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Sunday, February 23, 2014

sleepy heads: part 7 - introducing the Sleep Geek

As the final part in our Sleepy Heads series this past week, I am so beyond excited to feature this awesomely talented and sleep savvy mama, Jessica Begley, better known as the Sleep Geek! She is a professional sleep consultant. She works with many moms just like you who may be struggling to catch some shuteye at night with a sleepy baby. She has great tricks up her sleeve and tons of advice to offer. I encourage you to follow her on Facebook (link below) for frequent tips and ideas about sleepy children. I love everything she posts!

Thanks, Jessica, for such great info! 

All images from Jessica Begley

1.     Tell us about yourself, if you have children, ages, and any sleep issues you had with them when they were young.
I live in Gray with my husband Brendan and my two children, Nathaniel who is almost 6 years old and Ana Mindelle, who is 15 months old. 

I have been that tired mom before which is why I am so passionate about helping other families get the sleep they need and deserve. 

My son has always had trouble sleeping. I call him my “spirited sleeper”. Bedtime has never been a battle, but he would wake frequently during the night and very early in the morning from toddlerhood on. He tests my patience and expertise often and is proof that some kids really do need absolute consistency in order to maintain healthy sleep habits. My daughter has been an incredibly good sleeper from early on and I continue to be amazed at the difference between the two of them. I credit her ability to sleep independently and her love of sleeping to implementing healthy sleep habits with her from the start.

2. When did you start this business? Why did you want to start this business? Where did you receive training?
When my daughter was born I decided that in order to keep my sanity, I needed to do things right from the start this time around. After spending many hours researching online forums, reading numerous books by sleep experts, and even seeing sleep specialists, I came to the conclusion that while there is a vast amount of information available, it’s not easy to interpret, often conflicting, and difficult to implement when you are insanely sleep-deprived. I knew there had to be a better way and was excited to learn about the growing field of sleep consulting.

In addition to my certification as a Child Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute which I received in February 2014, I have a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in maternal and child health, am a Certified Lactation Counselor, a Certified Childbirth Educator, and have been trained in health literacy and health behavior. I have been working with new and expecting families for over 10 years. This diverse training and background provides a comprehensive approach which goes beyond just sleep, taking into consideration breastfeeding, nutrition, and other children’s health issues.

3. What are some of the most common sleep issues parents report to you?
Simply stated, most parents come to me when whatever they were doing to get their baby or young child to sleep is no longer working. They just cannot sustain the rocking, bouncing or nursing to sleep at bedtime or very frequently throughout the night that was once not a problem and maybe even enjoyable, but is now keeping their child from sleeping well independently and causing the stress.

I also have clients reach out to me while their babies are still newborns. In this case, it is often their second baby and they, like me, want to implement healthy sleep from the start. I have a comprehensive newborn package which covers sleep expectations by age, creating an appropriate schedule and sleep environment, and other tools for helping to shape sleep in babies under 4 months old. I have also provided tips to parents on maintaining the breastfeeding relationship when returning to work.  

But the truth is sleep problems can pop up at any age, even in once great sleepers. I work with a lot of toddlers and young children who now are resisting bedtime or waking at night. This is very common as they gain independence and begin to test boundaries.

Other sleep issues I see frequently include:
Short or nonexistent naps
 Inappropriate sleep schedules
Bedtime battles and “curtain calls”
Unwanted sleep associations
Big transitions like dropping naps, moving baby from parents’ bed to the crib or crib to a big kid’s bed, preparing for a new baby, traveling, and more.

4. Why is sleep with babies so challenging?

I think you hit the nail on the head in your earlier post. Sleeping independently is a learned skill. Some babies come into it easily, just like some kids learn to ride a bike in just one day. Other babies are more “spirited” like my son and need more coaching and consistency.

Helping your baby learn to sleep is just as challenging as any other aspect of parenting. It takes consistency, the support of your partner and other caregivers, patience, and understanding…. all while you are chronically sleep deprived! 

Like other aspects of parenting, there are many heated debates about what the “right” way to go about it is and the process tugs at our heart strings. And everyone--your mother, your sister, your best friend, the books, the blogs, the websites, even the random person at the grocery store, all have an opinion and are more than happy to share with you! 

The benefit of working with a sleep consultant is that we are familiar with all of the very different methods that have been proven successful and can work with you to create a unique approach that is in line with your parenting philosophy. No two plans are identical, because no two families are identical. 

5. Why is sleep important for babies? For parents?
Once breastfeeding is established and going well, sleep is often the #1 concern of new parents. Sleep problems often persist for 5 years or more (take my son for example!) when not addressed effectively. And the research connecting sleep to health and learning in children is continuing to grow. Young children who do not get adequate sleep are at greater risk of obesity later in life and mental health problems, have difficulty performing well at school, and may exhibit behavioral problems.

