Sleep deprivation is a physical and mental state many Northern Irish parents put up with for the first few years of their child's life, but one woman is trying to change our perceptions on this.
Mother-of-two Suzanne Irvine (44) from Newcastle, Co Down, wants to bring about a societal shift in how we almost succumb to the acceptance that babies, toddlers and children simply do not sleep well in those crucial early years of life.
It is through her own personal experience as an exhausted and sleep deprived mum to son Lochlan (8) and daughter Eirin (6) that she set up GoodNight Guidance in 2015, and became the first ever sleep consultant in Northern Ireland.
The catalyst for her business idea comes from a dark time in her life but her passion and true grit to reach out and help others is clearly evident in the very ethos of her well-established sleep consultancy business.
Nine years ago, Suzanne was happily married, living, and working as a teacher in England.
She was in good physical and mental health and together with her now ex-husband was excitedly awaiting the arrival of their first bundle of joy.
The couple returned home to Northern Ireland not long before Lochlan was born in April 2012 and she was feeling positive about becoming a new mum.
That all changed however when things took an unfortunate turn of events during his labour.
Requiring an emergency caesarean section after a traumatic labour, her son was born eight days early weighing 4lb 12oz.
He was placed into the care of the neo-natal intensive care unit at the Ulster Hospital for five days following his delivery.
Experiencing difficulty attaching, he was bottle-fed during his time in hospital but, once home, Suzanne introduced breastfeeding again.
"I really had no idea what I was doing," she says. "I was a first-time mum and I just thought this must be the way it is for everyone so it's okay.
"Despite having a baby who cried extensively, people kept saying to me 'oh, sure babies cry all the time' and I thought to myself, yes but surely not like this?"
Suzanne said her son's cry sounded very painful and her maternal instinct was indicating something was not right.
Despite her concerns, nothing was picked up on by any healthcare professionals. She received counselling sessions to deal with the traumatic birth and was diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety.
"I was in a constant state of anxiety and on high-alert and to mix newborn sleep deprivation into that, which continued for years after, was a recipe for disaster," she reflects.
Suzanne was experiencing poor memory, feelings of irritability, negative emotions, and a real, strong need for control, due to anxiety.
"These are all effects of sleep deprivation and you can see why it is used as a method of torture," she continues.
"I was in this vicious cycle of high-alert and anxiety and all the sleep deprivation did was make matters worse."
With Lochlan's dad working away for long periods at a time, Suzanne was in a state of helplessness.
"I would go to mother and baby classes and the mums would talk about how they were going to put their baby down for a nap after the class and I remember thinking how are they able to do that?" she says.
"There was absolutely no pattern or consistency to my son's sleep from day to night and night to day. It was all just merged into one sleep deprived existence, and it was unbearable."
For the first five months, Lochlan had an undiagnosed cow's milk allergy and silent reflux which was aiding his irritability, constant crying, and lack of sleep.
He was diagnosed with the silent reflux at five months old and the allergy four months later.
Despite receiving both diagnoses, it wasn't until he was 18 months old that things began to settle in terms of being on the right milk diet and his medication.
His sleeping pattern, however, was still non-existent.
In April 2014, the family welcomed a baby girl, Eirin, into the world. Suzanne admits that she felt like she had gained some control as a parent with Eirin and quickly picked up on the signs and symptoms that her daughter had reflux, a cow's milk allergy and colic. By the time Eirin was four months old she was on the correct prescribed milk and medication and was a much more settled baby.
However, Suzanne was still a chronic sleep deprived mother to a toddler who hadn't had one night of settled sleep since he was born and a young baby who she was still feeding during the night.
She had read every book she could get her hands on and checked on the internet for any local sleep consultants but, much to her dismay, there was none.
"I desperately wanted the help, and I couldn't find it," she says. "When I tried to explain how I was feeling, people would say to me 'Just put him down, you're spoiling him too much, just leave him to cry - that'll teach him!'."
