Georgina Windebank is a Holistic Sleep Consultant, Qualified Naturopath & mother. She is passionate about babies and toddlers achieving age-appropriate sleep for optimal development and enabling parents to be well-rested and thoroughly enjoy the journey of parenting.
“Are they a good sleeper?” is one of the first questions new parents are asked, as they proudly parade their new bundles of joy to friends and family, or in my case, anyone that I come across from the moment my son was born.
The societal belief that children are either “good” or “bad” sleepers or particularly the belief that we as primary caregivers have no part to play in this is a complete untruth. The idea that babies sleep well, or not, is also often reinforced by our support networks. This kind of thinking provides no flexibility for the natural ebbing and flowing of children’s sleep needs nor the ever-changing landscape of children’s sleep abilities as they develop and encounter a variety of biological, environmental and emotional changes throughout their early years.
These societal beliefs could not be further from the truth.
Babies are born with day/night confusion, they don’t know what is up and what is down. They are accustomed to a cosy, noisy, warm environment in the womb and then suddenly they are thrust into a space full of stimulation, newness and light. Urgh! Who amongst us would be able to sleep soundly with those kinds of sudden environmental changes?
In contrast, a Holistic Sleep Consultant (and in my case, qualified Naturopath as well) will consider sleep as a multi-factorial process. Many elements need to align and be put in place for a glorious, refreshing sleep to occur. Some of these elements are environmental, emotional, feeding and scheduling. After 3 or 4 months babies do start to regulate and link their own sleep cycles. They are able to stir or wake from a sleep cycle and float back into the land of nod if a few key elements are in place.
This element of successful age-appropriate sleep is often under-acknowledged. Replicating the womb, and the organic state within which babies were most comfortable before entering this stimulating world, is a great place to start. Mimic these elements and you’re well on your way to more Zzzz’s.
We have always been taught not to “overdress” our babies, but in fact, every client I work with is underdressing their babies and they are too cold. Being too cold means they can’t get to sleep and stay asleep, it also means 5.30 am wake-ups. Babies are unable to regulate their own internal temperature until about 15 months so we need to do this for them with warmth and appropriate clothing.
Repeatedly clients tell me their babies bedroom is “pitch black” and yet I go into the room and its it up like the Taj Mahal! There has to be absolutely NO light poking through blinds. A dark room kick starts the body to produce Melatonin (the sleepy hormone) in response to darkness. With these sleep hormones on board, sleep is not far away!
Background noise has so many beneficial effects on child sleep. Cast your mind back to being pregnant, your baby was in your womb cosy, warm and it was NOISY in there for them. We get our babies home, put them in a quiet room and expect them to comfortably sleep? Not going to happen! White noise is useful as babies float from one sleep cycle to the next. If they wake up in silence having been so used to the noise in the womb it is very disconcerting for them. It also blocks out outside noises like garage trucks, birds, dogs barking and anything in between.
ROUTINE AND SCHEDULING
Sorry to be the one to tell you, but babies and children absolutely love routine. Yes, it is true. They like to know what’s coming next in their day. No surprises mean no cause for anxiety.
Routines don’t mean you need to be stuck at home for all naps, 7 days a week. It actually means you can be flexible in your life as you know what is happening when! You can arrange that coffee with a fellow Mumma when you’re baby is sleeping so you can actually have an uninterrupted chat!-Say what?! Or arrange a play date with a friend when you know both babies are awake. You can plan early family dinners, always prioritising sleep but not being a slave to it. As babies, they are so drowsy and new to the world so they can only handle short periods of wakefulness. As babies develop they can handle longer awake times. A schedule that is 100% right for your babies means the prevention of an overtired baby. Now, who likes an overtired baby? Not me! It results in grizzly, inability to feed, crying, resistance to naps and my least favourite early rising. So the real question is with all these difficult factors that create overtired children if families don’t have routines in place, why wouldn’t you pop your child on an age-appropriate routine? A suitable bedtime for a child is also crucial to avoid overtiredness. Babies and toddlers should be going to bed between 6 PM and 7 PM and also rising sometime between 6 AM and 7 AM. This is in optimal alignment with their circadian rhythms (aka internal body clocks).
There are many components to successful child sleep and emotional connection is defiantly one of the top three! Children ultimately need to feel safe and secure in order to achieve restful sleep. Well actually, we do too! Sleeping on a park bench would be really difficult for an adult that is used to sleeping in a bed as we wouldn’t feel safe and secure. Safety also relates to “emotional safety”. Emotional safety is crucial for adequate sleep. Especially when we are expecting our children to go to sleep independently and sleep in their own sleep space.
Babies need to feel emotionally connected and secure with their parents or caregivers. If a child doesn’t feel connected and engaged with mum and dad throughout the day (or reconnected if they have been cared for by others during the day) then they will often seek this connection overnight. Children may wander into mum and dad’s bed or cry out, in the pursuit of connection. We need to ensure our connection time is happening in the waking hours rather than the middle of the night.
If you have all these foundational elements of sleep in place but your baby is still struggling with shut-eye, Georgina can walk you through the next stage of achieving “good” sleep (yes, that ol’ chestnut) for your family
Alena Turley is a founder, mentor, ethical content creator and mother of three based on Sydney's Northern Beaches. She is equal parts loved and fired up to support mums in making deep and lasting changes inside and out. We at the Soul Mama Hub acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we live, learn and create and invite you to feel deeply and tread lightly.