Junior Magazine

JuniorA Helping Hand

Text Liat Joshi & Photography Richard Davies. To read the full article see Junior Pregnancy & Baby Magazine Winter 2006.

Liz from London BBC Radio Producer, mother of Archie. Liz says “I cannot recommend the sleep nannies highly enough. Melissa came to stay with me for just two days and nights and in that time helped me establish a workable feeding and sleeping pattern for my son.

Until then we had been totally chaotic and I was feeling very confused, exhausted and hopeless. She was lovely, calm, knowledgeable and inspiring. She taught me both by explanation and example. She was clear and firm, but not rigid or dogmatic. She helped me develop a system that was flexible enough to fit in with my day to day life, by allowing for variation in my timetable and in his moods.

Mel helped me understand that small diversions from the system do not spell disaster and how to not take small grizzles from him too seriously and rush to pick him up, but to just distract him with a change of scenery or activity.

Besides helping me with the specific problems of feeding and sleeping, she patiently answered my million little questions about crying, weaning, cots, toys, first aid, going back to work, childcare, first aid, etc. While she was with me, she did the night feed both nights, so I also got two blissful nights of sleep for the first time since his birth.

I feel so much more confident with looking after him now she helped me see that I can get sleep and have a life as well as have a lovely baby.”

The Times Newspaper

By Leah Hardy

I call Sleep Nannies who send me Mel, who will stay in your house for two nights, taking over all the waking and, ideally, transforming your baby into a model sleeper”

Since my daughter Cecily was born nearly a year ago, I had not had a single uninterrupted night’s sleep. She howled whenever she was put in her cot and woke at all hours, usually ending up in bed with us, or my husband was relegated to the spare room. This was rapidly taking its toll on all of us, including my four-year-old son Henry, who had never caused problems in the sleep department. The final straw was a stress-related outbreak of acne worse than anything I’d experienced in adolescence.

But in this era of thirty and forty something working parents with more money than energy, help is at hand in the form of a new and booming sleep industry.

Exhaustion finally overcomes any guilt at delegating my motherly duties. I call Mel, a mother of two and a former nanny who has become a specialist sleep nanny, who will stay in your house for two nights, taking over all the wakings, and, ideally, transforming your baby into a model sleeper.

Since she has tended the babies of celebrities and aristocrats I clean and tidy up, scrub the children vigorously and dress them extra nicely. I needn’t have worried. Mel exudes calm, kindness and competence. The children instantly take to her and she pitches in as though she’s been here all her life.

But why did we ever get to such a state that we needed Mel? According to Dr Olwen Wilson, a child psychologist, babies are not programmed to sleep like us. While we have roughly one six-hour period of deep sleep and two hours of light sleep, babies naturally dip in and out of sleep twice as fast as we do.

A study in 1994, part of the Avon longitudinal study of pregnancy and childhood, in which researchers surveyed the parents of 640 babies, showed that only 16 per cent of babies slept though the night at six months and, of those, 17 per cent woke more than once a night. By year one, those sleep patterns will be closer to adult ones, but our babies may have learnt bad habits — sleeping with us; being fed four times a night — and we may be on our knees with exhaustion.

Times Newspaper

Over dinner, Mel goes through her plan. On her advice we are already waking Cecily at 7am and she is consequently going to sleep earlier. Melissa suggests waking her for a feed at 10.30pm and tells us that from then until 6.30am is cot time and Cecily will stay there whatever happens. Warning us that there will be some crying, she promises not to leave her to cry on her own. “I don’t have a magic wand,” she warns, “but I’ ll do my best.”

That night I skip up the stairs, giddy at the thought of not getting up in the night for the first time in a year. Cecily takes her 10.30pm feed, while barely stirring, and goes back to sleep.

Mel, I realise, knows her stuff. At 12.30am the crying starts. I feel sweaty and agitated, but I don’t buckle. I’m reluctant to intervene and waste Mel’s time, not to mention the fee. So I ignore Cecily who is now losing intensity. An hour-and-a-half later, she is asleep. In her cot. A miracle! In the morning Mel brings our smiling baby in for a morning feed. She expects Cecily to be sleeping through within a week. My husband and I exchange sceptical raised eyebrows.

The next day is bliss. Mel plays with the baby and chats to Henry while I drink tea, enjoying the sensation of having had more than five consecutive hours of sleep.

The next night goes even better. This time Cecily bleats for about half an hour, while Mel sits in a chair beside the cot. At 7am Cecily has to be woken. We are astounded. And horrified. Could it really have been this easy all along? Why on earth did we not do this sooner, before things got so bad? Mel urges us not to let her work go to waste. We promise to keep it up and, very sadly, wave her goodbye on Tuesday. We do as she says: And it works. By Friday she is sleeping through the night. We are transformed. I have more patience, more confidence, I’m calmer and have better skin.

But if getting a baby to sleep is so simple, why don’t we manage to do this without help? This may be because we are the most inexperienced mothers in history. “We don’t grow up with small siblings to practise on, we don’t see babies around us. Often the first baby we ever hold is our own. And we live far from our families so have little support or advice.”

Is the rise of sleep coaches another symptom of our increasing dependence on self-styled experts and a loss of confidence in our instincts? And as Mel points out: Children do have to learn that night is for sleeping and if it is done properly, with the parent providing regular reassurance, and in the context of a warm and loving family life, there is absolutely no evidence that sleep training causes psychological damage.

“And it works. It makes whole families happier, including the children themselves who are often more affectionate, more relaxed and have fewer tantrums.”

For me, having someone to do the work of sleep training was like having a fairy godmother. But if you decide to go down this path make sure that you find a sleep coach you like and whose methods you feel comfortable with. Interview her over the phone before you hire her. “You do have to be ready to follow through,” says Mel. “I need parents to support what I am doing or it really is a waste of everyone’s time. I say I am kind but I am firm.”

As for me, if I have one regret about the whole experience it is only that I didn’t do it six months earlier. For the price of a night for two at an overpriced boutique hotel, we have our sleep back. Priceless.

Edited in parts by Sleep Nannies

Practical Parenting Magazine

Mel answers toddler sleep problems for
Practical Parenting Magazine

Practical Parenting – Mel answers the more common questions received from parents about dealing with toddler sleep issues.

  • Not Sleepy
  • I want to be in your bed
  • I’m scared
  • I want my cot back
  • I’m wet
  • 3 Golden Rules for peaceful nights