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.

The importance of being honest… I chat with blogstar Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum on her Mumboss tour

It’s about 7.30pm and I’m sitting with professional blogger and mum-of-two Vicki Psarias before she goes on stage to a full house of creative women to promote her empowering book Mumboss at The Black Box in Belfast. Since hitting the shelves last year, it’s become a No. 1 Amazon bestseller and has been noted in the top ten business books written by women in The Independent. In it, she encourages readers to embrace her mumboss manifesto, explaining how we can balance our work, our passions and, our parenting. Despite sounding a little hoarse (no doubt down to her hectic schedule), effervescent Vicki cuts a striking figure and fizzles with excited energy. She is chatty, confident, honest, funny and just really, really nice. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel better, just by being in her company. Conversation flowed, and I even shared some anecdotes from my short tenure as a mother myself to which she smiled warmly and nodded. She offered me vegan pizza and garlic bread, which I accepted having just come from work, resulting in tomato sauce splashing all over my notes. There’s a first time for everything. This will definitely go down as one of my most fun interviews to date.

The beauty of being a writer is the people that you are lucky enough to meet. I do believe that everyone crosses your path for a reason. As a relative newcomer to the blogging world, it’s taking every ounce of my self-confidence to put my voice out there. I started blogging when Sonny was just nine weeks old. When I think back on those bleary-eyed days, struggling to string a sentence together, I wonder how I even got a chance to sit down at my laptop. But in truth, it was cathartic. It was my therapy. I’ve put myself off starting a blog for many years, for many reasons. Motherhood offers so much content, that people can relate to and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my story as a first-time mum on the cusp of turning 40. Meeting Vicki has come at a time of big change in my life. It’s very serendipitous. So often I doubt myself, I’m a procrastinator, I can be listless at times. But sometimes, you meet someone and you just know what you’re supposed to do. For me, that person is Vicki.

Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum has a two million reach each month on her blog and social channels. She is a multi award-winning screenwriter, director, filmmaker, best-selling author, professional blogger and mum to two young, gorgeous children Oliver (9) and Alexander (6). You will most likely have seen her commenting on parenting issues on the likes of Good Morning Britain (most recently debating whether parents should drink alcohol) as well as Lorraine, BBC Breakfast and Sky News. Vicki has also featured in Vogue, The Guardian and written for Grazia and Closer to name but a few.

The importance of being honest.

Vicki says her mum, husband and closest pals are honest with her. “It’s the only way to be with the ones you love. Considerate but candid.”

How does this entrepreneurial mum juggle work and family life? “My kids are both at school so I work when they’re there, and stop at pick-up where I run around like a headless chicken getting them to and from lessons like swimming and helping them with homework (bloody love it to be honest) and then if I’m on deadline, I work for a while again when they sleep. My husband and I share the load but having a freelance career gives me flexibility. It’s why I left directing and I feel grateful I can be so hands-on, my kids are my life.”

Being a mum defines me but it doesn’t limit me. It makes me better at my job. Through weakness, you discover your strength.

“We all have important stories to tell. Sharing what matters to you. Like a painter with strokes of a paintbrush.”

Vicki started writing her blog in 2010 when her son Oliver was ten months (incidentally the same age as Sonny now). “I had a traumatic birth and I wasn’t being honest about how I felt. I was under a black cloud and was pretending to be strong.” Her blog was light-hearted to begin with. “I wasn’t strong enough to write about it.” Then, at Christmas, she spoke to her parents about how she felt and moved to Leeds and started CBT. “With my blog and being close to my parents, I was able to start healing.” Nine years on and her family live in Windsor.

Being honest is in Vicki’s DNA. She says: “I’m tactful, or I try to be. I’m thick-skinned. It’s the Greek Cypriot in me, we’re culturally honest – and I’m also a Yorkshire girl. It’s not about keeping up appearances.

Therapy helps you unlearn negativity. It is such a gift.

Being honest isn’t always easy though. “It took five years before I could write about my traumatic birth and five months before I could talk about my thyroid operation.” The latter, she describes as the most painful experience she has suffered to date, despite enduring a crash c-section (in part) because of her high pain threshold.

When you’re not well, you need a village.

Talking about those who try to take her down, she says: “I don’t engage with trolls. I’ll maintain a dignified silence. There was an incident in which I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t have the strength as I’d lost my young aunt Zak at the time and was overwhelmed with grief. You have to pick your battles anyway. Therapy teaches you to take a moment before reacting.”

Fighting Stereotypes

Vicki hates the notion that women need to be ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult’ to thrive. “Successful women are so often painted as being ruthless or tough to work with, which is for the most part, complete and utter sexist nonsense. That doesn’t mean that some successful women aren’t difficult or ruthless, the same applies to men, but this stereotype, for the most part, is untrue and massively unhelpful. The majority of successful women I know are incredibly generous and sisterly. We are living and working in a limiting, unequal society and workplace where these dated, biased preconceptions need to change – and thankfully, are.”

