Mamas Who Inspire: Jill Spivack and Jennifer Waldburger of Sleepy Planet

If a full night’s sleep for anyone in your household is starting to feel like a long-lost luxury, Sleepy Planet’s Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack are the ladies of your (ahem) dreams. Their Sleepeasy Solution program and one-on-one consultations give parents strategies and tools to help kids sleep better and longer. Ergobaby caught up with them for some pillow talk.

What inspired you to start Sleepy Planet?

Jill: I was a practicing family therapist when I had my first baby 16 years ago, and he had a very nasty sleep problem. My son was waking every two hours at night, I was nursing every couple of hours and when I wasn’t, my husband was pacing the floors, bouncing and rocking the baby. This went on for eight months until we reached out to a parenting center in New York City where we were living; the center was doing a micro-version of the program we have now fleshed out in Sleepy Planet. Once I had resolved my sleep issues with my son, I was inspired to do this work (along with leading general parenting groups and counseling individuals and couples) because it was so amazing to be able to help a family in crisis turn the whole thing around within days. Once we moved back to Los Angeles, I joined forces with my best friend from college who had also become a family therapist, Jennifer Waldburger, and together, we started Sleepy Planet and created the book and DVD The Sleepeasy Solution.

What’s one of the biggest mistakes parents make when it comes to their kids and sleep?

Assuming that their baby cannot develop independent sleep skills. Many parents can’t believe their baby can become competent at self-soothing and therefore continue to intervene in helping the baby get to sleep and back to sleep throughout the night. This causes the baby to remain helpless in the middle of the night and not learn the vital skills of self-soothing.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? What are some signs that he isn’t?

Most children between 4 months and 5 years need 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night and another 90 minutes to three hours of nap sleep depending on their age, if they still nap. (We post guidelines on sleep needs according to age on Generally, a well-rested child wakes up happy and refreshed and can make it until the next nap or between last nap and putdown on a fairly even keel emotionally and behaviorally. An overtired child might seem fussy or cranky, have more tantrums and meltdowns, and generally seem out of sorts. By the time you see fussy behavior, red eyes, yawning and pulling at the ear, your child is already overtired! Try to notice how long your child is generally awake before you see those signs and move your naptime or bedtime until it falls 10 to 15 minutes prior.

I hear the word “overtired” used in relation to kids all the time, but I’m still a little confused about what it fully means. Can you help?

It means that babies have missed the optimal sleep window for their age in which they would go to sleep most easily. Once babies become overtired, they produce a stress hormone called cortisol that has three potentially adverse effects on sleep: 1) Babies take longer to settle, 2) They wake more frequently throughout that sleep period, and 3) They wake too early from that sleep period. When cortisol kicks in, babies usually either get much fussier or may get a “second wind,” seeming suddenly animated and energetic even when they should be exhausted! And cortisol is in a child’s system for hours, so it’s important to make sure your baby goes to sleep at the right time.

Around what age do/should kids start sleeping through the night?

Babies are capable of sleeping 11 to 12 hours by 4 months and 14 pounds, though we recommend that babies take a dreamfeed before parents go to bed until at least 5 months and 15 pounds. (A dreamfeed is where you gently rouse the baby and offer as much milk as she will take, get a burp, then put her back down. It’s a “dreamfeed” because the baby stays asleep the whole time.) Moms with less milk or babies who have had any weight gain issues may need to feed at night or continue that dreamfeed even longer. It’s a good idea to make that decision together with your pediatrician or lactation consultant. After four months, while some babies do start to sleep longer stretches on their own, many unfortunately do not. But at that point, you can take the lead in helping them learn new skills.

Does swaddling help babies sleep better and longer?

For most babies, yes. Especially when they are very small, most babies feel much more secure and calm when they are swaddled because it reminds them of the coziness of the womb and allows them to sleep better and longer. Once they get a bit older (over 4 months or so), they are ready to lose the swaddle and have the opportunity to soothe themselves and move around more.

September is Baby Safety month. What are the basic guidelines for making sure Baby sleeps safely?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing babies on their backs to sleep, using a separate but proximate sleep environment (such as a cosleeper), avoiding potentially hazardous items in baby’s sleep environment such as pillows, blankets, wedges, positioners and bumpers, and breastfeeding. The full guidelines can be found here.

How about naps for parents? There has to be some excellent scientific reason exhausted moms and dads should take naps too on occasion, right? Pretty please?

There’s plenty of research documenting that getting good sleep is important for children and adults alike! Parents of babies under 4 months can definitely try to nap when the baby does. After 4 months, if your baby isn’t sleeping well, it’s a good idea to take the lead so both Baby and you can get the rest you need. Sleep deprived parents are at risk for illness and depression, and we all know it’s much harder to think clearly—much less parent well—when you’re exhausted.

The two of you have recently launched an online “mom university,” What is it and where did the idea come from?

In 2013, we co-founded MomAssembly along with two other business partners. The first online education platform for moms, MomAssembly is a kind of “parenting university” that provides a detailed roadmap to raising a family and being a happy, healthy, and balanced mom. Unlike other parenting sites that offer short videos with tips on a variety of subjects, MomAssembly will allow instructors to take a much deeper dive into a particular subject, giving moms comprehensive skills, tools, insights and wisdom, sort of like attending an actual lecture or seminar—but from the comfort of their own homes. Because we know how difficult it can be for parents to find the time to read a long, dense book on a topic that interests them, we thought we’d bring the world’s best experts into their homes to guide them in easy-to-digest, 5 to 10 minute video “chapters.”

This website will also benefit from our exposure in the television show we are currently co-creating with the production team, The Magical Elves (Top Chef, Fashion Star). This mom-focused show is based on our parenting groups and will allow us to reach a large audience of parents so they can also be part of our groups!

Jennifer, I love the title of your new book, Calm Mama, Happy Baby.  Pretty much encapsulates everything I’ve always aspired to as a mom! For somebody about to become a first-time mama, what advice do you have? How can you find that magical calm?

Having worked with families for nearly two decades, it’s become really clear to me that babies and children are incredibly sensitive to parents’ mood and energy. Unfortunately, that means that your stress can show up as their fussiness or agitation. But the good news is that they respond incredibly well to your calm, too. And calm babies usually cry less, sleep and feed better, and have a much easier time managing the ups and downs of life. The easiest way to find calm no matter what is happening with your baby is to take several big, deep breaths as you attend to her. This can have an immediate calming effect on your child. Every time the babies in my baby groups start to fuss, I ask all the moms to take three deep breaths and you can hear a pin drop in the room within seconds! The book has lots more ideas for calming and centering that busy moms on the go will find easy to learn and use.

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Holly was a magazine editor for over ten years at Marie Claire and Redbook, and is now a freelance writer and mama who’s written for O, the Oprah Magazine, Self, Whole Living, HGTV and, among others.


September 12, 2013