Pediatric Sleep Expert Melissa O’Neill, RNC-NIC, BSN, on Why It’s Never Too Early To Healthy Sleep Habits 

We’re all familiar with the image of the sleep-deprived parent—undereye bags, messy hair, pajamas you’ve been wearing for at least a week… And while nighttime wakings are inevitable when caring for a newborn, there comes a point where it’s possible for your little one to not only sleep through the night but also self-soothe upon waking. The secret lies in sticking to a developmentally appropriate schedule at night, and especially during the day.

Harbor recently spoke with Melissa O’Neill, RNC-NIC, BSN, a former NICU nurse and founder of Newborn Nightingales. While she taught families how to care for their new babies in her capacity as a nurse, sleep wasn’t addressed. Through Melissa’s own journey after the birth of her first child, she came to understand that there are age and developmentally appropriate schedules that can stretch & improve nighttime sleep. From there, she began helping families outside of hospital settings, and Newborn Nightingales was born. 

Today, Newborn Nightingales works with families across Texas to offer in-home sleep consultations and education, in-person night nannies, daytime doulas, and more. Melissa’s philosophy is rooted in developmentally appropriate sleep schedules that allow the whole family to rest well. As she explains, new parents don’t need to be sleep-deprived. With the right tools, everyone can sleep through the night.Her company and team have helped over 4,000 families successfully get their children sleeping safely through the night.


Read on for more insights from Melissa O’Neill, RNC-NIC, BSN.

What it means to develop healthy sleep habits

“The biggest thing is starting early,” Melissa says. “We don’t have to wait to help baby and the whole family sleep well.” 

“You can really start from day one, implementing simple things that naturally help nighttime sleep. It does not have to be overly forced,” she explains, adding that “when you have a plan and you’re staying consistent, sleep will naturally happen.”

Much of Melissa’s work with Newborn Nightingales centers on education, specifically teaching families what’s age- and developmentally appropriate and what proverbial levers they can pull to adjust routines as their little one grows.

“Navigating those feeding troubles that families find during the first three months is a big key. We’re going to have babies eating at night if they’re not able to get those calories in during the day,” Melissa offers, citing a commonly misunderstood reason for nighttime wakings.

Why success at night starts during the day

If a child experiences consistent sleep challenges, like fussy night wakings, it’s not going to be fixed at 2 a.m. 

Melissa explains that not understanding what developmentally appropriate sleep looks like contributes to sleep challenges. “[At 3–4 months, for example,] we expect kids to still wake during the night from time to time, but what we do about it is key.”

What’s more important is being proactive about changes to routines. “Is it time to take a swaddle away? Is it time to change our nap schedule during the day? Is it time to increase feeds because we’ve hit a growth spurt?” she shares, adding that building a routine that responds to your child’s needs is most important.

How to encourage self-soothing

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel like they’re doing something wrong if they’re not immediately tending to their child. Melissa notes that it never gets easier—hearing your child cry at 16 years is just as painful as it is when they’re 16 weeks—but understanding why children cry is important.

“No one wants to hear their baby cry during the night, and if you start early and you give them the right tools, they’re going to be great sleepers and you won’t have to sleep train later,” she explains. “There may be some inconsistencies down the road, but you’ll already have a great sleep plan in place and you won’t be faced with that daunting sleep training and self-soothing later.”

This isn’t to say that all nighttime cries should be ignored. “If [your baby is] sick, we are absolutely going to care for their needs,” Melissa says. “But if it’s something else, we can make adjustments during the day, or to their feeds, or to their sleep environment, or take away a swaddle. That proactive piece is where you can really limit crying if you’re staying on top of it.” Sticking to your routine and schedule is the right approach, and if your child has no health issues, a little bit of crying is very natural and does not require your immediate presence.

Closing reminders

“Parenting is very personal,” Melissa notes. “You have to decide what’s right for your family, and know that you can validate any concern online.”

While there’s no one right way to navigate sleep, know that good sleep is possible from a very early age. “If you value sleep and want your family to reap the benefits of great sleep, it’s important to help your baby be a great sleeper from the get-go,” she says.

More about Melissa

As a registered nurse specializing in NICU and Labor & Delivery for over fifteen years, Melissa is also a mother of three. A dedicated professional, she is a tremendous source of information for parents and is passionate about sharing her knowledge about the best possible baby care.

After the birth of her first child, Melissa became increasingly interested in studies on the sleep habits of newborns. She saw a need for quality in-home newborn nursing care and education for new parents.

Melissa founded Newborn Nightingales in 2012 and is committed to helping parents establish a nurturing, caring, and calm environment. She places only the most qualified Nurses and Nightingales, training all of her team members on best practices for developmentally appropriate newborn care and sleep training.

Melissa additionally sits on the board for the Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas and is active in the community caring for infants and educating families.

If you're in the DFW area and in need of an in-home Night Nurse, contact Newborn Nightingales!