An Interview with the Australian Baby Whisperer
If you are a struggling parent, please know this…. There is help for you. Please use the resource links for Sheyne. It may seem impossible now, but one day soon, your child will give you so much joy. More than you could ever imagine. It can take some time getting there. Some of the content in this interview may be distressing. If you feel concerned in anyway about your emotional or mental health please contact your local health care provider or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
It’s 1.15pm on a Thursday. I’m so excited to speak with Sheyne Rowley, the woman dubbed “The Australian Baby Whisperer”. You may have spotted Sheyne making a guest appearance on T.V – she’s been on Channel 7’s Sunrise, Mornings with Kerri-Anne and ABC’s 7.30 report just to name a few. She is also the author of the ‘Dream Baby Guide’ book. The book is credited with changing the lives of many a struggling parents and has largely contributed to her celebrity status.
If you don’t know me, I’m Jess – a newborn photographer at Jessica Jane Photography based in Camperdown, Victoria. I LOVE photographing your baby but another side to the job is interacting with parents. I care so much for parents – I want them to feel supported and to enjoy their parenting journey.
This interview covers some amazing uplifting stuff and deep, sometimes depressing topics all at once – but it’s REAL and it needs to be shared. Knowledge is life changing.
Once Sheyne and I started talking we couldn’t stop. We talked about the common experiences sleep schools and how distressing they can be. Sheyne explained all too often parents come to her asking ‘can you fix my baby?’. This is not what she does. Restoring your confidence while maintaining your natural parenting philosophy and how you would like to raise your child are key. Building blocks and certain elements are given to you when working with Sheyne, which are critical for your little one.
Sheyne’s experience of becoming a mum for the first time…
We both agreed nothing could prepare you for parenting. It turns your life upside down and you will never be truly ready. Sheyne’s own daughter was a very unwell baby. She stayed a long time in hospital and they had never seen a baby as unwell as her. At the age of two she was diagnosed with cancer, which she had had since birth. It was in her epidural space.
She had signs of spinal cord compression her whole life and she is now stable. With this diagnosis, Sheyne is one of the rare blessed families who have great prospects for a future with their little girl who is now three. Her daughter is the survivor of naturally conceived quads! Even the Baby Whisperer had a journey as a parent. You are about to weather a storm in your life, your relationship will change, the way you function will change. It changes everything.
For some reason the struggles and trials of parenthood can still prove to be taboo. Those of you who are already parents, at your worst think about how you felt? Could you talk to anyone about it? Or did you feel the need to justify your choice to have a baby by pretending all is well and perfect? We need to remind ourselves that it isn’t meant to be, you need to be cautious, our babies are vulnerable, you need surging hormones to have attention 24hours per day. If you have an unwell baby with significant reflux or colic or when the relationship dynamics become quite challenging and there is stress in your home, it all impacts on your baby.
What I found so intriguing about Sheyne is her childhood memory’s which go back from when she was 6months old.
Sheyne grew up with her mother, father and big sister. Her mother’s parents were heavily involved in their lives. They would stay every weekend and they had really rich childhood experiences.
When Sheyne was working on a project for her diploma, one of the questions was “What was one of your earliest childhood memories?”.
Memories as a baby…
For Sheyne there are many, many memories but one that came to mind was when she was lying in a pram on her back. She was unable to sit up or talk. She was underneath a massive white statue of a man and the clouds were passing over the top. She had a strong sense of impending doom where she felt the statue was going to fall on top of her. Sheyne remembers crying and wanting her mum.
The canopy of the pram was spotted black and white and had a rattle on the edge. Her Gram Gram popped her head over the edge and she knew Gram wouldn’t know what she needed. Gram tried to tickle her tummy and adjust her. Sheyne remembers being so frustrated as all she wanted was mum. Finally mum popped her head back around the canopy and she knew that meant she would be moved away from the statue.
