By Sumana Das
Kerry Bajaj, the renowned American sleep consultant talks about what it’s like to be in the field of child sleep practitioner and about her debut novel ‘Sleep, Baby, Sleep’.
Kerry Bajaj is an American sleep consultant living in Mumbai with her husband and two daughters. As a holistic baby sleep practitioner, Kerry loves helping babies and their families to sleep better! She is also a celebrated holistic nutritionist. Additionally, she is a graduate of Georgetown University, has studied infant and child sleep in the US and is a member of the Indian Society for Sleep Research. In her debut novel, ‘Sleep, Baby, Sleep’; it draws on interviews with pediatricians, educators and hundreds of parents across India. The book presents a fresh perspective to parenting and sparks a new conversation about the possibilities of raising a great sleeper. In this well-researched book, Kerry busts common myths, including the notion that one should never wake up a sleeping baby, that co-sleeping is necessary to ensure secure attachment with your child, and that keeping your child up later will make them sleep better.
Excerpts from the interview:
- What inspired you to become a child sleep consultant?
When I moved to India with my 2 young kids, there was a lot of interest in how we get them to sleep from 7pm to 7am. I could see that parents were struggling with sleep and I knew it was teachable, so I got certified as a baby and child sleep consultant. Every family is like a puzzle and it is so satisfying to help babies and their tired parents to sleep better! Parents tell me all the time that this is the best thing they’ve done for their child.
- What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your kids to sleep?
My biggest challenge was when we moved to India and my 6-month-old was up every single hour in the night. At first we blamed it on jet lag, but then it persisted for weeks! That is when we decided to do sleep training. We started on a Friday and by Monday her sleep was so much better, and she has been sleeping peacefully ever since. My current challenge is that I’m reading the first Harry Potter book with my older daughter and she doesn’t want to stop reading at bedtime!
- Share with us one of the most memorable case studies that you came across as a consultant?
Twins are always fun to work with, because it’s double the relief when they start sleeping. I recently worked with a set of 18-month-old twins where mom was sleeping with the ‘easy’ one and dad was sleeping with the ‘challenging’ one. We set the goal to have the boys sleeping together and sleeping through the night within 2 weeks. They did it! Instead of falling asleep at the milk bottle, we shifted the milk to be 30 minutes before bedtime, and then they had to brush teeth after. We replaced their night milk with water instead. And we worked on helping them fall asleep more independently. We also adjusted their daytime schedule to make sure they weren’t overtired. Everyone is sleeping happily now.
- Why, according to you, is it important to educate parents on child sleeping?
When we become a parent, nobody teaches us about sleep! It’s a huge learning curve and babies go through so many transitions with sleep. As newborns, they are sleeping all day and night. Then, over the first 4 years of life, they go from 5 naps a day to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 to none. When parents understand how to set the schedule based on their baby’s age, they can meet their babies needs for sleep much better and make these transitions with confidence and ease.
- What was your wake up call for writing this book?
I would see a lot of moms in Facebook groups and Whatsapp groups saying they were at their wit’s end and desperate for help with their baby’s sleep. And then I would see a lot of responses saying “it’s just a phase, they’ll grow out of it.” In my experience, sleep problems don’t magically resolve on their own. I wrote the book so that parents would have tools to help improve their child’s sleep.
- Why do you think it is not obligatory to practice co-sleeping?
The most important thing is that the baby has a safe space to sleep in and that everyone is waking up well-rested. For some people, that will mean co-sleeping and for others that will mean the baby or child sleeps in a cot. I work with many families who want to transition away from co-sleeping. We always aim to make that a smooth transition and a positive experience for the parents and child.
- What is your opinion on “never wake a sleeping baby”?
I encourage parents to play an active role in shaping the daily schedule for naps and night sleep. With that bigger picture in mind, it’s possible to wake up a sleeping baby very gently if their nap is running very long. You turn off the white noise machine, turn on the lights, open the curtains, let the household noises come in the room. Give the baby a few minutes, then gently pick them up and offer a feed. Then the baby will play and soon enough it will be time for the next nap or for bedtime.
- Suggest the easiest way for parents to find “sleep harmony”.
For me, sleep harmony means that the baby is sleeping well and the parents are sleeping well. Sometimes I find that the baby is the only one getting a vote about when and where they sleep. The parent’s sleep may go for a toss as they’re getting elbowed in the face all night or giving night feeds every hour. I try to empower parents that their own need for sleep also matters and look for solutions that will support the whole family. Often this means giving the parents a pep talk that sleep is essential, it is not selfish to want to sleep, and they will be a more patient parent by day if they are getting sufficient sleep at night.
- Elaborate on the idea of “sleeping tools” and how do they help in the long run.
Two of my favorite sleep tools are blackout curtains and white noise machine.
Blackout curtains are a must for making the room dark during naps and keeping the room dark during the early morning hours. Your baby’s body produces the sleep hormone melatonin when it becomes dark after sunset, so I also remind parents to dim the lights in the house after sunset. Any artificial light will disrupt the production of melatonin. This is a small change that makes a huge difference.
I always encourage parents to use a white noise machine for all naps and night sleep. The white noise helps to cover up the household noises and give the baby a consistent cue that it’s time to sleep.
Babies and children love rhythm and routine. Setting these habits of dimming the lights at sunset, pulling the curtains and turning on white noise at bedtime can be part of your consistent bedtime routine and will help optimize your child’s environment for deep sleep.
- How would one cope in case the sleep schedule breaks for a day due to some emergency situations?
This is a normal part of parenting! Change is the only constant. Do your best, dust yourself off and get back on track tomorrow.