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What is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant?

Jessica: A Pediatric Sleep Consultant is someone who works with families with children, birth to 6 years old, and really helps them set sleep routines. And helps them bring them into predictable routines so that children are waking up rested and ready for their day and parents can stop spending their days fighting babies and toddlers for sleep, and enjoy them.

Jennifer: That’s such a great idea to be able to enjoy your children. I remember when my babies were young, it felt like the days were so long. And now looking back on it, I see how short it really was that time. But when your baby isn’t sleeping well, it could create a lot of stress and strain throughout the family. How does sleep consulting help marriages and help families?

How Sleep Consulting Helps Families

Jessica: Well, something I didn’t expect when I started my business five years ago, was that I was going to have a lot of families tell me that I was the reason that their spouse got back into the bedroom. So, sleep, a lot of times today you’re you just doing anything to survive to get by and you’re very overwhelmed by all the messages out there on parenting that you and I didn’t have when we first became parents and so it can be overwhelming and also a lot of parents today are holding a baby for the very first time.

So in years past where you might have had a sister who had a baby, or a neighbor or niece where you kind of knew what normal newborn is like, how noisy they are, how wakeful they are, their cues and things like that. That’s all very foreign today. And so parents just get overwhelmed and just survives and sometimes that means that one parent sleeps in the guest room, or in one of my clients’ cases on the futon, and then the baby and the mother sleep in the bedroom, for feeding and things like that. And so months and months can go by and that can cause a lot of stress for everyone.

Jennifer: You know it’s interesting because I do remember how the sleep guidance really changed even from the time I had my firstborn to the time, I am by my middle child came along and three and a half years later. And so the guidance and direction seems to change and kind of have different trends. So where one time you’re putting the baby to sleep on the stomach and then the next time you’re putting them to sleep on the back. What are some of the trends that are happening now with regards to guidance for new parents?

Current Trends in Sleep Guidance

Jessica: There’s some new recommendations about rooming-in. Having the baby’s bassinet or crib in the room for different durations. Sometimes six months, there’s even been some recommendations for a year. And so that’s very much up to the family and I think I’m missing piece of that is how well is the fam, are the parents sleeping, is the mom or dad sleeping better because the child is closed? Or are they sleeping worse because babies are really noisy and it’s really easy to think that every noise is a wake-up, and so then you accidentally cause more wake-ups because you’re responding to them and getting them up or starting a multiple feeding pattern or things like that and it can just get hard to know how to get out of that if you feel like it’s not working anymore.

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

Jennifer: What are some signs if you are sleep-deprived. I mean, I’m just thinking back to those days, I knew I was waking up throughout the night but I didn’t really know the impact that it was having. And so what are some signs people should look out for if they’re really not getting enough sleep?

Jessica: It would be how they feel when they woke up in the morning if they’re not being able to rest during the day, especially moms who are returning to work, which can look a little different now, but you’re not being able to get the rest and feel rested, you feel more anxious, more irritable, a couple of moms have told me they’ve driven through a stop sign. They didn’t realize how tired they were, but their reaction time and their response time to things is much lower because they’ve been going on months and months as sleep deprivation and we’re not necessarily talking about the first 12 weeks, newborns and that’s very age-appropriate. It’s more like are we at the five months, six months, seven months, or 14 months of life and we aren’t getting, at least five to seven hours of straight sleep at night, it can really cause a lot of mental health issues, and stress.

Jennifer: I would think depression, anxiety, or just some of the issues that can arise for new parents, and difficulty bonding. So when we know that sleep is so important to everyone’s help. What is this healthy sleep routine look like?

Healthy Sleep Routines

Jessica: Well, it’s different for different ages, but most of the time, it’s some pattern of 11 to 12 hours at sleep at night and there’s different ages that’s appropriate by the time your six months or so, baby should be sleeping 11 to 12 hours at night and they might have one feeding or two feedings max. But by one, we’re getting all our calories during the day and able to sleep at night and then toddlers the same you pretty much are on an 11 to 12 hours sleep, schedule until school age. And then, of course, the younger children are having different types of naps and things like that, that add to their total sleep.

Jennifer: I just think it’s so fascinating. Tell me when you are working with a family, are you coming and staying the night with them? How does a consultant work and help advise a family?

