This week I am super excited to be welcoming Hayley Bennison, founder of The Wholechild Company, to speak to the illusive topic of baby sleep, answer those common questions and concerns and bust unrealistic and often damaging baby sleep myths. Hayley, based in Toronto, is a Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Sleep & Well Being Specialist. Having endured relentlessly sleepless nights with my own little girl for 15 months we recently turned to Hayley for support and have experienced some truly life-changing results. So Mama, forget the washing, the dishes, the toys sprawling all over the house, grab a cuppa and dive in, lord knows you deserve to put your feet up.
Firstly lets have a quick chat about your work as a sleep and lactation specialist. What are your hopes for The Wholechild Company?
As the first of its kind, my goal with The Wholechild Company is to share with parents a way that allows them to make decisions that feel right for them (not because I said so, or your mother-in-law!). As a result this work will always support healthy development, put trust in a mother’s instinct and rely on babies’ cues all while building lasting connections.
There are common unrealistic expectations surrounding baby sleep that can be really negative, can you tell us your take on this?
If we look at the history of infant sleep + this relationship, it has only been the last 100 years or so these expectations have surfaced. If we unpack this concept of a ‘good baby’, one that sleeps through the night independently, we discover that there is zero scientific evidence to support that this is how our babies are meant to sleep. The sleep training world is full of fear-inducing information that leaves families questioning their instincts and believing that there is always a problem in need of solving. Babies have not changed. Their need for nutrition, comfort and their intense need for closeness + proximity to their caregivers remains the same.
What advice do you have for mothers who are struggling with sleeping issues?
Surround yourself with support, it really does take a village to raise a child and we were never meant to do this alone. Really ask yourself, if someone normalised where you are at, reassured you bad habits can not be created and said you are doing great, would you still feel like there was an issue? If so, reach out for some trusted support. Be mindful though of one-size-fits-all approaches that do not create space for your instincts to lead the way.
What is your best point of contact for mothers in need of support?
I offer worldwide infant feeding + sleep support
What are common concerns and questions you come across and what advice would you give?
My newborn just wants to be held and is waking constantly, is this normal?
Sleep is a biological function, just like eating + going to the bathroom and everyone is born knowing how. We need to remember our babies have spent nine months in the womb being lulled to sleep and the outside world is very overwhelming. Newborns are meant to wake (a lot) and this is a built-in protective mechanism to ensure their needs are being met. Newborns also don’t develop their own circadian rhythm until around 12-16 weeks. There is only so much we can control here, in fact, we actually have no control over when our baby falls asleep + how long they stay asleep for (sorry, but it is true!). I would encourage you to use light to your advantage. Napping in natural light and reducing artificial light in the evening, for example, may help establish a baby’s circadian rhythm. Anything really goes at this stage and there are no bad habits that can ever be formed (hopefully telling you this just allowed your shoulders to drop a tad). Don’t shy away from contact naps and safe bed sharing if this feels right. And yes, it is okay for your baby to fall asleep at the breast.
The dreaded sleep regressions, what can I do?
Sleep regressions (or as I like to call them, progressions because it means they are growing + developing) are phases where your baby’s wakes increase. Let’s discuss the well-known 4-month progression.
Your baby may:
-Have been sleeping longer stretches and is now waking constantly
-Be a lot more fussy
-Be breastfeeding non-stop
-Want to be held constantly
(to name a few)
What do I do?
This can last about a month. Other progressions include 8-10 months + 12 months.
How do I prepare to transition my baby to a cot or their own room?
The key here is for your baby or toddler to get comfortable in their new space. Spend time during the day playing in it, releasing lots of endorphins, without the pressure to sleep. Babies attach through their senses in the first year (smell, touch, taste) so prepare the sleep space to feel like home (you). Sleep on the crib sheets for a few nights beforehand so they smell like you and you can drop some breastmilk on them too. You can then begin working on some sleep stretches. It is important to have realistic expectations, if your little one is resisting, it is likely the separation that is bothering them. Start with the first stretch, even if short and build from there.
What are some common questions dictated by myths surrounding baby sleep?
My baby prefers to bed share, but won’t this create a bad habit and is it safe?
We want to remember that bed sharing is the norm in many parts of the world. Families often feel the need to hide this in fear of being judged or getting ‘in trouble’. It is reported that many families end up sleeping with their baby, at least for part of the night, so education on safe bed sharing should be the norm. Contrary to popular belief, it does not become harder to transition your child out of the family bed the longer they remain there. The only thing that may change is where they go. For example, beyond 9-10 months, if a baby has exclusively bed-shared, transitioning to a floor bed may be easier than a crib. La Leche League’s Safe Sleep 7 and Safe Infant Sleep by Dr. James McKenna are great resources.
Are night feedings needed or disrupting my babies sleep?
You may hear that once your baby reaches a certain age (common around 6 months) he/she no longer requires overnight nutrition. There is no evidence to tell us this is true and in fact, what I often see is babies slower to gain and a drop in supply if night feedings are cut too soon. Continuing to feed your baby overnight is NOT the reason why they aren’t sleeping through the night. Older babies are often too distracted during the day to feed well and do their most effective feeds overnight. I do not suggest cutting night feeds until at least one year. Stay tuned for my night weaning eBook, launching in a couple of weeks for more info here.
Routines v. a schedule, what is the difference and does it matter?
I highly suggest establishing a strong nap and bedtime routine. Babies/toddlers thrive off patterns and predictability in their day. So having a sleep routine signals to the body sleep is coming. Your nap routine may only be 5 minutes (lights dim, sleep sack, feed and go to sleep) and your bedtime routine can be longer. Be sure to leave room for flexibility and only add something into your routine you'll enjoy. This should be a time of connection & fun! A schedule likely won’t develop, if at all, until after six months of age. The difference here is you can have a strong routine, but the time naps + bedtime occurrences will vary.
What isn’t normal or needs to be checked out?
A big part of the sleep work I do is identifying red flags that may be leading to sleep issues. If you see any of the following, you may want to consider some support.
Remember too, if you’re here, reading this, seeking help, educating yourself for your little ones, you are already doing a great job!
I am so excited to share this fortnights beautiful journal with Charlotte from The Living Doula. Many of us have heard the term 'doula' but I've found many Mama's are still a little unsure of the immeasurable support they can offer us, from fertility, pregnancy, birth and into our post natal period, on this often challenging journey. Here, Charlotte shares her take on this important role and offers some very important lessons we should all be taking stock of, mother or not.
We are honoured to welcome Nature Baby to our journal this month. As kind as they are clever, Jacob and Georgia Faull, founders of world renowned baby-wear brand Nature Baby are in a league of their own, paving the way for ethical and organic business. A wee ways back I sat down with the dynamic duo for my book Wild Kinship; Conversations with Conscious Entrepreneurs and am excited to be sharing 5 questions for 5 minutes about this incredible brand and the work that they do.