By Raising Children Network
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Getting help with settling babies image copyright Beatricekillam | Dreamstime.com
 
Children’s sleep problems are one of the most common reasons that parents seek help from professionals. Your child’s sleep problems will be much easier to manage with the support of a trusted child health professional.

Who can help you

Caring for a baby becomes even more demanding when you feel exhausted and frustrated from lack of sleep. If our information on baby sleep hasn’t quite worked for your child, and you don’t know what to do next, try speaking to a child health professional. This is likely to help and increase your likelihood of success.

The following child health professionals can assist you with children’s sleeping problems:

  • child and family health nurses
  • GPs
  • paediatricians
  • some child and family psychologists.

To begin, a professional will talk with you to understand both the problem and your individual needs. The professional will ask you about your baby, the history of the problem, and what you’ve tried so far. A good professional always finds out what your goals are for your child and what you want to achieve.

The professional will then work with you to develop and put in place a sleep plan. A good plan will address:

  • night feeding (if that’s still an issue)
  • phasing out old bedtime habits
  • creating positive bedtime routines
  • providing settling strategies.

A good sleep plan also includes a contingency plan – what will you do if things don’t seem to be working?

The settling techniques suggested might appear to cause your baby some distress at first. This will pass. Stick with it. Before too long, you’ll have a far more rested, contented baby. You’ll feel better too.

Where you can get help

Maternal and child health centres
For many parents, the local child and family health centre is the place to start. Your child and family health nurse can give you information and advice on managing sleeping and other problems. For more information see our Services and Support section.

Parent help lines
A range of parenting hotlines around Australia offer help. Some specialise in babies and young children, and some are available after hours when the pressure is really on. An advice line can provide ideas and suggestions about what you can do, as well as more information about where help is available in your local area.

Early parenting centres
Early parenting centres – sometimes referred to as ‘sleep schools’ – offer a range of supports to parents of young children. At an early parenting centre, you can get help to manage your baby’s sleep better. These centres can also offer more than that, supporting you with advice on a whole range of infant and baby issues. They offer you personal support as well.

Staff at early parenting centres understand what you and your baby are going through. They’re used to dealing with all kinds of feeding and settling problems, and can help you and your family get things back on track. Different centres operate slightly differently, but their philosophies are pretty much the same. They will help you develop an approach to ensure your baby spends more time sleeping and less time crying.

When you call a centre, someone will speak to you about your needs and let you know what they can offer. This might be:

  • on-the-spot advice 
  • referral to a parent education session 
  • a day-stay program 
  • a residential program.

If you go into a residential program, you will be assigned a family unit with comfortable beds, a cot and all the facilities you’ll need during your stay, including in-house support.

Most government parenting centres are free, because the cost is covered by Medicare. There might be charges for incidentals such as nappy wash services and meals. Private centres offer the same service. Your child and family health centre will be able to give you more information.

Early parenting centres are good at helping parents whose children are having problems with sleep. An evaluation of one centre in Melbourne reported that one month after attending their program, parents said their baby’s fussing and crying had halved and the mothers reported fewer health problems. 

Early parenting centres

State Organisation Phone Contact
ACT Queen Elizabeth II Family Centre         (02) 6207 9977
(Community Health Intake)
NSW Karitane

(02) 9794 2300
1300 227 464 (Karitane Careline)

Tresillian Family Care Centres (02) 9787 0855 (Sydney callers)
1800 637 357 (regional callers)
NT

The Northern Territory doesn’t have parenting centres,
but you can call Parentline for support and advice on early parenting issues.