How a Consultant Works

Jessica: Most of the time, I am working virtually with a family. We are starting with a phone consultation and then the difference in my services that I offer in my support is real-time text support. So from 6, a.m. to 10 p.m. and your time zone, you have access to me through texting and so that just keeps the parents feeling encouraged because we missed a nap. What do I do now? Or what are we working through at bedtime? You just have a team member, you have a cheerleader there to keep you, and then with spouses, I hear all the time. Well, what would Jessica do? I am the third party that settles the debate, should we go in? Should we give him five more minutes? And are we going to this event? And it’s going to be an hour later for bedtime, all of those things and so dads tell me all the time. Yeah, I had to sit back down on the stairs. I couldn’t go up and you were right. She went right back to sleep.

Resolving Parenting Differences on Sleep

Jennifer: I love it. As a divorce attorney, I hear oftentimes from parents who are divorcing with young children, about their different opinions on sleep routines and sleep, whether the child should be co-sleeping with a parent, how long they should go sleep? So I know that’s an issue that comes up in a lot of marriages that are falling apart. I imagine it’s also something that you get to see and maybe kind of get to be a mediator for families. Do you have any stories or experiences that you can share about how parents were able to resolve some of their different ideas about sleeper teams?

Jessica: A lot of it often has to do with just understanding the child development behind the patterns that they’re experiencing with sleep, how many, for instance, if you’ve got a toddler and your co-sleeping and your trying to make the decision, if you’re ready to introduce independent sleep or you want to keep the co-sleeping routines if both parents are on board, I think it’s first we talked about how well they’re sleeping and then we’re also talking about a lot of times, children are falling asleep on mom, or they’re falling asleep on a bottle or nursing and so that requires mom to be the one and only person doing the bedtime routine.

So there can be a lot of frustration and stress there because if you have to do it every night for 14 months, at some point, you want to break. But the child doesn’t know anything different. So it’s also stressful than into just say to your spouse. You do it. That doesn’t work. So really talking through routines and the reason behind the child’s response or the preferences, the child is giving and how to work together to move that. If you’re going to co-sleep and you’re in agreement, then you have to set up boundaries within that. So maybe removing feeding is a big piece, even with two-year-olds, sometimes they’re still being fed in the night.

So changing that pattern helping the child learn that that doesn’t help them sleep healthy and it’s no longer an option. That way, another thing is, parents can put the child in the family bed at the child’s bedtime and then leave and come back at their bedtime. So there’s just all different ways to set it up for families to be successful within their comfort zone and what they want for their children. But it is very important to be on the same page and talk through it. But sometimes the child development piece really help support one parent’s thoughts or the other or come together on an agreement of what the next steps are.

Jennifer: What are some of the biggest challenges that parents face when they are changing this child sleep routine? I’m just thinking back to you know the whole idea of like do you let the child cry it out? How long do they cry? I mean, I know as a parent those emotional heartstrings were something that I had to deal with? How do you advise parents about that or and what do you see parents really struggling with?

Challenges in Changing Sleep Routines

Jessica: It’s definitely that question is how does a child learn new routines? How do they share their voice and really understanding the differences in their communication? And when parents are asking about should I let my child cry? My first conversation is let’s back up. Let’s look at their daily routines. Let’s look at the place were at. Are we setting our child up for success to learn these new sleep routines? Whether it’s independent sleeping or going in their sleep spacing, calming their own bodies to put themselves to sleep. And where do we start? We don’t just decide one day. Oh, we’re not doing this anymore and put the baby down to protest or to share their voice because that doesn’t work, they could have been overtired. That their timing could have been off, they could have been hungry, all of those things.

So we talk through how to set your child up for success what you’re working on. And then we also talked about different methods of your response. Because I think today, parents feel this pressure that they have to do everything for their child, they have to respond at the first peep, at the first grunt, and so learning that your baby is a human being and has lots of communications and has a different calming, way to calm and organized their body, then maybe their sibling and giving them that space to learn the new pattern.

The space part is really the hardest when we’re learning new routines and there’s different options. There’s just not one way and so that’s what we tailor and then we also make allowances if a child is at two homes, and really building confidence in the one parent that does reach out that, it’s okay for their partner to do it their way at their house, but here’s how you make it successful at your house.

Jennifer: I think that’s such a good point. I know. When I think back to being a young parent, there was this desire to do everything right. And I think understanding that there’s not just one right way to do it, right? That’s why I love that. That’s so important.

