Greatest job in the world?

I wish parents called me  before their baby arrived to get advice on what to do when they bring their baby home.  There is so much hands on help, many classes and experts available to advice you on what happens during labor and delivery and how to breastfeed.  However, no-one talks about the sleep needs of the baby and how to set up a good rhythm when you bring the home baby home, so that you set them up for success from the very beginning. One of my goals when I started this business, was to make sleep education as common and available as lactation and pre-natal classes in hospitals and birthing centers.

As a sleep consultant I meet parents when they are at their lowest in terms of physical and emotional endurance.  They are confused, sleep deprived, emotionally spent, anxious and sometimes depressed.

They are thrilled that they are parents and yet they are exhausted and sleep deprived because their little ones are not sleeping for more than 45 mins stretches. They have read all the books on caring for a baby, they have decorated the nursery oh-so-perfectly, organized all the clothes in the closet and have mentally prepared themselves for the sleepless nights that they have heard so much about.  But nothing prepares you for baby, until baby comes home.

So is being a sleep consultant the greatest job in the world? I absolutely think so.
I used to be in the corporate world not so long ago where I looked after Fortune 500 clients’ advertising campaigns online, as an account manager. So I used to be attached to my phone checking my emails every 30 secs.  There was a 6 month period when I first started my job (I think they were testing me to see what kind of stuff I was made of), where I would have to be available every Fri night until midnight to make sure that campaigns went live.  The client never sent their ads on time and when they did send them, they wouldn’t meet compliance standards.  So I was the messenger who told the client that they had to re-work their ads and I was also the gal who worked with internal compliance teams to get these non-approvable ads; approved.  Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.  It was probably one of the most stressful periods in my life.

Compared to that old life, I will take dealing with my sleep deprived parents any day!  They are emotional and delicate, but they are looking for someone to gently and compassionately guide them through one of their happiest and toughest periods of their life.  My job involves a lot of counselling, re-evaluating priorities and sometimes re-shifting focus on what’s important. The families that approach me for help give me the privilege of letting me into their private lives to help them with something that is oh-so precious to them. Who wouldn’t call that the best job in the world?  What’s even more amazing, are the rewards that you get!  A short note from a well-rested mother after her first night’s sleep in months or hearing the change in a mother’s voice during an update call is the biggest job satisfaction for me.  There is nothing quite like the rush of hearing a parent say – “She slept through the night!  I can’t believe she did that.  I didn’t think she had it in her and I was convinced that she would be the one who wouldn’t do it”.

I love my job so much that I took a call yesterday night at 10 pm and spoke to a mother of a 14 week old.  She apologized for calling so late and was expecting to leave a voicemail – but I guess old habits die hard!  I am still attached to my phone.

 

Raising a Texan

I have been living in the state of Texas for 10 years almost (give or take) and I consider myself an immigrant to this country.  No matter how many years I live here, England will always be my home as that’s where I grew up and made long lasting friendships, went to school, and all my childhood memories were made there.

My son on the other hand was born in the good old US of A.  Not just anywhere in the USA, but Texas.  If you have ever met a true Texan, you will know that they are extremely proud of where they are from and boast about it.  It’s true that everything is bigger in Texas.  It’s the only state in the country, where the state flag flies at the same height as the American flag.  There are bumper stickers that say “I am not from Texas but I got here as fast as I could”.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this state and all the great benefits that we get here.  Real estate is probably the most affordable that could be, there is a drive through for everything – I am not kidding – EVERYTHING – dry cleaner, post office, pharmacy, liquor store (yup) to name a few. Before my son was born I always thought this convenience was for the extremely lazy.  But I eat my words now after having a child – drive throughs are the best inventions ever, when you have a toddler in the car who you don’t have to buckle and unbuckle a 1000 times a day when running errands.  But I digress, from my point.

Before I moved to Texas, I wasn’t a big fan of Mexican food, but time has worn away at me and I now enjoy Mexican food.  It’s hard not to when there is one on every corner and you are faced with it everyday for 10 years. You ask any Texan what their favorite type of food is and they will say it’s Mexican.

Today, we were out playing and I asked my son whether he wanted to eat out. His answer was “yes – I want Mexican food”.  I was stunned.  My husband and I have never mentioned Mexican cuisine to him whenever we have eaten at these restaurants. He just knows them as restaurants!  For that matter, he doesn’t know Chinese from Thai or Indian from British food. How did he go from identifying food that he likes to telling me the cuisine he wants to eat?!

He can also point out a Texas flag and an American flag, but no other flag (he is not yet 3).

