So, at what point do you we ask this question? How important is sleep training to the wellbeing of the entire family? We answer all the questions you have ever wanted to ask on this important subject in our interview with Sophie Griffiths – an experienced Holistic Sleep Coach extraordinaire and co-Founder of The Luna Hive (www.thelunahive.com), a leading women's health and wellbeing directory. Karolina Lewis ( Bumpkyn Founder) met Sophie for the first time at a networking event in Surrey last year.
KL: One of the biggest challenges in early motherhood is lack of sleep and rest and getting your baby off to a good start with regards to their sleep routine seems absolutely key. There is a direct cause and effect between the Mother’s wellbeing and the baby’s ability to follow a sleep pattern or routine, yet none of it is covered as part of antenatal classes at the moment. Is it too early to talk about such a vital issue? Is it ever too early to start talking about this? It catches new parents by surprise!
SG: Absolutely, sleep deprivation can be really tough for new parents and whilst they might know that they’ll be getting less sleep, it can be hard to cope with the reality of it, especially when it is prolonged! There are definitely sleep strategies to be aware of in the early days which could be discussed antenatally (for example introducing 12hours of light and 12 hours of dark from around 6 weeks can help baby to start to understand day and night) but I am also really passionate about talking to parents about normal baby behaviour, including waking and feeding overnight, to make sure they know that what their baby is doing is normal and reduce the stress around it.
I’d argue that the link between a mother’s wellbeing and baby’s sleep is more about the support she is getting, rather than the baby’s ability to follow a pattern or routine. I would love to see more education and understanding around ‘normal’ baby behaviour and how we can support our baby’s needs overnight, whilst also looking after ourselves. That’s not to say that there aren’t things you can do to support and shape sleep but generally most sleep coaches don’t start to work with parents on specific sleep strategies baby is around 6 months.
KL: What is holistic sleep coaching as opposed to a traditionally understood training?
SG: The holistic approach looks at the family as a whole, your routine, health, the impact of the sleep issues, the food your baby is having, behavioural concerns… basically we take a holistic view of your baby’s life to ensure the strategies are going to work for them, and for you. One of the key indicators of success in sleep coaching is consistency from the parents, so finding solutions which they agree with and fit their lifestyle is key to helping them be consistent.
KL: Many mums feel desperate when their baby doesn’t follow the same pattern their friends’ children, often thinking they are doing something wrong. What would you say to a worried mum in your first meeting?
SG: First of all, don’t believe what everyone says! Second, their baby might be fine today but give it a few weeks and they’ll probably hit a sleep issue (almost everyone does!). Third, I always tell parents – it is not your fault you baby isn’t sleeping!! It can be incredibly powerful for parents to hear this and I passionately believe it. Some babies need additional support with sleep, some babies need less sleep, some babies have higher sensory needs, some babies need more reassurance. It’s ok and it’s normal. You’re not expected to have all the answers. Getting support and help is a massive step for a lot of parents because they can almost feel like it’s admitting failure, but once they understand why their baby is struggling, it is so much easier for them to understand how to help them.
KL: Is there a connection between feeding and sleeping? Does a sleep coach analyse the baby’s diet?
SG: Yes there are two key connections between food and sleep and I would consider them both. The first is food timings. When working on sleep we almost always have to work on meal or milk timings too. Most adults probably know that if they ate a meal at the same time every day, they’d start to get hungry at that time every day. And if you then always had a nap afterwards, that’s what you learn to expect. Imagine for a baby if you feed them lunch at around the same time every day and then give them a nap afterwards – that is consistent, they feel safe and know what is happening and expected of them. Now imagine that you give you baby food throughout the morning, changing the nap time every day, sometime lunch before, sometimes afterwards – it can become confusing for the baby and when you do put them down for their nap, they resist it because they don’t know what is expected.
The second is the impact of the actual food on sleep. There are some foods that promote sleep and some that inhibit sleep. You probably already know the ones that negatively impact it… sugar, caffeine, spicy foods etc. There are also foods which can support sleep, for example slow releasing carbohydrates, almonds, bananas, cherries, kiwi, milk, cream cheese and yoghurt.
KL: I was lucky to have two fairly good babies, who mostly kept a steady routine but I noticed at roughly 5 months they both regressed from their established sleep patterns almost overnight. What is sleep regression and how do you tackle it.
SG: In the first 6 months of baby’s life their sleep has to go through a number of changes. Their circadian rhythm develops somewhere between 6weeks to 3 months which helps them make a distinction between day and night. Then at around 4 months their sleep cycles evolve and they start to become longer. During these developmental leaps babies can be very unsettled and find the new sleep cycles difficult to link together. The key area thing to remember during this time is that is it a developmental milestone like any other and they will get through it and patience and support (for you and for them!) are key. There are lots of gentle strategies you can use to help your baby but the key one I often talk to parents about is helping your baby to link the sleep cycles by being there as they transition. You’ll start to see roughly how long it takes for your baby to wake, start to anticipate this and be there before they wake, then as they stir, pat/rock/sshh them back to sleep (depending on what works for your baby). Over time they will then start to find the transitions less tricky and be able to do it themselves.
KL: We often hear: ‘Sleep when your baby sleeps’, but real life doesn’t always work out like this, does it? In fact, it hardly ever does. What do you say to an exhausted new Mum who is herself experiencing a sleep crisis?
SG: Ah yes, that is definitely not possible all of the time, especially if you have other children! I talk a lot to the parents I work with around ways to find time to rest and get more sleep. Can they go to bed a bit earlier? Can they tag-team so one parent does the late feed and the other the early (if bottle feeding). When baby naps, if you can’t sleep, can you take 10 minutes to listen to a relaxation to help your body rest? Can you arrange for someone to come to the house and look after baby while you rest? Trying to be creative and think of ways that you can rest, without feeling like you need to sleep at 10am when you are not tired, can make a massive difference.
KL: When hiring a sleep coach, what kind of support can a family expect? Are they first left with a sleep plan to see how things develop?
SG: Different sleep coaches offer different options. I have a range of packages, from trouble shooting a specific issue you are having to group programmes to a full 121 package. Each package is designed to give the level of support you are looking for, within your budget. For all of my packages there is an option to have ongoing support because in my experience, whilst the sleep plan is important, it’s actually the implementation that makes the biggest difference. If you have someone there, checking in on you, trouble-shooting issues as they come up, adjusting and tweaking the plan as needed and being there as a cheerleader to help you stay on track, it really helps stop the second guessing and helps the changes embed as quickly as possible.
KL: Thank you Sophie for these words of wisdom, which I am sure will be very useful to many of our Mums and Mums-to-be. You can contact Sophie through the Luna Hive website or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.