When this memory was investigated, her dad went though picture slides and she remembers her mum had black hair at the time, and knew what her grandma was wearing. They finally found some photos of them wearing this outfit. Sheyne was 6 ½ months old. Sheyne has many many memories like this frozen in time.
This blows my mind and surpasses any raving review about Sheyne. She can empathize with children because she remembers EXACTLY what it feels like to BE a baby or child. Most of us struggle to remember memories from kindergarten.
She becomes a sister for the first time…
When Sheyne was 8 her mother fell pregnant. All she ever wanted was to be a big sister. When her sister was born she took her on like her own.
Sheyne could relate to little people and would see the world in their perspective. She was babysitting all the kids in the street by the time she was 12.
Sheyne didn’t understand the uniqueness of her memories and her way with children. She thought everyone was the same. “This career found me, I didn’t find it”.
Every night when her mum would tuck her sister in her bassinet, she would sneak in and take this tiny little bundle to her bed and sleep with her all night. Her mum would fall asleep in the lounge for hours and hours. If she heard any rustling she’d quickly put her back in her bassinet. Occasionally her mum would find her sister with Sheyne.
Her first job working with children…
Sheyne was program coordinator for the under 2’s room at a childcare centre. They had up to 50 under two’s and 25 cots in each room. Sheyne was in charge of the cot room because she could get them all sleeping without waking the others. If Sheyne took a day off colleagues would be glad she was back because they couldn’t get them sleeping.
I was curious to know how much came naturally to Sheyne and how much was learned.
Sheyne always had a instinctive nature. When she babysat at 12-14 she looks back now and is horrified as she would get the babies up and play with them when she got bored. Just before the parents came home, she’d get them to sleep again. She was very confident, probably because of her baby sister and how beautifully she responded to her.
When Sheyne undertook studies she was absolutely enthralled. It all came together, understanding Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. There were many “Oh now I know why they do that!” moments. For Sheyne, it was almost like knowing a book before you read it.
Sheyne became a philosopher and the tools she learned in early childhood development really stood out when she went to London to be a nanny in the home environment. She wanted to work with multiples. Therefore she started working with the Putney Twins Club, twins, triplets, quads etc. Putney had the highest rate of multiple births in the world.
During this time, sleep was going through a massive transition from 1987 – 1989. Kids (SIDS) awareness campaign came in. The dangerous things for a sleeping child became apparent and they were advertised. This changed sleep for babies around the world. Babies went from tummy sleeps with big blankets, loads of covers and clothing, to much cooler lighter layers and babies on their backs. It went from really easy to put a baby to bed to making it more challenging.
There is a massive misunderstanding about children’s sleep…
Sheyne explained most clinics work from the average sleep a child needs which was estimated in the 1950’s. There is a lack of education out there. Sheyne was invited by the senate to parliament house as an ambassador to address the senate about child abuse and neglect. They couldn’t understand how wanted children from good socioeconomic backgrounds with well educated parents ending up dead, battered, being put into care, or were in a suitcase in the bottom of a river. They did not understand what was happening. The only thing Sheyne could say was that if the people educating the very people looking for an education don’t have the right information we are in a back stem. The information provided is not thorough enough and there isn’t a continuum of care between places or follow up for families who are struggling. Sheyne doesn’t let her clients go and her clients are still with her 10, 12 years on. Sheyne excitedly shared a text message with me that she received from a client who is 21 years old. She can’t wait to come and stay with her and loves her daughter. Sheyne is invested in these children because she loves them.
