Infant Sleep & Development Coach
An Interview with Heather Boyd, B.H.Sc.(OT), M.Sc, O.T. Reg. (Ont.)
Heather Boyd, O.T. Reg. (Ont.), is a private practice occupational therapist from Niagara, Ontario, and mother to three boys. She has nearly 20 years of experience in family-centered infant development. Heather provides virtual consulting to families who are concerned about infant sleep, parenting, child development, and environmental health. She takes an attachment-based approach to support families and helps parents increase knowledge and change their perspective rather than change the nature of their child. Focusing on attachment theory and neuro-development, Heather has created the Infant Development Circle, a supportive workshop series that empowers mothers to enjoy and nurture their baby's development by exploring both what development looks like, and how to use secure attachment and curiosity to support it. Through this series and her one-on-one work, Heather provides maternal support for the role of mothering and brings attention to the nature of child development, particularly when it conflicts with the societal demands upon mothers.
In this interview, Heather shares some personal insight into how she found her inspiration, motivation, and confidence in pursing this specialized aspect of the mother-baby dyad through implementation of her family-focused infant sleep and development expertise.
What inspired you to begin your work in this area of infant sleep?
Although I have worked with the families of babies from 0 to 3 years of age throughout my entire OT career, it was having an exceptionally poor sleeper of my own – and not much support from health care professionals – that led me to focus on helping parents with infant sleep development. Ruling out health issues and supporting secure attachment can make such a significant difference in infant sleep; parents are looking for guidance on how to help sleep along, and I want to provide them with the information and support I would have found helpful in the early months of parenting. Also, our family’s personal experience with water damage and mold exposure has resulted in an increased awareness of the importance of healthy indoor environments to support sleep and infant development. Exploring the environment and empowering parents are essential components of my approach when assessing barriers to good sleep and child development.
How did you begin to take those first steps to differentiate yourself as an emerging professional in this area?
Because most sleep coaches are not health care professionals, I focused a lot on my OT role and the approach that I take as an OT. I believe that the way OTs approach problems is particularly well suited to supporting families in navigating this area of maternal-infant wellbeing – that often tends to prioritize opinion over evidence. I focused my approach on using research and evidence to encourage nurturing parenting practices; this helped attract clients who were motivated and wanted to accumulate knowledge. I took a decidedly attachment-oriented perspective and was open to meeting parents where they were at in their journey, including taking a non-judgmental, evolutionary, and harm-reduction approach to bedsharing. I believe that this last factor has led to differentiating myself from others, at least as much as being an OT.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working with these infants and families in need of your specialty?
To help a mother shift from, “Will I damage my baby by responding to them?” to, “I know I am giving my baby what they need,” has been the single most rewarding experience. It has surprised me how often a mother will use the word “damage” when describing her fear around their baby’s sleep. I am so grateful to be a part of shifting their perspective to one of empowered confidence and intuition.
What do you think the future role for the profession of occupational therapy is in supporting families through addressing the needs of infant sleep and development?
I often speak about the value of having pediatric OTs begin screening for and addressing sleep challenges in their young clients, particularly through the lenses of attachment and maternal wellbeing. For the past two years, I have spoken at the Canadian Occupational Therapy Association conference about the potential OT role in infant sleep education. We are in the unique position of being able to identify health barriers while also working with parents who are looking to understand normal development better. If other OTs take me up on this call to include sleep in their roles, I can see OTs becoming well known for being evidence-based sleep professionals whose family-centered, holistic approach fills a much-needed gap in maternal-infant care.
Heather Boyd, B.H.Sc.(OT), M.Sc, O.T. Reg. (Ont.)
Bachelor of Health Sciences in Occupational Therapy: McMaster University Hamilton (2000)
Master of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences: McMaster University Hamilton (2008)
Heather currently resides in Niagara, Ontario, Canada, where she provides personalized client-family interventions, and she additionally offers online support services across the province of Ontario. If you want to learn more about her practice style, approach, and method, or have questions specifically about pursuing this area of practice, you can connect with her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her professional website www.heatherboyd.ca