Tips to help you find a healthy balance – Episode 2 with Jan Harrison from The Night Owls

Motherhood can be extremely isolating, mom guilt, mom shame, baby sleep, and the world that never stops spinning. Demands are high and we are exhausted. In this conversation with the renowned mother and baby expert Jan, from Jan and The Night Owls, we discuss helpful tips that will help you find your balance in this new universe called motherhood.

Recommended books:
A Helpful Guide to a Happy Baby by Fiona Lewis
Be Ready to Parent Twins by Louise Brown and Dr. Ella Rachamim

MARTINA: In terms of the literature that is out there, my husband is a geek when it comes to books, and he feels like all that we need is to read more books and books and books. So he said, “Baby, I’m prepared, I’ve been on Amazon, I bought every baby book there is.” So is there any particular literature that you think we should be reading?

JAN: No, there  is not. Because all babies are different, all moms are different. And you can’t take a baby and file it. You know, like, you just can’t put it in a cupboard under B. So whatever book you pick up, you’re gonna go “Yeah, this is it. This is it. This is what we need to do.” And then your baby hasn’t read that book. So you’re like, “No, no, no, this book is wrong. So now I’ll try this book.” And then you try something else. And “No, no, no, that doesn’t work.” So then you try this book. So in the end, you’ve like, given Amazon great hits, all these books that really are good for keeping the door open, because just pile them up and use it as a doorstop. 

You’re not going to get the right information from a book because the right information is not in a book, it’s in you. I’ll tell you about my friend’s daughter, she studied early childhood education. She can get down and dirty, with the most out of control four year old, and she can get down on their level, and from her heart, understand what that child needs. She can love them wanting to learn and to be the best possible little person that they can. But Lauren had her first baby. And she managed, which I think is quite difficult. Because if you’re a professional, then to apply those things to your own child is not an easy bridge to cross. But Lauren understood this baby. And she read this baby, and she applied this wonderful gift that she has to her own baby. And in the early days, it was a bit scary for her. So she would talk to me quite a lot. And I can let you know that you’re doing a brilliant job. This baby was always smiling. She took her naps, she slept. She fed well. And then one of her friends gave her a book, ‘The contented baby’, Lauren’s already got that. And this friend says, like you’re doing it right, because your baby’s not feeding when she should be. So Lauren reads the book, and she thinks, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got this all wrong.” So she literally scraps what she’s doing. And she starts to follow the book. And the result was, the baby stopped feeding well, the baby stopped napping, the baby was up multiple times in the night, Lauren was tired, her husband was tired, everybody’s at each other’s throats. And she gets on the phone to me. “I don’t know what to do, it’s all going wrong.” So I think let’s back up, you know what happened, what changed, I started following the book. And I am like, “I am so disappointed in you, put the book in the bin and go back to what you were doing.” So she went back to what she was doing.

You know your baby better than anybody else. And you will know things you’re not going to find in a book. And I think what mums need to start to do now is to learn to trust themselves again, and to learn to trust their baby, and to be in this dance together, where you work it out between you. 

So no, I don’t think there’s any book that I would say you must read, because especially the ones that are bossing you around and telling you what to do with your baby, when they’ve never met you or your baby. But there are a couple of books on the table. I would say that both have been written by really good friends of mine, but I like them because they don’t tell you what to do. They just give you little pointers and suggestions. “So a helpful guide to a happy baby” has been written by a fantastic maternity nurse called Fiona Cook. And if you’re struggling in there somewhere, you’re going to find tips and suggestions. But that’s all they are. And this one, “Be ready to parent twins” has been written by a fabulous paediatrician and her friend. She had three children under 16 months at one point, and it’s about navigating that war zone that can become a home when you’ve got multiples. It’s not telling you what to do, it’s not clear guidelines of “get up at seven o’clock, have your toast at 7:02” or everybody’s gonna spontaneously combust and nobody’s sleeping tonight. It will just give you tips on how to read your baby. How to keep calm in what can easily become a chaotic home. If, especially, with more than one baby at a time.

MARTINA: Thank you so much for the recommendations, we will link them below. 

JAN: Yeah, they are good guidelines, but nothing that’s going to solve all your problems. Because the power is within you, my girl.

MARTINA: What is the number one advice you have for us? 

JAN: Trust yourself, trust your baby. And you mums out there support each other.

MARTINA:  Okay, Jan, the next question touches upon the external factors that we need to be mindful of in order to create the best environment for the baby to feel relaxed in and really sleep well. 

