Settle your petal with a stimulating sleep workshop

One of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood is getting your baby into a bedtime routine. For the most part, it’s trial and error, but establishing good sleep hygiene early on will make you and your little one’s life a lot easier (and happier). It really is a lottery as to whether you get a ‘good sleeper’. Some babies can sleep for 12-hour stretches, while others can wake up every hour. Speaking as a first-time mum, my little boy Sonny took about eight months to get into a routine. As a newborn, Sonny was a very noisy sleeper. He was also a colicky baby and used to writhe around his cot, body popping. He fed every two-three hours. As someone who loves their sleep, and would regularly be in bed for 10.30pm before having a baby, this was a major shock to my system. Still, I coped with coffee, napping during the day when Sonny slept and just knowing this phase would pass, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. However, if you already have a toddler or older children in the house, I know naps will be nigh impossible. But, you cope. We’re superhuman like that.

Sonny with his two favourite things.

Like any new mum, I hovered over my little bundle, listening for his gentle breathing, placing my quivering hand on his chest, watching it rise and fall. You imagine every worst case type scenario there is. I was hyper-sensitive, worrying about SIDS, questioning every sound. “Is he too warm? Too cold? Is that a rash?” Still, babies survived before guidelines even existed so you do your very best and if you’re not sure, always ask for help. Although those days with my eyes on stalks are a blurry memory, I got through it and could maybe even do it again.

Recently, I brought Sonny to a Settled Petals sleep workshop. It was somewhat fitting, that he dragged his bedtime bunny. Now, a plucky one-year-old, he is sleeping 12 hours at night. Yes, I’m very lucky (for now) but his daytime naps are irregular and some days he doesn’t nap at all. While he goes down anytime between 6pm and 8pm, I would like his bedtime to about 7pm. In our house, Sonny’s bedtime routine begins with drawing the blinds, a warm bottle, a bath (not every night), a book, and then popping Sonny in his sleeping bag and putting on Ewan the Dream Sheep, which we’ve used since the first night he came home. It also has a red light, which is supposed to remind baby of being inside the womb. Sonny also can’t sleep without his beloved Jellycat grey bunny. It’s recommended you don’t put any toys in your baby’s cot before they are six-months-old though.

Doing bed head in style.

Certified Sleep Consultant Susan Wallace is incredibly knowledgeable and the workshop was full of mums, a dad, beautiful babies, and curious crawlers – Sonny being the worst offender. Tea, coffee, and buns are offered at the start, the latter was snatched from my hand by Sonny and promptly disintegrated into a thousand crumbs on the yoga mat we were sat on. He spent the rest of the class, being a little nuisance, wrestling me for my notepad and pen. I still picked up on some of Susan’s many excellent points. Susan set up her business just six months ago and has since worked with 231 families who have booked into the service for either sleep, baby yoga or massage.

Susan began the class explaining how are our modern sleeping patterns mirror how our ancestors slept. When we slept in groups, individuals would wake up at 1.5 hourly intervals to check for danger and tend to the fire. Susan says we enter light sleep frequently throughout the night and do a full body ‘scan’, this is to check if we are too hot, too cold or if we need the toilet. If all is well, we’ll just drift back to sleep. Little babes, of course, will scream the house down until their needs are met.

Susan says that we, as adults, use ‘sleep props’, the most obvious being our duvet. It would seem very strange to us to lie down in bed without pulling something over us. Babies need props too. Strategies that we employ include feeding and rocking to sleep. It can be very difficult for a baby to self-settle if they are used to either of these, nonetheless effective strategies. Self-settling is the holy grail. It’s worth pointing out that babies don’t make melatonin for six to eight weeks. And when they do, breastfeeding mums will want to avoid feeding their baby milk containing cortisol at night and milk containing melatonin during the day. Another thing to be aware of is ‘sleep pressure’. And I’m not talking about the pressure we feel to get our babies to sleep! Sleep pressure is an unconscious biological process that makes us want to sleep. without enough sleep pressure built up, we (and babies) won’t be able to settle or sleep for long. This is were nap time comes in. The first nap of the day is the easiest as there is enough sleep pressure built up from the night before. However, if a baby has a really long morning nap, there won’t be enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap, resulting in your baby getting overtired, making them even more awake come bedtime. It really is a quandary. With that in mind, a shorter morning nap is to be encouraged so baby has enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap. Susan says the last nap of the day predicts when a baby will wake up.

