HOW TO GET YOUR BABY TO SLEEP
$5m bill to help parents, and babies, get rested
AUSTRALIAN taxpayers are subsidising parents who can’t get their children to sleep by more than $5 million a year.
A surge in sleep-deprived parents seeking professional baby sleep experts has meant a doubling in Medicare rebates for the services in the past 10 years. Up to 40 per cent of babies and children struggle with sleep.
The multimillion-dollar Medicare payouts are only the tip of the iceberg, with a federal health department spokesman saying there is such a wide range of professional paediatric sleep services it is not possible to determine the actual outlay in benefits.
Sleep deprivation has become a public health problem, and GPs, paediatricians and child health nurses are referring desperate parents to qualified specialists — most of whom have waiting lists.
Private health providers are also offering cover for sleep fixes.
Child sleep experts say their services help prevent divorces, ease anxiety and depression, and allow parents and child better wellbeing.
Australian Medical Association chief Dr Michael Gannon says sleep deprivation is a real health issue and can be a contributory factor in most postnatal depression cases.
“As we spend one third of our lives in bed, it is entirely appropriate that parents would seek out evidencebased help for better sleep and better health,” Dr Gannon said.
Accredited sleep specialist Amanda Bude said today’s parents did not have the tribe of supporters around them as past generations had. Many were working, had to maintain stressful jobs and were time poor.
“When you think that nearly half of new parents in 2017 are having problems getting their child to enjoy good sleep, it’s no wonder sleep services are inundated with calls,” Ms Bude said.
“I would imagine there are even more people who would love to ask for help, but they are weighed down by the 1950s idea that they should be able to cope themselves.
“There are so many mixed messages that parents are not only exhausted but frightened and confused. Should they try controlled crying? Should they breastfeed the baby to sleep? Does the child have to sleep in the cot? Is catnapping a bad thing?”
But not all sleep experts are the same. Baby sleep trainers are not the same as qualified sleep specialists.
Ms Bude is adamant that there is no place for letting a child cry it out.
“Baby sleep trainers may try to ‘fix’ a child with a one-size-fits-all approach like controlled crying and responsive settling. There is a perception that the child is ‘broken’.
“A sleep specialist will assess the environmental, physical, emotional, social, developmental, psychological and medical areas of the family to see what might be underlying reasons for sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances,” Ms Bude said.
Elna and Dale How called in Ms Bude to help them get baby Liam, 11 months, into a good sleep routine ahead of Ms How’s return to work.
“Advice on baby sleep is so conflicting and tired mums have neither the time nor the energy to fully research techniques,” Ms How said.
They did not want to try the cry-itout approach and preferred Ms Bude’s “gentle approach”.
“We are already seeing a difference in Liam, but for me the peace of mind that Amanda is behind us is invaluable,” Ms How said.
The average cost of a qualified specialist is $300 and upwards for a two-week support package.
Baby Liam (left and top) and parents Elna and Dale get help from sleep specialist Amanda Bude. Pictures: JAMIE HANSON