JAN: The best environment for your baby to sleep in is one that you’ve created through the day, every day, and that they feel safe and secure, and that they know that you love them, and that they are safe with you because you respond to them. That will help them to become a confident little person. So if that’s going on during the day, then you’re already a couple of jumps ahead when it comes to a decent night’s sleep. But there are physical things that we need to do as well. We need to make sure that the bedroom is neither too hot nor too cold. Because when we are sleeping, there’s this sleep that we have called REM sleep, which is our dreaming sleep. And when that sleep happens, the parts of our brain that control the body temperature shuts down,  so we can’t control their body temperature. So if we’re too cold, the only way that we can warm up is by waking up so we can shiver and then go back to sleep. Or if we’re too hot, the only way we can cool down is by waking up so that we can start to sweat and adjust ourselves or cool down. So you don’t want a child waking up because they’re too cold, because then they might need you to help them get back to sleep again. So checking if the child’s cot temperature stays around the same all night, so that they’re not getting too cold or too hot, will really help. I’ve had moms say to me, “but I want him to learn to sleep in the light.” And I’m like, yeah, well, that would be great. But that’s not actually, you know, biologically possible. Because we were primed right from the times when we all lived in caves that we would get up with the light. That’s the way that our body works. When the sun comes and when the light comes, we wake up. And so if we don’t darken a baby’s room, then in the summer months, you’re gonna have somebody who wakes up at four o’clock. So although you want them to be portable, and to be able to sleep at night in the light, do that when they nap, but don’t attempt to get them to sleep. At night, we’d like to have an early morning, because they’re not going to, they’re going to wake up. So you’re going to need the room darkened. But the flip side to that is that there are also books that will say to you that you need blackout blinds, you need blackout curtains, you need a blackout helmet, and when you go out you shouldn’t be able to see your hand. So then you can create an environment where the child has to sleep. So they’re in a cave with the door shut. So you don’t want either of those extremes. Because if you’ve created the latter, you can’t go on holiday, you can’t go anywhere without taking down your blackout blinds, your blackout helmets, because your child is going to need ink darkness to get to sleep. But you do need a darkened room, a lot of parents will use white noise. And that can become a prop more for the parent than for the child. So be careful of that. If you live on Spaghetti Junction, and you’ve got no windows and the roar of the traffic is vibrating your house day and night, you may need a bit of white noise in a bedroom to keep a constant low sound that the child can get used to. If you live in a nice quiet house, you don’t need to be introducing white noise for a child to sleep. So just be careful of the props that you might give. You might give your children I worked in one house where they’ve got three children and they were all in different bedrooms and they all had white noise on their iPads all night every night. And when I came down from my loft room, it was like I was in a jumbo jet. From every room there was the sunken house. No wonder nobody was sleeping in this house, it was just like this constant roll. But really, darkness and temperature are going to be the two key things. And again, being aware that you’re not giving a child more props than they need to get to sleep, because if suddenly those things are gone, then what you’re going to do?

MARTINA: So naturally, kids have a bit more of an elevated temperature in comparison to ours, what is then the ideal temperature more or less in terms of the room, so if we exclude their little sleeping bags, and so on? 

JAN: Well, the guidelines are 16 to 20 degrees. So when I slept in a bedroom that was 16 degrees, I needed to be in my clothes under a duvet. So I would say you know, maybe 18-19, with then a sleeping bag on a bag or project padded pyjamas that they can’t get out of, you know, if you put them into bed in a baby grow, and a black with a blanket and they’ve wriggled out from under the blanket, they’re gonna wake up because the cold,  they don’t have the ability to pull like we d, to pull the duvet over. 

MARTINA: How about naps? I know that you told me that naps are a bit different than the night’s sleep in the sense that the rules can be a bit more relaxed, you were the first person to tell me it’s totally fine if you want to nap with your baby. For me, it’s a precious time. It’s a bonding time, it’s skin on skin. You helped me really establish this routine where my baby’s not dependent on the same routine that we apply for the naps, she clearly understands this is my time when I go when I sleep until tomorrow. And this is just my time when I’m intimate with my mommy. 

JAN: So you know, the books will say you need to be consistent. And we do need to be consistent. You know, that’s true. But what the books don’t say is that if you consistently at night teach your child, okay, it’s the end of the day now, sweetheart, mummy will see you in the morning. And you darken the room and it’s nighttime and their body is getting ready for a night’s sleep. If you’re consistent with the way you approach sleep, then that’s fine. If you’re consistently inconsistent with the naps, that’s also fine. Because although we know that it’s all about sleep, the baby doesn’t get that it’s all about sleep. So as long as you’re consistent in what you do at night, and they get a good night’s sleep, you can afford to have that freedom. During the day, the naps become complimentary to the nighttime sleep. There will be minimum requirements that your child needs to sleep during the day. And again, the books will tell you your child needs to sleep three hours. And it’s not that prescriptive and that scientific. Really, the amount of sleep your child needs differs and one child may need to sleep for four hours during the day and another child at the same age may need to sleep for two. But it’s still normal. And if you have a nice relaxed time and a nice relaxed attitude surrounding that, like you’re saying it’s a precious time for you and for your baby. Mums that are driving themselves insane trying to do a 45 minute nap in the morning, two hour nap in the afternoon and a 15 minute nap at five o’clock, thinking that then the night is going to fall into place. That’s never gonna happen,  sleep does breed sleep and if you get the nighttime right, then you can afford the luxury of being much more relaxed around the naps and enjoying your baby. You need a child that’s portable. You can put in a buggy and take for a walk in the park or lay on the bed, but you don’t need to have to be at home every day at 12 to put your baby to bed. 

MARTINA: Thank you so much for saying this, I was definitely feeling a little bit worried if I can even honestly say that I like taking naps with my child and so on. And you were so shocked. You were like, well, of course, you can take naps with your baby, why wouldn’t you? Because the entire world judges me or this idea that, you know, the mums really get so upset about is when somebody says, “ah, you know, just sleep when your baby sleeps, you know, whatever, it doesn’t matter if the baby doesn’t sleep through the night, just sleep when, during the day when the baby sleeps.” And no, of course, one still has to be your own person. And it’s nice to just take a break and be able to Netflix and chill. Actually, that becomes such a luxury, that it’s not easy to establish this and to be able to relax on the sofa, and so on.

JAN: And we do underestimate babies. We seriously underestimate what they think.

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