As well as understanding the science, there are practical things you can do to help boost your baby’s melatonin. Susan says that night lights aren’t the best idea, especially the ones that emit a white or blue glow. A red glow, she says, is “less detrimental” to sleep so choose lights and light up toys with care. Buy blackout blinds for the nursery and your own bedroom if necessary, play continuous white noise and remove stimulating toys. If you breastfeed, you can buy a Meemoobaby Meelight that attaches to you for night feeds.

If you have a colicky baby, add the bedtime bottle to the start of the routine and keep baby upright for at least half an hour. If you use formula, stir the milk, don’t shake it. This might sound obvious but I always shook the bottle, thinking I needed to do that to mix the formula. You don’t. Susan says to hold your baby over your right shoulder to get gas up.

For the first three to four weeks, Susan says to hold and touch your baby as much as possible – and keep it up. She says that slings are brilliant for keeping small babies close to you. Swaddling is also beneficial for the newborn days – although getting the technique right is very important. A fascinating article by Green Child Magazine highlights a 2017 study published in Development and Psychopathology. It found that infant touch “can affect babies at a molecular level, and the positive results can last for years.” The article also states that babies who do not receive adequate human interaction and especially the loving touch, can become depressed or anxious and are prone to anti-social behaviour in later life.

Creating an environment that is similar to being in the womb is key – which for an adult is like being in a hammock (nice). For the first six months, nothing should in the crib or Moses basket other than a sheet over the mattress, to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you choose to co-sleep, ensure there are no pets in the bedroom and do not drink or smoke. Also, never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. After six months, you can place a comforter, toy or just a t-shirt you have worn for a few days and tie it up in a knot. Your baby will be immensely comforted by your scent.

You can also look out for sleeping cues like rubbing eyes and looking away, which babies tend to do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Also, Susan says, batting your baby’s bum is a good way to comfort them as it reminds them of bobbing about in the womb.

From nine to 12 months, your baby may experience separation anxiety. You can help combat this with sleep training using ‘The Chair in the Room’ and ‘The Kissing Game’. There is also the ‘Wake to Sleep’ method, which encourages infants to self-settle if they are early morning larks – of which 10% of babies are.

I hope this blog is helpful to new mums or mums who are experiencing sleep issues with their little ones. Susan offers a wealth of information in her workshops and I’d highly recommend them. Susan works closely with families who need a little extra help too. She also offers baby massage, baby yoga, and children’s yoga classes, all of which are known to increase sleep quality in children.

I learned an awful lot from the workshop, it was absolutely fascinating. Yes, all babies are different and unpredictable but having knowledge is very empowering and it’s also comforting to know that you aren’t the only mum or dad going through a rough time.

Sonny and me.

Get in touch with Susan:

susan@settledpetals.com

Visit

https://settledpetals.com/

Sonny takes his first haircut in his stride

This blog post will be short and sweet, much like my son’s new haircut. Sonny was born with a shock of black hair. I had really bad heartburn but I don’t know if that’s related or just an old wives’ tale. I thought this fluffy ‘baby’ hair might fall out to be replaced with new hair but it didn’t. It just got lighter. Both my husband are both follicly blessed. I have thick, coarse hair that needs a professional blow-dry to look shiny and bouncy while my husband – now a silver fox – has healthy, thick hair. I too was born with lots of dark hair. As a child, my hair was my crowning glory – or so my mum says. But, it’s been through a lot since then, from bleaching, colouring, ironing (yup – a clothing iron!), then various straighteners until I bought my first pair of GHD’s – a complete godsend. I love getting my hair coloured and see it as a real treat. But, I can understand why little ones might be frightened by someone coming at them with a pair of scissors.

