Updated: Apr 9
Have you ever wondered how on earth to get your baby to sleep? If you don't answer yes, you're in a very elite group of parents out there! If your answer is yes, I'm with you. Baby sleep is a very interesting topic and what works varies wildly from baby to baby. There is no single approach that works for all babies and families. With so many baby personalities/sleep habits and techniques to try out there it's tricky to know where to even begin!
Some sleep consultants, like Polly Revaliente, specialize in helping families find a sleep solution that works for them. Polly ensures each plan is adapted to a family's individual needs and personal feelings about sleep training. I was lucky enough to get a chance to ask Polly a few questions for this blog.
Why and when did you move to Madrid? Where are you from originally?
I am British but moved to Spain (Seville) when I was 19, here I completed my Registered Nurse training and married my Spanish husband. We decided to move to the UK for a few years but because of his work we returned to Spain (Madrid) 7 years ago.
What inspired you to start working as a sleep consultant?
When I struggled with my first child’s sleep I really just wanted somebody to talk it through with and to understand what was going on; it became a complete obsession for me, I would bore my friends and family to death just talking about Elsa’s (and therefore my own!) sleep habits. Whilst everyone was sympathetic, it seemed that most people were in the same situation and had little practical advice to give.
My searches on the internet would always end with different answers; I felt completely overwhelmed and terrified as to whether I was (or wasn’t) damaging her in some way, either by not achieving the hours of sleep she needed, or by trying to do something about it and therefore traumatizing her!
I was given the contact of a sleep consultant in the UK and it was like a shining light, she was kind, practical and most importantly it helped! I immediately realised that this is something I wanted to do - it was like love at first sight! I had the nursing experience, my innate need to help people, the experience and empathy to understand how difficult it can be and from a practical perspective my husband worked all hours and I couldn’t see myself going back into the long hours and shifts of nursing whilst juggling family life too.
I now can’t imagine doing any other job, my philosophy is to be the person I needed when I was struggling so much at the beginning - someone to listen, someone to guide whichever style of parenting you have, someone to give you confidence and encouragement that you are doing great, someone with knowledge and experience with sleep (and all the intertwining factors that influence it) who can give practical, realistic and functional advice.
At what point would you suggest seeking help for a child's sleep?
In all honesty I think you can seek help from day 1 (it’s never too early to get into good habits) but equally whenever you feel ready. You should never feel pressured into changing sleep habits if what you are doing works for you as a family but equally don’t feel like you should ever suffer when there is often a solution to improve things.
Do you have any tips for moms of newborns regarding sleep?
I truly believe that you have to work out what’s right for you - it’s important to remember that the first 3 months of a baby's life are what we call the 4th trimester. Anything and everything they do is for survival, you therefore cannot hold them too much, spoil them, cuddle and kiss them enough, sleep them wherever they feel happy sleeping, for me anything goes (although I recommend following the safe sleep guidelines), you cannot create bad habits. If you feel like a gentle schedule would work better than there are some great gentle books that help to guide you, but it often doesn’t go to plan with a newborn! It’s never too early to try and get some simple sleep basics into place but without putting pressure on yourself or baby.
Can you share your personal experience with your children's sleep journeys?
Elsa: After a really tricky start with Elsa I finally managed to get her into a really good routine and she was sleeping 12 hours with one bottle during the night when we moved to Spain. This is where everything went wrong as we went from living on a farm in the middle of nowhere in England to living in a busy city above a mexican restaurant, her sleep completely fell apart! Everynight from 1am she would wake screaming and my husband would just bring her into her bed as I was too tired to do anything about it as I was then pregnant with our second child. I would sleep so badly and could not work out where we had gone wrong, in hindsight Iḿ pretty sure the restaurant closing and the loud washing of plates would wake her but by then we were in pure survival mode. Unlike others I really didn’t enjoy co-sleeping, our bed was too small, Elsa would move all night, I was uncomfortable and the whole thing was almost the end of me! Our friend suggested that we try some controlled crying with timings but it didn’t work and the whole family suffered from the experience! We then moved house into the country again when I got in contact with Hannah the sleep consultant who helped us, we tweaked her routine made sure she was eating enough, made the environment perfect and I prepared myself for a night of accompanying Elsa through her night wakings but without bringing her into bed with us, but for us all the pieces just fit in to place and that night she slept 12 hours straight! Elsa loves her sleep and I think that it truly was circumstances and survival that put us on the wrong track.
Oscar was a textbook baby he napped and fed well during the day and it was a case of making him go cold turkey with his bottle one night at 8 months, it was a tough hour but he literally then started sleeping straight through the night from that moment and has been a great sleeper ever since!
Alfie was more challenging but I had more knowledge! I thought by my third child I’d be stronger at letting him cry more but I found I was completely the opposite, which in hindsight has been a great learning experience as I understand and empathize with parents who want to try gentler methods. I accompanied Alfie for a lot of his sleeping periods and invested a lot of time in thinking about the larger picture rather than thinking in the moment. I spent many nights on the floor by his side encouraging independent sleep but supporting him; it was hard but I feel it was the right way for him to get into good sleep habits. He also sleeps really well.
My three children are all complete individuals with contrasting characters and I am definitely a different type of mother for each one, this has helped me realize that no matter what your child’s character is, or what style of parenting you most relate to for said child, you can always** achieve good sleep if you figure out the right way for you and your child.
(** as long as there are no underlying medical issues)
Any sleep tips for traveling with small babies and children?
I would suggest you try timing car/train/plane journeys for sleep times, it just helps you have a more peaceful journey but also assures they have the sleep they need during the day (car journeys, the white noise of planes etc are great sleep inducers!). It’s great to use a baby carrier to get them to sleep, it allows you to walk up and down the aisles easily! For planes I highly recommend feeding when taking off and landing to help the children with the different pressures for their ears. And lastly please accept help if you’re offered it - many people know how difficult it can be travelling with children and often empathise! I learnt this with my last child but wish I had done it before!!
Do you have any tips for parents dealing with jet lag and baby sleep adjustment?
Children actually adapt much better than adults to jet lag but need a little bit of encouragement to do so! The day of travel you need to go with the flow, if you can get a flight that coincides with your child’s night sleep this is perfect. When you arrive at your destination it is important that you start your child’s normal schedule the next day but on your new local time: Wake them up, do all naps/meals and put them to bed as per your normal schedule but on your new local time. It may take them a few days to adjust but it is worth persevering.
One just for fun, what's your favorite place in Madrid?
Unfortunately I actually hardly know Madrid at all. When we moved to Madrid Elsa was only 6 months, I was already pregnant and had terrible morning sickness so we didn’t really have a chance to explore as much as I would have liked to. We then moved outside of Madrid and now hardly ever go into the city. I did love wandering around Retiro with Elsa, it’s such an amazing park to have right in the centre - I’m a country girl at heart so am always looking for nature!
Thanks for sharing with us, Polly!
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