My Story

... or how I learned about sleep parenting the hard way and became your very own baby and toddler sleep consultant

Hi, I'm Heidi Holvoet, PhD, passionate sleep consultant, certified breastfeeding counselor, award-winning author and founder of Baby Sleep You'll find my detailed bio and about me on the linked page, but here is my very personal story of how my everyday journey as a young parent led to all of this.

When expecting our first baby, my husband and I were happy and excited, fresh young parents.

I got a 'pregnancy handbook' so we could follow fetal development as our little treasure was growing - everything went well and we mostly enjoyed those special nine months.

I also had a few pregnancy magazines: I learned about prenatal vitamins, stylish maternity clothes, maternity leave, baby nursery checklists, ...

And so we started preparing for baby: we bought a crib and a changing table, got some clothes and toys from friends and family. 

We had baby's room ready - little did we know there is so much more to preparing for baby's sleep than just a crib and cute covers. Or wait, I did read one article about sleep. And it was simple:

"feed and change baby, get cute PJ's then put her down in the crib, awake (of course!). Be determined, do not let your baby dictate when or where or how she sleeps."


We were actually proud to be so well prepared. Let that cutie arrive! And he did, and of course he was the cutest and sweetest baby ever :).

In all my 'perfect preparations' there was another topic besides sleeping that I had barely read about: breastfeeding.

Our first baby

Fortunately, there were a couple of brilliant maternity midwives who helped make my breast feeding experience a big success. 

And what about sleeping?

I admit I'm one of those moms who frustrate others endlessly: my son slept through the night very quickly. But then again, I'd soon be frustrated enough myself ...

The very first night, he did a 4 hour stretch - during the day he'd nurse about every 2,5-3 hours. At 5 weeks old, he slept for 6 hours (midnight to 6am) and by the time he was 12 weeks old he'd make 10 hour nights!!

Can you imagine how proud I was? (Little did I know then that it was not my achievement, it was luck & coincidence. But I'd learn that soon enough ...).

In his first weeks, he'd also have these 'cry moments' when he'd just cry, for no apparent reason.

From all sides, I was told to let him cry - otherwise I'd spoil him. And sadly I did for a while :( poor thing. I'm happy my instincts soon told me to just hold and comfort him.

He'd still cry for a while but we both relaxed pretty quickly. Yet I felt guilty about that, I was probably spoiling this several-weeks-old baby ...

He also barely took any naps, and rarely fell asleep without being nursed. And I worried about that, had no idea how I'd ever get rid of that bad habit. He was often cranky, especially in the afternoons. I didn't even fully realize he could be so cranky just because he didn't nap enough.  

We got through each day somehow though, and I was so happy with the long nights - I tried not to worry too much about the rest.

But then, suddenly, around 4,5 months old, a terrible thing happened ...

He started waking in the night!

Oh no!


Our perfect baby, who'd slept through the night forever, who allowed us restful evenings of quality parent time, long nights and even sleep-ins on weekends ...

... suddenly woke us up in the middle of the night!

What a shock!

He cried, wouldn't go back to sleep at all, sometimes nursing helped but usually we would spend an hour or more to settle him again.

We were not used to this, so we hadn't built up any experience. He'd always slept so well, how could we have learned how to deal with night awakenings?!

In no time, the two of us were totally sleep deprived. Frustrated, no energy to get anything done during the day, extra hard for my husband to stay focused at work, afraid we'd never get our nights back ... the whole lot.

O and did I mention that I continued to try and be the perfect mom and wife? Trying to get everything done, by myself, no help needed.

Of course we got a lot of advice from family and friends but somehow their well-meant you need your sleep, just let him cry and sit it out advice didn't appeal to me.

But I have to shamefully admit that I tried. One afternoon, I was desperate for him to take a nap. So I made sure he was well-fed, changed and safe and put him down. He cried, and fell asleep after good half an hour (!) :( . Then he woke up half an hour later. Needless to say I felt vEry uneasy about this 'crying' technique. I felt horrible, and it didn't even work!

Eye opening forum discussions ...

Then I was lucky to come across a very friendly forum for moms on the Internet.

I ended up there by accident, when looking for some breast feeding information - yes I'd finally come to my senses: the Internet is full of helpful information ;).

And breastfeeding is worth reading about if you're nursing ... ;)

Now the friendly discussion I entered into on this forum was no less than an eye opener! I learned that ...

... it is OK to hold and comfort a young baby when she's crying, for whatever reason.

... it is OK to nurse baby to sleep at times when nothing else works - without needing to feel guilty. And that are gentle ways to wean that habit if needed.

... it is almost impossible to spoil a baby under 8 months old.

... there are no-tears techniques to help a baby with sleeping, imagine that! :)

This felt like coming home!

I could feel the feelings of 'guilt' melt away with every supportive forum post I read.

All the things that felt so natural to me, but I didn't dare to do out of guilt and fear of spoiling ... I wasn't the only one and other moms were doing it all the time! And they still had lovely babies, even if they (or their moms) weren't perfect.

That's another lesson I learned: it's OK not to be the perfect mom. And it's OK to relax about baby stuff.

Long story short: I finally learned to relax and trust my instincts.

I guided my cute baby boy to better sleep by helping him when necessary. Well, partly at least. I also realized now that I could not 'control' everything. Sometimes you just need to be patient and be confident that their skills will improve.