One of his favorite songs to sing is “Deep in the heart of Texas” which was a song that they taught him in pre-school. If you are interested here is the intro to the song:

The stars at night – are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas.
The prairie sky – is wide and high
Deep in the heart of Texas.
The sage in bloom – is like perfume
Deep in the heart of Texas.

He is going to be so different from my husband and I in terms of his upbringing and culture.  Am I going to be able to relate to any of it – prom (I never went to one in England), football (I never understood it and I never will),  high school sports (England schools didn’t have students to worship who were football or basketball heroes).

I guess what I am trying to say through all this rambling is that,  I have come to accept the fact that I am raising an American Texan; not an English/Indian child who is growing up in America.  When he loses his baby accent, he is going to sound like a Texan with a twang.  I am bracing myself for the day that happens.

 

 

Transitioning your toddler from a crib to a bed

There comes a time when your toddler has to move from his crib to a toddler or a twin bed.  Here is how to do it, so that you avoid bedtime battles.  My own son is going to be transitioning soon, so look out for another blog post on how he does!

Before you decide to make the transition, look at why you are doing it and if your child is ready. Is the reason because your child is jumping out of his crib or because another baby is on the way? The reasons will affect the strategies that you use to make the change.

  1. I always recommend waiting until a child is at least 3 years, before moving them into a toddler bed.  Kids younger than 3 are simply not ready to handle sleeping in a bed.  At 3, they better understand rules, consequences and positive reinforcements to encourage them to stay in their beds.
  2. Get them excited about their new bed and get them involved in picking out the bed, sheets etc.  Make a big deal and an event out of it if you can.  Have a big boy bed party by having family and friends over to celebrate the transition. It might seem like you are blowing it out of proportion, but this really works!
  3. Treat bedtime exactly the same and don’t change anything from their normal bedtime routine.  Changing it up might send the expectation that they can behave differently at bedtime.
  4. Don’t stay in the room or lie on the floor on the first night, unless you want it to become a long term thing!  Kids catch on fast and they won’t let you leave the room every night!
  5. When saying good night, don’t tell them “to stay in bed and not leave the room”.  They might not even think it’s possible until you give them this idea!
  6. If they do decide to test the waters and leave the room, take their hand quietly, without making any eye contact or conversation and simply walk them back to their bed, say good night and leave again. If they continue, repeat the same thing.  They will eventually get the message that it’s not a fun game and go to sleep.
  7. Buy a toddler night time clock to teach them when it’s ok to leave the room in the morning. The changing colors of the clock, will teach them when to stay in bed and when it’s ok to get up and leave the room.

Your little ones are quickly growing up and this is another exciting phase of their growing independence.  Good luck!

7 Steps to Help your Newborn Learn to Sleep Easily

If you are a first time parent, congratulations!  You have brought this tiny little human being home and it is your sole responsibility to care, feed and teach everything you know to him/her. It can be extremely overwhelming and despite all the child birth classes that you have taken and books you have read, it still doesn’t fully prepare you for the task ahead.  No matter how much you prep, you learn by doing when it comes to taking care of a little one.  But, a little bit of education and knowledge goes a long way in calming fears and building confidence.

Father Watching His Infant Sleep

Facts about Infant Sleep

It is a well-known fact that infants (0-3 months) need a lot of sleep.  In fact, they sleep 16-18 hours in a 24 hour cycle; however the longest stretch they sleep is 2-3 hours.  It doesn’t mirror an adult’s sleep habits, hence the reason that parents of newborns are so sleep deprived and tired.

Babies don’t develop a circadian rhythm (differentiating between night and day) until they are between 6 and 8 weeks old. Couple this with the fact that they need to be fed every 3 to 4 hours, and you are looking at frequent waking.

Parents often don’t know what to do to get an infant to fall asleep.  Your baby has just arrived in the outside world from a place where there was no differentiation between night and day, constant motion which soothed them to sleep and a perfectly temperature controlled environment with no loud noises or visual stimulation.  So to expect them to sleep without fussing or crying in a world that is full of light, noise and sometimes very still can be overwhelming.  Infants “learn” to sleep and develop these skills just like learning to communicate and moving their limbs.

Some babies naturally fall into a great sleep pattern and start sleeping through the night on their own as young as 8 weeks.  However, others (like my own son), need some coaching and gentle help to figure out the difference between night and day and to sleep longer stretches at night.

So what can you do?

Despite the inevitable sleeplessness that is going to follow the birth of a baby, there are some very good habits that you can instill when you bring them home, so that you get your baby off to a great sleep start.  By following these tips, you are laying the foundation for healthy sleep, in the hopes that ‘sleep training’ is not needed sometime in the future.

1. When you bring the baby home follow a WAKE>EAT>PLAY> SLEEP pattern every 45 minutes.  Infants cannot handle being awake for more than 45 min stretches.  Anything more than this time frame, they become over-tired and it will be much harder to get them to settle down.