Understanding Your Babies Sleep Cycles
Sheyne wants to see better education and understanding the cycles of sleep. These critical tools are vital for you to cope with the longevity of waking sometimes. To understand how quickly you can get into a cycle of compensation sleep which means they wake up early in the morning due to sleeping too much during the day. To understand digestive sleep cycles which we call false sleeps as a child is only sleeping simply because they are feeding. Only achieving sleep between 4 and 6am because you are feeding your baby to put back to sleep. And the only reason they aren’t naturally sleeping between 4 and 6am is because they sleeping too much between 6 and midday during the day. So the next day you get a compensation cycle where the body goes ‘I’m going to get a big sleep of 3 hours between 8am-11am so I can wake up at 4am’. To correct waking at 4am and to stop the digestive cycle (which means your baby is only sleeping because they have been fed) you need to steal some of the morning sleep and put it back where it belongs to 5-7am .
Questions from Real mums facing challenges right now
After reading Sheyne’s “Dream Baby Guide” I knew this question wouldn’t be an easy one. The question came from a local mums support group. They wanted to know “How do you get a baby (4mths +) to sleep through more than one sleep cycle?”
The 1st reason is your babies sleeping patterns are changing because their biological clock kicks in from 4-6mths. It is natural your babies sleep needs change and decrease. They become more mobile and wriggle out of wraps. People think as your baby gets out of wraps they don’t like wraps anymore. But in fact at this transitional window this is the worst time to stop wrapping. When your baby starts doing this they need to be swaddled better with bigger pieces of material and more securely. Even if you have never wrapped your baby Sheyne suggests starting now! Sheyne starting wrapping one of her client’s babies at 10mths just this week!
Expect from 4 months onwards as they don’t need as much sleep. If they maintain great day naps they often don’t maintain sleeps at night. If the day naps aren’t as good during the day, the nights become better. Sheyne is a great advocate for the Product “Safe T sleep”. Ensure they don’t roll over onto their tummies etc keeping them safe from SIDS.
As babies get older you need to expect they won’t sleep the same way as a newborn. A big problem we have in this country is recognising that there is not only one solid sleep requirement for children. We are told 2hrs up, 2hrs down, 2hr up, 2 hours down, a catnap in the afternoon and then down for the night. This will work for about 20% of the nations children. The other 80% don’t fall into this pattern.
You will see your child having gone from being a baby who digests food and is very tired, to suddenly waking up to the world. Their sleep circadian rhythm kicks in and you can expect great days and bad nights or bad nights and great days. Recognising your child’s sleep needs to be low to average is really important as it changes the way you sleep them. You can expect less sleep from them therefore you reduce their naps or have extended awake periods during the day. When you stop expecting so much in the morning you start getting better sleeps later in the day and you get better sleep-ins the next day.
Sheyne explains your baby starts to require iron at this age. Breast milk naturally drops in iron and babies do not source iron as well from substitute forms e.g. iron enriched rice cereal etc. It’s important not be frightened of when to feed them. After working with 25,000 sets of families, it is very apparent to Shyene that most babies are ready to start solids at 6 months. Some need it at 5 months and some at 7 months, but generally it is 6 months.
As soon as you’re looking at a piece of paper instead of your child you stop using your instincts. You stop catering to your child’s needs and you start catering to a philosophy which has been proven over time to never be accurate. Parents have to trust that they know what their babies need.
If you feel your baby is hungry, you just can’t seem to fill them. They went from 1 night feed to needing 4 per night. This is a solid indication they are not getting what they need. If your instincts tell you your child needs food, don’t ask yourself ’do I have permission to feed my hungry baby? ’ Think instead – “My baby needs food – how do I best do this?”.
Sheyne explained how feeding styles and techniques have changed over time. There is a huge fad right now for baby-led-weaning. Keep in mind this is absolutely useless for a baby who is not able to get a sufficient amount of food or useless for a child who is drinking water with their solid food. If your child is spitting out as much food as they are putting in – don’t bother. They do need to have a combination of food or finger food as long as it is safe. Be sure to give them pureed food, as babies can choke on small chunks.
When introducing foods to your baby, Sheyne suggested going for a good puree, a fine silky perfect mash. Keep it simple if you want to be able to establish food well. Don’t feel like you have to offer every flavor at every meal and have a different meal at each meal time. Babies like consistency. Temperature, taste and texture. Keep it consistent. Once they get used to one food , introduce a new flavor. That’s why we don’t do multiple tastes when introducing food as it is a shock to your babies system.
