Sleep Tips: How to support your baby's sleep through the clock change and beyond

clock change header (1362 × 854px).png

With the clocks about to change, we wanted to carry on the conversation about sleep. At Ickle Bubba, we understand how important a good night sleep is, for parents as well as baby. So, we wanted to help parents discover more about their little one’s sleep patterns, because it’s important to share information on these topics to break down the taboo and stigma around struggling with your little one’s sleep.

After experiencing a lot of birth and health trauma with her children, Emily Whalley, a specialist in Holistic Child Sleep and Wellbeing Support, created @foxandthemoon_sleep where she not only shares her own experiences but gives help and advice to any parents in need. We spoke to Emily and got her to answer all your burning snooze-based questions, especially how to tackle the dreaded Daylight Savings clock change.

Watch the video or scroll down for the full transcript...

So, Emily, as the clock change isn’t very far away now, is there anything parents can do in advance to prepare?

It really depends on what type of baby you have. How old they are, those kinds of things. My advice for the clock change is always, don’t stress and I probably would be tempted to say, don’t do anything. When we become new parents, we get obsessed and bogged down with routines, we dread the clock change when actually it’s not something we need to be too worried about. An hour’s difference in the time can disturb our circadian rhythm but not for long.

If you have a baby who is like clockwork, has naps at the same time, goes to bed at the same time then yes, try and shift things either 15 minutes at a time, starting several days before the clock change or you can even start the day before and try shifting everything 30 minutes later but the way I approached it and the way I always tell clients to approach it is to just do nothing. They will catch up.

It may be that the day after the clocks change, they are awake an hour earlier and then all you need to do on that following day is try and shift everything back to get back to that normal bedtime. It’s really important to know as well that if your baby is under 6 months, they don’t have a fully established circadian rhythm yet so it’s unlikely to affect them in the same way it might a toddler or pre-school child, for example.

Also, a baby under 6 months is napping a lot during the day so it’s quite easy to tweak things and move things forward. So if you are going to start shifting things back, think about shifting mealtimes as well but if it’s too stressful, don’t do it. Just wait and see. Often, we can worry so much about this and actually the only thing that will happen is they wake slightly earlier the day after and then you’ll get back on track over the next 48 hours.

Okay. It’s good to know we don’t need to take drastic measures but what about what we can expect as a result of the clock change. Will baby naturally not want to go to bed an hour earlier/wake an hour later?

Yes, potentially and again, it all depends on how old your child is and whether they’re got that fully established circadian rhythm and body clock. Because babies are relieving sleep pressure during the day, and this is maybe what a lot of parents don’t know, sleep is driven by sleep pressure during the day and naps have a totally different function to night time sleep. We can play around with that sleep pressure during the day to try and encourage a later bedtime.

If you have got a child who, for example, is going to bed at 7pm; waking at 7am, napping at 12pm, waking at 2pm and going to bed at 7pm then yes, that’s a clockwork child who maybe would benefit from moving things backwards.

We can still expect an earlier rise, we may even wake up earlier too. So, my bottom-line advice would be to try not to stress. That’s my whole kind of ethos around sleep and children and parenting. Why worry about something that we cannot control? And why try and change our child to fit something that potentially is just going to be more stressful to try and achieve?

For anyone really struggling with sleepless nights, is there any kind of checklist they can go through to try and rule out any specific sleep problems?

Yes, and my biggest passion is finding out why a baby is unsettled and helping them sleep, as well as educating parents about things like feeding, tongue-tie, reflux and all of these things.

Society’s view of an unsettled baby is that it’s purple crying; it’s colic, they’ll grow out of it. You’ll need to wean them early; you just need to sleep train – all of these things. So, for parents who are struggling with babies waking very, very frequently, they might not be refluxy now but perhaps they had a period of that during the early days – my advice would be to really think about the root cause of that. There is always a cause for unsettled behaviour.

I have a frequent night waking webinar on my website, and it goes through all of the things that could potentially be impacting on the unsettled baby. Perhaps there are people reading this whose children are waking hourly and have always done so or maybe they hate their car seat; they struggle to lie on their back. Maybe they always bring their knees up and they’re just very, very unsettled – that’s a very good place to start and generally when you’re dealing with a child that is quite unsettled – starting with feeding is the best thing to do. If our little ones are upset, we need to think about how they’re feeding and whether they’re taking in lots of air; whether they’re struggling with what they’re eating feeding-wise so the frequent night feeding webinar runs through all the various reasons why baby could be unsettled.

I also have a free ‘Red Flags’ PDF which can be downloaded on my website too. This runs through mouth breathing, snoring, all of these things – what the possible causes might be and who you can go to for help. When we’re looking at sleep holistically it’s vital that we’re not just looking at how is this child falling asleep because that’s irrelevant. It’s more about what is happening throughout the day that is making them unhappy and uncomfortable.

