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Exhausted moms turn to baby sleep consultants

By Xinhua | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-23 07:18

WUHAN - Late at night, an exhausted mother gets up once again to attend to her screaming baby. She rocks, feeds and sings him to sleep before sneaking away, but she knows it will not be long before she has to return.

Liu Dan is familiar with this scenario. During the day, she works at a broadcasting station in Hangzhou city, and has only slept three or four hours each night since her son was born.

A well-known supplement in China advertises that it can help people "sleep like a baby", but Liu scoffs at the tagline.

"I'm sure the designer of the advertisement slogan 'sleep like a baby' is not a parent. The words should be changed to 'sleep like a baby's father'."

"Getting a child to sleep can be one of the most difficult tasks of parenting. I'm on the brink of collapse," the sleep-deprived mother said.

Liu's sleep struggles are shared by many frustrated moms. An industry white paper on Chinese infant sleep released in December showed that more than 75 percent of parents experience being woken up frequently at night by their babies, especially those aged 6 months to 1 year.

Exhausted moms turn to baby sleep consultants

Why are they not sleeping well? It could be hunger, teething, noise or illness. But only 6 percent of parents know the reason for their babies' nocturnal fussing, the paper said.

Older generations in China traditionally attributed infant sleep trouble to a calcium deficiency or considered it part of normal infant behavior.

Frustrated and exhausted, Liu turned to a baby sleep consultant for an answer. After paying 298 yuan ($43) for an online lecture, she got her baby to sleep throughout the night for the first time after two weeks.

Hush little baby

The online lecture was provided by Chen Yuwen, former General Electric project manager and now a baby sleep consultant.

As the first such consultant certified by the International Maternity and Parenting Institute on the Chinese mainland, Chen has dealt with tens of thousands of sleep-deprived moms at their wits' end.

In the last month alone, Chen has sold nearly 1,400 online lectures to Chinese parents struggling to get their little ones to bed. Through the lectures, she teaches parents how to improve a baby's sleep environment, tips for soothing little ones, and other useful tricks. Another consultant training agency plans to offer a 30-member class in Shanghai to would-be baby whisperers. The weeklong training course costs 19,800 yuan per person, but applicants have already outnumbered openings.

"Applicants come from various professions, including housewives, designers, flight attendants, nurses and editors. All of them see big profits in this career," said Wang Shiyunyue, the agency's head.

Wang said clients' favorite product is a 21-day sleep training package that includes consultations, home visits, 24-hour support and a sleep plan that is completely customized for babies. It costs 5,000 yuan.

The emergence of baby sleep consultants can be explained by the pressure professional couples feel and the potential market for maternal and infant-related services in China.

According to a document released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, 18.46 million babies were born in Chinese hospitals last year, the highest number since 2000 and 1.31 million more than 2015.

Chen decided to go full-time as a consultant in 2013 when the country allowed couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child.

Failing to stop her own baby's frequent night waking, she read books and posted online about her own experiences and what she had learned.

"I received thousands of questions and was surprised that so many moms have been troubled by the same problem," said Chen.

Divided opinion

"Many parents are willing to pay for milk powder and baby diapers, but refuse to pay for knowledge. I'm ready for the challenges of being a sleep consultant," said Lin Xiaonuan, a former journalist.

Earlier in her consultant career, she answered the phone to hear a woman at the other end in tears, and she recalled crying herself.

"I don't want to experience that frustration again. I feel good helping these moms fix their problems," said Lin.

Zhang Silai, a pediatrician, agreed that fixing the problem is very important. Hormonal changes after birth, plus sleep deprivation, can increase postpartum depression in new mothers.

However, critics say that it is cruel and risky to train babies to sleep. One mom said most of these sleep training techniques are just variations of the old "cry-it-out" method.

"My heart would break (letting the baby cry). It runs the risk of the baby losing trust. I'd rather not sleep," she added.

Others question the lack of clarity around qualifications and registration for consultants, as the industry is not regulated.

"Sleep guidance is different from sleep training. It is not a cry-it-out method. We need to understand the baby's needs, observe signs of sleep and help establish regular daily routines and good sleeping habits," said Chen.

(China Daily 03/23/2017 page5)

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