Is like a surrogate cuddle
At this transitional time when your baby is 4 months plus, they are at the most rocky stages of sleep without their environmental comforts which stop them startling or rolling. Please don’t drop the wrap when they are good at getting out of it.
When a baby is distressed, to comfort them we pick them up and put them in the cradle position, pinning one arm to their chest and hold the other arm, pulling their legs in tight and hold them up close to your neck to block their sight while “shhhhhhing” in their ears. We block visual and audio stimulation. This is the ultimate comfort to a child.
Sheyne wraps children up until 18mths. The main concern with wrapping is keeping them safe. Sheyne is a big advocate of the product ‘Safe T Sleep’ which ensures they don’t roll onto their tummy. If you take away all the sleeping tools you end up sleeping in the bed with your baby or on a couch and this is where babies are slipping down into dangerous positions and we are losing them. Sheyne has authored a book specifically on wrapping your baby.
When the SIDS awareness campaign was first introduced the numbers went from 5,000 deaths a year (horrific!) to 50 a year. Now it has crept back up in excess of 1,000 per year. Parents end up not using safety measures because they think they are not safe, so they make a less safe choice I.e. on the couch.
Your baby can be wrapped at any time before 18 months. Sheyne currently has two clients, one with a 10 month old and one with an 11 month old .Neither had ever been wrapped before. Sheyne recently finished wrapping three 17 month olds. Two had a leg wrap and one had a full wrap. Two of them slept through on the first night, having previously woken every half hour during the night.. So many times we hear “Oh it’s impossible for a baby sleep through on the first night”. Not so, says Sheyne. “ If a baby is comfy, safe and snuggled and you put everything in the right place they are very good at sleeping ”.
What about babies who hate being wrapped?
Every single client Sheyne works with says “My baby hates being wrapped”. Sheyne takes their baby out of the wrap at 4 months and asks how they went. Parents respond that it was “terrible”. It wasn’t that th baby hated being wrapped. Babies either like being fully able to move, or not move at all. The problem is that babies aren’t getting progressive wrap techniques at 4 months. Babies can therefore partially move their arms and it frustrates the daylights out of them. If they can move in their wrap then their mission is to get out of it and they stop focusing on sleeping. Once they are out of their wrap they are miserable. This is when the parents think ‘Oohhh this is a disaster’ and stop wrapping.
Then they try controlled crying or go into co-sleeping.
If you baby has never been wrapped and you start wrapping (as your baby isn’t sleeping well), expect that your baby will protest against the wrap at first. Give them time to settle into the wrap and make sure it is firm and snug. I’m finding many parents seem to be using those zip up wraps where the baby can have their arms up. If your baby isn’t sleeping well in these wraps – stop using them. They are providing too much movement for your baby and your baby needs to be wrapped more firmly to be truly snug.
Babies may be doing fine while wrapped, but parents often take the wrap away as their baby starts rolling, thinking it isn’t safe. This is when sleeping problems begin.
The wrap wasn’t the problem – more likely it is the wrapping technique. You then have to comfort your baby, pat them to sleep, hold them and rock them or put them in bed with you. They are looking for comfort and you have to provide it. You have surrogated the wrap with yourself. Wrapping is such a large part of how Sheyne gets babies sleeping soundly at night that she has written a book specifically on wrapping.
It’s important to remember there isn’t one right way. If it is working well for you and your baby is in a safe environment and sleeping well with whatever technique you are using that’s fine.
When it’s a problem…
Your baby isn’t responding to the techniques being used and you become fatigued – your family is under stress, a marriage is at risk, a child is at risk, a parent is at risk – this is when you need to make changes immediately for safety reasons.
How bad can things get?
