Alexis Dubief is not a pediatrician, child development specialist or psychiatrist. Still, millions of parents around the world turn to the Essex-based blogger and author desperate for advice about a universal phenomenon — sleep.
“All human beings on the planet need to learn how to fall asleep,” Dubief said. “It’s not a medical issue, but it’s a huge issue.”
A decade ago, Dubief was a bored, lonely stay-at-home mom searching for relief in scads of baby sleep books. She vividly remembers talking about her struggles at a nursing group, where fellow mothers told her sleep deprivation was an unavoidable reality.
“I went into the car and ugly-cried,” she said, laughing. “Parenting can’t be miserable, and it should be easier.”
Her reasons for online blogging were two-fold, then: The medium kept her technology skills sharp and served as a virtual diary to vent to while her kids napped.
Dubief slowly became more visible on that online platform, eventually called “Precious Little Sleep.”
She soon shared her real name, picture and waded into controversial topics, pushing past fears of being criticized or judged. By 2013, the blog, called “Precious Little Sleep,” crossed a popularity threshold, and Dubief realized she was becoming “internet famous.”
“I think I owned my truth,” Dubief said. “I didn’t have a plan, but it kind of happened that way.”
The core of Dubief ’s message centers on sleep training, or teaching babes (6 months and up) to fall asleep without the assistance of bottles, bouncing, cuddling, singing, pacifying and rocking.
Dubief cultivated the advice shared on Precious Little Sleep, and in a new book by the same name, through years of evidence-based research. That meant weeding out old wives’ tales passed down for generations and tips based on the author’s personal experience or philosophy.
She was also surprised to learn most pediatricians receive little training on infant sleep in their schooling, often just three hours of instruction.
“Sleep is not something that most people have a lot of expertise in,” Dubief said. “Having dedicated years of my life to this topic, I could argue that I know more than most pediatricians.”
Dubief ’s followers seemed to agree. She successfully avoided traditional publishing and issued her guidebook with funding from a crowd sourcing campaign. A launch party for the finished piece was held at the Essex coffee shop Nest this summer. Since then, she’s sold more than 8,000 copies of the Precious Little Sleep book.
Dubief also monitors a massive Facebook group. Its 40,000 members have posted and commented about 90,000 times in the last month alone, Dubief said. The online presence presents a funny contrast, Dubief said, remarking that many of her neighbors and local acquaintances have no idea what she does.
In addition to penning posts, cultivating a podcast and promoting her book, Dubief offers sleep consultations for struggling parents, predominantly via a videochat. The vast majority of usually levelheaded, well-educated adults come to her in an emotional state of crisis brought on by sleep deprivation, she said.
“You don’t understand what that reality is, because it’s not like [staying up all night] on a camping trip,” Dubief said. “It’s day after day, night out and night in … It’s hard to understand how allencompassing it is until you’re in it.”
Dubief does have her detractors, though. She’s heard of mothers who were banned from online parenting groups just for mentioning her name and has deleted a handful of negative comments from her own sites. Still, the positive feedback far outweighs the negative, she said.
“My fear about the negative lash back that I was afraid of getting was enormous,” Dubief said. “The reality of the negative lash back is almost nothing.”
One-on-one interactions have improved Dubief ’s own expertise, she said, noting many regions of the country (and world) have different cultural norms for acceptable child rearing strategies.
Vermont mothers, for example, lean strongly toward an allnatural approach and are more likely to practice breast-feeding and baby carrying, Dubief said.
The message can, and should, always be tailored depending on the child and adult’s specific circumstance, Dubief said. Almost always, though, she starts with a simple message:
“This can end,” Dubief said. “Let’s talk about ending this.”
“Precious Little Sleep” is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and available for check out at local libraries. Visit www.preciouslittlesleep.com for more information.