Jessica: I remember one of my friends coming to say in the first four weeks of my oldest and I was just so upset about how my husband was holding the baby up or doing this the wrong way and she was like, it’s okay, it’s good for him to do it differently and I had to say that over and over in my head a little bit because you feel like you have to control and you have to do it right and you only know how to do it right.

Jennifer: I think some of the best advice I got was from my mother who told me, the most important thing is that you just love them, everything else will fall into place. And I’ve gone back to that many times especially with teenagers through the teenage years, I love that. So children are different, there’s no one guide, one-size-fits-all and you mentioned siblings and I think keeping in mind the fact that different children have different needs. And so you know, having worked with you maybe with the firstborn they might think that it’s going to be the same for the second but I imagine that there’s a lot of variation in how you work with children.

Adapting to Different Children’s Needs

Jessica: There is and some families are like, I just know I need to call Jessica at this point and it’ll all work out. Other families are using the same skills that they learn working with me with the oldest and then sometimes you get a wild card and you’re just much more tired when there’s three of them. So we definitely go back and they are different. And we do have to change our methods, the framework is still very much the same, but we do make tweaks to make it an individualized plan so that for the success of the baby.

Recognizing Baby Cues

Jennifer: Do you help parents learn how to recognize the signs, or to behear the different kinds of cries. I remember hearing something about that back in the day when I had the babies was the idea that they have different cries for different things.

Jessica: That’s a big piece, so much of, oh, I don’t want to do cry it out. You know that everyone says, it’s we’re following the baby at every step of the way. What are they telling us? You know, and how do we compare that with awake times. Where they’re sleepy cues falling, how is their sleep EQ different from their hunger cue? And there are many, many parents who reach out to me at eight months, nine months and say I really struggle with that. And that can be a difference between parents as well. Mom and dad, and I lots of times talk to Dad’s I’m like, give the baby a chance like let’s test it out. Let’s see what you think it is. What is their check engine light? I often tell Dad’s because that makes more sense to them. You know, that’s learning your check engine light, early learning how to calm and soothe your baby. What sensory pattern do they like early to give Mom a break. Those kinds of things but it also helps to just have someone else because they’re going to see different things but cues are huge and babies do communicate very early.

Jennifer: I love that. That is great. I think it’s not something that’s talked about enough, a lot of parents can feel like a failure because they’re not reading the cues and really it’s just about becoming more in tune and learning the language of your baby.

Jessica: Yes. And I don’t think that’s talked about, there was this great research study that was done with preemies and it was about NICU Nurses responding, and they’re trying to keep these babies alive. It’s very, very important, the medicine and response and health care they’re giving, but their babies weren’t thriving. And when they kind of backed up and start communicating with these tiny tiny babies and you know arriving slower giving an indication, talking to them and waiting for little responses whether it’s body language or a certain kind of sound, and then administering the medicine. The babies were thriving and it made such a difference in their overall health that there was a back-and-forth, there was communication between their caretaker and, and their health.

Jennifer: Oh my gosh, there’s just so much we don’t know. I love that. Well, tell, what advice do you have for parents of twins or multiples? I know you went through that. That was one thing I always thought when I would be awake at night with my infant. I think I don’t know how parents do it who have two at one time. So, what advice do you have?

Advice for Parents of Twins or Multiples

Jessica: Number one, accept all help that is offered. Just say yes and I will say that was a hard time, just relationship-wise because you have no time in those first couple of months and so twins really getting them on the same schedule. I know everybody says that but it really is not a myth. It really can be done. And the big one is allowing the twins to adapt to each other’s voices and cries. They really can sleep in the same room. They really can sleep through each other’s cries. And I think that is cries or sounds, I should probably say, if one needs to be fed, or diaper change or something like that, and the night, you don’t have to like rush in and get them both up or things like that. So just that’s the biggest one. It’s just helping the children get used to being in the same environment. They’re actually comforted by each other’s cries. So that’s a lot of times where crutches come in. Where parents feel like that to rush in and get one out because they might wake the other.

Jennifer: So interesting. I never thought of that. What advice do you have for parents maybe if they’re expecting right now, they don’t have a baby in the home yet. What can they do to help get ready for what’s to come for the sleep deprivation, for sleep routines?