As women, we have definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to the workforce. We need to unlearn what society has taught us.

“As a film director, I had a meeting with top producers and they assumed I was an actress auditioning for a part. While there’s nothing wrong with acting of course, I was a director. As a woman, you’re expected to be a certain way and look a certain way. When I went to a locum GP about my anxiety, I was told, “you look fine”. “I’ve perfected looking fine,” she quips. “Oprah said that being undermined led to her becoming wealthy and strong.”

Being honest is a key to success.

So why should we buy Mumboss? “Writing Mumboss was like having another child and it was a big relief to get it published. I wish I had had it when I started my blog. Money was never a driving force. I always wanted to work in a caring profession and used to teach. It covers everything from the imposter syndrome, finding your voice, purpose, juggling and self-care. Know your story matters and that everything takes a little time. I remember when I had 200 followers on Twitter and I was blown away. That’s as many people that were at my wedding. The followers I’ve had from day one are still with me today. It is a gift and a privilege to do what I do.”

Vicki is only human, so how does she deal with self-doubt and procrastination? “I talk my worries through with my husband and therapist. I’m learning to trust myself more and to be more compassionate with myself. I don’t really procrastinate that much. I like to be busy! She says she has had writer’s block a few times but she describes herself as a “doer”. “I’ve spent most of my life being creative and being consistent about that creativity.

On a personal level, I find myself hot-wired to catastrophize but Vicki doesn’t believe this is a universal trait of women. “I’m not sure we are built that way to be honest. Many women I know are incredibly calm. I worry less about worst case scenarios these days.”

Vicki says that her family keeps her motivated and doing what she loves. “My family and friends are my roots. My mantra ‘don’t believe the hype, don’t believe the shite’ bodes well. I believe in equality. We’re all human and equal. I hate hierarchy or those driven by ego.

Vicki with her husband and children

Vicki’s advice to someone wanting to begin a blog but not knowing where to start is to buy Mumboss. “It’s a bit cheeky but I’ve shared everything I know about blogging in it. It’s easier than ever to set up a blog now. You simply need the confidence to start. To trust that your voice matters. Twice a week is ideal when it comes to SEO and building your brand. Also, around 600-800 words minimum per post. Don’t forget to share on social media too.”

So, can wo(men) have it all? “I think men or men have to compromise whatever they do, because that’s life but I do think it’s possible to have a family and a career. You just have to be realistic about your expectations and know that things take time. So, lower your standards when it comes to the home being perfect and share the school run/childcare with your partner and friends and don’t spread yourself too thinly.”

The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.

Vicki likes to relax by practicing yoga, eating dark chocolate and watching reality TV. “I also love getting outdoors with my family as much as possible.”

The Juggle

“Motherhood is a heady mix of joy, unconditional love and frustration,” she smiles. “The most difficult thing is ‘the juggle’. My blog creates experiences but we have a super normal life.”

You don’t need to be a writer. You just need to be brave.

Vicki says: “Unfollow people that don’t make you feel good. I’m lucky that my mum always champions me. Protect your space.”

You need to know that seeking others’ approval will never make you happy.

“I accidentally created this job. But ask yourself, are you having fun? My brilliant manager Jack Freud was the first to ask me to use that question as a barometer, to ask myself if I’m happy doing x, y, z. It’s important to say no to things too.

“The best thing about this job is the creativity. You have to live life to write about your life. It’s not always easy. Just work smarter.

“I do let TV babysit where I have a pressing deadline here and there. Guilt is futile. Cut yourself some slack. Self-care is so important. Go on a night out and enjoy some guilt-free fun with your pals.”

I think we’re bloody superheroes. We have peripheral vision. Our maternal instinct is strong.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept help. It is a job and you’re not going to be great straight away,” she grins. “Kids are really pure joy.”

The future is bright for Vicki but she likes not knowing what’s around the corner. “That’s the beauty of what I do, it keeps me on my toes. Every day, something new pops into my inbox but it’s not magic, it’s the product of hard, hard graft.”

Although I only met Vicki for a short time, she’s left a lasting impression on me – and given me a much-need confidence boost.

I’ll leave you with this quote Vicki has posted on her blog.

By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.

Satsuki Shibuya
When mumofsonny met Honest Mum…

Quick fire round!

Coffee or tea? Coffee

Wine or Gin? Wine

Cat or dog? Both

Night out or night in? In mostly but love a night out. I’m rubbish at this game!

Heels or flats? Flats but I prefer how my legs look in heels.

Sweet or savoury? Sweet

Primark or Prada? Neither, can I have Zara please?

Morning lark or night owl? Night owl but in training to be a morning bird.

Visit Vicki’s blog at

https://honestmum.com
https://honestmum.com/5-ways-to-overcome-writers-block/

Order Mumboss here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mumboss-Honest-Guide-Surviving-Thriving/dp/0349416699