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KNOWN as a modern-day Mary Poppins, baby and toddler sleep guru Karen Faulkner speaks to an overwhelming number of desperate mums who are told their child “just doesn’t want to sleep”.
Recently Karen, the founder of Nurture Parenting, talked to two mums who, after spending five days in sleep school, were informed their babies had failed.
“I feel parents need hope that their life can be okay and their babies can sleep,” Karen says.
Ever since training as a midwife 28 years ago Karen realised she was able to easily read and understand what babies and children needed.
She went on to obtain qualifications in areas such as psychology, nursing, baby massage, child behaviour and baby yoga, which enables her to tackle sleep problems from all angles.
But Karen wants the issue fixed on a larger scale and wants to see a national approach, which supports parents, prevents sleep problems and promotes self-settling.
“If England and [parts of] Australia can provide this preventative service why are the other states and territories not following suit?” she says.
Karen, who’s based in Sydney, will be in Canberra from August 26 to 28 for the Canberra Baby & Beyond Expo, and hopes to advise and help struggling parents.
“There’s been a big knee jerk response away from controlled crying to a no-cry approach,” she says.
“Parents are told by midwives, sleep school and health professionals to hold and feed their babies to sleep as it won’t do any harm.
“However, continue to do this past four months and the baby has huge sleep associations you can’t undo without crying.”
For local Gordon parents Rebecca, 33, and James Elton, 35, Karen’s work has been life changing.
When their daughter, Olivia, 3, was around 12 months she went backwards with her sleeping habits.
“She just deteriorated so badly and so quickly,” Rebecca says.
“She was waking every two hours and I was feeding her to sleep.”
During that time Rebecca says they were mentally and physically exhausted.
“We were constantly tetchy with each other and not putting enough into the relationship that we should have,” she says.
After seeing a few professionals with no breakthrough the couple came across Karen who, within three hours (and some homework), solved Olivia’s sleeping problems. And, in turn improved Rebecca and James’ wellbeing.
Karen says parents might also suffer depression, anxiety, puerperal psychosis, relationship stress and breakdown, and physical health problems such as auto-immune disease.
“Babies are delayed in development, poor weight gain and feeding problems because of lack of sleep,” she says.
“I’ve seen eight-month-old babies unable to sit unsupported or roll over, but within a night of sleep training they are able to pull to stand.
“I’ve had babies at 10 months breast feeding up to 20 times a night and eating no solid food at all in the day. Then you’re looking at iron deficiency and other nutritional problems.”
Since the sleep industry in Canberra is unregulated Karen wants to do more to help educate parents.
“The levels of training with private sleep consultants is often very limited,” she says.
“Many of the certified sleep consultants in Australia have only done 80 hours of distance learning via podcasts from an American-based private sleep consultancy.
“Midwives’ knowledge of baby sleep is limited to 28 days postnatal and whilst feeding to sleep may be okay advice in the short term, in the long term it will cause sleep to come undone.”
Karen is currently setting up a not-for-profit social enterprise called Mama Nurture & Co, which will provide a village in the form of fully trained and experienced volunteers.
“I’m recruiting grandma-type volunteers, retired nurses, midwives, social workers and teachers to help provide the village, prevent sleep problems and improve parenting confidence,” she says.
Canberra Baby & Beyond Expo, Exhibition Park, August 26-28. Book via capitalevents.com.au