WARNING, these are the most EXTREME cases Sheyne has personally dealt with (rare cases) which you may find distressing. It’s important to remember in some of these cases the parent/s haven’t slept for 7+ days straight (not even a wink!) and their baby screams all day. The circumstances are extreme and play havoc on body and soul. The parents hit rock bottom. Mental illness and drugs is/can also be a significantfactor. If you are expecting a baby for the first time, knowing the good and the bad firsthand can prepare you, make you feel human, and you’ll know what to look out for and seek help if there’s stress in your family home.
Sheyne sees parents when the children are at risk and the mothers are at risk. Some have just been released from psychiatric care into her care or they have had a suicide attempt. Some have written to Sheyne telling her about their day dreams where they imagine putting a weight on themselves and dropping themselves and baby to the bottom of the pool. Or ringing their husband telling them their baby is floating in the bath, he’s dead and don’t know what they have done.
When parents go into a chronic stage of stress, this is when you have unsuspecting parents throw their children out the window or at a wall – it’s outside of any rational thinking. They are in a fight or flight state so whatever is causing them harm and jeopardizing their mental stability their body reacts to.
At this point during the interview I couldn’t help but feel concerned for Sheyne’s wellbeing and the pressure she must feel to help these families.
Sheyne immediately put me at ease when I showed my concerns for her. She explained she has never felt the pressure to succeed. She is not confident in all areas of her life but in this area, she is really confident and usually can’t wait to get there. She knows she will be able to make dramatic changes.
For Sheyne, there is always a sense of urgency, but in modern day sleep repair when working with a mother who is suffering from drug addiction, this is one of the most frightening encounters. Sheyne receives frightening messages and threats and they are not rational. Messages like ‘If you don’t come right now the baby is going in a box on the highway’. Sheyne refers these cases on, but they are rare. They often occur after an appearance on TV.
Sheyne shared one incident she really struggled with. It was after an appearance on TV. Melissa Doyle mentioned something about (don’t quote on it!) ‘I can almost understand how a child can be thrown out a window’ referring along those lines, as generally it can get that bad. Sheyne remembers thinking ‘Oh No!’ Because what this does is open a can of worms and people think “Oh, so someone does know this is where I am at” and they reach out.
After this particular appearance Sheyne got more frightening cases coming her way. But on general day-to-day basis Sheyne does not get these cases.
Sheyne has had situations where the mothers have gone, they have moved to another country as they are just not coping anymore. They are ready to adopt their child out, they are looking into adoption agencies and they are not enjoying their parenting journey.
I want to share this particular story Sheyne told me. This story shows in some cases the current system fails mums. There is help out there – you just need to find the RIGHT help. KEEP searching. Sheyne called a mother the day she had an incident where her baby had severed her nipple – had bitten right through. Sheyne called ½ an hour too late.The mother had thrown the baby on the floor, tried to get him off while he was still attached and when he came off her instinct was to smash through his head with her fist. He rolled and she hit the tiled floor and got a compound fracture through her hand. She was put into hospital into a psychiatric support unit for mothers and babies and was later released into Sheyne’s care.
Sheyne took her to parliament house because after 32 support agencies had failed her, Sheyne had the baby sleeping in 12 hours. Having a philosophy and a strategy that is strong enough to support a family in the depths of the deepest crisis for a mother and child at risk is an exciting thing for Sheyne to have as a tool.
Sheyne has to be careful about how she paces herself. She has only started working again in November 2015 after taking two years off for her daughter’s cancer treatment. Her daughter is only 3 years and 9 months. With cancer there is a huge element of trauma in her life from which she is still recovering. Sheyne is confident they will be ok and feels she can move forward. She is very reluctant to take on significant cases and more likely to refer on a child at risk or a parent at risk.
Sheyne hopes one day she will go back to in-home support for crisis families because it has been the most incredible life experience to go through with a family. She gets to do it over and over and over again and it enriches her life in a way she can’t even explain. These families become friends for life and become very close.
