MARLO THOMAS
09/11/2013 10:25 am ET | Updated Nov 25, 2013

Exhausted Mom's "Magic" Idea Makes Millions

Maureen Howard

One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a new mom who couldn't get her baby to sleep more than 30 minutes, unless he was in a stroller or in the car. The exhausted mom crafted a sleepsuit that would give her son a sense of security and it had a magic effect! Soon, other parents were begging for their own. Maureen's Magic Sleepsuit is projecting over $1 million in sales next year, and is helping parents (and their little ones), get the rest they so desperately need. -- Marlo, MarloThomas.com

By Lori Weiss

Like most new Moms, Maureen Howard was wishing for a magic wand, something she could simply wave over her young son Will’s head, that would help him sleep for longer than thirty minutes.

“Night time wasn’t a problem for us,” Maureen explained, “but at about three or four months, when he had grown out of his swaddle, we couldn’t get him to nap for very long in his crib. I remember sitting in my family room, listening to the baby monitor, being so frustrated. I could look at the clock and tell you exactly when he’d wake up.”

“Yet if I took him for a walk in the jogging stroller or for a ride in the car, he’d sleep straight through. It got to the point, where I’d just leave him in the stroller, in the living room, because I knew he’d get a good nap.”

The situation would have been frustrating for any parent, but for Maureen, who is a pediatric physical therapist, it became a puzzle she desperately wanted to figure out. She wanted to know what it was about that stroller that helped her little boy sleep. What she couldn’t have known was that the solution she was searching for would have an impact far beyond her own family.

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It Ain't Over: Maureen Howard

“My husband, Bob, and I were so exhausted by that point we would have tried anything. I knew that children at that age need a feeling of security. We swaddle newborns to simulate the feeling they have in the womb. I could see that he was more comfortable when he was in a contained environment like the car seat or stroller. He also seemed to sleep better when he was wearing some sort of snowsuit or bunting.”

So Maureen sat down at her sewing machine and decided to create a sleepsuit -- something that would create that same feeling of security when Will was napping in his crib.

“Babies tend to startle easily,” Maureen said, “because their reflexes are normally heightened when they’re infants. That’s why they wake up suddenly. The sleep sacs that a lot of parents use leave the arms and legs open and that’s where a lot of the startle comes from.”

The innovative Mom began by modifying an outfit she’d seen Will sleep in snuggly before. She removed the hood and changed the neckline, so there wouldn’t be any fabric around her son’s face and then adjusted the arms and legs, so his hands and feet would be free but the rest of his body would be contained.

“The first time we put it on him he napped for two and a half hours in his crib! Every time we put it on him, he slept for hours. It was like magic -- so much so, that we began calling it the Magic Sleepsuit!”

But the real magic began twenty months later, when the couple’s second child, Tori, was born. When it was time to take her out of her swaddle, Maureen pulled the sleepsuit out of storage, to see if its miraculous powers would have the same impact.

“It was magic,” Maureen laughed. “And it wasn’t just my kids! Once I told the women in my Mom’s group about it, they all wanted one. So I made a few more. When it worked for them, we knew we were onto something -- that this was a solution that could change parent’s lives.”

But it’s one thing to sew up a sleepsuit for a few friends and an entirely different situation when it comes to bringing them to market. Aside from finding a professional seamstress to help with a prototype, the couple had to be sure the sleepsuit conformed to the Consumer Products Safety Act.

“We took it to an international testing agency,” Maureen said, “that does design evaluation on products to make sure they’re safe. It cost us thousands of dollars to even get to the point of manufacturing. We didn’t want to take out a second mortgage on our house or take out a huge loan. We wanted to be able to sleep too! So we took it slow and when we could, we’d take some money out of savings and take the next step.”

Two years later, the couple expanded their test market once again, when Maureen gave birth to their third child Ryan. By that point, they were standing by with cameras to show the remarkable difference Maureen’s invention could make. And they were also confident enough to go into production, without even one sale.

“We knew we had to have them before we launched our website,” Maureen recalled. It’s such a timed item. A parent can’t wait a month or two for it to arrive. If they found us through a search, it would probably be because they were up all night and they’d want it immediately. We had to be ready. And we were right. As word started to spread, we’d hear from parents begging us to send it overnight.”

Word spread like wildfire, through Mom’s groups and on Mommy blogs. It wasn’t long before Maureen was invited to take part in a celebrity gifting suite, and her magic began taking hold in Southern California.

“Somehow we ended up getting a table right next to where everyone checked in,” she said with a smile, “so we were the first stop. Everyone wanted to know when the adult version was coming out!”

It wouldn’t be long before sleep experts began suggesting the Magic Sleepsuit to clients. And as Moms called local stores, the stores started calling Maureen. One of those calls came from a small chain called Isis that offered parenting classes. And as luck would have it, the owners of Isis got a call themselves. Babies R Us wanted them to begin offering their classes at select stores and the instructors brought Maureen’s invention with them.

This year alone, the couple is expecting half a million dollars in sales. And next year, they’re projecting over a million. And as their company grows, so does their family. Their fourth child, Grace has become the Magic Sleepsuit model.

“I love the idea that something I did is making a difference in so many lives,” Maureen said softly. “I loved doing that as a pediatric physical therapist and now I can do it in a much bigger way.

“My kids will always be my priority. I don’t want to miss any of their growing up. But who better than a Mom to figure out how to manage a business and a family? We’re always multi-tasking. We’re the CEOs of our households. And what a great way to show your kids what’s possible.”

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