Transcript: Holistic Sleep Support – Helping Your Entire Family Improve Their Sleep

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Holistic Sleep Support – Helping Your Entire Family Improve Their Sleep and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: This is Helen Thompson. Thank you for being here today. If you are already subscribed to the show, thank you so much. Mums, you always are amazing and if you’re here for the first time, make sure you subscribe to the show because today, like in every episode, I’m bringing you an amazing woman who is going to talk about how she helps families with their sleep.

I’ve spoken with a lot of great women on First Time Mum’s Chat who help families with their sleep but what’s different about Kim Hawley, who I’m chatting with today, is that her focus isn’t just on helping your little one, she helps entire families, which is so important because we all need our sleep, right?

During our chat, you’ll hear Kim talk about how her holistic sleep support helps entire families optimize their daily routine, daily rhythms, and environment to help improve sleep for all members of your household.

Hi Kim and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m really delighted to have you here. I’ve spoken with a lot of sleep people before, but you have a way of helping the mum, as well as the baby, to sleep better. Can you start by just telling us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to start being a sleep consultant?

Kim Hawley: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be talking with you today. You know, I feel like I became a sleep coach by accident, honestly because when I had my oldest, I didn’t learn anything about sleep. I figured you just muddle through it, it would be fine, probably like a lot of parents but then I was really blindsided by how hard sleep was and how much I didn’t know.

I didn’t even know if something was normal or not normal, let alone what we could do to support sleep and most of what I heard about sleep, it didn’t resonate. It didn’t feel right, it didn’t fit what I knew about babies. So I started doing my own research as a parent, and then eventually stumbled on to a sleep certification that felt really aligned, and was like, oh, I’ll just take this, see where it goes, and then really fell in love and shifting my whole professional work to that.

So it was never a plan. I guess it was out of self interest first and then the knowledge and then just really realized that I loved doing it. My background is in maternal and child public health, but also cultural anthropology. So say I didn’t know anything about sleep, but I did know a little bit about how people cared for babies. cross culturally like around the world and as a first time mom with a new baby in the Washington DC area, which is where I live, where we have lots of very driven and ambitious people, the pieces weren’t coming together for me, and it just didn’t all click and make sense.

So finding that more biologically normal information, that more responsive information, that information that connected more around connection and responsiveness really made a big difference in how I understood sleep.

Helen Thompson: Having that experience behind you, and the qualification that you have with sleep, how would you support a mum who came to you to help with sleep?

Kim Hawley: Yeah, there are so many different ways and approaches and things out there with sleep. For me, it starts with understanding. Understanding what’s normal and who your child is, right and that’s really important. It’s important that we have a general parameter of what’s realistic for babies in general, but then also who is your kiddo and where do they fall within that.

I do a lot of work with my parents that I work with around supporting and optimizing their daily rhythms, their routine, and their environment, knowing what we know about how the body regulates sleep and that not all babies are the same. Then there’s a big piece for me of looking at the parent’s sleep and well being and how are we making sure that you’re taking care of your sleep as a parent, like separate and alongside, working on the baby’s sleep. Then if you need to make bigger changes, you have strategies that focus on connection and responsiveness and helping the baby through that change rather than going from rocking and nursing a baby to sleep to babies in their crib falling asleep alone.

That’s a huge, huge change, both from a sensory experience and a level of support and co regulation. So if a parent wants to change how their little is falling asleep or where they’re sleeping or anything like that, we need to break it down in small steps and we need to support them and that’s a key part. Using connection and responsiveness and working with a baby’s natural biology and how our bodies regulate sleep are big pieces of how I work with families.

Helen Thompson: There are a lot of myths about how babies sleep. Babies have their own rhythm. From my experience as a childcare educator and baby massage instructor, you can’t force a baby to go to sleep. There’s a lot of myths out there, there are a lot of things that sleep consultants say, that you’ve got to go through the different phases, you go out of the room quietly and you set them a routine and you say, right, this is what’s happening.

I would have thought that just giving them the time and giving you the time as a parent, as you mentioned, to find out where your baby’s at and where you’re at as a mother and working together, rather than working apart, if that makes sense.

