Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. Wriggle Crew speaks to certified Child and Infant Sleep Consultant Cara Popping about her tips for new parents and why they shouldn't be afraid to ask for help.
What made you become a sleep consultant?
I was a primary school teacher before having children and I've always loved working with kids! After experiencing severe sleep deprivation with our first baby and the amazing changes to our whole family's quality of life after having a sleep consultant visit us, I realised I had found my new calling - I really wanted to help others the way we had been helped.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Seeing the massive changes that occur within just a few weeks - parental stress and anxiety reduced and much happier babies.
Parents can often feel they've tried everything - have you ever encountered a sleep issue you just couldn't solve?
Usually the clients who have "tried everything" haven't tried one thing for long enough! The only reasons I typically don't see progress with my clients is if there is a lack of consistency, or if the child has an undiagnosed condition such as reflux, or obstructive sleep apnea.
Is there really such a thing as a 'good' sleeper and a 'bad' sleeper?
Genetics definitely play a role! In the first 3 months, it’s about 50:50 genetics vs nurture, but after that, the ratio swings much more in favour of nurture.
What would say is the number one mistake we make in trying to get our bubbas to sleep/ stay asleep?
Trying too many different things can be overstimulating for a baby. Persevering with one thing instead of chopping and changing is usually more effective. If you have a baby who is waking frequently overnight, there is a high chance they are overtired so working at following an age-appropriate rhythm to the day can really help too.
Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. Do you have any (anonymous) real-life scenarios you can share?
I've had a client who drove through her garage door because she didn't realise she hadn't opened it. Another who almost suffocated her wee one while breastfeeding in her feeding chair. She was so exhausted that she fell asleep and woke up to her baby struggling against her. I've worked with parents whose relationships have been on the rocks who have literally come back to me saying "you saved our marriage!"
What are your top tips for both mum and baby getting a good night sleep?
Sleep begets sleep - start with implementing a great routine during the day, as getting enough daytime sleep can often improve night sleep immediately.
Mums - put down that phone an hour before you are planning on going to sleep! I know scrolling mindlessly is such a good wind down, but the screen can really affect your brain's ability to shut-off for the night.
At what age should we be starting to see some sleep consistency/ look at sleep training? And the million dollar question, when can parents expect a full night's sleep again?
From 8-12 weeks, a baby's circadian rhythm starts to develop, which is when parents should see a little more predictability with their baby's naps and night sleep. From 16 weeks, a baby can start to develop their self-settling skills, and in my opinion, 5-6 months is a great time to start sleep training.
In terms of a full night of sleep... some babies can do this without parental intervention from quite an early age, but when I work with a baby, I tend to aim for a full night without a feed around the 9-10 month mark.
There are so many sleep aids on the market these days - what are the essentials? Are there particular brands you swear by?
- Swaddles or swaddle bags like the SmartSnugg SmartSleeper
- White noise machine - the Sleepytot White Noise Machine is my favourite
- Blackout blinds - you want the room suuuuuper dark to enable easier settling
- The Nose Frida nasal aspirator and saline drops for blocked noses is an absolute lifesaver
- A good breast pump if you are planning on breastfeeding but want to introduce a bottle. I love the Bella Ma Portable Pump
Lastly, when someone is looking for a sleep consultant, how can they make sure they've found a good one? Is there an association they should be a part of or qualification they should have?
There are so many different training institutes out there and unfortunately the industry is not yet regulated. Some of these 'courses' are quite literally a weekend of lectures. Other consultants have no actual certification, and work off their own experiences. In my opinion, Baby Sleep Consultant Training Programme is the best course, with so much professional development offered. Any consultant displaying their badge on their website or social media account has had the highest quality learning.
Check out Cara's online store SNOOZE for further advice and a range of sleep aids. You can also follow her on IG @cara_popping_bsc