seems so confusing so just stick with what we are doing! We co sleep and have done since birth as he had colic and was demand fed so was the only way to get any sleep, for months he only had 3 or 4 feeds at night and slept through most of them so wasn’t really an issue and was always fed to sleep or in the day rocked or fed and couldn’t put him down without him waking so used a sling a lot. At 4 months he started stiring hourly for boob and squirmed about alot so put him in a cot in his own room we had him there for a month and was down to 4-5 wakings a night, which obviously was better but taking up to an hour each time to get him back to sleep patting and shushing and was so exhausted I resorted to feeding back to sleep every time he woke. my partner could never take it in turns to soothe him he would get very upset if he went in. So it was good to have our bed back but overall more exhausting than him being in bed and me feeding him every hour! This was cut short by him being very ill and I was too so just bought him back to bed, which is where we are at now still. I still have to walk him for ages in the pushchair every nap time (twice a day for 45-2 hours never more than 3 hours total) and feed him to sleep at night and every time he wakes up, which is again hourly at least, we have had a few nights where it’s been 3 times.. And on these nights I love our arrangement.. But I’m too tired to carry on like this and know we need to do something now. I just don’t know which method. I forgot to mention we did try cio once around 6 months at a nap time but he was almost hyperventilating after an hour I cracked and went in it just didn’t feel right. But he’s older now and as much as I couldn’t bear it if I thought it would help us in the long run I think I would actually try it! Please help :))

  15. Hi Alexis, hi everyone who reads this post.

    I read so much about sleep and how important a good schedule is. I have an 8.5 months old lovely daughter who can sleep through the night but more often wakes once or twice. My husband and I are both working and have a commute of about 1 hour. We hardly ever get home before 6:15 and because our LO does not nap well in daycare she is usually exhausted when we pick her up and falls asleep as soon as she gets in the car. Usually she also naps on the way to work (7:30 to 8:30, wakeup is around 6am).That means we never manage to have even close to 4 hours between the last nap and her bedtime. We put her down around 7:30 and she is doing great going to sleep on her own (no bottle, no rocking, no sleep association). As we have 2 older kids in the house, we can’t let her scream at night. How can we get her to sleep through? It is getting tough working full time and being up at night. Her naps on the weekend are perfect. Any advise? I guess there is not much we can do and our schedule is somehow working. I would just love for her to have a solid 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Thanks so much!

  16. I’m at my wits end trying to figure out how to get my 18 month old to sleep through the night. I think in his whole life he has sleep through night maybe 5 times. Needless to say I am beyond tired. Sometimes I honestly feel like I’m failing as a mother because it’s like what am I doing wrong why isn’t he sleeping, all of a sudden he doesn’t want naps. I’m trying my hardest but it’s like I step 1 forward and step back 10. Please please please help

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