So, when a client comes to you for help, what kind of things do you ask them to prepare in advance?

It all depends on what you need help with and what kind of package you’ve booked but as standard I’ll always ask for at least a 5-day sleep diary and from that diary I’m looking at, is this unsettled behaviour or frequent night waking due to sleep hygiene? Is this baby awake for a long period of time and therefore got a lot of cortisol we need to manage with extra naps?

The sleep diary also tells me if parents have got sleep hygiene absolutely bang on, but this child is waking hourly, I’m instantly thinking – okay, now I need to see this child feed. Are their lips pinching at the side, are they dribbling milk? Are they clicking, does the breastfeeding mother have constant mastitis or just feels like feeding is a bit of a challenge, we’ll start there.

So, I look at everything as a whole. Has the child had antibiotics at birth? Were they breach? Ventouse or forceps delivered? Would they maybe benefit from osteopathy treatment to release tension in their body? Tension in a baby’s body can present in so many different ways. Their shoulders can be raised high, they can have a double chin, clenched fists and be very stiff and windy.

So, the frequent night waking webinar really addresses all of those issues and tells people where to go from there.

The thing we have to remember is that poor sleep is a symptom of something and if we can find out what that is then we can help the sleep. Unfortunately, though we live in a society where we put a band aid on things. We prescribe medication which is in some cases needed. We’re all looking for a quick fix. We want to be told what to do and our child will sleep but unfortunately, it’s not that simple but it can be with the right help. Simple things like changing a bottle teat; changing your feeding position; having a thorough oral assessment and releasing tension in the mouth… going to see an osteopath – all of these things build up this bigger picture because ultimately a comfortable baby is a baby that will sleep well.

A client said to me the other day, I feel like we’re in a maze and you’re helping us get out of the maze. Sometimes you cannot really think of what you do for parents, but my services are very much inviting parents to put everything on me and I’ll untangle it, then we’ll get to better sleep.

It’s exactly what I needed 7 years ago and then again 3 years ago. I experienced a lot of birth and health trauma with my children and so I really understand it. I’m a massive advocate for maternal mental health and that’s such an important thing to consider. Mental health when you’re sleep deprived is obviously worse and instead of the focus being on, okay well we must sleep train to help this mother actually we must ask, why is this happening, and can we actually do things now for this family that’s going to then enable this child to grow up healthier and happier and have a good relationship with sleep.

That’s amazing advice, thank you.

Going back to the clock change which is about to happen…

With the clocks going backwards rather than forwards, daylight isn’t quite as much of a problem at bedtime as it is in Spring but just thinking about creating the right environment for a settled nights’ sleep - what would your top tips be?

A dark room is always preferable. It doesn’t mean that you can’t give eye contact before sleep. Eye contact is really important before sleep but it’s actually something we hear a lot of people saying you shouldn’t do before sleep in case it wakes them up. Eye contact and lots of 1:1 connection time before sleep and then helping your child fall asleep in a dark room that’s nice and cool, the right temperature, which is hard to do in the summer obviously but now we’re getting into the winter months it’s a bit easier.

There are so many different things that can influence a child’s sleep but ultimately, if their environment is consistent, that’s when those signals to our baby brains are received. It’s all about what they expect and what we’re trying to tell them we expect of them so that bedtime routine with those little social cues, that dark environment, cool temperature… I love a sleeping bag with legs – they are brilliant.

It’s not rocket science when it comes to creating that perfect environment. We can fall into this trap of, okay, my little one’s not sleeping well so I must buy a white noise machine, or I must buy a glowing toy that sits in their crib – maybe they’re scared of the dark. These things can be a brilliant comfort for children but it’s really important to remember that children don’t necessarily get afraid of the dark until they’re around 2 and a half years of age, where their imagination really comes into play. So don’t be worried about a really dark room. That’s the environment that’s then going to help melatonin production and signal the brain to sleep.

Despite all of your advice, I’m sure we still have parents worried about what the clock change has in store for them. Do you have any mantras you could share with those parents? Hopefully we can all then instil these in our minds and remind ourselves when we’re awake in the early hours…

My favourite one is, do nothing!

I cannot control this. I cannot control the clock change therefore do nothing.

Just go with the flow and if that frightens the living daylights out of you then start today. Just nudge everything back by 15 minutes if you can but if your child naps at 9am one day, 11am the next day or will nap in their cot one day but wants to nap on you another day, that’s absolutely fine. So actually, trying to move things around is going to be quite stressful.

So, please don’t worry about this. You cannot control it, you can probably expect an early rise a day or two after and then things will sort themselves out, I promise you.

Thank you so much Emily.

For a whole host of sleep tips and expertise, make sure to give Emily a follow on Instagram - @foxandthemoon_sleep and find more great advice on her website here.