But truth be told, quite soon now, his night awakenings stopped. I didn't try to force his naps any more, but did consistently create two regular nap times each day.

Sometimes he wouldn't sleep - and I was cool about that. But more and more often, he'd sleep at his nap times. Even dozed off all by himself.

Looking back now, I'm convinced that the mere relaxing has helped quite a bit. And being consistent about regular naps helped too.

He was (and still is) a good sleeper. Naps were tricky, but with the added regularity he quickly picked that up. The sudden night awakenings were probably just a hiccup in his sleep patterns that slowly disappeared around 6-7 months.

But, I'd learned a lot now and I was absolutely ready for our next super sleeping baby.

Finding my own baby sleep way

Baby Sling

Less than two years after her big brother, my precious baby girl was born. Another cutest baby ever :).

Trusting my own instincts made such a huge difference. She was an easy baby overall, but didn't sleep through as early as her brother did.

She did 4 hour stretches regularly at first, then had some longer 'nights', then many awakenings again, on and off.

But I was mostly fine with that. I'd learned that this is normal.

This time, thanks to my forum friends, I was also geared with my absolute favorite baby accessory: a sling!

Of course, I loved having my little baby so close to me, especially as she'd usually cry if she didn't see me. But mainly, I used the sling to try and arrange a regular nap schedule.

I noticed how it was so much easier for her to settle (nursing, but still ...) at nights when we had bedtime around a specific time each night.

And if I stuck to that bedtime rather strictly, she'd also sleep longer stretches.

So when she was about 4 months old, regular naps and self soothing were not in sight at all - I decided to try a regular nap schedule. I knew when she was typically tired. At those moments, I'd always put her in the sling.

She was happy, and usually dozed off within minutes. And ...

... I was happy too because I didn't need to worry whether she'd sleep or cry. And while she was napping in the sling, I could play with my toddler son or go to the park with him, prepare dinner, clean up a bit, ...

Then came the day, a couple of weeks later, when I wanted to try and put her down for a nap - in her crib, awake ...  I have to say I was a bit nervous, but it had actually worked. She fussed for a minute or two ... and then went to sleep!!

For a 1,5 hour nap!!! The Baby Sling Trick was born.

And she kept doing that regularly. Of course there were times when it took her a bit longer, then I'd go in and comfort her briefly, which usually worked.
Nights would become a different challenge though. After a quiet first few months, she started waking up more and more at night, 2-3 times. The worst thing for me was that it was at irregular times - that makes it even harder on your body.

Good advice from all sides again: I should stop nursing (she was obviously comfort nursing) - I should let her cry (she needed to learn to sleep by herself) - I would become ill from sleep deprivation (and yes I was feeling tired and not feeling very happy) ...

Actually, I was completely exhausted: I found myself less patient and often just had no energy to do the things I wanted to do. Yearning to spend some simple quality time with my husband and children but it was difficult to function normally to begin with.

And I felt bad for my baby, I knew she would also feel better if she slept better.

But I decided to be patient. I kept nursing her when she woke. But I'd gradually shorten the feedings. My husband would go in at some awakenings and soothe her without me near. And I worked out a way to gently teach her how to self soothe.

Sometimes this worked, sometimes it was back to the drawing board ... ehm back to the breast really :) But baby step by baby step, our baby girl slept longer stretches again, needed to nurse less and less and actually learned to go back to sleep when she woke at night.

Not too long after her first birthday, she was actually becoming a very good sleeper. She'd nap for 3 (!) hours or more. She'd go down happily (awake) at night and sleep through - except for the odd awakening.

There were still a lot of separation anxiety phases, and colds, and nightmares, and a whole bunch of sleep disturbers ... not to mention terrible twos ... ;)

But we would learn to deal with that. It was never easy - but trusting my instincts had definitely paid off - and I have to say that was much-needed confidence boost ...

... and I have no doubt that confidence played a big part in the success I had with helping my children sleep.

From my babies sleeping to ... your babies sleeping

I had always had a natural interest in sleep and read every sleep research article I could find, since when I was growing up.

Through my own parenting, I learned that sleep research in children is not just theory but - if you add some motherly loving care - that theory translates into very useful facts.

As my life returned to more or less 'normal' again, I realized there was so much use for the things I had learned with my babies.

I picked up reading again and trained as a sleep consultant.

I talked to many (!) moms - both online and offline - about their babies and how they were sleeping, or not sleeping. I found out that many of my techniques, 'secrets' at the time, worked well for them too. Some didn't always, or just didn't fit the family in question.

I took notes, read articles, kept track of how other babies and parents reacted to the advice I gave, read more articles, took more notes, advised more parents ...

And more and more I saw clear links between the theory and real-life. Like the link between say a regular sleep schedule and how it can work wonders in real-life.

Or how to help prevent night terrors, improve sleep when a baby is ill, or has a true sleep disorder, how crucial crib safety is.

This site, is where I bring all of this together for You - working with you and aiming to help you as much as possible with any baby sleep issue you may have.

Because I know what it's like to feel nothing but tired - and I know how important it is to find the right information, and get support and guidance in these bumpy baby times. 

Thank you so much for reading. I'm looking forward to meeting you here in one way or another - I hope for you it will be with a story about blissful sleep but in troubled times you'll have my doubled attention!

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