Just after the clock ticked over, on the first of January our little baby Lucy came into the world. She was a beautiful and determined little spirit, our first baby. We were enamoured by her and spent our early weeks in a sleep-deprived happy baby love bubble.
Like most new parents, we had heard the stories of those sleep-deprived early weeks. “Oh, it’s so hard! You just walk around in a daze. It’s a major achievement if you manage a shower each day”. And so it was. We happily muddled our way through revelling in the minutia of our baby’s development in the way that only parents can.
Sleep Deprivation wears you down
However, the sleep deprivation does wear you down. Those of you with challenging babies know this. This wearing down was a slow process: Lucy initially woke every two hours for a feed. Tom and I told ourselves that “it all gets better after week six”. And so we kept trudging along. I tried to bear the brunt of the wakeups, as Tom had to go to work each day.
Week six came and went and Lucy still woke up a lot. I mean A. Lot. In fact, it seemed she was getting worse as she was waking up during the night, and then she slept less and less during the day. Her periods of sleep during the day were traded in for crying. Looots of crying. I was visiting the Early Childhood Centre constantly for help, aware of the risk of postnatal depression in new mums. I developed a kind of RSI in my elbows from pushing the pram back and forth.
People kept promising
People kept promising things got better after certain milestones however these milestones came and went and Lucy still cried and cried and didn’t sleep. Six weeks, two months, three months, four months. Crying crying crying. They started to investigate medical reasons. We were sent off to sleep school and we were told she was very unsettled. I recall one particularly harrowing day at the sleep school trying to put Lucy to sleep with her screaming for two and a half hours and begging the nurses “could we just stop” because I was so exhausted and I needed to eat and have some water.
Another thing we noticed was that we were getting diminishing returns for the effort we were spending getting her to sleep. We would get a tidbit of advice from one of the many professionals we visited, like “you should just use a dummy”, or “sing her to sleep”. These tricks would work for a little while, but their effectiveness would eventually wear off, and then she would want all that, and more!
I became frustrated with the advice from others whose babies apparently slept badly (i.e. waking every two hours). To us, two hours sounded like bliss! Lucy was waking every sleep cycle and had to be fed back to sleep because nothing else worked. She slept on top of me while I went through the nightly torture of lying in a dark room trying not to move.
I also began to wonder why no one told you how awful parenting was: People told me “this will pass” but I have to say, that advice is only helpful when it is delivered after the storm has passed. It doesn’t help you when you’re losing the plot from sleep deprivation. I was a soppy neurotic sleep-deprived version of my former self.
I won’t bore you with all the details but you will have to trust me when I tell you we tried every possible thing a parent might try to get baby Lucy to sleep. I googled and googled and googled all day long. I felt like a broken person.
Exhausting all avenues
After exhausting all avenues, when Lucy was almost five months old we decided to get a sleep consultant. I had heard about Karen, but to be honest, we weren’t well off and baulked at the cost. And would it really work?
Karen’s help was honestly a turning point for us.
Karen came into our home and was so confident that she would get Lucy to sleep. I was sceptical, and I told her so. I had heard this confidence before from others. However, Tom and I were mobilised to do anything to get a few hours of zzzzz.
After meeting Lucy and comprehensively understanding her situation and personality, Karen set about suggesting numerous changes to Lucy’s routine, diet and our parenting approach. Karen stayed the night with us (we were too exhausted to do it alone by this stage).
That first night
That first night after starting the sleep training she slept from about 7.30pm to 2 am.
I was honestly shocked and kept waking up thinking “is she ok?”. She had never. Ever. Slept that long in one stretch.
It took some work and self-discipline to reformulate what we were doing but to be honest, it really wasn’t so hard. Nothing was as hard as what Tom and I had been suffering through.
Things improved for two weeks but then Lucy developed a cold. We were back to where we started. I was depressed that we had put in so much effort and were back at square one. But the difference was: this time we had Karen to call on. I could call her to ask her how to get back on track. Karen checked in regularly and offered additional suggestions and advice. And we worked our way back to Lucy’s blissful sleep. She woke three times a night, and absolute achievement compared to where we were.
Since then, Lucy has slowly but steadily improved. Three wakings at night, then two. Now one. Occasionally she gifts us with sleeping from 7 pm to 5 am. Her catnaps are slowly disappearing. She is able to self-settle.
Pleasure in parenting
I finally began to take pleasure in parenting, as did Tom. I understood now that parenting wasn’t something to be endured, and I could see why people enjoyed it. And Lucy’s personality changed from being a demanding, grumpy little thing into this peaceful baby with a lovely temperament.