Sonny loved his trip to the hairdressers.

I remember as a young girl going to a hair salon for a ‘trim’, as opposed to a ‘cut’. The instructions from my dear mum was to get it trimmed, I should point out. But then, somehow, I ended up with most of my thick, chestnut mane lopped off. I’ve no idea how this came to be but I went from feeling quite grown up to feeling traumatised. Sure, it would grow back but I still felt like I’d lost a limb. I think as adults, we get our hair cut to signify a new chapter in our life, much like the song ‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair’, you cut out whatever negativity is going on in your life, such as an ex, for example. Women are emotionally attached to their hair, they wear it like an armour. You’ve heard the phrase, having a ‘bad hair day’. You feel good when your hair is done, my mum would testify to this – her hair is always immaculate, and so would most of the women I know. Most days, my hair is scraped into a top knot, but when it’s done, I feel my best.

Looking pretty chuffed…

Sonny, unfettered by traumatic experiences in the hands of a hairdresser, took his first trim like a man. He seemed completely unfazed by his locks being snipped off at my regular salon Paul Meekin Hair. I looked at Sonny, propped up in the barber’s chair, feeling teary, proud and totally in love. I brought a little bag to collect his tawny hair clippings, which I’ll keep in a little memory box. Later, I came across an article online of things you should do to prevent your baby’s first haircut being a ‘traumatic’ experience. It hadn’t even occurred to me bring an iPad or snacks or some of the things suggested. So, either I got off very lightly or maybe going to the hairdressers isn’t so bad after all. My husband goes to the barber every four weeks while I’m lucky if I get my hair cut and coloured three or four times a year. If Sonny’s hair grows as fast as mine, I’m going to have to sell a kidney… but, finances aside, Sonny getting his first hair cut was a stress-free experience for us both. It did help that Paul’s two cute little dogs were running around at his feet, fascinated by my squealing with delight, grinning baby. They say the first cut is the deepest, but for us, it was the sweetest.

Mind your head, mama.

There’s no denying the self-sacrifice involved in becoming a mother. You no longer take centre stage in your own world. Your baby comes first, period. This doesn’t make us martyrs, it makes us mothers. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it. But, when you’re in the thick of it, endless nappy changes, feeding, soothing, endless cleaning, you do lose a little bit of yourself. And that’s totally fine, you withdraw from the world into your own little cocoon where you are nurturing life. That’s special and amazing, if all consuming.

It’s been an up and down few weeks. Yes, there has been some bad news, enough for your to slip into a negative mindset. I still feel sub power. Mothering is difficult enough, especially when you work and it’s so easy to stop looking after yourself. You don’t make healthy food choices, you don’t sleep well and you fret about, well everything. I saw my GP recently, about a health issue and she asked me how I was. That was enough for me to well up and I couldn’t even put my finger on why. I felt awkward, but my wobble also helped me acknowledge how I was feeling. On reflection, I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed at all, being a mother is tough, it’s full on, you don’t get a break, even if you’re sick. Goodness, even if I’m feeling well, I find myself catastrophising about everything. I’m always googling my symptoms, always imagining the worst case scenario. I don’t know why I do this, I guess it’s just how I’m wired.

You don’t get asked how you are enough in my view (the exception being every time I chat to my wonderful mama). But, overall, I think you’re just expected to get on with it – and you really have little choice when you have babies. Massive high-fives to all you mamas of one, two and more – I’m in complete awe of you.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to ask my friends how they are from now on. It could just be what they need to hear. If you’re a mama out there who’s struggling for whatever reason, and what ever reason it is, it’s valid. Here are some things you can try, to help you feel better.

