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The Price of Sleep Training

Solène Debiès

“She's so alert,” was the comment we heard most when people met our new baby. It was true. Since she was born, Vivien studied everything intently with her beautiful gray-blue eyes. She amazed us. We soon learned “alert” was code for “doesn't sleep.”

Often, those eyes seemed to be saying “Hey, let's party”—at 2 a.m. Our daughter was a cheery sort of nonsleeper, however. The only things that really pissed her off were being in her crib and being alone.

At Vivien's 4-month checkup, our pediatrician suggested we sleep-train by letting her cry it out at night. I was taken aback. Crying it out seemed so at odds with my parenting style, which was all about tears prevention, even if it meant breastfeeding on the toilet. Before considering anything so drastic, Iwanted to do my own research, diving into books like The Sleepeasy Solution and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: Amazon bill $65. The various experts didn't agree on much, but they all championed creating a bedtime routine and providing a dark, soothing, womblike atmosphere for sleep. So, I shopped. White-noise machine: $40. Lavender spray and lotion: $25. Custom blackout shade for odd-size window: $465.

I'd read the books. I'd prepped the nursery. But I still wasn't ready to embrace hard-core sleep training. So I stalled by attending a sleep workshop for new moms: $65. The instructor advocated “controlled crying,” which meant letting the baby fall asleep on her own, but checking on her at regular intervals. The problem was, just hearing the word “cry” made my heart race.

I trolled the Internet until I found a recommendation for an online sleep consultant. Following a 30-minute phone consultation, I was e-mailed a 12-page personalized sleep plan for baby: $495.

That night, we carried out the instructions perfectly…because it's totally fine if the mom sobs hysterically while screeching “What if we're making a horrible mistake?” right? Soon after our first failed attempt at sleep training, Vivien moved into our bed. We got less sleep than ever. A friend suggested a post-partum doula who could stay with us for a night, just so we could catch up on Z's: $300. This woman had such a gift for keeping our baby calm, happy and quiet, we came to refer to her as “the magic doula.” Upon waking utterly refreshed, Dave and I felt incredible, but agreed our sleep-related spending was way out of control. We could never again call upon the magic doula. “Never” came about three weeks later: Another $300.

When Vivien turned 7 months old and was still only snoozing 45 minutes at a time, we knew we had to bite the bullet and let her cry it out. I didn't trust myself to follow through, so I hired the magic doula to coach us: $550. In preparation, we boosted our white noise with an air purifier, $175, and picked up herbal calming drops for both me and the baby: $30. The magic doula's gentle method allowed us to check in frequently (at the outset, every minute) and comfort with patting and singing. But the key was staying calm and positive so Viv would feel secure.

Finally, with $2,500 sunk, mommy organically sedated and some fairy dust from the magic doula, we were able to sleep-train our baby. And it stuck. Now 18 months old, Vivien typically sleeps 11 straight hours without a peep. While it's embarrassing to have spent so much money on a task that billions of parents throughout time have accomplished for free, I have no regrets. I believe that every baby is different, and with each step of the sleep learning process, we found out more about our daughter—how she communicates and what she needs. I also realized that sometimes I'm going to have to put on a brave face for her—a skill I'll call upon the first time she goes splat off the jungle gym.

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