Karen described to us during her visit that we would be giving Lucy a gift in teaching her to sleep. This was true, though it was of course also a gift for us. There were the immediate benefits to our sleep and sanity, however, there was something longer term that we carried with us about how to parent our child.
Tom and I have had many insights about what happened with Lucy in those first five months now. At the time we really needed someone to come and pull us out of the trenches that we were stuck in every day.
If you can relate to this story, I would really encourage you to call Karen. Your sanity is worth every penny.
Thanks, Karen <3
This is the Happy Ever After Picture of Lucy, Rachel and Tom
Parents don’t contact me when they are just a little bit tired. They contact me when they feel completely broken and have nothing left. These were not first-time parents either. Both mum and dad had children from their first marriages and neither had bad sleepers previously. This sleep deprivation came as a complete shock to both of them. Luckily Asker turned from terrible to terrific after my sleep training.
Choosing the right sleep training method
Making sure you choose the right sleep training method for the developmental age is crucial. Asher was 9 months and so had recently gone through the tricky 6-8 month wonder week and was struggling with separation anxiety. Sleep school had chosen a method similar to controlled crying, a checking method which would have made him feel insecure and abandoned. Boys struggle more with sleep training. Knowing this I decided Magic Presence, also known as a gradual withdrawal method and based on attachment psychology was the best method to use to help Asher.
Asher just turned 6 months when we asked Karen for help and it’s one of the best decisions we made as prior to that we had 4-night stay in one of Sydney’s sleep schools and Asher came out of it worse than he went in… he was petrified of his cot… If I could describe Asher’s sleep in 1 word prior to Karen coming into our life it was – terrible.
His sleep was terrible
He was waking up every couple of hours throughout the night. I was lucky to get a 3h block of sleep. Every night he also had a ‘party’ as he wasn’t sleeping for 2h blocks at a time which meant I wasn’t sleeping either and it was taking it’s tall on me.
With Karen’s help, I realised that crying is not as bad as it sounds. As it’s not only teaching Asher to self-settle but to control his emotions and to express himself. it will also help him to have control over his feelings when he is older.
Asher now sleeps through the night and he is a happy chappy and so are his parents as they finally can have some grown-up time and they no longer need to rock their baby to sleep every couple of hours.
Levi was waking frequently at night and mum wasn’t just tired, she was totally exhausted. At 9 months Levi had been moved into his own room to try and break the cycle of sleep deprivation for mum. Mum was used to being outside on the move, now she was wanting to be at home. Levi was a small boy, did not eat well during the day and mum still thought he needed a bottle at night: Mums goal: sleep training and self-settling in his cot and solids advice.
Mum was settling Levi by a bottle or assisted settling, sometimes pram. At night it was a very long process, sometimes a bottle of milk, walk or roll. He was sleeping 1-3 hours in the day and then at night he would sleep the first half for 5 hours then wake every 3/4 hours afterwards and need re-settling.
My home consult
When I went to help Caroline and her husband with Levi I could just tell mum was ‘totally over-it’ and all enjoyment of looking after Levi had gone. The toll of sleep-deprivation does this and no matter how loving a mum is the capacity to care can go along with the lack of sleep. I look into their eyes and the sparkle has gone. These mums never wanted to be this sort of mum. It didn’t start out like this. A lot of families just like Caroline and her husband don’t have a ‘village’. This compounds the problem as it mainly falls onto mum shoulders to carry this and cope. Dad/partner are often working long hours and arrive home to a baby who is overtired and a mum who is at the end of her tether. Once the baby goes to bed parents are often sleeping in different beds and rooms just to get some sleep. Mum worries about her partner driving to work and holding down a job to pay the mortgage and as we all know those Sydney mortgages and rent are not cheap. It all adds up to a lot of stress, relationship stress and maternal mental health issues.
On the night
Levi had hardly eaten any solids, his appetite was practically non-existent and he was over-tired. He also had eczema which was probably exacerbated by his extreme tiredness. Sleep is essential for a healthy and functioning immune system. We bathed him and dressed him in a sleeping bag ready for bed. He was too overtired for a story so we went straight for his bottle of formula which he drank slowly.
After discussing the sleep training options with mum and dad we decided on using Magic Presence. This is a presence method but not an interaction method. It’s kind and gentle and based in attachment psychology. Cuddles are given if the baby needs it, based on the crying. I can look at a baby’s cry and reaction to sleep training and can easily judge when and how often to do a cuddle. This has taken me 19 years of helping and listening to babies cry with sleep training to intuitively know what that particular baby needs. It’s so important we don’t over service or under service with sleep training to ensure a normal psychological attachment of mum to baby. Within an hour Levi had learnt how to self-settle and was fast asleep.