  • Drink a green juice every day. If you struggle to get your five a day in, this is the easiest way of doing it. Have it in the morning before you eat and those nutrients are going straight into your system. After a few weeks of juicing every day, your skin will look better and you’ll have a real spring in your step. I juiced every day when pregnant and honestly never felt (or looked) better.
  • It’s good to talk. And by that, I don’t mean text message or IM – although they have their place. Pick up the phone and call your mum, your best friend or talk to your partner. Tell them if you don’t feel okay. Verbalising your feelings is therapeutic in itself. It gets stuff out of your head and gives you a little perspective.
  • Exercise. We’re not blessed with the most outdoorsy weather in Northern Ireland but there is nothing like a good walk on a blue sky day. I’ve never been good with gyms, I love the idea but the reality just doesn’t quite cut it. If that’s your therapy, good on you. If not, get on your bike or just pull on your trainers and get outside for a walk or a jog.
  • Meditate. There are lots of apps on the market but one I like in particular is Headspace. You can meditate for just three minutes before you start your day. Just taking a few minutes for you and only you will pay huge dividends. It will also help you feel gratitude for what you do have in your life – and you have lots to be thankful for.
  • Laugh – the deep belly ones. Do more of what you love, whether that’s a night out with your girlfriends, a weekend away, a really good meal, a shopping trip. So get a babysitter or pass the mantle to your hubby or partner.

Yes, I know as a mum you are very limited in time – and head space but be kind to yourself, whether or not you decide to meditate, or eat healthier or exercise. I can only mange one or two of these things in any given week, sometimes none. Goodness, I can’t even remember when I last washed my hair. Just look after yourself, mama. You are important and remember… you are the centre of your baby’s world and that’s makes you a VIP.


10 ways your life changes when you become a mum

You take on the most difficult role of your life

It’s long hours and there’s no pay. You’re surviving on your instincts and it’s hard, so hard. There’s little respite when you go to bed, as you’re constantly alert. You live and breathe your new job and you get very little thanks, especially in the very early days. But, it’s so, so rewarding.

You worry less about your own problems

This is actually a good thing if you’re a champion ruminator (like me). While self-reflection is good and healthy, it’s not good to obsess about every bump in the road. Having a baby means you put her or him first and there’s less room for your own worries and niggles.

You avoid drama like the plague

I remember the days that I thrived on it. Now, I shudder thinking at the frivolous things that used to preoccupy my mind. It’s part of growing as a person, but the only place you want to see drama is on Netflix, not your life. Once you cut out unnecessary worrying, you’re left with the important relationships in it and no bull.

Your social life dies

You might be up into the wee hours but you’re not wearing a bodycon dress and clutching a large glass of vino while teetering on killer heels. But, amazingly, you don’t miss it. Hangovers are a thing of the past. Believe me, a screaming baby and a sore head is not what you want to put yourself through. When you and your partner do get the very odd night to yourselves, you’ll spend the entire evening talking about your little monster, erm, angel!

You’ll have little to no disposable income

Money. You used to treat yourself on pay day, now the baby aisle is your go-to destination on every supermarket trip (and sometimes the household cleaning aisle). One of the plus side’s is that you can dress your baby up in a vast array of cute/silly outfits. You gotta to get your kicks where you can, right? Soon, they’ll cringe at the thought of you dressing them.

You don’t care (or care much less) about your appearance

Looking presentable take so much effort. A mum’s uniform should consist of a t-shirt and leggings. It’s comfort over style every time. Besides, you’re going to be covered in food, regurgitated milk, vomit and drool at the end of every day anyway. I’m not a complete neanderthal though, I still love wearing makeup and nice clothes on occasion. It’s good (and important) to feel like you every now and then and you’ll feel and look amazing when you have your face on.

Your immune system will takes a serious beating

Carrying a baby for nine months takes its toll. I’ve no idea how I got through the first six months on virtually no sleep and ding meals. It’s important you do look after yourself, as best you can. Invest in a juicer, meditate and ask for help. I’ve felt crap for the past month, but it’s forcing me to pay attention to my diet and mental health, which is a good thing.

You’ll know the true meaning of exhaustion

Imagine feeling constantly hungover. That’s what the first year of your baby’s life is going to feel like. This could get better or worse depending on your little darling. You might get lucky with a ‘good sleeper’ but prepare for onslaught of sleep deprivation. It ain’t pretty and you will probably count on one hand went you get a decent night’s kip.

