All children can learn how to sleep better... says Cork sleep expert

She’s helped more than 4,000 families struggling to get their children to sleep, now Douglas-based sleep expert Lucy Wolfe has launched a new book on the subject, called, ‘The Baby Sleep Solution’. EMMA CONNOLLY caught up with the mum of four
All children can learn how to sleep better... says Cork sleep expert
Lucy Wolfe

I DON’T remember at what point exactly my baby started sleeping through the night — but I do remember exactly when she stopped.

It was bang on her first birthday when she went from happily going down in her cot from around 8pm to 7am — to waking randomly at least once for what had been the long eliminated night feed; and I went from being a smug, self-declared super-mum to a neurotic wreck.

The first night when those dreaded wah, wah’s came through the baby monitor I put it down to her being over-excited from her party; night two, erra, still a bit excited; night three, maybe teeth; four, a developmental leap? Night seven... dear Jesus, help me.

On a scale of one to 10 (with 10 being majorly sleep deprived), I was still holding my own at a 5.5 but I was getting slightly obsessed with sorting the situation out.

I went from keeping her up a little later, putting her to bed a bit earlier, changing her formula, all the while doing that manic first time mother Googling. Basically, if you made eye contact with me for longer than five seconds I was going to tell you all about it and ask your opinion.

Of course, misery loves company so imagine my surprise (can I admit a little glee?) when I discovered baby whisperer and paediatric sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe had been in a similiar — but worse — situation.

A familiar face on national TV, the Cork woman’s career path shifted dramatically when her child Jesse suffered major sleep regression at 10 months.

“My son had slept very well from birth, but as I was returning to working and weaning from exclusive breastfeeding to combination feeding, he started to wake frequently overnight. Obviously, the changes in feeding and my return to work unsettled his sleeping pattern, but it didn’t go away and very soon he was waking 10 to 12 times or more overnight. I felt very vulnerable and extremely tired as I am sure many people are, but I really needed a solution so that we could all get the rest we needed.

“I worked through the problems from reading and chatting to others, but it sparked an interest in me and led me to where I am now — in the honoured position to help others who need support like I did.”

Lucy Wolfe and family
Lucy Wolfe and family

She re-trained (and has impressive credentials) to help others sort their own sleep struggles and has just written a new book The Baby Sleep Solution, published by Gill Books. To date she’s helped over 4,000 families directly and this book sets out to not only trouble-shoot existing problems but to also help new and expectant parents work towards shaping their child’s sleep from the early days.

She doesn’t think we should just dismiss any problems by saying ‘Oh, my child is a bad sleeper.’ Her premise is that all children (babies and toddlers) can learn to sleep better and with confidence — they just need to be programmed correctly.

She recognises that some babies are born with a greater ability to sleep than others.

“But all young children can be helped and encouraged to sleep better in time and I discourage you from feeling that it is just the way it is — every area of your child’s wellbeing can be improved, often with small adjustments.

“I’m not sure if the understanding of the importance of your child’s sleep is fully understood. Sleep serves a vital function and sleep deprivation in early childhood causes an increased risk of health issues, impaired mood and behaviour, low concentration levels, reduced motivation and poor academic performance.”

From the outset, she’s keen to stress she doesn’t advocate controlled crying or crying it out methods.

“All sleep can be enhanced and improved on and a solid framework can be laid; and you don’t need to cry it out to make this happen.”

The secret to helping babies sleep through the night, she feels, is understanding their sleep cycles and the feeding/ sleeping balance.

The mum-of-four has developed a ‘stay and support’ approach which has a 98% success rate, with most parents reporting improvements in the first seven days of trying.

Her approach is two-fold — it combines biological time keeping and gentle support; it’s in-between attachment and cry it out and has the baby’s emotional wellbeing at its core.

My issue was to eliminate the night feed (which I thought had long gone) and get my one-year-old through the night — or as near as possible.

What I found helpful (although difficult) was that, regardless of how bad your night was, you should be up and at ’em by 7.30am at the latest (Lucy says the day can officially start at 6am); have no more than a four hour window of wakefulness between sleeps; and, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, to realise that bringing forward bedtime can actually help baby sleep longer.

There is a lot of information to take in and, on first reading, it can seem a bit overwhelming, but the book is broken down into categories and age appropriate sleep schedules with every possible scenario outlined and resolved in Q&A formats.

A few days after trying her methods, I can say my situation is improving — we’re going through the night but waking a bit earlier. I’ll take it, thanks very much.

Of course, Lucy points out that children change constantly — and so too do their sleeping patterns and needs — so I’m far from my former cocky self, and that’s why in a crowded baby book market, The Baby Sleep Solution has earned itself a place on my bed side table.

The Baby Sleep Solution is published by Gill Books.

Lucy Wolfe
Lucy Wolfe

ADVICE TO NEW MOTHERS:

“Relax! There is no such things as bad habits or the concept that you can spoil a baby, your task is to help them feel loved safe and secure and behind the scenes you can slowly work towards positive sleep practices.”

WHERE TO START A NEW ROUTINE:

“I would suggest that if you feel ready, then from six to eight weeks onwards you could start to implement what I would call a feeding and sleeping balance — the idea of a regular wake time, with a feed, and then learning to read your baby’s body language for sleep, really are good starting points.”

IS THERE ANY BABY BEHAVIOUR WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF?

“They give us cues and sometimes we misread them, then the young child becomes overtired and this can create a negative cycle of crying and unsettled behaviour. Learning to read your baby’s language to sleep-early cues, brief eye rubs, brief yawns, before they become obviously tired would be my suggestion.

That way your practice is cue-based and in sync with the child’s natural body clock, which means that going asleep and staying asleep can be achieved with greater ease.”

WHAT ‘EXTRAS’ DO WE NEED TO HELP BABY SLEEP?

“Very little — I really try to steer away from gimmicks and gadgets. You will need a safe sleep space based on your parental decisions, I like sleeping bags from six weeks onwards, possibly a white noise app or machine (but used correctly: turn it off before your baby is asleep or on for the entire sleep period). Black out blinds create the right environment and after that you can do everything yourself — a pre-sleep ritual — eg. song and story time.

BIGGEST PITFALL TO AVOID WHEN ESTABLISHING A SLEEP ROUTINE?

The bedtime process starting too late — most young children from four months on benefit from an early onset of sleep. Generally this would be between 6pm and 8pm with under-rested children requiring to be asleep by 7pm as a good starting point. This can then be adjusted later when they start to sleep better.

COMING INTO HOLIDAY SEASON — CAN WE ABANDON ROUTINE?

I really think we need to live but I still prioritise good sleep practises. I would avoid too many late nights or missed naps in a row, but I wouldn’t be too strict either. I believe that parenting is all about balance. Also, it largely depends on your child.

Many children are super adaptive, others not so much and then you really need to examine how flexible you can be within this. I like an 80-20 approach with a 20% flexability provided your child is open to it. No doubt the tone of your holiday changes substantially once you are a parent.

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