I’m sure you’ve been asked at some point since having your baby “Are you getting enough sleep?” or “How long does your baby sleep for?”.
Some probably gleefully reply stating their ‘good’ baby sleeps through the night while others wish it was a question they’d prefer not to be asked.
‘Good’ baby or not, some sleep disruption is bound to happen when you have a baby.
I heard you can get help by hiring a baby sleep specialist and I was lucky enough to interview Sabrina on the topic.
Sabrina is a certified baby sleep consultant based in Sydney, Australia and owner of the ‘Koala Dreaming’ consulting agency. She has helped hundreds of families get their baby to sleep through the night and take longer and more restful naps during the day. She has applied the same strategies she uses with her client’s babies on her own daughter who is an excellent sleeper with a secure attachment to her parents.
Let’s jump to the interview!
What are the Common Misconceptions of Sleep Training?
Sabrina says that the biggest misconception is that sleep training equals ‘cry it out’ and that is what seems to turn people off from sleep training. The way she defines and approaches sleep training is to set up the sleep environment, look at the temperature, the darkness of the room, is there white noise or being over or under tired.
She also considers the bedtime and ‘wind down’ routines, whether the baby is getting too much day sleep and their solids- are they eating too frequently or not often enough? Are they eating the right foods to support sleep?
Sabrina explains that the idea of sleep training is to teach your baby to self-settle but “that it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to put your baby down in the cot and walk away”. You can be in the room if you like or if walking away is what you need for your mental health then that’s fine too.
Common Baby Sleep Issues
A common issue people complain about relates to sleep association problems. For example, their baby needing to be fed, rocked or to be held to be able to sleep. These sleep associations can be exhausting for the parents and leave little time for them to rest or to get anything done.
Sabrina explains that sleep associations aren’t inherently ‘bad’. If what you’re doing is working for you then great but if you feel like your baby has a strong sleep association and you want to change that then sleep training could help.
What are Normal Sleep Times for Babies?
First things first, there is no ‘normal’ and it’s important to know this as it can be stressful for parents if their babies aren’t reaching these standards. There are some consistencies however that relate to how often a baby needs to feed and in turn wake during the night.. For example a newborn needs to feed frequently overnight because they have small stomachs and need the calories regularly.
Sabrina recommends that in the first three months of life to feed on demand, so whenever your baby wakes up. After three months you can start to space out feeds around every three to four hours. You can start to reduce to one feed if your baby is around 6.5kgs and your baby could potentially sleep through the night. This isn’t a hard and fast rule because some babies can sleep through the night earlier while some may need a little longer.
A good guide is that by around nine months of age most babies have the ability to sleep 12 hours a night without needing any feeds provided they are thriving, have good feeds and naps during the day and are established on solids.
The main takeaway from this should be that every baby is different and there is no exact rule for how they should be sleeping at what age.
When Should Someone Seek Help from a Sleep Consultant?
Before hiring a sleep consultant you firstly need to be ready for it. For example, if you enjoy night feeds, don’t mind waking up and feel there’s no problem then there’s no need to change anything.
If you are getting to a point where you are sleep deprived, exhausted and you are mentally suffering, it’s probably time to ask for help.
Once you have asked for help, the sleep consultant can really step in and support you. What’s so great about working with a sleep consultant is that you actually have your support person right there with you. You can vent to them, they can reassure you with what you are doing, they can guide you and come up with a method that works for your parenting philosophy and your baby’s temperament as well.
Sabrina explains “you really have to be ready for that step because unfortunately hiring a sleep consultant doesn’t mean they come to your house, wave a magic wand and your baby sleeps”. It still requires commitment and consistency from the parents and if the parent isn’t 100% ready, sleep training is most likely not going to be successful.
Can you Hire a Sleep Consultant at the Start, Before There’s a Problem?
We can work with newborns but it’s different to traditional sleep training. It’s more about establishing healthy sleep habits right from the start
They can advise you on many things including creating a safe sleep environment, how often to feed, how long awake windows should be and how many naps your baby needs.
There is a settling method that can be taught where you are able to fully assist your newborn to sleep without rocking or feeding them to sleep if you don’t want to do that. You can get your baby used to falling asleep in the bassinet instead of in your arms, while still fully assisting them to sleep. It can really set them up for the future and you might never have to do traditional sleep training.