While sleep deprivation is common with a newborn, it can be dangerous for parents. Driving while drowsy leads to over 100,000 car crashes per year and restricting sleep by even 1 to 2 hours a night over time can cause chronic fatigue. That trip to the pediatricians or grandma’s after a night of broken sleep can put you and your baby in danger. There is also a link between sleep deprivation and postpartum mood disorders, which can make it difficult to bond with your baby, maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, and perform well at work.

And the problem isn’t confined to childhood. Adults who sleep poorly in childhood often go on to have sleep problems later in life which puts them at risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and mood problems and even a shorter life expectancy.

How we mold our baby’s sleep from the beginning plays a huge role in how they sleep for life. While 20% of sleep habit is determined by genes, 80% is determined by the environment. This means that we have control over 80% of how well our child sleeps. That is HUGE! 

Even a child who got stuck with a genetic tendency to be a poor sleeper (like my son) can sleep well with the right environment, including an age appropriate schedule, an environment conducive to sleep, sleep hygiene, and positive reinforcement.

6. What are 3 tips parents can use to have great sleeping babies?
#1 Provide a safe environment that is also conducive to sleep.
#2 Implement an age-appropriate schedule. Keeping your child awake during the day does not result in more sleep at night!
#3 Use a consistent and soothing pre-bedtime and naptime routine that includes reading and ends in your child’s sleeping space.
#4 After 2 months of age, or earlier in easy babies, practice putting your baby down drowsy but awake. But don’t become frustrated. This is practice and it takes time.

7. What advice would you give to the parent who is at her wits end and has tried everything she can think of to get her child to sleep through the night?
Sleeping through the night isn’t always the goal, depending on the age of the baby. But if the baby is physically and developmentally able to sleep through the night and the parents have consulted with the baby’s doctor to ensure there are no medical issues causing the frequently wakings, there are other options besides “waiting it out” or “crying it out”.  

If parents are feeling overwhelmed, they should think about working with a sleep consultant.  Often we can make some adjustments to the baby’s schedule or environment that significantly improves sleep. If sleep training is needed, we can find an approach that feels right for the family. And most of the time it leads to less stress and crying than the parents are currently experiencing with all that night waking. 

8.What do you think babies need to be able to sleep through the night? When is it common for babies to sleep through the night?
This is really a loaded question! Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone but parents can help their baby achieve this by providing an age appropriate schedule, conducive sleep environment, and helping them to learn self-soothing skills.  

But the most important factor in helping your baby sleep better is keeping them well-rested from the beginning. The bottom line is, a well-rested baby falls asleep easier, wakes less often, and sleeps longer. Sleep begets sleep.

Parents must also have realistic expectations of what “sleeping through the night” looks like depending on their baby’s age.   Most babies need 2-4 night feedings from newborn through 4 months old, drop to 2 night feedings by 6 months old, and 1 night feeding by 9 months old. I define sleeping through the night as 11-12 hours of sleep without needing a feeding or the help of a parent to return to sleep. I believe that in babies who are gaining weight appropriately, this can be achieved by 9 to 12 months of age. Anything earlier than 9 months is a wonderful bonus!

But healthy, restorative sleep can be obtained even if your baby isn’t sleeping through the night and in most cases I fully support continuing with night feedings under one year of age, especially if a mother is breastfeeding. 

Healthy sleep shouldn’t include nursing (or bouncing, rocking, wearing, driving) your baby back to sleep every two hours after the newborn period. This is exhausting for parents and doesn’t give your baby the consolidated restorative sleep he needs to thrive.  

9. What is something about you that readers may be surprised to know?
I once tried to snuggle in the crib with my daughter. She gave me a dirty look, waved bye-bye to me, and pointed outside of her crib. Now that is a girl who loves her sleep!
10. What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?
Like most full-time working parents, I have limited spare time! But I enjoy hiking, snow shoeing, or beachcombing with my family. I also love cooking and coming up with creative ways to be more efficient during the work week.    
11. What is your goal for your career as a sleep consultant?
My goal as a sleep consultant is to continue to not only help families get the sleep they need to be healthy, but to educate others on the public health implications of inadequate sleep in children. 
In addition to providing consultations and follow-up support, I also teach seminars and write guest blog posts. 
To learn more about how you help your baby sleep smart from the start, follow me at 
If you are interested in a consult, attending or holding a seminar for your organization or group, or in featuring The Baby Sleep Geek in a guest blog post, feel free to contact me at or 207-650-9688.

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