For months, little Kolton Seals’ sleep habits were keeping his parents up at night.
The 2-year-old’s routine — rocking and then a pacifier — lulled him to sleep, but he would wake up in the middle of the night, slip into his parents’ bed and toss and turn.
Eventually his mother called in a sleep consultant.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” said Shannon Seal, a 33-year-old elementary school teacher. “I didn’t want crying every night.”
Pediatric sleep consultants don’t prescribe medicine or monitor a child with electronics, like sleep clinics do adults. Instead, they prescribe a program and provide support for parents who may be tempted to deviate from the plan and rock their babies to sleep or give them unneeded bottles in the middle of the night, said Becca Campbell, the Baton Rouge-area consultant Seals hired.
“Our plan is to develop a plan of action so they don’t develop those habits,” said Campbell, 25, who is a former co-worker of Seal’s.
To help Kolton, Campbell met with Seal and studied a questionnaire Seal had answered about her son’s sleep habits. Then, she created a plan that led Seal to cut out the rocking and the pacifier, which was a “prop” the child relied on too heavily, Campbell said. They created a schedule — take a bath, brush his teeth, read a story, say his prayers and lie down.
The first night, Seal sat next to Kolton, and when he asked to be held, she told him, “Night, night.” Over the next 10 days, she sat in his room until he fell asleep, each night moving a little closer to the door until she wasn’t in the room.
“He would just lay there and say his alphabet,” Seal said. “Before I would know it, he would roll his head over and, without facing me, he would be asleep.”
The Sleep Sense program Campbell teaches offers parents a strategy and provides support over 10 days while the children learn new habits. It isn’t the “cry it out” technique, Campbell said.
“We can do this gently; we can get those props out so (the children) are sleeping independently and mom and dad are getting the sleep they need,” Campbell said.
Doctors occasionally see children who have these kinds of sleep problems, called “behavioral insomnia,” said Dr. Dwayne Henry, a pediatric sleep specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group. While Henry focuses on severe sleep issues, especially sleep apnea, he said he often gives advice similar to what a consultant would give when battling behavioral insomnia.
“It doesn’t take a medical education to understand that part of it,” he said.
Campbell started her business, called Little Z’s Sleep Consulting, in April. Last year, as a new mother, she had sought a consultant herself when her 4-month-old daughter, Ellie, was waking four to six times a night.
Only a bottle — a prop — would put her back to sleep.
“She didn’t need the food,” Campbell said. “She just needed to suck on the bottle for a few minutes and go to back to sleep, and I would let her fall asleep in my arms and carry her back to sleep.”
But Campbell, then an elementary school teacher in Denham Springs, wasn’t getting any rest.
“I was a zombie,” she said, “and I was not giving my students my all, and I was not giving my daughter my all, and I was not giving me my all because I was so tired.”
Campbell asked everyone for advice, eventually finding a sleep consultant online and talked to her on the phone.
She weaned Ellie off the nighttime feedings and taught her to go back to sleep when she woke.
With no local pediatric sleep consultants in the area, Campbell decided to train to become one herself, taking classes in Sarasota, Florida.
Sleep consulting for a toddler Kolton Seal’s age would cost $399, Campbell said.
Newborns cost $275, and children 4 to 15 months old are $325.
Seal said the most important part of the consultation service was the support she received. She compared a sleep consultant to a personal trainer or fitness coach who helps motivate you.
“When you just try it without anybody there, you don’t have somebody,” she said. “I’m texting her, ‘He’s doing this. What do I do?’ She was a great coach along the way.”
Building positive sleep habits starts early, Campbell said.
“Sleep is such a big part of our life that we don’t spend enough time on it, I think,” she said. “That’s one thing I like about this, teaching your children the skills they need now, they’re going to use them their entire life.”