Kim Hawley: Yes, absolutely. I find that somehow along the way in the last 150 years or so, sleep has become talked about in a way that’s very generic. Every baby should be able to be the same and very much like get your baby not needing you as soon as possible as the mainstream kind of ideal and that’s just not how babies work, particularly if you have a more sensitive baby, but just in general, that’s that’s not how babies work, they’re not all the same, they don’t all need the same amount of sleep, they don’t all need the same amount of support and they’re all individuals and they are dependent on us and that doesn’t change around sleep. So we kind of pit parents and babies against each other instead of helping them find ways to work together and find that space that feels sustainable for the parent, but also is respectful and understanding of a baby’s needs.

Helen Thompson: So as a sleep consultant, how do you support that?

Kim Hawley: Yeah. So I think the first thing is I push a lot with expectations, right? You mentioned this. We have to let go of some of that cultural expectation to start really understanding what is realistic and normal and how do we also understand what’s going on for the mom the dad, the parents? Why do they want to make the changes they need?

It’s usually about some unmet need and sometimes that unmet need does need to be changing things about the baby’s sleep, and sometimes or alongside that, we also can think about different ways to meet that unmet need. If the need is I have no time to reconnect with my partner, well, we can certainly work on creating that space in the evening for them to connect, but we also can work on other ways they can connect so there’s not so much pressure on having a set amount of time between when the baby goes down and when the parents go to sleep. Or if a mom’s having trouble sleeping and a piece of that is how often is the baby waking up?

But another piece is how quickly is she able to go back to sleep? Is she capitalizing on the baby’s longest sleep stretch, is she taking care of her own sleep hygiene or dad’s too, are they taking care of their own sleep hygiene and so there’s a lot of pieces that are about the baby, but there are a lot of pieces that are not about the baby that we can work on to help a parent feel better rested. I think it should be both, I don’t think we should ask babies to make all the changes. They’re the youngest, most vulnerable and I think it should be a balance that we look at both sides.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, if the mother’s exhausted, well then baby’s going to be exhausted, and vice versa. So many sleep consultants say, oh, you know, you’ve got to settle the baby on the breast or whatever it is but I think there’s that jigsaw piece in the middle that needs to be worked on to create that space for the mother as well as for the baby.

Kim Hawley: Yeah, you know, I often say that at least Western cultures are really bad when it comes to sleep, not just for babies, but for everybody. We’re so busy, we’re on screens a lot, we don’t prioritize rest and relaxation, we don’t connect with ourselves and our own needs very well. So a lot of us as adults don’t have very good sleep habits. We don’t even necessarily know what good sleep habits are and I think that’s where it starts. No one is arguing about them, they’re not really disputable, just basic sleep hygiene for a parent alongside working maybe on sleep hygiene for their baby and thinking it through.

Okay, babies tend to do their longest sleep stretch at the first part of the night. How do we want to use that time? Let’s be intentional about, are we using it for time to do stuff, or are we using it time for sleep? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but what’s more important in this moment? Is it an early bedtime so you’re better rested, or is it time for yourself? Are we being intentional about what we’re doing, especially in the evening at a time that it has a big impact on the quality of our sleep?

Helen Thompson: What about routines for the baby and routines for you instead of settling down for the night, nesting for the night? Setting a routine that is calming and you have a certain way of doing things. You might have dinner and then you put on some nice relaxing quiet music whilst you’re eating and communicating and talking with your partner. Your baby’s there, so they’re getting used to the idea of having a sleep. Then maybe giving them a massage before you go to bed. Do you believe in that kind of a routine? Do you think that helps?

Kim Hawley: Yeah. I think evening routine makes a huge difference. I think people tend to go one of two ways. either almost create too much relaxation, or they don’t create any relaxation ahead of sleep and go from like, very stimulating environment straight to sleep and actually most babies, and definitely the toddlers, they need one last get their wiggles out play before they calming down.

A lot of times, especially with older babies and toddlers, I’m suggesting that’s after dinner, obviously, depending on the timing here. We’re asking the baby to sit in a high chair or toddler and participate in a mealtime and that’s a lot of adult expectation. So, we need some play, we need to get our wiggles out. It’s a great way to connect as a family and get that sensory input, that big body movement that regulates the nervous system ahead of sleep. Then we want to start calming things down and that sensory experience of music is such a great cue, we can have a family dance party and then switch the music down to slower music.

