At MFT we understand the importance of specialist and practitioners. As parents we all at some point had to rely on the advice of a specialist, sometimes for the most basic, and yet fundamental, of the baby needs. We are starting a new blog series with interviews with people we find extraordinary.
Our next talk is with Emma Gawne, the founder and force behind Help Baby Sleep. And is there anything more fundamental and basic than the sleep of our little ones?
To find out more about her head to her website at https://helpbabysleep.co.uk/ and her instagram @helpbabysleep
MY FOURTH TRIMESTER: Hi Emma! Tell us a little bit about what you do and your background. What sort of sleep coaching do you do, and how did you end up working with it?
EMMA: Hello, I’m Emma! I’m a holistic sleep consultant and the founder of Help Baby Sleep. My approach is very gentle and supportive of your child to sleep at their biological best.
Sleep did not come easily to my eldest, and in the process of learning all I could to help him, I realised that the science of sleep intrigued me, and that new mothers could be helped in a way that didn’t have to resort to controlled crying. I’ve since helped 100’s of families to support their little ones to improve their sleep and build solid sleep foundations for the future whilst promoting connection and a strong attachment with their baby.
When is a good time to start thinking about a sleep schedule with a baby (if that’s what you’re interested in!) and how would you know your baby is ready for it?
Because of the development of your baby’s body clock, I generally find that naps won’t have a routine/structure until 5-6 months and then I find typically a 3-nap day comes into play.
Often parents will try and get their baby into a strict sleeping schedule before this and will only feel like they are failing.
I believe that it is my job to reassure them that they are not and the reason why their babies naps are not consistent is because of biology and the fact that sleep is a neurological developmental process and not because the parents or their baby are doing something wrong.
However, if you are looking to gently stabilise your baby’s nap, I would recommend beginning by stabilising your baby’s wake time in the morning first and then naturally this will mean the first nap is easier to stabilise as well.
Let's talk newborns for a minute, because we know that when they sleep, it's normally not for (too) long! Do you have any tips on to help survive the Fourth Trimester?
Yes, you are absolutely right – although newborns spend a large percentage of their time asleep they will wake regularly every few during hours both during the day and during the night. I think it helps to remember that your baby is waking for a reason – 1. They wake to feed to fuel their rapidly expanding brain and 2. Waking is protective from SIDS.
Therefore, in the early days it really helps to put your feet up sit down and rest when your baby is sleeping. Do not think of it as selfish – if you do not look after yourself you will not be able to look after your baby.
Unfortunately, many of us live miles away from relatives in big cities where small compact communities are distant memories, but there are still many things you can still do to find support both physically and virtually whilst looking after your own wellbeing and I have popped a few ideas below.💰 Paid Help
If you can think about having a doula come to your house in the early weeks for a couple of hours a day even if all she does is bring you a cup of tea and a meal while you look after your baby, this can really help.
If you have a group of friends who live locally maybe ask them to each take it in turns to cook for you one night, so you don’t have to – especially in the very early weeks when cooking is often the last thing you feel like doing.
🌤️ Go Outside
Try and get out at least twice in the day once in the morning and again in the afternoon – not only will it be beneficial for your babies developing body clock, but it will also help to lift your mood and even better if your outings out involve meeting a friend for a chat.
It also helps to remember that your baby in the early weeks does not have a working circadian rhythm of their own so they will naturally nap around the clock with no set bedtime or waketime in the morning.
To help with the development of their internal clock ensure you expose them to lots of environmental cues such as light and noise during the day and then at night keep lights of voices down and activity levels to a minimum.
I also suggest you keep your baby up with you in the evening either napping in a sling or in a Moses basket while you have your supper and then you can all go to bed at the same time – this way you will hopefully be able to sleep when your baby has their longest period of sleep.
Finally, please do not panic about catnaps there is nothing wrong with your baby – catnaps are developmentally normal new-borns will often take multiple catnaps of anywhere from twenty to forty minutes throughout the day.