Preparing for a New Baby

Jessica: I think talking about what they think that they are feel about sleep. What they’re looking forward to in the babies. And I think also there’s so much research about dropping relationship percentages as you become new parents. I think even talking about what helps them when they’re stressed, if the mom is able to say it really helps when you do X Y or Z or same thing with the dad, so they just kind of have a little framework, a plan for those tough days where nothing goes right and it really isn’t your fault. I think that that helps and really also, especially for the dad. Help the mom stay centered and learn to trust her own instincts and she might need help, just kind of quieting, those voices whether they’re on an Instagram scroll or their family members that have their own thoughts and directions.

And that’s really causing her anxiety or added stress because she’s doubting herself because the best thing is just that its trial and error, I’ve had several parent say, but I don’t want to make a mistake and I’ll say it, but that’s how we learn. You know, you think the baby’s hungry. So you go to feed them but then they’re not hungry. Okay. Make a note. That cry or this kind of sound, didn’t mean hunger. And so the next time you hear it, okay? Try swaddling them up and putting them to sleep, so it meant sleep, just helping each other. Check that engine light and learn that the babies cues is helpful. And also just learning that dad’s going to do it different than Mom.

Jennifer: I think I’m a lot of grace for yourself because you’re not supposed to get it right every time I love this, you’re supposed to make mistakes. You’re supposed to experiment and see what works. And having grace for each other is really important too.

Jessica: And did not think that everybody has it figured out. I mean, you and I, I have a 17-year-old and I’m still a first-time parent, like I haven’t done this 10 times. So giving yourself grace and having reminding each other of that, I think is really important because you might look on the screen and it might communicate to you that they have it all together and they don’t.

Jennifer: One thing I heard early on was that if you are feeling frustrated, it means your expectations are out of line, right?

Jessica: Yes.

Jennifer: And so is the good news is that you get to control the adjusting of expectation. So I often thought, oh, I’m really frustrated at this moment. My two-year-old isn’t going down for the nap and we have a birthday party and everything is getting thrown off and I would just have to stop. And say, you know what, I’m expecting too much right now, things are gonna go, as they’re going to go and I’m going to do the best that I can and sometimes that’s it right?

Jessica: And sometimes you just have to walk outside and take a deep breath. Sometimes you have to walk away from a crying baby and take a deep breath. I’ve many clients, a lot of my packages are 7 Day support plans and it’ll be like day three and mom will be like, but it’s not working. Remember, it’s still very new. We’ve only practiced this twice, for a baby, they’re looking for that pattern. It’s still new, it’s new to you. Sometimes i have parents who struggled more with the changes than the child. So yes. Giving yourself grace, lowering your expectations and reflecting on what patterns work and what patterns don’t.

Jennifer: When should a family consult with an expert? When is it time to call in extra help?

When to Consult an Expert

Jessica: It really depends on the personality of the family. I have a lot of moms who will describe themselves as type A and they reach out at 6 weeks, or even before they have a baby and we start there and they just like to continue the check at the ability to check-in. Okay, this is what’s happening this week. What should I be looking for? Or this is not working, what should we do? Oh, we should stretch that awake timer. Oh, we need to move that feet or oh, we need to increase the ounces for daycare or things like that, and then I have other moms who I’m going to go sleep for x amount of time, I’ll call Jessica when I’m ready to transition.

And then there’s the moms who have hit rock bottom and they’re lost. They don’t have any other ideas, they’re exhausted, they’re frustrated. I had one mom, so amazing and she’s like, I’m doing some crazy things. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t have any resources and it’s my first baby and we’re watching I put at 11 o’clock at night. I put my toddler into the baby swing and I turned it on and I turn a show on, and then when he starts fussing, I give him puffs because she just, she was trying anything she could. I mean, we all do things to just get by and we don’t know what it’s like for her and she then she would transfer him to the. crib and the doctor had told her not to offer a nap anymore for this 13-month-old. So super over-stimulated, overtired, of course, she had to use a swing to get him down, plus he was big, she couldn’t, and in three days he was sleeping 8 to 8 and taking two naps.

Jennifer: I love that story. I mean, there is hope, I think if you’re struggling with the feeling of sleep deprivation and feeling like you just can’t handle everything. It’s okay. You know you’re not alone in that.

Jessica: There is no bad sleeper. I get that all the time. Is he just a bad sleeper? No, absolutely not.

Jennifer: Life with a newborn is not always a Kodak moment. I say that and I realized like a lot of people may not even know what Kodak is anymore.

Jessica: It’s not Instagrammable.

Jennifer: It’s not Instagrammable that’s right. There are lots of moments that aren’t.

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