By Jak Burke
Interview with Gerber Good Start Gentle’s sleep coach Dr. Christina Gantcher, M. Sc.,
Baby food company Gerber has a great service for new parents. Have an issue with breast-feeding or a question about a milestone? They have certified professionals on hand to answer your questions for FREE. You can choose to book a phone call or chat online or look through common questions on their site. We caught up with one of Gerber’s Sleep Experts to get the scoop on getting your baby on a sleep schedule.
What do you think of the Ferber Method?
Richard Ferber is one of the fathers (now grandfathers!) of pediatric sleep science as he did a lot of groundbreaking work on sleep time for babies. His methods are very popular and quite successful, however, they don’t work for every parent and every child. That’s why I’m excited to be able to speak with parents one-on-one through my partnership with Gerber Good Start to assess what sleep coaching method may be a good fit for their child.
How long should a newborn sleep over a 24-hour period?
The National Sleep Foundation has averages and guidelines about sleep requirements for all ages. I encourage parents to check out the website as the range can be big.
A good question to ask is: “Does my baby seem rested or tired? Does my baby seem happy or cranky?” Ultimately, there’s a lot of variability. Because it is so different for every baby, I encourage parents to schedule a time with me through the Gerber Parents Resource Center so that I can help them with their particular situation.
How soon should you try to put a sleeping schedule in place that suits both baby and parents?
I encourage parents to find a good feeding rhythm first and foremost in the first weeks with their baby. We want to ensure baby is feeding well and growing appropriately. Then, maybe 6-8 weeks after the baby’s due date, try gently shaping baby’s sleep. Make sure that they are sleeping at regular intervals and not getting overtired from staying awake too long. After all, an overtired baby is an unhappy baby, and unhappy parents too!
How does breast-feed baby sleep differently to formula baby?
While babies digest breast milk and formula differently, it has nothing to do with how a baby sleeps. Sleep is a neurological development, not something that falls into place because of feeding one thing or another. Sleep develops on a developmental time line and can’t be forced by a particular feeding method. Many parents swear that their baby slept better on this or that but really, there’s no factual evidence behind that. And, if parents have any concerns about feeding, they should always refer to their pediatrician. They can also talk to Gerber’s lactation consultant or registered dietician, other great, free services that Gerber provides to support families.
What are the best ways for parents to soothe baby to sleep?
In the first few weeks and months I want parents to help baby in any way necessary to help them sleep. Newborns are encountering so much in their new world, and they need our help! Touch, motion, sucking, all help babies calm down to sleep. I’m often telling new parents not to worry about bad habits they think they are forming in the first few weeks of life! All that matters is that you work with whatever works for your baby.
Self-soothing also depends on the baby. After a few months, you can put them down and, while letting them know that you’re not going far, see what they can do on their own and how they can put themselves to sleep.
Would you ever recommend sleeping with baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics disapproves of co-sleeping and suggests that a safe sleep environment is free of bumpers, pillows, toys and loose blankets. We want our babies safe, first and foremost. The APA does, however, suggest that room sharing is beneficial for both baby and mom. Many parents that I speak to practice room sharing in the first few months of their baby’s life. Arms-reach co-sleeping is a good option. That way your baby is directly next to your bed and you’re there for comfort, but not in the bed.
How will sleep patterns change for 0-6 month old baby? 6-12 month old baby?
Sleep patterns change greatly in babies under 1 year. In particular, deep sleep becomes more present between the 3-4th month of life, when some babies will start sleeping longer stretches. Then, after 6 months, many babies are ready to start sleeping “through the night”, many of them not needing night feeds any longer. Naps change greatly during this time period, too, going from many, to 3, to 2 by 12 months. 90% of parents I speak to have the same question: when is my baby going to sleep through the night?? When I hear their particular situation, I can usually help pinpoint what’s going on and help them and their baby start on a better night’s sleep.
Regarding the qualifications for newborn baby nurses to get a baby on a sleep schedule, it’s a very personal choice. In the US, we have an unregulated industry. We may or may not hire someone depending on certain qualifications, certifications or word-of-mouth recommendations. It depends on you, the comfort level and anyone else living in the house with you.
When should parents cease napping for their toddler?
70% of children at 3 years old are still taking a regular naps, but by age 4 that number drops to about 30%. That year is a big transition for most children and their nap. Many parents complain that their child is napping so much that they can’t do anything; but when the nap goes away, so does a lot of downtime to get things done!
Naptime isn’t always in the parent’s control, either. Sometimes it may disappear when the child begins preschool and the timing causes conflict, other times parents will take their child out of preschool because they deem naptime more important. Like all else, removing naps from a toddler’s schedule differs on a case-by-case basis.
How beneficial are sleep sacks?
Sleep sacks can be helpful instead of loose blankets and also to transition out of swaddles. They give the baby the close feeling without the restriction. They can also help prevent toddlers who start to get the impulse to climb out of their cribs!
What are red flags when baby is not sleeping? Colicky? Gas? Etc.
Many parents I speak to call me with symptoms that seem medical to me, not sleep related. In those cases, I refer them back to their pediatrician or specialist. Ultimately, if a baby is dealing with a medical issue, sleep simply won’t happen. Sometimes, its reflux, particularly as many cases are undiagnosed, or just called “colic.” Yet another reason it’s helpful to talk with someone who loves to talk about sleep!
For your baby’s well-visit at the pediatrician, it’s usually an in-and-out checkup. It’s important to make note of and discuss important issues and concerns. If your baby hates to be flat, has hiccups all of the time, seems uncomfortable for no apparent reason or doesn’t sleep for longer than an hour and a half, you should bring it up to the pediatrician.
Do you approve of comfort toys, blankies, etc, in the crib?
Again, we want cribs free of toys and loose blankets. While it’s okay for a child to have a lovey when falling asleep, I suggest parents take it out of the crib after the child falls asleep for safety issues. Most parents use their judgment about things like that after a child is over 1 year.
What are your suggestions for baby monitors?
I don’t have an opinion on any particular monitor. I actually want parents to have these off more frequently than on. It’s easy to be hyper-vigilant and to respond too frequently to our baby by staring at the monitor. This doesn’t serve you as a parent or your baby. Of course you want to make sure baby is safe and you know what’s going on, but be sure not to be hyper-vigilant.
To sign up for a consultation with Gerber Good Start Gentle’s sleep consultant, please visit Gerber.com/experts or call the Gerber Parents Resource Center 24/7 at 1-800-284-9488 for help in scheduling an appointment.
Dr. Christina Gantcher Gerber
Sleep Expert for Gerber – Dr. Christina Gantcher