Sleep: What the Pros Have to Say

Expert advice on creating a great sleeping environment

by Parents and Kids | Fri, April 28, 2017


We caught up with a couple of experts who gave us some sage advice on how to create a great sleeping environment for your little one, and how to survive the tough times.Louise Roy has been living in Shanghai for almost 12 years and you may know her as one of the original ‘Shanghai Doulas’. She has been working in the baby game since she graduated university, and as well as being a Certified Childbirth Doula, she’s a Childbirth Educator, a Lactation Educator Counseller and an accredited Leader of the La Leche League, an international breastfeeding support organization. She also has two children of her own.A piece of advice that Louise sees as imperative is remembering that all children are different. “You need to meet babies where they’re at.” she explains. 


“Some kids are naturally good at painting, some are good at sports, and some are good at sleeping. But in general they will need some help. You don’t just tell someone who is training for a marathon to run up 25 flights of stairs. On day one you take one flight of stairs. You meet them where they are at. On day two you’ll climb another flight, and then another. It won't happen overnight.”

Louise also talked about the importance of knowing what is biologically normal and scientifically safe. Rather than focusing on age and what a child ‘should be doing’ it’s better to look at the child as an individual and to meet their needs. “One size fits all books that promise to sleep train your child in a week are never going to work for all babies. They may work for some but how can they be expected to work for all children? And honestly, they aren’t always scientifically sound.”“Some evidence indicates that the ‘cry it out’ method can actually have a detrimental effect on your child, and anything over one minute of crying is considered crying it out.” explains Louise, who recommends The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley as well as Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family by La Leche League International as books that offer some great advice.“Anyone can write a book, and just because one thing works for one child, it probably won’t work for another. This can then make parents feeling like they are failing. Editors are there to check spelling and grammar, not to check if a method works or not.” says Louise. “It’s so important that parents never feel like they’re doing a bad job. You can do everything technically right and still find you have a baby that doesn’t sleep particularly well. The same applies to many aspects of parenting, like breastfeeding. I know what I’m doing and I had a real tough time feeding my daughter for a number of reasons out of my control.”Today, we have the world at our fingertips with everything we could possibly need to know available at the click of a mouse, and this can be a blessing and a curse for parents. 

“You might read that by rocking your baby to sleep you’re making a rod for your own back. Well guess what? Parenting is a rod! You do what you need to do, and rocking your baby to sleep for a few minutes before bed is not a bad thing. Your child won’t go off to university needing to be rocked to sleep, so if people tell you that you need to stop it now, well that simply isn’t true. It can be part of a healthy routine, just like giving your child a kiss and reading them a story and telling them you love them is part of a routine.”

We also caught up with OBGYN nurse and postpartum doula Shlomit Entes. She’s been working in Shanghai as a baby sleep coach for three years and has helped families with even the most troubled of sleepers. She recently started doing home visits, as she found the need for extra support here is so great.“It's really important for people to know that there is help out there if they are struggling. At home you might have your mum or your sister or best friend, but here it can feel very lonely, especially when you haven’t had any sleep.”Shlomit, who has four children of her own including a 4 month old, says sleep training is like a diet. “A good way to think of it is, after a few days on a diet when you can't see results straight away you might feel like you want to cheat. It can be disheartening when you work so hard and don’t see much change, but you have to stick with it. You will lose the weight if you stay on your diet, and you will have a baby that sleeps better if you keep consistently sleep training.”Shlomit and Louise both discussed simply doing what you need to do for the first few months of parenting. “There’s not really any point trying to do any kind of sleep training until the baby is four months old. You can establish some routine at around three months, but before that it’s just about survival. You do what you can to get some sleep. That might mean taking the baby out for long walks so they can sleep in the stroller, and that’s OK!” says Shlomit. 

“After three or four months, it's about creating a routine that makes you happy. If having your children in your bed makes you happy and you all sleep well, then that’s totally fine. It’s about what works for you and your family. As long as everyone is happy, then great! But the key is to be consistent otherwise everyone will get confused, most of all, your baby. We have many different methods of sleep training, and you have to consider which will work best, and which you will be able to stick to.”

It seems that one of the main things to remember when figuring the sleep stuff out is that the word ‘normal’ is very broad. Louise explains, “having a baby that sleeps brilliantly from birth is actually way less normal than one that has a little more trouble with sleep.” So rest assured, you’re not alone in your one o’clock, three o’clock and five o’clock dashes to baby’s room.“I would say that having your baby wake more than 10 times maybe isn’t so normal, but anything from some rocking or swaying before bed, to feeding and offering comfort during the night, those things are all normal. Babies are just like us – they will stir in the night, change position, go into deeper and lighter sleep patterns. They just aren't always as good at putting themselves back to sleep as we are.” says Shlomit.