To encourage your newborn to sleep for a little bit longer ensuring that they go to sleep on a full tummy can help too - as well as ensuring they have had their fill of sensory stimulation which is why contact naps are often great for promoting sleep.
If you have enjoyed reading through the tips above you can find many more in my blog over on my website:
I would love to know more about your techniques. Could you share your top tips for helping babies to sleep?
It is important to remember that each family and baby is unique so what works for one family may not work for the next, but here a few useful tips that you might like to try to help your little one sleep.
When we focus on a baby’s sleep, it is really important to be aware of what is developmentally normal for their age and also to develop an environment and bedtime routine that creates positive sleep associations - as well as focusing on their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Some of my top tips include:
💤 Create a Sleep Sanctuary
Ensuring that the space where your baby sleeps is peaceful and serene is really important when it comes to promoting better sleep. Ideally it should be calming free of clutter and lots of unnecessary toys and objects.
🤸♀️ Physical Wellbeing
It is really important when addressing your baby’s sleep to ensure that they do not have any health issues that may be preventing them from falling asleep and staying asleep.
It is key to make sure that they are not suffering from reflux, silent reflux, allergies or intolerances. If they are it is helpful to find a professional who can help you identify the cause of the symptoms.
💙 Emotional Wellbeing
Optimal sleep is as much about your baby’s physical wellbeing as it is about their emotional wellbeing. If your baby is fearful it goes without saying that they will struggle to fall asleep peacefully and then to be able to stay asleep.
🐥 As your baby grows, their emotional needs change and develop, the more opportunity you have to connect and reconnect with your baby during the day, the better they will feel from an emotional perspective. If your baby for whatever reason is not able to communicate with you on an emotional level during the day, then it is likely they will wake more at night in search of reassurance and comfort.
⏰ Light and Dark Cycles
Use light to help set your baby’s biological body clock. Light helps the brain to communicate with your baby’s pineal gland. It tells it to stop producing melatonin, which as a result let’s your baby know it is time to wake up.
Getting your baby up within the same half an hour window every day and exposing them to natural light in the morning can do wanders in helping to reset your baby’s body clock. In the same way, I recommend turning down lights and creating a dusk like setting in your home. This can help send messages to the brain to begin the production of melatonin – the hormone needed to help your baby to fall and stay asleep.
🤸♀️ Watch the Awake Windows
Keeping an eye on your babies awake windows is critical for preventing them from becoming overtired. When your baby becomes overtired, their body goes into a state of hyper vigilance and starts producing adrenaline and cortisol.
Although these hormones are critical for our survival, they do not aid sleep. In fact, cortisol is more powerful than caffeine ☕ when it comes to sleep making it harder for our little ones to calm and fall asleep and then to subsequently stay asleep. As a result, it often leads to frequent night waking’s and early morning risings.
Babies go through a lot of sleep regressions and developmental leaps before they hit 12 months. How do you identify regressions and what can you do about them as a parent to help your baby?
I think it helps to reframe the phrase “sleep regressions” and view them as progressions instead!
Yes, it is correct that at certain points during the first year of your little one’s life they will go through intense periods of physical and cognitive development during which their brains are often working overtime and as are result your baby’s sleep can sometimes go on the back burner.
As a parent it is helpful to be aware of these normal developmental stages and to lower your expectations during these periods. You may like to think about the following to help and support your baby.
1. Be mindful that periods of change are synonymous with an increase in fear and anxiety and your child might feel the need to release their upset and frustration more than normal. During these emotional outbursts it is really important that you are able to support your baby to release their tensions and their fears. While it might be tempting to continually distract them with the breast or dummy, or by bouncing or rocking them, you are going to do them more of a service by listening to them and validating their upset. After a baby who is able to release their emotions during the day is less likely to need to do so at night.
2.If you can see that your child is desperately trying to learn new skills such as going from standing to lying or rolling from their front to their back try and help them as much as possible to practice these skills during the day so they able to transition by themselves at night and are not so reliant on you to help them when they wake.