Hey, it’s not all bad…

You are the centre of your baby’s world

It’s good to be needed. Despite what it seems, your efforts aren’t going unnoticed. You are looking after a little human being, who will grow up to be a big human being, who will touch the lives of many people. That’s pretty awesome.

You’ll experience the greatest love of all

You will feel many extremes of emotion as a mother. From frustration to desperation to pure and utter joy. But, the most incredible feeling of all is love. There is no love purer or more ferocious than the love you feel for your baby. You will literally do anything for them.

Having a baby changes you beyond recognition – it also changes your relationships. But, parenthood is an incredible, beautiful, terrifying journey but it’s also so much fun.

How to keep it together when your baby is sick (and you are too)

It’s so easy to fall apart when you have a little one who depends so entirely on you. You might be hanging by a thread but how you feel is secondary. Sonny has been poorly for the past two weeks. It started of with innocent enough sniffles that developed into a full blown hacking cough and cold. It’s so, so hard to see your beautiful baby suffer. I know it’s ‘just’ a cold and it will pass and I know I need to (wo)man up but it’s really, really tough. I’m drained because adrenaline is constantly pumping through my veins, keeping me on red alert. Should I call the doctor (again)? Should I call the health visitor (again)? It’s hard enough looking after a baby, but when they are sick, you’ve a strict regimen of eye drops, nose spray, vapour rub, Calpol and antibiotics on top of bottles, mealtimes and nappies. The understanding pharmacist at my local Boots said babies get up to 15 colds in their first year and they’re actually “good” for their immune system. It bloody doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the eye of the storm of sneezes.

My living room is a petri dish and my life consists of chasing after a snotty, crying, coughing, crawling baby as he leaves a snail trail of bodily fluids and a tsunami of tissues in his wake. I’m cuddling him as much as possible and he takes full advantage by rubbing his streaming nose on my sleeve (or wherever his nose goes). The other night, as I slowly climbed the stairs to put him to bed, he heaved and heaved and splattered me in vomit. Spag bol flavour. I yelled for Andrew who came dashing up the stairs with wet wipes. That wasn’t going to cut it… bless him. I catch my reflection on the mirrored slidesrobes in the nursery. I’m covered in orange vomit, I’ve dark eye bags and my hair needs washed. I look like hell but I don’t care. Most days I look like a slob anyway. It’s amazing how little you care about how you look when you’re a new mum. Wearing make-up is a luxury. But, even if it’s a crappy day where all you’ve been doing is chasing your tail, you’re still doing an incredible job – raising a human.

Snots, sneezes and snuggles.

I can’t tell if I’m being a crazy mama when I list Sonny’s symptoms to our lovely, patient GP. She’s sympathetic even if she thinks I’m being over the top. You can’t help it though. You just want your little one to stop suffering. I mean it, if I could take on his suffering I would and I’m far from being a soldier – I hate being in any kind of discomfort. But when you’re being used as a human handkerchief it’s just a matter of time before the germs set up shop in you too. My throat and chest bore the brunt of the invasion.

Still, it’s a comfort to know that everything has but a time. A lovely elderly lady I got chatting to in a coffee shop recently said the best thing for a cold is a four letter word. Love. Sadly, colds will take their course, but an abundance of love and patience will also go a long way to making you feel better. So, while I shower him with kisses and smother him in cuddles, I know I need those just as much as him.

So, if you and your little one are under the weather, know that it will pass and you are doing everything in your power to make their life more comfortable. Don’t forget to look after yourself too. You are important. When you get better, you’ll never take feeling well for granted again. While the cold is a hateful thing, take full advantage of all the cuddles because, as I’m told again and again – they grow up fast and you’ll cherish the times you squeezed them so tight you can feel their heart beat. Oh, he’s getting better…

My little lion has got his roar back…

Turning curve balls into beach balls…

There will be many periods in your life where everything is going to plan, things don’t deviate too much from the programme and things keep ticking over. Depending on what stage of life you are at, this can be welcome or frustrating. As for me, I’m content with having some routine in my life. I also crave fresh sea air, woodland walks, dining out and drinks in the sun. Routine is fine, as long as you always have things to look forward to, be that a holiday, city break, or just a Sunday drive and pub lunch.

