'I'm a Sleep Therapist, I Can Get Your Baby To Sleep In 30 Seconds'

I have been a licensed family and marriage therapist for 12 years, and within the first few years of practising, I started to see that clients who were the most anxious, depressed, upset in their marriages and disillusioned in motherhood also weren't sleeping well. I then took advanced training in behavioral sleep medicine. It blew my mind and, of course, I took these tools into my work as a therapist.

One client, a mom of four, and wrestled with insomnia and anxiety. She would lie awake at night for hours before she would finally fall asleep. Once we worked together and she started sleeping better—falling asleep within 15 minutes and sleeping all night long—her life improved dramatically.

Then I had my first child. One morning in 2013, I woke up when I heard my baby on the monitor and I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that the first word out of my mouth, under my breath, was "f***". I was so tired.

That reaction made me so sad. I also wrestled with postpartum depression and anxiety—I'm normally a really upbeat person and I was a shell of myself. I had wanted to be a mom for my entire life and I didn't like the way I was showing up in motherhood. I dove into everything I could learn about getting my baby to sleep better but a lot of the literature I read was contradictory and was so parent-shaming. I went through a crisis of wanting my baby to sleep well, and to be a good parent, but seeing so many opposing ways to accomplish that made me feel terrible.

I have my bachelors degree in child and family development, a masters in marriage and family therapy and I wrote two thesis' on child attachment along with my advanced training for the treatment of adult sleep issues. So, over time, I figured it out and my first child, Maddie, became a great sleeper. And then I had my second baby and was able to help her become a great sleeper too, so I started helping friends get their babies to sleep well.

Of course, adult sleep issues and baby sleep issues are treated in fundamentally different ways; as adults, chemicals in our brain regulate our sleep patterns, but very young babies do not have an established circadian rhythm.

Christine Lawler helps parents sleep train babies
Christine Lawler is a sleep therapist and has four children of her own. She helps parents to sleep train their babies. Christine Lawler

I realized that I wanted to be this person who can help parents foster healthy attachment and good sleep. In 2018, I shared on social media that I would help anyone's baby sleep for free. For an entire month, I got messages from so many people I didn't know and would be on my phone for hours a day helping them. There is no one size fits all. I try to teach different approaches, and help parents become empowered and choose what's best for their baby.

But the main challenge I have observed with babies that are between 0-3 months old is missing cues that they are sleepy. With a baby, if we miss the sleepy window and then they start to power through it and keep going, we get into a wonky stage that I call "wired and tired." They might be tired but they're fussy and crying. When I have been able to get the timing right and identify as soon as they're starting to get sleepy, I have been able to help get babies to sleep in as little 30 seconds.

These early cues include when a baby is looking off into the distance, giving that first little eye rub or starting to sigh or give a very subtle yawn. Parents might see this initial fussing and think their baby is not tired but bored. They might play and unintentionally miss that their baby is sleepy. Then, when baby is fussing or rubbing their eyes they're actually already becoming overtired.

Once you have spotted these early sleepy cues I suggest a snug swaddle, rocking, white noise or shushing, using a pacifier if that's what you choose and trying the eyebrow stroke. The eyebrow stroke starts with brushing the baby's forehead and then stroking downwards to the tip of the baby's nose. It's incredibly relaxing and can encourage their eyes to close. Using these techniques after you have spotted the sleepy cues is when the magic happens and you can get your baby to sleep very quickly.

One mom I worked with was wrestling with a baby who she was positive had colic. Her son never slept and always cried when she tried to get him to sleep, so she thought he hated the swaddle, hated the pacifier and may need reflux medication. Fortunately, none of that was the case! Within two days of simply paying attention to sleepy cues and keeping the windows of "awake time" short, she was getting her baby down in no time at all.

In phase two of sleep training, at about 4 months old, I work with parents on developing independent sleep initiation. This is when the baby is going to fall asleep on their own, instead of being rocked to sleep. That usually takes two to three days and I'll typically stay with a family for that period of time. I do a lot of sleep training and 98 percent of babies I see will put themselves to sleep that first night, and then in subsequent naps it might just take 20 minutes of protesting. But I never force parents to adopt any techniques they are not comfortable with.

Christine Lawler helps parents sleep train babies
Christine Lawler founded The Peaceful Sleeper to help other parents sleep train their babies. She now has four children of her own. Christine Lawler

As I am not a doctor, I always recommend speaking to doctors and professionals for any issues that I think are beyond regular sleep problems. And, if babies are older, I suggest parents may want to do a sleep study to assess for things like sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.

In my experience a lot of parents think that sleep training or prioritizing their own sleep is selfish. They think that having a baby means they are going to be up all night and be exhausted. Having a baby doesn't mean that you can't also get good sleep—needing good sleep isn't in any way selfish. When we are rested our mental clarity is better and when our babies are better rested, both their mood and our mood is better.

I want babies to sleep well, but I'm really big on preserving parents' mental health. Nobody told me I was doing great. My biggest message overall is that whatever method you pick, you are doing amazingly and your baby is so lucky to have you.

Christine Lawler is a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Peaceful Sleeper. You can follow her on Instagram @the.peaceful.sleeper.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.