We talked about the night bottle and we decided that Levi would most probably eat more food once he was sleeping through the night. By day 5 most babies after 6 months rapidly ramp up their food intake and have voracious appetites. This was the case for Levi. Food has more calories than formula or breastmilk have.
Within a week Levi was sleeping through the night, 11-12 hours of blissful uninterrupted sleep.
I have been meaning to write you to let you know the progress of Levi. I still recall that first meeting when you said to me that I will enjoy my baby so much more after sleep training. Since seeing you and following the sleep training, it has changed our lives. He is so much happier, not as cranky, increased appetite and naps are improving. The morning naps we can pretty much walk away and he self-settles immediately. It brings me so much joy seeing him eat. While we are still working on getting him to be more adventurous with food and lumpier food, he pretty much eats all 3 meals a day now! Oh, and dessert has been a huge hit. This is from a kid who hardly ate and always refused his bottle, it has been the biggest change for the better and certainly reduced our stress levels a lot. And not to mention, I am finally sleeping consecutive hours!!!!!!!
Karen, thank you so much for your help. I am so grateful we saw you and we will continue to work with Levi as he settles more. It really has changed our dynamics and I am enjoying him so much more. And more importantly, he seems to be much happier. I think the last thing for us is really the morning where he still wakes at 5 am demanding a bottle.
Wishing you all the best with your book release and your business. You are amazing Karen, I can only imagine how many families you help and change their lives too.
I’ve had a few parents going overseas for the British summer and flying long-haul with their babies and toddlers. So, I thought it was timely I helped you prevent a sleep problem when you arrive at the ‘other-end’. The last thing you want when you’ve flown 26 hours with an overtired baby and you’re past it yourself, is a baby who is zing-wide awake at 1 am and then decides to go back to sleep at 6 am.
My 5 top tips for flying with a baby and toddler and preventing jetlag
Self-settling – Whenever I’ve flown long-haul to Europe or the USA I can spot a baby who is not sleep trained vs. one that is. A flight with a baby, who is not sleep-trained, especially one over 4-months-old, is far more challenging. You are unlikely to get sleep yourself if your baby cannot self-settle. It really can make the difference between a great flight and a nightmare one. Babies who cannot self-soothe are more stressed and have higher cortisol compared to a baby who can self-soothe without any sleep crutches. True self-soothing is where your baby can put themselves to sleep from being fully awake, without patting, rocking, a dummy, feeding to sleep etc. They are then able to resettle and sleep for long periods without help from you to resettle. A baby who can self-settle, emotionally and physically self-regulates and calms themselves down.
Solids – Between 4-6 months of age, your baby can start on solid food, as per the ASCIA guidelines 2018. Starting solids can make a huge impact on preventing and reducing jet lag. Melatonin, the neurotransmitter helping you get to sleep and staying asleep can reduce jet lag. Giving foods high in tryptophan helps the baby naturally make more melatonin to help adjust their circadian rhythm.
For older babies and children tryptophan is your friend to help increase melatonin production for sleep. See this blog below on diet. Tryptophan is highest in turkey, chicken, chia seeds, porridge oats, Weet-bix, banana’s, avocado, cheese etc. Giving a balance of low glycaemic index carbohydrates will make a huge difference to sleep and preventing and managing jet lag. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan the timing of your baby’s meal for optimum performance. Include low GI carbohydrates and you’ve got a perfect evening meal to induce a lovely long sleep. Giving these foods on the flight and after you arrive for meals and naps are the key to managing sleep and jet lag. https://nurtureparenting.com.au/diet-and-baby-sleep/
Feeding – With an older baby, over 6 months – avoid replacing solid food with many milk feeds. Milk has far fewer calories than solid food has. A baby 6 month plus needs calories for development and brain growth. Try not to be tempted to use breastfeeding as a way to put the baby to sleep if they are waking at night from jet lag. A one-off extra milk feed isn’t going to cause too many problems but frequent night waking and resettling with a breastfeed each time could bite you on the bum. Jet lag will settle down within a few nights.
Darkness – Once you get to the other end, of your long-haul flight, try and expose the baby to natural sunlight in the daytime and hopefully there will be some!!! It helps reduce jet lag and helps reset their sleep circadian rhythms.