2. Swaddling provides an infant a lot of comfort and creates a similar environment to being in the womb.  Swaddling can be a great soother for infants.  However, after 3 months, swaddling can become a crutch, so they will need to be weaned off. It is also very hard to find swaddles for older children!!!

3. During the wake periods, keep your infant in a brightly lit room where there is a lot of activity, so they are clearly able to differentiate between night and day.

4. While feeding, make sure your child is getting a full feeding. If they tend to doze off, keep them fully awake.  This ensures that they don’t develop a feed-sleep association.  You don’t want them to become a snacker where they just fill themselves enough to doze off, only to wake up again in 1 hour, hungry.  Full feeds also help with long naps, which is essential for your baby to wake up rested.

5. Develop a bedtime routine from a very young age, such as a warm bath, massage, book, song and sleep.  A routine should be enjoyed by everyone involved, so come up with something that you know you are going to like doing night after night.  A bedtime routine helpsyour baby wind down and sends the message that sleep is always expected after the routine ends.

6. Develop a shorter version of the bedtime routine for nap time – a book, a song and lights out.

7. After you have fed, changed and laid them down, they are most likely to fuss.  This is your child’s way of figuring out how to get to sleep.  Most first time parents (and I am guilty of this too), jump in right away and want to help stop the fussing.  Children are extremely capable of figuring out how to make themselves comfortable to get to sleep. So give them a chance!

By following all of these tips, your child should have a great start to healthy sleep and fall into longer stretches of sleep at night time. Wanting your baby to sleep longer stretches at night, is not selfish or something to feel guilty about.  Sleep is a very natural thing that our body craves and needs, just like food and water, in order to function normally.  Sleep is a magical thing that helps your baby grow and develop and helps you be the best parent that you can be.

Could lack of sleep be affecting your relationship with your partner?

When I was pregnant with my son, I used to hear all the warnings about ‘get ready to have no sleep’ from strangers to coworkers to friends and family.  You never realize the true meaning of “to have no sleep”, unless you are in the middle of it.  When you are going on day 10 of less than 2 hours of consolidated sleep, you realize what it really means to be sleep deprived because of a newborn.

Another one of the things that I wasn’t prepared for was the resentment that I felt towards my husband.  How dare he get 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep at night while I got 3 at the most if I was lucky?  Since he had to go to work and I was on maternity leave, there were no questions about who would do the middle of the night feedings.  As the sun went down for the day, dread would fill me, knowing that I was going to be alone at night, facing endless hours of feeding and rocking and not sleeping. In fact I resented everyone around me who I knew was sleeping, which included my parents (who were here from England to help me!).

I was under the impression that I was crazy for having such feelings, but it turns out, that I am not.  A recent study by the University of California, Berkeley suggests that “poor sleep may contribute to a lack of appreciation between romantic partners”.  What was even more interesting was that if one person in the relationship was getting more sleep than the other (like my husband and I), then there was a greater chance of “diminished feelings of appreciation by both partners”.  Without appreciation and gratitude for one another, the long term success of a relationship is put under risk.

If you have just had a baby, then lack of sleep is inevitable, especially for the first few weeks of the baby’s life, until they develop their circadian rhythm (which happens between 8-12 weeks of birth).  But if your baby doesn’t naturally start sleeping longer stretches at night, then you are looking at a few months of interrupted sleep.  If this continues beyond the first year of your child’s life and you are not sleeping well, because your child has never slept well, it affects the entire family’s emotional well-being.  Happy parents make for a happy child. So re-focus your attention on getting a good night’s sleep so that you have the time and energy, to appreciate one another and tune in to what your partner wants, needs and desires.

How do you do this – the following list applies to both adults and children alike!

  1. Start putting your children to bed early.  Depending on the child’s age and the last nap of the day, a good bedtime is anywhere between 6 and 8pm.  Children need 11-13 hours of consolidated sleep to be well rested and ready to go for the next day.  So enjoy the few hours you have to yourself in the evening and re-connect with your loved one, or treat yourself to a glass of wine and a warm, relaxing bath. Having time to yourself will automatically make you appreciate the things that you have in your life!
  2. Make sleep a priority!  Don’t do that last load of laundry or the pile of dishes.  Try to go to bed at the same time every night (weekdays and weekends) and get up around the same time every morning.  This conditions your body clock to settle into sleep quicker and wake up naturally; without an alarm clock. Same goes for your children!  They love routines as it makes them feel secure and safe, because it’s predictable.
  3. Wind down before bed time by reading or listening to music, rather than watching something on a screen.  Electronic gadgets emit blue light which stimulate your brain and suppresses the hormone melatonin that promotes sleep.
  4. Get help – if your child has not learnt to sleep through the night, talk to your pediatrician on whether they are healthy enough to be able to do that. There is a wealth of information on child’s sleep, sleep training and certified sleep consultants to help you through the process.
  5. Don’t feel guilty of wanting more sleep.  Sleep is a natural thing that your body desires and needs.  Sleep is restorative and vital to leading a healthy lifestyle just like diet and exercise.