And touch massage whether that’s what I think of as classic baby massage or your older toddler you’re just doing some gentle over the pajamas and then having some predictability in that last bit of the sequence. The kind of classic bedtime routine where this is how we get ready for bed, we get in our pajamas and we read three books and we send goodnight wishes to our loved ones that aren’t nearby. Then we snuggle to sleep, or, we do a diaper change, then we do a massage, then we do a quick goodnight story, and then we rock to sleep. Any number of ways that can look like, but the predictability is really good. Then it becomes a cue for sleep, but also the relaxation and connection. Then I say the same for parents, have some sort of wind down for you as the parent that lets you let go of the day, let go of the stressors, let go of the rush, and have a calming, relaxing sequence, even if it’s short and simple, that helps you wind down and be ready for sleep.

Helen Thompson: I think it’s interesting how you said there about the combining of the sleep with having a sensory and a movement type play. That way I suppose it’s incorporating the family because it’s your way of calming down too. You are calming down with your baby. You are relaxing with your baby or your toddler, you’re giving both of you time to just chill out and be together and, as you say, get all those wriggles out and get all those feelings out for the toddler, but you’re also releasing all the energy that you’ve had during the day and you’re just letting it all flow out, and I think that’s a really good tip for any mum, because I think sometimes they find that hard to do, because they’re stressed about the day, and then their baby’s not sleeping, but if you actually give them that opportunity to jump up and down and play or play a fun game that involves a bit of movement with music, as you say, and then turning the music down. A bit like musical chairs because then you can slowly put the music down and get them just to stand still and that helps them to relax.

Kim Hawley: Yeah and laughing together, right? Being silly, laughing together, touch, a bit of roughhousing maybe for a toddler. I love family dance parties because you can turn on music that really resonates with you as the parents. Maybe it reminds you of being in college, being in university or something that you really like, that you want to sing to, that lifts your mood, and you put the baby in your arms and you kind of dance with them and that’s that lovely touch and sensory input. It regulates you and then you can hold their hands, they can bounce around and music has a big, powerful impact on our nervous systems and how we feel. So you can have that upbeat music and then calm it down and switch to something that is more mellow and help shift that energy.

Babies and toddlers, they look to us to set the energy tone and they’re going to do their own thing, but they feed off of our energy. So, supporting our own energy levels, whether that’s let’s get some laughter in here, laugh off the day a bit, or let’s start calming everyone down.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, I remember when I was working with a toddler, I used to do exactly that. About an hour before he was due to go to sleep, I used to get him really hyped up and dancing. Then I used to put on Enya and as soon as I put on Enya he looks at me and he says sleep time and I go yes and I said oh he says book and I go okay so he picks up a whole pile of books and says books and I’m thinking to myself oh god a whole big pile of books, I don’t know if I’ll get through all of those but he loved it and he knew exactly what was happening.

I put him straight to bed after that, and his mother was absolutely astounded because his mother had never even thought about that, because she struggled with him going to sleep. After about five minutes, I went in and said, right, he’s asleep now. I think the mother was a bit surprised, because she said, I’ve never been able to get him to sleep that quickly what did you do? I said, I didn’t do anything, I just sat with him, and I put on a bit of quiet music and he got used to that routine and he loved it. Then of course, as soon as his mum put him to sleep he didn’t. I guess mums are mums and child carers are a bit different.

Kim Hawley: Yeah, I mean, the person matters. The kids will do different things for different people but that routine, right, that routine bit, we want some flexibility because kids have different days but that routine bit can be really powerful. Like, this is how we get ready for bed. Like, this is what we do and it can really build over time and really help, especially with toddlers, because, you know, they want to push back on every little thing they can, that’s where they’re developmentally at. That’s appropriate.

And we can use play there too, right? Play to help with transitions, play to give them choices and help them move through that routine in a bit more of a fun way rather than kind of bashing heads together, stubborn toddler versus stubborn parent, it never ends well.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, what I’ve learned from you and from my child care, the music and the play, I think, are really important because play is so important for a child.

Kim Hawley: Yes.