1300 301 300
Qld Ellen Barron Family Centre           (07) 3139 6500
SA Torrens House

1300 733 606
(Child and Family Health Service)

Women’s and Children’s Health Network (08) 8161 6003
Tas  Parenting Centre – North (Launceston) (03) 6326 6188
Parenting Centre – North West (Burnie) (03) 6434 6201
Parenting Centre – South (Hobart) (03) 6233 2700
Vic O’Connell Family Centre           (03) 8416 7600
Queen Elizabeth Centre (03) 9549 2777
Tweddle Child and Family Services (03) 9689 1577
WA

Ngala Family Resource Centre

(08) 9368 9368 (Perth callers)
1800 111 546 (regional callers)

Back at home

Whether you use a parent advice line, visit a child and family health centre, or attend an early parenting centre, you’ll soon be back at home trying the strategies you’ve learned.

Keep in mind the following:

  • It takes time for new routines to become established. Resist the temptation to give up or change things too early. Agree with the professional on how long you’ll try something before deciding that it isn’t working and trying something else. To the best of your ability, stick to what you and the professional decided will work best for your baby, even if it seems hard.
  • Your baby might go back to old habits temporarily. Don’t be too surprised. If you’re consistent with the new approaches you’ve learned, you’ll soon have your baby in a steady, settled routine.
  • Keep any suggested strategies in writing. Reading them will remind you of what needs to be done. When things aren’t working, you can double-check to see if you’re following the strategies correctly.
  • Try to organise back-up for when you get home. Find out who you can contact for help or emotional support. Most early parenting centres, for example, provide a telephone number for follow-up concerns. They have staff who can talk you through the worst of it.

One family’s story

Max’s mum and dad, Ingrid and Jonathan, told the child and family health nurse about the difficulties they were having settling Max to sleep. Ingrid was close to tears and told the nurse she was at her wit’s end because Max would wake up about five times a night and only cat-nap for 20 minutes a couple of times during the day. He always seemed irritable and she couldn’t get anything done. Settling him to sleep was difficult and usually it had to be with a breastfeed. Jonathan said he felt powerless because breastfeeding appeared to be the only thing they could do to get Max to sleep.

The nurse explained that these issues are common. She gave them the phone number of the local parenting centre, and Ingrid called them that same afternoon. She talked to an intake worker about the issues. Max had been unsettled since he was three weeks old, and he was now nearing six months. The intake worker suggested the residential program. This would involve the whole family staying up to five days at the centre.

Jonathan was supportive of Ingrid, but thought that his employer might not approve his leave at short notice. When he approached his manager, however, he was pleasantly surprised by the support he received.

Five weeks later, Ingrid, Jonathan and Max were admitted to the program. There they learned that Max was probably overtired and needed to learn to settle himself to sleep. The staff helped Ingrid and Jonathan develop a plan that they thought would work for them when they got back home. As the plan did not involve giving breastfeeds to help Max sleep, Jonathan also had to learn how to settle Max. This meant Ingrid could have breaks. They both agreed to give it a try.

During their stay at the centre, Jonathan and Ingrid attended group discussion sessions. They were relieved to find that other couples were having similar issues, and that they weren’t being judged as incompetent parents.

On the third night, Max was showing signs of getting into good sleep patterns. The centre staff suggested that Ingrid and Jonathan have a couple of hours out alone. They went out to a local restaurant for dinner. For the first time, both Ingrid and Jonathan were comfortable talking about how they had felt. Ingrid said that she had been feeling incompetent and avoided meeting with other mothers from mothers’ groups because she could not settle her baby like they could – ‘They just seemed to be so much more in control!’ Jonathan, on the other hand, said he had felt helpless and isolated, as if suddenly he was an outsider in his own family. Now that he had learned some settling techniques he no longer felt helpless. He thought that he would develop a better relationship with Max because he was no longer feeling resentful.

On their final night at the centre, Max stirred once in his sleep. Jonathan offered to settle him on his own and was surprised at how soon he was able to do so. The centre staff observed, but did not need to interfere.

Ingrid and Jonathan left the centre feeling apprehensive about keeping to the routines at home. Given what they had to gain, they both agreed to give them a good try. The centre staff reassured them that they were only a phone call away should they need extra support.

 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 24-03-2013