Why won’t my child sleep? Louisiana woman helps parents have a good night
YOUNGSVILLE — One of the first questions a new parent always gets asked is often "Is the baby sleeping good?"
Kala Guichard, 34, knows all too well the misery parents experience when the answer is 'no.' Her first child didn't sleep through the night until he was 15 months old, which means she didn't sleep through the night either.
It was affecting every part of her life, from high-stakes tasks like her job of intraoperative neurosurgery monitoring to just being able to function.
"I was a shell of a human being," Guichard said. "It's so much more than sleep. It was my ability to be a good wife, to be a good mom, to be myself.
"My first 15 months of motherhood was miserable," she continued.
As she and her husband navigated the sleepless nights, Guichard tried changing jobs, returning to her background in speech pathology in the hopes of a better schedule, and looking for possible solutions to their sleep problems, scouring the internet when they were desperate.
"At 2 a.m. I was rocking him for probably the millionth time and I googled it again," she said.
In the results she found a sleep consultant and booked an evaluation call.
"It was like waving the white flag, like saying 'We have got to get some sleep.'"
Families 'desperate for some sleep'
It worked. As Jules' sleep improved, so did everything else, it seemed, and Guichard found a new purpose — helping other moms who are going through the same thing.
"I felt like this is my calling," she said.
Guichard did her research and found the Sleep Sense program. She went through hands-on training and mentorship to become a Sleep Sense-certified consultant.
Over the last four years she has helped hundreds of families pinpoint what's behind their sleep issues and find rest through her pediatric sleep consulting business Sleep at Last.
"A big part of my job is identifying the root cause of why they're not sleeping," Guichard said. "There's no such thing as a simple sleep question. It's holistic. It's a puzzle."
Nicole Peltier of New Iberia reached out to Guichard, "desperate for some sleep" after having her third child, she wrote on Facebook. Earlier this month, Peltier and her family "graduated from sleep school" with Sleep at Last, and the program impacted more than just the baby.
"All my babies are sleeping extremely well at night in their own beds. This has been a real struggle for us since the beginning, 6 years ago!" Peltier wrote.
"She (Guichard) helped us create a morning and night routine that suits our family. She helped take our old chaotic routines and turn them into a peaceful and enjoyable way to start and end our days. I will be forever grateful for all that we learned from Kala. We are all better for it!"
In addition to her Acadiana clients, she also works around the world, connecting virtually with folks in Australia and other countries.
"I have a client in every time zone," she said with a smile.
She's smiling because her work is fulfilling.
"I love this job," she said. "There's such a return — to see the family so happy. I give moms their life back. I give moms their sanity, their self."
The same goes for herself. Guichard, 34, is a mom of three now, and her younger two, Orin and Ada, were sleeping through the night by 10 or 11 weeks.
"They sleep amazing," she said.
'A fitness coach for sleep'
When Guichard started this unique work, she spent a lot of time on education. She reminds parents not only about the importance of sleep for one's health and overall well-being, but also that they don't have to just accept sleep deprivation as part of parenthood.
"It's not a right of passage to have a screaming child," she said.
On top of the obvious consequences to lack of sleep — misbehavior, bad moods, loss of productivity, ability to learn and retain information — there are long-term health risks for the whole family.
Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality, according to Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine.
"In studies of humans and other animals, (scientists) have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions," according to Harvard.
"A lack of sleep — especially on a regular basis — is associated with long-term health consequences, including chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and that these conditions may lead to a shortened life expectancy."
Guichard also had to educate people on what a sleep coach is. She compares the job to that of a fitness coach, which most people are familiar with, but for sleep.
She crafts a plan tailored to the family's needs, helps them stick with it or get back on track if there's a slip, and even tweaks the plan as they go if necessary. The family contributes data through sleep logs and communicates progress or problems over a three-week period.
She said the effects last long after these three weeks. It makes a lasting difference, she said.
"It affects their whole life," she said.
Guichard incorporates growth and child development knowledge she learned while getting her master's in speech pathology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, always careful to make sleep plans developmentally appropriate for the child. She works with infants up to school-age children and even pregnant moms.
Originally from St. Martinville, Guichard does this work from her home in Youngsville, which gives her more flexibility and time with her kids. She'll often check sleep logs on her computer at the kitchen table as her little ones have breakfast.
Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.