Every day is a road trip.

There will also be times when you’re thrown curveballs, I’ve already had one this year, and now another one has been thrown my way. My dad once said, “if you can’t change something, change how you feel about it”. That is so true, a positive attitude is very effective body armour. I’m much more inclined to believe that everything is happening for a reason now, than say, when I got messed around by yet another rubbish guy in my twenties.

I have a close friend who has always been very spiritual and she’s a firm believer in the law of attraction. It may sound like bunkum to some of you, but only allowing yourself positive thoughts can have a profound impact on your day. Have you ever got up in the morning, stubbed your toe on the shower door, dropped your last contact lens on the floor, burnt your toast and missed your bus? Okay, maybe not exactly, but you’re having “one of those days”. One bad thing happening can set off a destructive domino effect but if you put a positive spin on things, it can totally change your day.

Becoming a mum has opened up a new world to me. You’ve heard it said that “children keep you young”. Yes, they also age you, but take a leaf out of their book when it comes to your life. They see the world through rose-tinted glasses, everything holds interest and intrigue, each day holds so much wonder. It’s pure joy to see my son first thing in the morning. I walk softly into his room and pull back the curtains, letting the sunlight stream in. His big eyes sparkle and he emits an excited squeal. It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited to wake up in the morning. Sonny has certainly changed that. It’s so amazing to watch him grow. He’s crawling now, and quite literally snapping at my heels as he moves seamlessly from rug, to wood floor to tiles. He’ll be on his feet soon, and he certainly is keeping me on mine.

Every day is an adventure.

Stop seeing curve balls as obstacles, but rather see them as a big, beautiful, colourful objects nudging you into the direction you’re supposed to take in life. Despite everything, I’m really excited for the future.

Why we should be making every second count

Time passes quickly, and more so as you grow older. When I was a teenager, with my life stretched out before me, someone told me that each decade passes much more quickly than the one that preceded it. As the popular, acerbic, adage goes… “Youth is wasted on the young”. “I can’t wait,” you think, for a night out, a holiday, going to university, getting your driving licence. You even have the luxury, and believe me it is one, to be bored.

As a person who could now be considered middle-aged (the horror), I look back on my life to date and I’ve made many good and bad choices. I’m glad and grateful to have a very close family and loyal and supportive friends. My life is better than it’s ever been and I’m very much looking forward to what the future holds. I’m also aware that our mortality makes us very fragile indeed.

This week, life dealt a very sobering curve ball that could have changed the lives of a great many in our circle. When something bad happens, life seems to grind to a halt. You enter a zone where the day to day worries dissipate and you focus all your energy on the situation, whatever role you play. All you want is for the situation to get better, so that normal service can resume. Thankfully, it has. But things could have been very much different.

You spend your youth making memories, and as you get older, you spend your time thinking back to precious moments in your life, falling in love, landing the dream job, getting married, giving birth, becoming a parent. It’s so important to live in the present too. Smartphones have made it so easy to capture life as it happens. We film life rather than live it. Life can change in an instant so be sure to make every moment count. Hug your children a little tighter, tell your husband or wife you love them, call the friend you haven’t spoken to in ages, bury the hatchet, just because life is too short. At the end of our lives, all that matters are memories. Make them good ones.

It’s a thumb’s up from Sonny…

Tonight, I’ll spend a few seconds longer looking at my perfect son, as he sleepily gazes up at me from his cot, cuddling his beloved bunny. I’ll kiss his little forehead and squeeze his tiny hand a little tighter. I’m so incredibly lucky for my life and for Sonny. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.

Image credits:

Photography: Trazanne Norwood https://www.instagram.com/trazanne/

Hair & Makeup: Melissa and Sophie @ Paul Meekin https://www.partnersbelfast.co.uk/