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I Was Too Chicken to Sleep Train, So I Hired Someone to Do It

Photograph by Twenty20

As a brand-new mom, I was horrified to learn about this thing called sleep training. Mothers knowingly left their babies to cry? It sounded barbaric. Cruel. Unnecessary. Seven months later, I was singing an entirely different tune.

While friends’ infants were starting to sleep through the night, I had one of those babies that still woke every hour or two to nurse around the clock. I was so sleep-deprived, I was practically psychotic. Sleep training began to seem like the only way to survive.

But how was I supposed to do something that went against all my natural impulses? Typically, my baby’s tears would set my heart pounding, clocking a race against time until I could hold and comfort her. I didn’t think I’d be capable of ignoring all my maternal instincts.

Luckily, there was another answer.

At the time of my sleep crisis, I was enrolled in a rather posh Mommy & Me class. These were ladies who really knew how to outsource. They had weekly housekeepers, nannies to help juggle multiple children, with impressive careers and personal trainers on speed dial. Most importantly, they also had the name of a postpartum doula whose specialty was in-home sleep training.

I was intrigued, yet skeptical. If I couldn’t get my own baby to sleep through the night, how was a perfect stranger supposed to do it? Wouldn’t my baby feel confused and betrayed by my absence when she called for me and some random woman replied?

Nonetheless, I called the doula for a consultation. Immediately, her warm manner put me at ease. She was a mom herself and clearly loved babies and helping their families. Her methods were gentle, too. While my baby tried to fall asleep, the doula would check on her at regular intervals and soothe her cries with shushing and back rubs before retreating again. It wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be barbaric, either.

I was desperate. I booked her.

I was ready to sign up, but there was the not-so-small matter of the cost. To say that this doula’s fees were outside my budget would be an understatement. Let’s just say that four nights of in-home sleep training (her minimum package) would cost more than half the rent on our two-bedroom townhouse. Still, it was cheaper than the sanitarium they’d have to send me to if I didn’t get some sleep soon. I was desperate. I booked her.

On our first night of sleep training, the doula came over early to spend time bonding with my baby before bedtime. She was so warm and nurturing that even my 7-month-old seemed OK with the plan—at least so far. She set herself up with the baby monitor and a notebook for tracking check-in times. For the most part, I would not be needed, except to give a 10 p.m. "dream feed"—meaning, breastfeeding while the baby was still asleep. This would help her gently night wean.

As the training began, there were tears, but not as many as I had feared. An experienced sleep trainer, the doula projected calm and confidence, so my baby trusted her. It felt weird being on the outside of the process, but I cranked the fan up high and did my best to get some much-needed rest. And after four nights, the deed was done: My little one was night weaned and slept through the night from then on. It was life-changing.

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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