Q+A with Kensey Butkevich, Sleep Consultant
We're partnering with Expectful to provide our Solly Baby community with resources + support in all different facets of motherhood. This month, it's our pleasure to introduce you to Kensey Butkevich, Sleep Consultant & Behavior Analyst, who we've tapped to share about finding the elusive newborn sleep, why sleep "training" is an outdated tactic, and more.
Hello! Kindly tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you interested in becoming a sleep consultant.
I am a mama to two beautiful littles, a newborn and a toddler; I am from Ontario, Canada, and come from a small northern Ontario town. I am Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a Certified Baby and Child Sleep Consultant, owner of Sleep Easy Consulting, and a Sleep Specialist at Expectful.
I have been supporting families with reaching their goals and thriving as a unit for over 13 years. My career as a sleep consultant came out of pure desperation initially. I was postpartum in my fourth trimester with my son; he was a highly sensitive and attached sleeper—he woke every 1.5-2 hours. We were right in the thick of the pandemic and in our second lockdown here in Ontario. We were isolated from anyone we knew who could support us with our first child, and realized we prepped for pregnancy and delivery but didn’t realize we missed the boat on prepping for postpartum.
I needed sleep and couldn’t make sense of the info whiplash on the internet, so I became a consultant to support my son with my new knowledge and then set out to support other parents. I wanted to create a community using approaches that resonated with parents values and to help them to not to get wedged into the narrative that a baby/child had to fall into a specific definition of what a "good sleeper" was in order to be seen as one but to find a way that accounted for their temperament, who they were.
What's the most important thing parents can do from birth to support their baby's sleep?
- Create routines across your daily activities. These will be your bread and butter to help get through tough times.
- Find 1-2 voices that align with what feels good and learn from them. Don’t follow a bunch of support pages on social media or buy a lot of books; you can easily get overwhelmed
How can a new mama support her own sleep and/or rest when waking to care for her newborn?
- Create a plan for mom's sleep regardless of how baby’s sleep will be. Talk about it in prenatal to ensure supports, systems, and plans can be created.
- Be mindful of gatekeeping. Allow others to help you and baby.
- Know that sleep will get better and that you will sleep again.
At what point can parents reasonably expect to get more significant stretches of sleep?
To be honest, it varies baby to baby. My first didn’t sleep through the night until 10 months but my newborn is already doing 5-7 hours stretches at 7 weeks.
Nights get better before day sleep. You can often see the first half of the night get longer first, then have chopped up 2-3 hours wakeup intervals after that. It is extremely important to know that sleep will ebb and flow as well. It will get better and then you will feel like it’s backtracked then it will get better again. This is normal!
Any thoughts on naps on-the-go vs. in the crib?
I take a balanced approach to sleep. Balance what the baby needs while balancing the rhythm of the family. I usually encourage focusing on naps at home at the start of the day, then on-the-go if need to or want to for the second half. With newborn sleep, though, it can be so much more flexible. I started focusing on bassinet sleep around 5 weeks and aimed for 1-3 naps in there; the rest were on the go while chasing my toddler.
Follow an 80/20 approach. Eighty percent of the time you keep on schedule and in their environment, and 20% do what you need to do
Is sleep training the only way to get little ones to sleep through the night?
Nope! There is a shift happening in the field of sleep support—away from the term training and now using sleep teaching. Here's the thing: We all know how to sleep, but some of us need help learning healthy sleep habits that get us better, more restorative sleep. We don't need to be trained to do something that is biological, but we do need support to learn how to get the best sleep for us.
I begin with sleep shaping in the newborn stage, slowly making shifts that are big enough for you to notice and small enough for them not to notice. This can look like instead of 5 contact naps you try to do 4 and shift 1 in the bassinet.
Introducing different ways to go to sleep is really important. You use sleep layering to help expose them to different ways to sleep, so you don't get pigeonholed into one exact way. This helps to allow others to help the baby to sleep, too.
Following their sleep cues and timing to help them go to sleep at their optimal time. They are little magicians sometimes with hiding their cues, so we need to be mindful of the time. Otherwise, they will be content to be awake for hours then they will become super overstimulated and overtired.
What are your favorite tools for creating a supportive sleep environment?
- Blackout shades
- Sound machine
- Cool temperature
- Connection with us
- Sleep routines
Any tips for what is perhaps the biggest challenge of baby No. 2: getting baby down for a nap while also caring for a toddler-aged sibling?
Don't be too hard on yourself. Give yourself grace, and don’t try to make it perfect trying to find the perfect routine right out of the gate. We’re 7 weeks postpartum and are still trying to find our groove. My spouse and I are both behaviorists and we still struggle!
Suggestions: Being creative is important. I bring out the fun things for naptime for my toddler if he's not going down at the same time—costumes, a sleep box, really any activities he doesn't need me for. Have your toddler help in the baby’s sleep routine, if you can.
When in doubt, babywear.
Thank you Kensey!
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