Helen Thompson: And it’s also important for an adult but particularly important for a child because that’s how they learn. They learn through play and they learn through music. They learn that play is fun. You can use both of those to calm and be energized but also to calm and relax as well.

Kim Hawley: Yeah and children are meant to move, right? They’re meant to move and so we need to give those opportunities and then get a sense, Hey, maybe this baby needs a longer calm period right before sleep and this baby needs to move closer to sleep because that’s just how their bodies work.

Kiddos need to move, they need that sensory input, they need to get their energy out, their wiggles out and that can make such a big difference. If you have a kiddo that’s really fighting sleep and bouncing off the walls at bedtime, back it up and look earlier in the evening. Are you connecting and are you giving them some good big body playtime?

Helen Thompson: I think that’s where a good baby massage routine comes in because you can make baby massage fun, you can make it playful. I’m just bringing that in because I know that’s what I do but you can make it playful and make it fun, it doesn’t have to be very sedate. You can sing a song with them while you’re doing it. It can encourage them to be more relaxed as well, but you’re also encouraging them to move and encouraging them to play as well.

Kim Hawley: I love that. Touch is so powerful. It’s so vital for humans in general, but for our babies, for our little ones and playful touch and calming touch. We don’t think about it as being as vital as you know, food, water, oxygen, sleep, but I mean, it absolutely is, it’s so important that we include it in so many ways. In our playfulness and our calming rituals and especially leading up to sleep because sleep is separation. Physically, if they’re in another room, but consciously, even if they’re sleeping near you. So we really need to focus on all the ways that we can connect in the evening and really fill them up on that ahead of sleep.

Helen Thompson: I love the way you say that because a lot of sleep people say the opposite. There’s so much out there on sleep, but I love the way you interact and you encourage a child to play and you encourage the sensory stuff and the body awareness as well and have the connection to you, which I think is very important.

Kim Hawley: I learned so much from my OT friends who are also sleep coaches on the sensory pieces because they need it, they need it to feel regulated and if you can’t relax and feel regulated, you can’t get good quality sleep, it’s just not possible. So much of sleep is about regulation and our ability to relax into that rest and digest state.

If you can’t do that, you’re not going to get good quality sleep. You were saying at the beginning, you can’t force someone to sleep, you can’t force a baby to sleep because sleep is involuntary. So part of setting up good conditions for sleep is of course that someone is tired but also that they’re able to relax and shift their nervous system down. Movement is a big piece of that, as is relaxing and, and calming routine. So both are really important.

Helen Thompson: I think encouraging our babies to do that at a very young age, will support them in later life to learn how to have a better sleep.

Kim Hawley: Yes and circling back to moms, that’s a big piece is what are we doing with our time between baby going to sleep and you as a parent going to sleep? Is it too stimulating, are you spending the whole time on a screen, which screens are terrible for sleep quality. If you’re going to be on a screen, are you blue light blocking? Are you wearing blue light blocking glasses or turning your phone onto nighttime mode to lessen its negative impact on sleep? Do you have a mindfulness or meditation practice to wind down? Do you have a lot of stress that maybe some journaling would help with?

Are we dimming the lights and creating a sleep conducive environment in the evening? So, for the adults, there’s often a lot of work that can be done with the time from when baby’s asleep to when they go to sleep that can help set them up for better sleep quality that we just don’t think about because we’re trying to cram in all the stuff, right, that needs to get done. If we want to prioritize sleep, sometimes that means making some different choices about what’s going on in the evenings.

Helen Thompson: I think that also brings it back to the toddler, because the toddler or the baby wakes up in the night after you put them to sleep, and they see you having your lights dimmed, and being relaxed, and calm, well then It helps them to think, oh, well mum’s relaxed and calm now, so I can then go back to sleep.

I know that’s easier said than done for a lot of mums. It’s a lot easier said than done, because as you say, they like to cram everything in. It’s hard, but I think it’s a good practice to at least try, even if you just do it for a week and just see how you go, I think a lot of mums would be surprised of how calming it can actually be for both of you.

Kim Hawley: Yeah and that’s why I think it’s helpful to think about what is our priority right now. Is it getting more sleep, is it getting more time for yourself, what’s the priority? Sometimes things are in competing priorities and so if we’re like, okay, the priority is getting mom more sleep.

