We are so excited to talk to Michelle McNeil, a mom of three, registered nurse, and pediatric sleep consultant, about something all parents need more of, SLEEP!
From development during the Wonder Years to tips on how to gradually shift your child’s natural clock for daylight savings (this year it is the day after Halloween – BOOOO!) to managing sleep regression during the turmoil of a pandemic, Michelle is an incredible resource for families with babies and toddlers.
Tell us about your pediatric sleep consulting business. How did it start?
I started my work as a pediatric sleep consultant after working as a Registered Nurse at John Muir Medical Center Walnut Creek for over a decade. As an R.N., I loved taking care of my patients – from infants to the elderly – and believe the experience has helped me better serve the families that I work with today.
In 2011, my husband and I welcomed our son, Connor. As new parents, our first days and months were beautiful, but we also faced many challenges. Why won’t he sleep? Where is the best place for him to fall asleep? For how long? When should I pump? What resources should I be turning to for early parenting advice and guidance?
As a mother and nurse, I realized very quickly that there was a real need for individualized pediatric sleep consulting in our community. I went on to do a post masters certificate in the Millette Method of sleep consulting – a multifaceted and holistic approach that takes into account the entire family system, the child’s developmental stage, and the needs of the parents. Then, I started my adventure into sleep consulting and lactation education.
What are some main reasons parents need a sleep consultant? And, at what ages? Also, what type of support can a mom, dad and baby expect to receive from a sleep consultant?
Families reach out to me for a multitude of reasons. From pregnancy, where I create a plan for expecting parents to bring home and set up healthy sleep habits for their newborn, to helping older kids (up to 6 years) leave the family bed and establish healthy sleep habits. I have seen it all!
I offer many types of support. Families can do a traditional package where we do an hour of FaceTime (or an in-person visit, pre-Covid) and then three weeks of email/phone support following to implement those sleep changes. Some families will add on more support to tackle sleep challenges down the road as their child gets older. Alternatively, I have families that hire me for one year. We can take our time implementing our sleep changes as sleep evolves – from dropping naps as baby gets older and to answering sleep, feeding and parenting issues as they arise. As a certified lactation educator, I can also tackle feeding issues with clients – especially since feeding and sleep go hand-in-hand.
How are sleep and childhood development related? Are there certain periods of time (or phases) when sleep is more disrupted? Or, likewise, when sleep settles down?
Oh YES!! Developmental windows definitely play a big part in sleep. I follow the Wonder Weeks leap schedule and take these developmental milestones into account with each of my clients. I’d say 25% of my clients call me right after the dreaded 4 month sleep regression. It’s like clock work! It’s best not to implement new sleep changes when a baby is in the middle of a “leap”. Additionally, as a baby turns into a toddler, I’ll hear from a parent saying “my child has always been a great sleeper but now my 20 month old is just awake for hours on end.” I know that that child is in the “language acquisition leap” and this behavior is totally normal and transient. Movement milestones can also affect sleep so I’m on the lookout for those as well.
Many parents think that sleep coaching is about ‘crying it out’. Is “Crying it out” the only way for families to get a good night’s sleep? And at what age should parents sleep train?
The Millette Method has a “tool box” approach to sleep work. I will never tell a client that they HAVE to let their baby cry. After an initial, complimentary 20 minute intake call, I have a really good idea of where the baby/child and parents are developmentally, emotionally, culturally, and how tired they are! These all play a big role in my work, and ultimately in choosing which path to go down. I have many techniques we can utilize, and I don’t have a one size fits all approach at all. I customize my sleep packages to fit each family.
Also, just a tip to know… “crying it out” doesn’t work after 8-11 most old when babies go through object permanence. So you can’t use that method after that developmental milestone.
The pandemic has caused a lot of general anxiety and many parents are now dealing with sleep regression. What tips do you have for parents to manage this?
Call me! My undergrad in psychology has never been more useful. Families are truly in crisis. So tired, so stressed, and unable to have personal space. It’s such a hard time.
Learning about the importance of sleep to overall health and well being is a good first step in choosing good sleep and nutrition. By creating healthy sleep habits, parents will find that their children are happier. Having predictable bedtimes with long sleep windows gives families time to work and rest at the right times. These healthy boundaries are so necessary especially in these unprecedented times.
This year, daylight savings time is the DAY after Halloween!!!! What advice do you have for parents for managing the time change (on top of everything else they are doing these days)?
Oh yes, daylight savings! Fall is a tough because kids are waking at 5am. Nobody needs a pandemic AND a 5am wakeup call. My advice is to start on the Wednesday night before DLS (this year, it’s Oct 28th). Let’s pretend your child’s normal bedtime is 8pm… then bedtime Wednesday night is 8:10pm, Thursday is 8:20pm, Friday 8:30pm, Saturday 8:40pm, Sunday 8:50pm, and then Monday night after DLS is 8pm again. Voila! It may take a few mornings to sleep in again but this method makes the transition much easier.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
It’s so gratifying to help babies and kids with their sleep, and to see the ripple effect and how parents feel more at peace in their parenting, their marriage and their overall lives.The more I dive into my practice, the more I love it. Although sleep is my passion, I also really love this parent coaching aspect of my business and supporting parents in raising these great kids.
Need help with sleep in your house? Michelle can help!