Things, however, began to take a turn in the right direction in 2014, and after approximately 900 consecutive nights of disrupted sleep, Suzanne and her husband located a sleep consultant in Surrey. Reading through the reviews and chatting to the consultant on the phone, Suzanne felt like this could be the game-changer she needed.
"Hannah was with us for one night and helped me learn how to teach my son to drift off to sleep contently on his own," she explains.
Suzanne describes the sleep training as a light bulb being switched on and that, for the first time in years, she was able to see things clearly again.
Finally, her two-and-a-half-year-old son was sleeping contentedly throughout the night and was happy going to bed on his own.
Feeling empowered, confident and like she was finally getting her life back on track, Suzanne considered becoming a sleep consultant herself.
After a few months of being in a good night-time routine with her children, she began training with the consultant who had helped her.
"I had this passion to train, but it also came from this burning anger to help change things because I knew that there was just such a lack of sleep education within our healthcare sector," she says.
"I can remember while I was training flicking back through the literature I'd received as a new mum, the birth to five book given by the Trust and thinking, did I miss the sleep part somewhere along the way?
"But I hadn't. There is very little information on settling your baby to sleep, nor any guidance on where to seek help for this."
Suzanne went ahead and achieved her training qualification and set up GoodNight Guidance while still having support from Hannah as her mentor for the first two years.
She is now entering her sixth year as a fully trained sleep consultant and has helped transform the lives of more than 700 children across the UK and Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the US.
"It is such a privileged job as families are sharing so much of their personal life with you and are so vulnerable putting themselves up for judgment about their capabilities as a parent," she says.
"Of course there is no judgment from me because I know exactly what they are going through.
"A good sleep is the absolute foundation of good health. But sleep has such a poor image in our society, and we need to change this.
"There seems to be that Northern Irish mentality of 'oh well, you just have to get on with it'.
"Without a doubt young babies do wake during the night in between sleep cycles to feed but if this pattern continues long-term, then it's possible the child may need a parent's help to learn the skills of falling asleep."
Suzanne is aware of the misgivings many people have about sleep consultancy for babies and infants and the negative connotations which surround it and that the language used around sleep training can be unhelpful and send the wrong message.
She explains that her role is not to train the baby to sleep, but to teach the parent and instil confidence in them to teach their child how to settle and sleep well at night-time.
"I come at it from a purely educational point of view to teach the parents to teach their baby new behaviours and new habits, while also ensuring the child's connection with parents is maintained."
Suzanne says that witnessing the transformation and being a part of it is so special and rewarding.
"Everybody needs help and support at times and a lot of it is about guiding parents with a personalised solution that works for them," she says.
"If your child had issues with reflux or an allergy you reach out to the doctor or dietician. So, if your issue is sleep you need to reach out to a sleep consultant."
Suzanne has worked remotely throughout lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic. She plans to reach out to other qualified consultants who are in talks about getting the industry regulated.
"My message for anyone who is considering a sleep consultant, is to absolutely make sure you are contacting a consultant who is qualified and don't be frightened to ask them," she says.
"If people are looking for a sleep consultant, I urge them to seek help from someone they fully trust, that the person has a sleep training qualification and a background in working with children and is a member of a reputable association such as the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants.
"There are certain entry requirements to belong to this association and I would like to work towards having a similar Northern Irish association."
It is a true testament to her passion, determination, and expert knowledge that Suzanne has a 98% success rate with the hundreds of families she's been privileged to work with.
Always looking for the positives, she resonates the ethos of her business with a poignant quote from CS Lewis.
"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."
Reflecting on these words, Suzanne says: "While my whole journey to GoodNight Guidance was my extremely challenging experience with motherhood and babies, it has made me the parent I am today.
"And the privilege I have working with so many incredible families is the most rewarding dream I could ever have expected."
For more information visit Suzanne's website at www.goodnightguidance.co.uk. Consultations start from £250 for daytime support, £350 for evening and £650 for overnight support