Okay, well, we need to make choices that support that. If that means giving up your time after baby’s asleep that you would normally watch a show and relax in that way, let’s make choices in your evening that support you going to bed earlier and getting better night’s sleep but also, let’s find time for you to carve out some of that time somewhere else. Even if it doesn’t look exactly like you expect it to look like, a lot of times we can think about different ways to take time for yourself or different ways to do whatever it is that you’d be doing that isn’t actually supporting your sleep. Just think outside the box a little and experiment. Just like you were saying, try something for a week, experiment and see how you feel and how the pieces are coming together.

Helen Thompson: Is that where you come in as a sleep coach to support parents.

Kim Hawley: So folks reaching out to me know that they don’t want to sleep train. They don’t want the sort of more traditional approaches when it comes to baby sleep. They know that already and so what I am helping them do is first let’s understand what’s realistic, let’s look at the areas we can optimize around baby, and then let’s look at the areas we can optimize around your sleep, and then of course let’s have some gentle responsive strategies if we need them.

The balance of those really varies from family to family because every family needs a little bit of a different weight in different areas but it’s really hard when you’re the tired parent, it’s hard to look at your own patterns and see anything but a mess, right? Even if you have the knowledge I tell parents this and I’m like, I don’t even know, I’m like, look, even sleep coaches ask other sleep coaches for their opinions on their own kids, because the knowledge is a big piece of it but also, it’s the objective, not being in the middle of the chaos, right? That objective outside view is really helpful, especially when you’re sleep deprived. You can’t always make sense of your own moving pieces around you.

Helen Thompson: Having somebody else there to support you I think is good. You know Meredith Brough who I interviewed.

Kim Hawley: Ah, yes.

Helen Thompson: I interviewed her and I think it’s a similar but different approach.

Kim Hawley: So Meredith and I, we work similarly in a lot of ways and that space, over time to say like, Hey, this is how this went, this is what I’m noticing and that way to that space to debrief and I do that with my clients. Most of my clients I’m working with over at least a couple months.

So we’re getting some ideas started, we’re talking about how that’s going, what they’re noticing and then bringing in new ideas as we go because it’s not a one size fit all. I can’t just hand you a plan and it’s definitely going to work for your baby. We have to start to see how they’re reacting and adjust accordingly.

So, I know a lot of the parents that I work with really appreciate that space to just kind of debrief and ask follow up questions and really unpack what they’re noticing and what’s working and what’s not so that we can adjust and fine tune, so that it’s stuff that lasts for them, like that it really feels like it’s sustainable and it’s going to work for them for

Helen Thompson: Getting to know your baby as well, because that takes time. It takes time to get to know that little being that you’ve created. It takes time for you to gel and communicate with each other.

I know you also have a podcast. What’s the name of your podcast?

Kim Hawley: Yeah, so my podcast is called the Responsive Family Sleep Podcast and folks can find me through that. You can find me on Instagram at Intuitive_Parenting_DC, or my website IntuitiveParentingDC.Com. I’ve got a lot of blog resources and things as well as my podcast. So a lot of great sleep info you can access right away. Also gives a sense of, you know, of how I work with families.

Helen Thompson: Well, thank you Kim for being here. Before you go, what’s your top tip that you would give to a first time mum?

Kim Hawley: Oh my goodness. Probably find community. We’re never meant to do it alone as a parent, so finding moms who resonate with the way that you want to parent or are local to you and you can meet up easily with in person. Having that parent community, I think is really important and ones that respect each other’s differences, so you can bounce ideas, you can learn from each other but you can also kind of find your own way in that. I think that’s really, really powerful.

Helen Thompson: So thank you so much for being here, Kim. Thank you, and I’ll put all that information in the show notes.

Kim Hawley: Thanks for having me.

Helen Thompson: Thanks mums, you’re amazing and I hope you enjoyed this episode. Make sure you hit the subscribe button because in the next episode I’m chatting with mum of two boys, Tessia Watson, author of the book Rejuvenated Mums Make Happy Kids, about various topics from her book. The other thing I want you to do after listening to this episode is visit and that’s where you’ll find the show notes and links to Kim Hawley’s website and social media.