3.Incorporating quality one to one time into your child’s day, in particular anything that promotes laughter, is a brilliant antidote to the fear and anxiety that goes hand in hand with periods of rapid change and unfamiliarity.
Let's talk about bedtime battles (cause we've all been there!). How do you prevent them and is there any golden rule to avoid them all together?
Bedtime battles are sometimes unavoidable but, in my experience, there are a couple of things you can do to lessen the resistance before sleep.
1. Ensure that you baby is biologically ready for sleep. As your baby grows, it is perfectly normal to assume that they will always go to bed at the same time they did when they were 6 months. However, often the older they get and the more able they are to accommodate the build-up of homeostatic sleep pressure, many parents find that a 7pm bedtime no longer works as well as it did for their younger baby.
You may find that your baby will no longer fall asleep at 7pm and this is for the simple reason that you are trying to put them down in the "Wake Maintenance Zone", a 1- 2-hour window prior to their natural biological sleep window, where it is virtually impossible for them to fall asleep due to the strength of their circadian alerting signal.
My advice is to wait until the alerting signal switches off and coupled with increased sleep pressure, sleep is likely to happen much more easily.
2. Make time for connection – it is simple if your baby has not had enough connection time with you, allowing the opportunity for you to fill their love tank, they will struggle to separate from you at bedtime and falling asleep will take a lot longer until they have had it. You do not have to spend a long time supercharging their love tank – 15-20 minutes is ideal for quality 1-2-1 time during which you focus solely on your baby and nothing else.
Holistic sleep coaching - what does it mean?
Put simply, a holistic sleep coach like me will look at the whole picture when it comes to helping you lay the foundations for improved sleep for both your baby and the rest of the family.
I use scientific evidence-based research to build a bespoke plan. The plan will be tailored for your baby and be appropriate for their age and stage. We will then work together to implement it so that the outcome is a calmer and contented whole family unit.
You will have a sleep routine that is achievable and meeting your needs. I don’t advocate a “cry it out” or “controlled crying” method and I don’t promise super quick fixes but instead concentrate on putting a plan in place that leads to positive and sustainable improvements and takes into consideration your baby’s needs and perspective needs as well as yours.
How has the pandemic change the way your are helping parents? And does babies sleep get affected by isolation and quarantine?
Since last March I am now offering a lot more advice to new parents both via zoom as well as through various chat-based apps.
I was also lucky enough to work as part of a project with Peppy Health and the NHS offering virtual sleep support for new parents who were struggling and who would otherwise not have been in a position to access perinatal support during the pandemic.
And in terms of isolation and the impact on baby’ s sleep the answer is YES. Isolation changes a lot, family dynamics, energy in the home, routines, activity levels as well being able to meet a baby’s ever changing sensory needs.
One of the main problems with lockdown is that the four walls of our homes are devoid of sensory experiences for our babies and if we aren’t meeting our baby's sensory needs, they can become unsettled, fussy and ‘dialled up’, and isolation and a ‘dialled up’ baby isn’t a great recipe for families.
A dialled-up baby usually results in a dialled-up mum or dad, so we really aim to avoid these situations to keep a calm, happy family unit and to support sleep because ultimately if your baby’s nervous system is stressed, they will not be able to fall asleep and subsequently stay asleep.
What do you look forward to this year?
This year I am looking forward to speaking to more and more parents and providing them with support and reassurance when it comes to their new baby and what to expect in terms of sleep and thereby helping them to gain the confidence that they so desperately need.
I am also looking forward to getting involved more with the Tinto App, which is another great resource allowing Mums and Dads to get support from professionals like myself who otherwise might not have the chance.
Last but not least - what emoji describes you best at the moment and why? 😜
Oh gosh I am not sure how to get emojis, but I think one with the steam coming out of the head 🤯 might be a good one, simply because home schooling my son at the same times as supporting my families is proving to be logistically very tricky!!
The comforting thing is I know I am not alone, but I am really looking forward to my children being able to return to school, so they are more fulfilled, and I do not have to juggle so many balls!