Sabrins explains this can be a controversial topic and one with strong opinions on both sides. She says that “as a sleep consultant, my number one priority is to follow safe sleep guidelines at all times”.
There are two types of co-sleeping parents. One is parents who make a conscious decision to co-sleep from day one because that is their parenting philosophy and the other are parents who do reactive co-sleeping. This is where they have the intention of their baby sleeping in their sleep space but the baby doesn’t allow them to put them down and only wants to sleep with their parents.
It’s important to know that a good sleep consultant will never make any judgement on your current sleeping patterns with your baby and they can be a great resource if you are ready to stop co-sleeping.
Sabrina explains that “current safe sleep advice is that babies should sleep in their own sleep space on their back in a bare cot”.
What are the Sleep Guidelines?
Sabrina says “I actually follow the American sleep guidelines (AAP) because they are actually a lot more up to date on their studies”.
She continues “Red Nose, I feel is a little bit behind and… Red Nose does talk about safe co-sleeping…there are like seven rules to follow to safely co-sleep and I just don’t agree”.
Sabrina explains that they believe there is a way to safely co sleep and there are seven rules to follow. They include not smoking in bed, no blankets or pillows around the baby, you shouldn’t be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and your baby shouldn’t be in the middle of you.
She says “I feel like in a way [Red Nose] promote co-sleeping in that if you follow these rules, then it’s fine to co-sleep, which I don’t agree with because you still have two very, very big risk factors in this equation, which is a soft mattress- babies should be sleeping on a firm mattress and adult mattresses are softer than any baby’s mattress will be and you have the unconscious adult next to the baby”.
“..this is then often said with, ‘but I’m baby’s mom, I have instincts, I’m gonna wake” unfortunately not the case, especially when you’re sleep deprived. ‘Cause mostly if you’re reactively co-sleeping it’s because you’re exhausted. So when you are exhausted, you’re not gonna notice if you roll over onto your baby.”
Sabrina continued on to explain again that there are a lot of strong opinions on this topic but that she tries to stand true to her opinions on the topic and that she would never judge anyone for choosing to co-sleep.
When Can You Introduce a Pillow or Blanket Safely?
As long as your baby is in a cot, no matter how old they are, there shouldn’t be any blankets or pillows. Once your baby goes into a toddler bed, blankets and pillows are safe.
What is the Risk of the Blanket and Pillow to the Baby?
The baby may suffocate. “I don’t like to talk about these things cuz it’s really, really sad, but so many, unfortunately things do happen”.
Last Thoughts from Sabrina
“The idea that as parents.. we were supposed to live with the fact that because we’ve decided to have kids we’re not entitled to sleep anymore, or we just go suck it up and deal with the fact that our sleep will be disrupted.”
“I really disagree with that notion because I understand I signed up to be a parent and I’m there for my child 24/7. I get it’s a 24/7 gig, but I don’t agree with the premise that this means I have to be sleep deprived. And there’s nothing I can do about it because I always say this and I say this to my clients often, but I have to say it to myself as well… I feel your needs have to come first. Right?”
“You have to really put yourself first. And I know it’s such a cliche, you hear it everywhere. You know, like they say, when you’re on a plane and the masks come down, put your own mask first before you help your child. But it is really true because I can tell when I’ve had some time where I didn’t have a lot of time for self care, I snap a lot quicker at my toddler. And, you know, I realised straight away, I realised I’m not able to be a good mom if my needs don’t come first. So I really wanna make it my mission to kind of communicate to parents that help is out there”.
Sabrina explains that her mission is to explain to parents that help is out there. That you don’t have to struggle through this alone.
If you want to learn more Sabrina has a sleep guide you can download for free – 5 simple steps to get your baby to sleep through the night. If your baby is waking up every 2 hours, catnapping and/or difficult to settle to sleep this free 3 part ebook will help you to overcome the overwhelm and outline the 5 key steps you need to take to go from sleep-deprived to well-rested.
It’s all in there!
Make sure to also check out Sabrina’s Instagram page @koaladreamingconsulting and her Facebook page @koaladreaming where you can learn even more.