Rock a bye baby, why won't you sleep

Rock a bye baby, why won't you sleep

For Ms Zoe Chu, weepy clients are part of her job scope.

"Some are in tears when they see me because they've been so sleep-deprived and exhausted. They really can't get their children to sleep," she says.

The 35-year-old describes herself as a baby and child sleep expert and parenting coach.

Parents of newborns often find themselves plunged into a shocking new world of scant sleep. Tapping into what she saw as market demand for "sleep training" from parents of infants and young children, Ms Chu registered her business, SG Supernanny, in August after offering help on Facebook for a few months.

Since formally starting the business, she says, she has had more than 30 clients. Among them is Ms Lim Siew Khee, whose younger daughter Lauren's sleep problems were resolved in about 10 days after consultations with Ms Chu at the end of May.

Ms Chu says it can take her from three days to three weeks, depending on the case involved, to help her clients get a good night's sleep.

She is a self-taught "baby whisperer". Formerly a finance manager, she acquired her expertise in this area through research and her own experience with her three sons - eight-year-old twins and a three-year-old.

Her lack of formal qualifications is not necessarily a problem, she says.

Paediatrician Jenny Tang, medical director at SBCC Baby and Child Clinic (Asthma, Lung, Sleep and Allergy Centre), says there is "no issue" regarding baby coaches "as long as the principles employed are scientifically sound and do no harm".

Indeed, Ms Lim would recommend Ms Chu's services to her friends.

After about two weeks of failing to get her daughter Lauren, now 11 months old, to sleep through the night, Ms Lim, an equity analyst, approached Ms Chu for help after finding out about her services on the Internet.

Ms Lim, 39, says: "I had tried implementing sleep advice I'd read, but applying what you read is not so easy. Lauren was sleeping through the night from seven weeks to five months old, but her sleeping pattern changed from five months. She woke up two or three times a night.

"I start work at 7.30am and when quarterly financial results are out, my work day can stretch to 11pm. I needed to sleep."

Her experience with her other daughter Sophie, four, did not help her because the elder child did not present serious sleeping challenges.

In fact, one size does not fit all, in terms of cultivating good sleeping habits, doctors say.

Dr Petrina Wong, associate consultant at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, explains: "Good sleep habits, which include having a set sleep schedule with regular naptimes and bedtimes, should be established from infancy. However, there is no single sleep plan that fits all children."

This is because, according to Ms Fonnie Lo, a lactation consultant at Thomson ParentCraft Services, "all babies are individual and unique with their own developmental milestones".

Echoing Dr Wong, Ms Lo advises parents: "Start as early as you can to set a sleep habit for your children and a natural biological cycle (circadian rhythm). Be consistent with the bedtime rituals."

Babies who cannot sleep well may be hungry, suffer from discomfort, are not feeling well or are seeking attention. Other reasons could be that the environment is too cold or too hot.

Dr Wong says parents should consult a doctor if they suspect their child is having a sleep problem, "especially if the sleep problems are unusual, persistent, frequent and the child is not sleeping well or if there are concerns about the child's daytime behaviour".

While the majority of young children do not face medical challenges in this regard, new and experienced mothers alike struggle with both baby sleep issues and a plethora of related advice.

Personal assistant Michelle Chong, 35, says: "I ask my mummy friends for advice. However, listening to friends is just a guide for me. The advice they give might not work for my son Matthias, who is seven weeks old."

She is trying to put her firstborn on a three-hour routine of feeding, burping and sleeping, but is unsure about whether it is working in terms of getting him to sleep for longer periods.

She had a confinement nanny for a month and after the nanny left, she and her husband dealt with Matthias' erratic sleep patterns until she "couldn't take it anymore".

They have since asked their domestic helper, Ms Jane Jungay, 26, to take over at night.

Matthias is fed every three hours and usually wakes up three times a night. Ms Jungay, who is from the Philippines, holds him for up to an hour before he falls back to sleep.

Another new mother, Shanghai-born housewife Marie Pan, 31, says her only child Max, now two years old, has had "many sleeping problems".

After going through a twisty thicket of parenting books with advice about baby sleep, she found them "kind of contradictory in some ways".

"Some say to let babies play until they're tired so they will sleep. Others say a quiet bedtime routine is best. It's all confusing. I tried everything, I was very desperate. I kind of adapted all of them. I took part of each."

She eventually managed to get Max to sleep from 7pm to 5am from about 11 months.

Still, he started to "wake up every one or two hours" for a while when he was 18 months old.

Now sometimes, Max will "wake up in the middle of the night and climb out of the cot to sleep with us in our bed".

Adds Ms Pan: "He needs to touch my ear to make sure I'm there."

Ms Sunita Dias, 35, a regional manager in the travel industry, is dealing with the newborn wakefulness of her third child, Liam, who is about two weeks old and sleeps for only three or four hours at a stretch, day and night.

Her other two children - Ivanna, seven, and Alanna, four - slept through the night at about 10 months.

With Liam, she hopes it will be earlier.

"He seems like a calm baby, but I have to be realistic," she says.

Sleep tips

Remember to calm your baby at least half an hour before sleep. Set up bedtime rituals such as telling stories, singing nursery rhymes, listening to music and giving a kiss or a hug.

A warm bath or a baby massage can relax a baby and help him sleep better.

Carry out the usual daily activities during the day and create an environment conducive for sleep at night. For example, interact with your baby more during the day after feeding, if he is still alert. Do not talk or play with him at night after feeding. Just say "good night" to indicate it is sleeping time.

Ensure your baby drinks well throughout the day, so that he does not need to wake up to quench his thirst at night. Try to feed him extra just before he sleeps, to fill up his stomach for a longer period.

Put your baby in the cot when he is sleepy or drowsy but not after she falls asleep. This is to give him time to learn to fall asleep on his own, so that he will go back to sleep if he wakes up during the night.

Source: Ms Fonnie Lo, a lactation consultant at Thomson ParentCraft Services

This article was first published on Nov 16, 2014.
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