If you want to know how I came to be a baby sleep consultant, then you need to know something about me first. I’m really passionate about maternal mental health after finding myself deep in the trenches of postpartum depression and debilitating anxiety with my first born back in 2018.
There are a lot of factors involved in maternal mental health and postpartum depression/anxiety but MY 3 main contributing factors were:
1. Chronic and accumulative sleep deprivation
2. Lack of family support
3. A history of generalised anxiety
You see, I lived in Vietnam, far removed from family who could help. My husband worked long hours and my nearest friend was a 30 minute taxi ride away. I spent most of my days alone with my little one in an apartment on the 23rd floor!
No community. No sleep. A lot of time for my thoughts and feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt to fester.
The scary thing is, this is not far removed from what society has become and therefore most moms experience. We (most of us) don’t live in community like was done in previous generations. Pressure to go back to work or continue running a business is at an all time high. Unrealistic expectations and a lack of knowledge around baby sleep leaves us confused, stressed out and therefore functioning suboptimally. Our relationship with our spouse/partner takes strain as we muddle through this really hard season.
It all culminated at 3 months postpartum for me.
The signs were there from just a few days after birth but I didn’t have the awareness of or knowledge about ppd/a. I felt alone, misunderstood and pretty hopeless. I truly believed my baby would never sleep well, I would be forever needed so intensely and would just have to learn to live with the feeling that I couldn’t cope.
Up until this point I was just winging it when it came to baby sleep, taking a go-with-the-flow approach mainly stemming from a lack of knowledge. Which was actually working. Until it stopped working. Suddenly my baby stopped napping and my precious little breaks in the day that I yearned for were no longer. It was bad enough that I was getting fragmented night sleep and now I couldn’t even rest in the day.
It took ALL of me to finally reach out to a close friend and ask for help. I told her how overwhelmed I was that my baby wasn’t sleeping. I yearned for guidance, for someone to tell me EXACTLY what I needed to do. I needed direction, reassurance and someone to hold my hand. But she was not it.
Here’s what she told me:
“I think you just need to let it go.”
“Stop stressing about it, maybe he just doesn’t need that much sleep.”
“It will get better eventually.”
I distanced myself from that friend. And I stopped calling my mom (who was my lifeline up until this point). I isolated myself because no one knew exactly what I was experiencing and in their attempts (shame bless their hearts) to make me feel better, they only made me feel worse. My anxiety was through the roof which resulted in insomnia. So even when I could sleep, my mind wouldn’t let me. I was trying to function on as little as 30 minutes of sleep at night.
My mom knew something was up and was worried. I received a call from her and reluctantly answered. You see I was obsessing about my baby’s wake windows and sleep cues and her call would take my eye off the ball and I’d never get him down and then the night would be shocking and blah blah blah – downward spiral of a sleep deprived and anxious mom. But I answered it and she said she knew someone who works with moms and babies as an occupational therapist. She sent me her number, and because I was so desperate for relief I got in touch with her.
During a phone call with this angel of a woman, she mentioned postpartum depression and how it can show up differently for every woman. Some experience bouts of anger/rage, some get very depressed and others have severe anxiety. She explained to me that 1 in 3 moms experience some form of this illness. This FLOORED me. And gave me some relief. I was not alone.
**Side note: If you are reading this and in need of urgent help (it’s ok to ask for help Mama), postpartum depression/anxiety is more common than you know and there are people who can help you. Follow this link if you live in South Africa or go to a trusted family doctor as soon as possible.
Between what angel lady said and my mom who convinced me to get some medical help, I booked an immediate appointment with my doctor who then diagnosed me with ppd/a and prescribed the necessary medication.
Over the next few months angel lady (out of the goodness of her heart), offered me access to her on whatsapp. I decided to shut out all the other voices telling me what to do with my baby’s sleep and chose her as my ONE voice. She sent me resources, took the time to explain things, replied to my anxious messages giving me the reassurance and guidance I so desperately craved.
Once the meds kicked in, I started getting more sleep and things felt less overwhelming, I started a small moms group with a fellow South African mom I had met at a prenatal class. Things got WAY better thereafter.
Then cue the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. Back to 2 hourly wakes and a sleep deprived mama! It was at this point that I became really interested (from a much healthier mental space) in baby sleep science. It was crazy to me that a baby’s sleep needs could change so much in the first several months and beyond, I needed to know how to keep up with it so that I could get the sleep I needed to function optimally as a mom and keep my anxiety in check.
I downloaded a baby sleep guide from a well known baby sleep company (after plenty research), implemented their recommendations and BAM my baby was back to sleeping well again. I continued using their tools and recommendations throughout his first two years of life and with this felt confident in navigating my baby’s sleep and thus, motherhood. I stopped getting so stressed about his sleep because I had the peace of mind that I had a solid guide, tools and a plan to keep up with his ever changing sleep needs.
It wasn’t until I had my second that I realised what my true calling was:
Supporting Moms in navigating the overwhelming world of baby sleep in a way that feels good for them.
1. A mom’s risk for developing PPD is 3X higher if she is not getting sufficient sleep. (1)
2. Baby sleep is complex and nuanced and no one hands you a baby with a manual (unfortunately).
3. I want to be able to help and support moms in the same way I finally received it as a new mom.
A very important part of my journey though, was understanding and accepting my unique needs and therefore approach as a mom. I need structure and thrive in motherhood when my children have solid routines and age appropriate schedules (babies and children actually thrive on this too). I learned that I needed a sleep space separate from my babies (I can barely handle having my husband sharing my sleep space 😉 and therefore worked on getting them used to their own sleep spaces too. This is not for everyone though!
I work with all kinds of parents who are so diverse in their family set up and what a thriving family looks like. For some, it involves co-sleeping and for others it involves teaching independent sleep. And there are plenty styles in between.
My motto is, do what works for you and your family. Do what feels good and enables you to thrive as a mom.
My top tips for navigating sleep in a way that works for you and your family:
- Equip yourself with knowledge of baby sleep by choosing one or two voices that resonate with you and align with your values.
- Don’t get caught up by what Aunty Maggie (or a mom friend or your doctor) says you should or shouldn’t do. Trust your mama gut.
- Chat to your partner/spouse about what they would like sleep to look like for the whole family.
- If you want to make changes to your baby/family’s sleep, do it in a way that feels good and at a pace you are comfortable with.
Take care of yourself Mama, your baby depends on it.
If want to find out more about how you can work with me, click this link to be navigated to my Sleep Packages page. Do you just want a guide to help you with your baby’s sleep every step of the way? Click your baby’s age below to be navigated to the relevant guide.