Charlotte Patchell is a certified nurse with nutrition training and a focus on sleep issues. She runs the Geneva-based BubHub, a consultancy for English speaking parents delivering child and baby sleep and wellbeing services. She talks to us about the demands of raising a young family in a community far from home.
“And here we are
Half past three in the morning
I can’t get no sleep”
Until 3am that night the infamous words of the 90s Faithless track never really resonated with me. The rest of my family was in a state of blissful slumber and here I was holding baby number three after precisely one minute and twenty two seconds of sleep. It ran through my mind, ‘I need to sleep, I can’t get no sleep’.
My story began a decade ago when I left a much-loved job in London as an ICU Nurse to support my husband and his career move to Switzerland.
Like so many other families who share this narrative, I took the hard decision to step back from a career, leave my family and friends and move with little to no certainty of where this path would lead me. If children are involved it can seem even more precarious. In my case, a year after the move, our first baby was born.
As with so many others in the same situation, I had no family present for support and a husband working long hours and travelling. After the baby was born I put a huge amount of pressure on myself and our relationship. At one point I calculated I would need 5 extra hours in the day just to have time for a shower and some rest!
As I got more and more out of my depth, I withdrew from anything social and kept friends at a distance. I was not ok and had no idea how to ask for help. Breaking point hit with another rainy day at a museum, constantly being told to ‘shush’.
I finally allowed a friend to drag me to a local baby group. It was an immense relief to hear similar stories, to be told I was doing ok and realise I wasn’t alone.
It isn’t easy navigating these challenges in a foreign country, especially in a different language, and it took a long time to find that sense of belonging. More than once I wanted to jump ship; every time good friends left it felt like starting over again.
I still have difficult days, as does every expat family I know, but they are much less frequent and I understand that there is always a new chapter waiting to begin. When things feel trickier, I take a moment to find my people and share experiences. I always find comfort in the knowledge we are in this together.
Flash forward to now and I am very happy and settled. It has been a journey of reinvention: study, 3 beautiful babies and a lot of tears, laughter and stress. It has resulted in a rather messy life, but a life filled with noise and magic.
My difficulty in finding English-speaking pre and postnatal support in Geneva was echoed by others, and quickly became the driving force for creating Bubhub – a Geneva based Holistic Sleep Consultancy.
With Bubhub I aim to support families through the minefield of bedtime and my starting point for is looking at the 24-hour picture. We all do a lot better when we can get some sleep.
The Bubhub philosophy is founded on 4 principles: sleep, nourishment, emotional well-being and empowerment. It acts as not only a support but a resource for families. I have access to an incredible network of English-speaking professionals, from breastfeeding support and midwifery to physiotherapy and post-natal fitness.
The holistic framework of Bubhub has been adapted from my nursing experience in Healthcare and extensive training in both Clinical Nutrition and sleep practitioner programs. I have a wealth of experience helping families achieve their goals in Switzerland and London, and as far away as Singapore.
Surprisingly, it isn’t always difficult to make a change. The hardest part is deciding you need some help.
Many families benefit dramatically from a simple 1-hour troubleshooting call, whereas others prefer something more bespoke, with extensive step by step sleep plans and additional phone support. It’s very individual and also depends on the degree of the sleep problem.
Whichever approach is decided upon, Bubhub helps parents feel supported and empowered in a non-judgmental environment every step of the way.
Here are some quick tips for any new parent struggling with sleep and the transition in general.
- Start the day at the same time every day and be realistic. If your baby is an early riser, 6.30 IS a normal wake up time (I can hear you groaning). Turn this to your advantage and use this time to knock off one thing from your to do list – do a short workout, put on a wash, get some work emails done. Whatever else happens in the day you will have achieved this. It’s amazing how that can change your outlook.
- Take a walk in the fresh air every day at the same time. This can really help set your baby’s routine as bright light exposure helps to set a healthy body clock and stable bedtime. Even more importantly it will help you feel healthy and in control. Mindset is such a deal breaker when dealing with sleep deprivation.
- Find your people! Seek out a baby group, a post-natal fitness course or a walk and talk. I can’t stress this enough, ’sharing is caring’ as my daughter loves to say. Just a few ideas: The Hub Geneva Walk and Talk, Postnatal fitness courses run by Lu all over Geneva, Tiny Talk baby signing, balades avec bébé, run by the lovely Catherine, also an IBCLC and head of the La Leche league in Switzerland. Plus for single parents or those taking the main parenting load, there is a Single Parents’ Support Network who meet once a month for dinner (with childcare provided) – email [email protected] (note – this is not a religiously-affiliated group).
- Watch for tired cues. An over or under tired baby or toddler is a time bomb… either of these states is a sleep killer! An overtired baby will often, back arch, cry, appear hyper, impossible to settle or put down. To avoid this, I suggest watching for some early tired cues such as a yawn or disinterest in toys, turning their face away, maybe a slight glazed expression. On the flip-side, a baby who is not tired does not want to go to bed and behaviourally can be very silly or look a bit like the overtired child! At this point I usually suggest thinking about when the day sleep occurred, the age of the child and if timing of sleep is realistic. Have they had a chance to get those wiggles out at the end of the day, which is a deal breaker for some littlies.
- Take turns where you can, especially in those very early days. Looking after a baby is a 24 hour a day job – friends, that is not sustainable! If this is not an option then there are a few other ways you can cope – go to bed when baby goes to bed. Before you finish the day, prepare just one thing in advance to eliminate one task for the day ahead. This may be simply laying out some bottles, packing a nappy bag or a snack box.
- Be kind to yourself – emotions are contagious. Reaching the end of the day where everyone is fed is a massive win. Don’t compare yourself to others, you never know what is going on behind the scenes, concentrate on what works for yourself, your family and your baby.
If you feel you would like to discuss your child’s sleep in more detail, I am pleased to offer followers of The HUB a complimentary assessment. This will be a 15-minute call to chat about your situation, to discuss next steps and how sleep coaching may be the right choice for your family. Simply contact me at www.bubhub.ch using the code HUBsleep.