Time zone and routines – Try to book flights that will fit in with your baby’s sleep routine. This will make travelling as pleasant as it can be, but you will still have to cope with jet lag when you get to your destination. In that sense, a night flight may be ideal. Baby’s cope with the change in time zones so much more than ‘us’ adults do. So don’t worry too much about routine, just try and go with them. Try and stick to nap times and bedtimes as much as possible. Routines create security and reduce cortisol, increasing serotonin and melatonin naturally. Making up for lost sleep during the day will reduce tiredness at nighttime and perpetuate the night waking and sleeplessness. You need to ensure baby isn’t overtired but it’s a fine balance between giving too much and too little of sleep in the day and then impacting on your nights. Food and giving food high in tryptophan and low glycaemic index carbohydrates and nourishing fats will help manage day naps and night waking.
And most important – it may only be 26 hours or so out of your life. Most toddlers and babies are not a problem for that amount of time. It may only be an hour or two and you may find a helpful passenger to give you a break. We are out there…
Flying with a baby may be a wonderful adventure. Hopefully, you’ve got family and/or friends at the other end to see you through any jet lag when you arrive.
Occasionally I come across a very complex medical case I’m asked to help sleep train. My job as a baby whisperer is most definitely not for the faint-hearted. After 29 years as a registered midwife and nurse, I’ve seen a lot of rare and complicated cases as well as the run of the mill to sleep train. I’m really grateful for my medical training as it helps me understand babies at a more complex and deeper level. For example, I’ve worked for many years in neonatal Intensive and special care looking after extremely premature, ventilated sick babies.
Medical cases I’ve helped
Tetralogy of Fallot
Some examples of complex medical cases I’ve helped include a 6-month baby, Tilly with a congenital heart defect – tetralogy of fallot. This comprises a VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect – hole in the heart) with Pulmonary Stenosis, with the Aorta “Overriding” (sitting ‘astride’) the VSD and with Right Ventricle ‘Hypertrophy’ (thickening of the muscle). These babies appear ‘blue’ or cyanosed and often require surgery in stages. Tilly had surgery not long after birth and then recently at 2-3 years old.
Reflux with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and CPAP
I’ve also helped a few babies with very complex reflux requiring ventilation via Continuous Positive Airways Pressure to help their obstructed sleep apnoea.
What also sets this story apart is the mum is a consultant paediatrician. As I tell many parents, when emotion comes into parenting it affects your judgement to make decisions and to be able to sleep train. Many of you know I have helped many doctors, GP’s, and about 100 psychologists, including child psychologists with their babies and children’s sleep. At the end of the day, these are parents first and foremost. Parenting is the biggest leveller of life.
Craniosynostosis is a rare medical condition, where the skull bones fuse prematurely and usually requires surgery. In my career I’ve come across 6 cases of this condition, 4 I identified myself. If you’d like to read more about it here is a link.
Karen came to help us with our 6-month-old, little girl. She’d had major skull surgery at a very young age (traumatic for everyone) and had spent a significant amount of time in the hospital. She was waking at least hourly all night and the only way to settle her was to feed her. After what she’d been through we didn’t want her to suffer anymore and couldn’t see any other solution, but everyone was exhausted and we had a hyperactive 2-year-old at home as well.
Karen had helped us with our first, so tentatively we asked if there was anything she could do to aid the situation. Karen was very empathetic but was able to interpret Cara’s cry and reassure us that she wasn’t in pain. We never left her to cry, we sat with her whilst she settled, sung to her, did some hands-on soothing and amazingly the length of time she spent crying was actually far less than one of our ‘normal’ nights!
The first night she only woke twice (previously hourly!!) and within a week she was going to bed happy and sleeping through the night 7-7. She was much happier and so were we!
She had to start wearing a helmet shortly after, for 23 hours a day. I was dreading it and thought it would return her sleeping habits to old ways. Amazingly it didn’t affect her at all, she slept just as well in the helmet.
Had we not got Karen in prior to introducing this I think her sleep would have just become worse as we’d have interpreted every cry as discomfort. Having a baby with medical problems has a huge emotional impact on the family; sleep deprivation added to this only makes it harder. Seeing how much happier Cara was after learning to sleep made us wish we’d addressed it sooner. We also had the energy again for our toddler.
We are very grateful to Karen for restoring some normality to our family, thank you!
Infancy is characterized by extreme egocentrism, where the child has no understanding of the world other than their own current point of view. The main development during this stage is the understanding that objects exist and events occur in the world independently of one’s own actions (‘the object concept’, or ‘object permanence’).
Object permanence means knowing that an object still exists, even if it is hidden. It requires the ability to form a mental representation of the object.
For example, if you place a toy under a blanket, the child who has achieved object permanence knows it is there and can actively seek it. At the beginning of this stage the child behaves as if the toy had simply disappeared. The attainment of object permanence generally signals the transition to the next stage of development (preoperational).