Most people under-estimate the importance of a good night’s sleep.  It is usually the first thing that gets sacrificed when you have too many things to do and not enough time to do it.

Sleep Consultants – what do we do exactly?

Since becoming a certified sleep consultant and starting my own business, I have had to do a lot of new things which I have never had to do before. One of those things is networking and being comfortable with telling everyone I meet about what I do for a living. I LOVE telling people that I am a sleep consultant, just to see people’s reactions.

Their eyes usually widen is absolute amazement that such a thing exists. Then it’s always followed by one of two questions:

1. Do you work with adults too?

2. Where were you (insert number) years ago when I needed you?

Once they get over the initial shock, I find that people are so curious and interested in how this whole thing works. The misconception is that we recommend that we keep babies up all day, so that they will sleep better at night. I always tell people that this is the complete opposite of how the program works. “Sleep begets sleep” is a very famous quote in the sleep world. The more rested a child is, the easier they will fall asleep and stay asleep – but I digress from the topic.

When people ask me “what does a sleep consultant do” – I always say that I am a personal trainer for families. You hire a personal trainer because you want to lose weight and you need to lose it to become healthy and fit. In spite of all your best efforts, you often don’t know where to start, what plan to stick to, and going to gyms can be very intimidating and then you just give up.

In the same way, parents know that their kids need to sleep and they want to help them sleep. However, they don’t have a clear plan, it’s intimidating and scary and they don’t know where to start. Hiring a sleep consultant helps them stay focused and accountable, but all the work is done for them. I assess their current situation with their child/children, and come up with a customized plan on how to create independent, healthy sleepers. Parents have to be prepared to do the work, but I keep them motivated and on the right track. I am their sleep expert, coach and motivator, highlighting their successes and cheering them on. In the end, the entire family has made a huge, positive change in their health and long term happiness.

How to Sleep Soundly when travelling with young children

December is a busy month for everyone, with never ending list of parties, gift exchanges, holiday shopping, decorating and travelling to be with family and friends. Travel can be overwhelming, especially with toddlers and babies. If your child is a great sleeper, then, their routines and sleep is so important to you that you probably don’t want to go anywhere, in case you undo all your hard work!

I should know.I have an upcoming, international trip which is sending shivers down my spine.

Though I am a sleep expert, it is still overwhelming to think about where my son is going to be sleeping and how he is going to cope with the time change when we get to our final destination. He is a great sleeper, but how is he going to cope without his familiar sleep environment? So I decided to come up with strategies to help myself and others out there that are probably in the same situation:

Travel Kit (Pack n’ play or portable crib)

1. Sleeping in the same bed is a big no-no. Your toddler might decide that they really like this new routine and you might have to start from scratch all over again. If possible bring a portable crib or a pack n’play that can be set up in the room.

2. Bring your child’s favorite lovey/toy/blanket, so they feel secure, whatever their sleep environment might be.

Create a partition (for babies 9 months and older)

3. If you have just trained your child to sleep well or they have always been a good sleeper, then the thought of having them sleep in the same room as you when you get to your destination probably unnerves you. If possible try to set up a separate sleeping area for them in a separate room.  If you are all in the same room, if you can get a standing screen or sheet to hang between the bed and the crib, just so that there is a partition. The last thing you want is for them to wake up and get excited when they see their two most favorite people in the room.

Honor their sleep routines

4. Be consistent with bedtime routines and naptimes. You might be tempted to pack in more things into your day, but children do not handle over-tiredness well. So plan your around their sleep schedule. If you skip a nap or bedtime gets pushed one night, it’s probably ok. But if you do this 2 or more days in a row, then you are going to have a child, who is screaming the house down and leave you wondering why they have forgotten their sleep skills.

Be consistent

5. Children love to test boundaries. They understand the rules when they are at home, but they do not know they apply wherever they are. So they might be a little upset on night one at grandma’s house and wake up a couple of times at night. But if you stick to your normal routine, check in on them every 5 mins, they will learn to fall asleep on their own quickly.

6. Once you return home, implement the old routine as soon as you get back. If things have all fallen apart during your travels, remember that your child has proven to you that they are capable of falling asleep on their own and sleeping through the night, so they can do it again.

Happy travels and sleep soundly!