In other countries, consulting with sleep specialists for baby and child sleep issues is commonplace. In the UK it’s a bit different. Parents are offered a wide range of pre and postnatal support but there’s very little talk about sleep; what’s normal for the child’s age and stage and how to improve it. In some ways, it’s the case of the British stiff upper lip. Having no sleep seems to be part of the ‘rite of passage’ to becoming a parent. It’s often the biggest joke out there amongst parents trying to make light of the situation but in reality sleep deprivation is the least funny experience.
This is manageable for a short time as hormones, adrenaline, offers of support and daytime naps will see parents scraping through the first 12-16 weeks of the ‘newborn phase’. However, where do the boundaries lie? Take the parents who are doing the school run having had little or no sleep, day after day. Driving tired can be as dangerous as driving drunk. Fatigue and sleep deprivation are complex issues that have an impact on the parents’ well-being and emotional resolve. Exhaustion is not a badge of honour, it’s something we need to TALK about. It shouldn’t be a secret or a joke. It’s not ‘baby brain’; it’s very real.
Having worked in the health and education system for many years I retrained as a sleep specialist when I became obsessed with my own baby’s sleep. Many sleep suggestions I came across were not rocket science, they were gentle and practical. Tools to change environmental factors to optimise sleep, understanding what’s normal for what age and optimising nap timing and length. Ideally we’re not trying to put an overtired and cranky child down to sleep. A better rested baby sleeps better.
Sleep consultancy sometimes gets bad press. Commonly associated with leaving your baby alone to cry through the night, ignoring signs of distress and putting yourself first. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a supportive, coaching relationship between consultant and parent, guiding them through (often) simple solutions and ways to extend sleep periods. Methods are carefully chosen to suit a child’s individual nature and temperament whilst also being tailored to the parenting style. One of my wonderful clients summarised it perfectly by thanking me for ‘giving her the confidence’ to do something she should have done a long time ago.
A better rested parent will have more time and energy to play with and care for their baby during the day. As a consequence these babies will thrive. We all need to ‘talk sleep’. After all, a child aged 3 and under should be spending more time asleep than awake.