A sleep expert’s tips for getting babies and toddlers to sleep

Chris McFadden of The Daddy Sleep Consultant is Ireland and the UK’s first male sleep consultant. We caught up with the Donegal man to get some top tips for a good night’s sleep.

In your experience, what sleep issues have families struggled with because of COVID?

One big thing that has been difficult for some families is getting enough stimulation for little ones during the day. So many classes and clubs have been canceled and an active body and mind is so closely linked to sleep.

Also the mental health of the parents. Sleep deprivation is hard. The ability to share stories and tips with other parents is so powerful that many new parents have missed out on the experience of joining the community or meeting friends. It was isolating.

Plus, there’s nothing more refreshing than a change of scenery, but with limited opportunities to socialize and get out, it hasn’t been easy for parents to shake off a tough day or night with their little ones.

How can parents get little kids and newborns to fall asleep at the same time?

This is such a common question that parents struggle with all the time.

Older siblings can get so excited when a little brother or sister arrives and they love to be helpful. Embrace that! My oldest son, Teddy, was two when baby Rafferty was born. He loved being a big brother, so we encouraged him to “help” before bed.

After the bath he came into Raffy’s room and got the baby’s pajamas and got his night diaper out of the basket. Teddy was already dressed by this point and it could easily have been a time when he felt left out or overshadowed by his new brother.

Instead, he chose a book for us to read while Rafferty fed, then went to bed and wished his little brother goodnight. Depending on the baby’s age, you can then take the baby downstairs or, as I recommend, use this as an opportunity to start a bedtime routine with the baby as well.

Place her in her cot in a dark room with you and all feedings from then on should be done in the dark with limited stimulation. It’s a great way to teach your newborn to distinguish between day and night.

When they are born they often have day and night on their heads because when they are in the womb they often sleep as the mother moves and cradles them during the day. And then wake up at night when mom tries to sleep. This is a really gentle strategy to help them move more towards the daylight hours.

Is white noise a helpful tool to put babies to bed?

I’m not a big fan of using white noise to calm down as it can become a sleep aid that isn’t necessary and in my experience isn’t always effective. But as a noise barrier in the older child’s room, it can be very useful if you live on a main street with a lot of traffic noise, have noisy pets or, in this case, a new baby is crying.

Some toddlers and toddlers sleep soundly from every sound. But others are lighter sleepers and can often be disturbed by a baby’s crying.

My only recommendation when using white noise is that the noise is left on all night, as it is often the change in frequency that wakes little ones rather than the noise itself. Also, you don’t want to be on- and go out to turn it back on!

What’s the best way to get kids back on a sleep schedule after the Christmas holidays?

For babies and toddlers, try to travel at scheduled nap times. If you nap at around the same time each day, even if it’s shorter or longer than normal, you have the best chance of napping at the same time.

Try to keep the same bedtime and routine for all ages. Bring familiar books and linens, and try to follow the same steps as you would at home. Following the same routine as at home, even in a strange house, means your child knows what’s expected of them before bed.

Why do you think it’s so unusual for men to be sleep coaches? What attracted you to the position?

I don’t think it’s just sleep trainers that are uncommon for men. It is a major part of the parent sector. I’m so excited that dads are a big part of the parenting narrative and I work with many brands to help them engage with dads. It’s a huge opportunity in the market that not everyone is tuned in to it as well.

Dads not being included in the parenting narrative used to be a big problem — and still is — but COVID has amplified it. Some fathers – and mothers – have been given the opportunity to be so much more at home with their children, which means they have been able to be more present, more involved in the challenges of parenting, and I want to make sure that information is there are outside, on sleep and parenting in general is broader than it is now.

What impact can good sleep have on a family?

I think sleep is so important for many reasons. For little ones, it is an important part of their physical and cognitive development. When our oldest, Teddy, was six months old none of us could sleep and it was just so difficult – we should be loving parents when every day was about surviving and it felt like Teddy was moody and upset forever .

It also impacted our relationship as we didn’t spend quality time together and I can tell you from experience that constructive conversation doesn’t happen at 2am. So we enlisted the help of a sleep consultant and it changed our lives in just a few weeks.

Our little boy slept better, ate better, and was much happier overall, and we began to thrive as parents. I just love helping families with this transformation – it can really be life changing.

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