Giving your baby a priceless helping hand with Sleep by Alexandra
Newborn blues? Teething problems? The dreaded four month sleep regression? Baby and child sleep consultant Alexandra Collingbourne has been helping struggling parents navigate the difficult early years
For those who have yet to introduce children into their lives, picture this scene: it’s 2am and you’re sat on your sofa, toys strewn around your feet, as your baby, draped across your lap, drifts in and out of a bizarre pseudo sleep the likes of which you have never seen before, fitfully dozing one minute and shrieking with the intensity of a thousand howler monkeys the next. No matter what you do, you cannot calm them, be it with food, water, milk, cuddles or singing. You are effectively pouring a bottle of Evian on a forest fire.
It sounds exhausting - and it is - but not beyond anything that you can handle after a nap or two the following day, right? Well, as any parent will tell you, that is certainly true; one night of this would be manageable. But three in a row? Five? Two weeks? A month? That’s about the maximum sleep disruption any human can handle. It can drive even the most patient, zen parents to tears, to hallucinations or even into clinical depression.
Yet despite the overwhelmingly negative effect this lack of sleep might have on the mental and physical health of a parent, and despite the fact that poor parental mental health can have an impact on the family as a whole, asking for help is still bafflingly taboo. Where our parents and grandparents suffered in silence as their concerns were dismissed by medical professionals, they too have led us to believe that we are somehow weak or have ‘given up’ by admitting we can’t cope. But in recent years, experts have come out of the woodwork in a wave of refutation of this old way of thinking, and are offering helping hands to those who desperately need them. And in 2019, Alexandra Collingbourne joined the fray with Sleep By Alexandra, a baby and child sleep consultancy service based in Hertfordshire.
Full disclosure: I am the father of a one-year-old baby who had recently sunk into the dreaded four-month sleep regression when I was first put in touch with Alexandra. Having fallen into a health sleep pattern three months in, I had wondered what all the fuss was about babies not sleeping well, until I found myself awake every half hour throughout the entire fourth month of his life, trying to calm him by any means necessary, mainly in an attempt to take the strain off my partner; she was not only woken up every 30 minutes by his crying, but also had to feed him repeatedly. The toll on us was huge. We were zombies, disassociating from the world and navigating our days on autopilot, and any energy we could muster was used up on pointless arguments with one another. It was a nightmare and we were at the end of our rope.
But, with Alexandra on the other end of the phone, I felt optimistic for the first time in weeks. To hear her describe her craft, she is a child sleep consultant “specialising in safe, holistic methods of getting your baby, toddler or young child to sleep in a way that empowers parents to live better, happier and with more energy”, and is keen to stress that one of her great motivators for starting this business was that she had similar problems with her son’s sleep patterns when he was younger.
After months of awkwardly chatting with NHS health workers who I suspected didn’t really understand my plight, here I finally felt like I was not alone. I had a lengthy, friendly chat with her - just one session mind you, not even one of her full packages - and still came away with a wealth of tailor-made ideas to get my baby to sleep through the night. Within an hour, she had quickly assessed my exact situation and created a bespoke plan for me including a daytime nap schedule and a plan for how to deal with my baby’s specific type of nighttime wakeups.
As a somewhat soppy millennial dad, I was relieved to hear that Alexandra does not endorse approaches involving so-called ‘cry-it-out’ methods, where the baby is left for long stretches - or potentially all night - alone in his or her dark room until they get used to it and put themselves to sleep. Everyone’s experience with Alexandra will likely be different, but I personally was told instead that my baby would likely take kindly to an interesting hands-on-but-not-quite approach which would give him the comfort of a parental hug but without becoming too attached to be transferred back to his cot. This technique involved picking up the baby when he cried and, rather than holding him to me or cuddling him, I would place a pillow across my lap, place my arms under the baby, and then rest him on the pillow. In effect, I was cradling him but also teaching him to sleep independent of skin-on-skin contact, something that many parents - and in particular breastfeeding mothers - have an extremely hard time dealing with.
And wouldn’t you know it; within 30 minutes he was out. I was so stunned I just sat there with him on my lap for another hour, refusing to believe that this curse which had been plaguing my life could be lifted so quickly. The following day, we stuck rigidly to the nap schedule we were given which, though difficult to get him to adhere to at first, was also hugely beneficial and left him just the right amount of tired to go soaring off to slumberland just as bedtime approached. Within days, my life, which felt like it had been completely derailed by this screaming human, was back on track; I slept through the night (and even got the occasional morning lie-in!), my partner and I felt like a couple again and, most importantly, I fell back in love with my son again.
Sleep by Alexandra offers a range of services to fit any parents' time and lifestyle, including personalised one-on-one packages that couples can work through together and regular online coaching to empower them to get through the difficult stages of their routines. Digital packages are also available for purchase.