Baby Whisperer

Reporter: Andrea Burns

From the minute they're born, they've stolen your heart but even the most loving parent can find a baby that won't sleep hard work. Life's good now, but Melissa Bartuciotto admits after months of trouble trying to get second son Ashley to go to sleep, she hit rock bottom. "I just felt like I couldn't cope I was terrible I looked terrible I felt terrible I was angry, I was upset, I couldn't laugh, I couldn't smile, I didn't know what was happening to me, I didn't know where I was going to end up"

First time parents Nicole and Nathan Parker knew son Blake was learning bad sleeping habits but they didn't know how to break them. Nicole says "he was just a newborn baby but I really thought unless I do something now, this is going to be a continued pattern for the rest of his life"

Baby Thomas is now only ten weeks old but mum Emily Townsend enlisted professional help to get her baby to learn to sleep well, when she was still in hospital. Midwife turned baby sleep consultant Zoe was Emily's teacher. "I think there's an expectation that we should know what to do, despite the fact that most of us haven't been brought up in extended families and actually seen people parent before" Zoe Islip and Caroline Mahon are part of the new breed of mothercraft experts. Health professionals who've made it their business to teach parents to get their babies to sleep.

Caroline helped Melissa with Ashley six months ago. A three hour appointment that cost around three hundred dollars turned life from horrible- to happy, "he never slept throughout the day or evening" Then ten months old, Ashley had a history of reflux - every time he lay down, painful acid would rise up and burn. Even after the reflux was treated, Ashley associated lying down, and therefore sleeping, with pain. Not surprisingly, getting him down became a battle

In Melissa's case, Caroline's remedies included simple changes - giving Ashley his bottle half sitting up in his rocker and putting him to bed awake, so he learnt to put himself to sleep. There's a clear routine - feed, play, bed. Mum's more clued into her little boy's tired cues. And a lot more confident. "Now I'll just stand at his door I'll listen to him let him cry, if it's a distressed cry I might go in there and give him a shoosh or give him a pat and give him his dog, his cuddly toy and walk out and close the door"

"I just felt so run down and miserable 7.43 and all of our family had gone back to the eastern states and I thought I really need to find help, someone's gotta help me" In Nicole's case that help came from another parenting consultant - Caroline McMahon - also a child health nurse., she and Caroline Radford run a business called Caroline's Angels. "I had 2 children of my own that were quite dreadful sleepers so I actually had to find out the hard way how to settle babies, so I've lived it"

For around ninety dollars an hour, they come into clients homes and give personalized advice on getting children to sleep. In Nicole's case, that meant making some cosmetic changes. "Once we learnt a few little tricks about keeping the room dark, placing the cot so he can't see anything, so he cant be looking around at things to distract him, he can just put himself to sleep, I found that really invaluable"

Also - establishing a routine - and sticking to it. Husband Nathan..."one of the best things I think is that he knows when we put him into his cot that it's time to go to sleep and when it's bath time, then he knows those things now so it's reinforced it in him as well, so it's not just up to us all the time to keep settling him, that he's actually learnt when it's time to go to bed and when it's time to wake up again, so that's definitely helped" While some babies are able to settle themselves from birth, Zoe Islip says it's NOT the luck of the draw - just like teaching an adult to play tennis, you can teach littlies the skill of getting the sleep their bodies badly need.

In small babies, crying's an obvious sign baby's tired, but other clues may include turning to the side, not maintaining eye contact, rubbing their heads, movements becoming jerky Zoe says sort out feeding, then the first sleep of the night, first. "It's very confronting to suddenly have to work on 24 hours a day - the first one to work on is the first sleep of the night and then you start working on the day sleep"

No troubles here, but when babies don't sleep, neither do their parents. At best, let it continue, and you'll all be left feeling pretty ragged. At worst, that lack of sleep can have serious medical implications. Sleep deprivation is a known risk factor for the onset of post natal depression - and if affects mums and dads.

Clinical psychologist Julie Watts, "I guess what Id say to people, it's much better to seek help early, cos it doesn't really matter what your "diagnosis" is if it's affecting you and your enjoyment, I would say try and actually talk it through with someone" That "someone" could include your GP, or Child Health nurse. If a psychologist is needed, Medicare meets most of the cost. Julie says treatment can include medication, but doesn't have to - counselling or support groups can also be very effective. Some studies are also showing exercise has as much benefit as some depression drugs. Julie says remember there's no shame in asking for help.

Back to the baby's sleep and our experts have this advice - Zoe says, particularly with babies - establish a night routine from around three weeks. Get the night sleep organised first - babies and parents function better during the day, when they've slept well at night. If you're having feeding problems, get help early. Adults don't sleep well hungry, neither do babies. If you have a partner, work together as a team - it takes the pressure off if you can both settle the baby. Know you will have good and bad days. Caroline recommends...you keep a diary to help understand your babies natural sleep rhythms,

Start a feed-play-sleep routine as early as possible, ask for help, and use support whenever you can. And stay Calm - a baby will always settles better when you are relaxed. Emily says "my husband - has been telling a few people - you know the old thing of everyone must have a lawyer and an accountant, he thinks that we should add a midwife onto that list and I think it's a very good idea - Zoe's been a godsend"

Caroline says "the sooner you can speak up and say give me some help give me some strategies lets put this right the better its going to be for everybody so don't put up with lack of sleep for getting into works just speak up ask for help the help's there"

Signs baby may be tired include:

Crying

Turning head - not maintaining eye contact

Rubbing head

Jerky movements

Zoe's Tips

Establish a night sleep routine

Get help for feeding problems

Work as a team

You will have good and bad days

Source: Zoe Islip

Hush Postnatal Services

www.hushpostnatal.com.au

Ph 9448 5459

Caroline's Tips

Keep a diary of your baby's sleep habits

Try to stick to a feed-play-sleep routine

Ask for help

Stay Calm - a baby will always settle better when you are relaxed -Caroline Radford

Source; Caroline's Angels

www.carolinesangels.com.au

Caroline McMahon

(m) 0400 209 195

Or

Caroline Radford

(m) 0400 840 303