By this stage of the interview I’m so in awe I think… Has she ever had a baby she couldn’t settle?
“If you adopt a philosophy during the day on how you manage your child, to ensure you child is fully skilled before you adopt any crying approach and your child is still unable to sleep though – even though they can sleep independently, play in their cot, cope with you leaving the room, they are eating right, they are sleeping at the right times, but they are waking up in pain every night. You don’t ask a person who doesn’t know your child to train your child to sleep and leave them screaming. ”
If Sheyne had of done this with her daughter she may well have lost her from spinal cord compression. Sheyne never ever left her to cry because until you can resolve the right issues during the day you can’t forge with sleep. She knew there was something wrong. She could never resolve her daughter with what was going on with her medically and still to this day she would have done what she done 20, 10 years ago as it was appropriate.
A Little on co-sleeping
Sheyne’s daughter is a co-sleeper, she has been through trauma, and so has Sheyne. She’s a child who needs to be close. . Sheyne puts her in their bed and she heads downstairs to do what she needs to do going to bed later.
Sheyne has worked with a mother whose husband died in a motorbike accident 4 weeks prior. The mother said “I need my baby to sleep.” Sheyne said “you must co-sleep” . There are some babies where it is not appropriate for them to sleep independently, so you have to cater for every child’s individual needs.
I wondered why Sheyne hadn’t written a book specifically for babies under 6 months. Sheyne felt it was too scary.“At this age they are very precious”, she explains. Sometimes when a parents confidence is very low, they forgo their instincts and do what is written in front of them and that’s not great for a baby.
Sheyne decided not to pursue this yet as she feels you need to get to know your baby – to need to connect and bond and hold and snuggle and be close.
She believes a baby under 6 months should not be put into a routine because until they have a circadian rhythm it’s not even possible. You can work with basic frameworks but when Sheyne is working with these clients it’s one on one and over the phone, always monitoring them. She believes it is dangerous to treat your baby on their mass. A parent needs the time to find their own feet without other people interfering or telling them what to do.
If you find at the transitional window (6mths +) they are still having trouble then it’s time to start investigating. Every parent should read the “Baby Dream Guide” from the time they are pregnant. If you knew everything in this book before you have your baby everything would be different. This is Sheyne’s number one tip! After reading Sheyne’s book, I wish I read it before my babies were born. With a newborn it’s hard to find the time to read anything or even have a shower! Please do yourself a favour and read it BEFORE baby arrives.
How can Sheyne help you?
Sheyne likes to speak to everyone. If you email, she will get back to you personally. Visit http://www.australianbabywhisperer.com.au/html/contact.php. The website is currently getting a complete overhaul as the last 4 years have been insanely crazy with her own parenting journey. She’s only re-establishing and re-launching everything now.
Sheyne’s work is via consultation and some hands-on work around Sydney metropolitan areas and outskirts.
Sheyne has recently been discussing the possibility of visiting families in their homes with her family. If she needed to go would everyone step in and fill in the gaps? Sheyne is still reluctant to leave her little girl. “I’ve got my arms wrapped around her quite firmly” she adds, “but she’s started Kindergarten for the first time and she’s loving it so all’s good. ”
Offering a series of services
- Strategic consultation for babies under 6 months. Usually really effective after one or two consults.
- Consultations for babies over 6 months come in several packages to suit your child’s needs. Programs are mainly based on educating a parent
– full sleep repair programs
– training sessions
– individual consultations
Sheyne consults alone as she would never trust someone else with your baby.
Sheyne’s gift helped save her daughter
Sheyne feels she has a gift, and she used this gift to get her little girl through her cancer treatment and to get her though chemo by using a language she understood, using strategy that put a smile on her face through the entire treatment and getting her to eat the whole way through. She was the only baby who didn’t need a nasal gastric tube to be fed because Sheyne knew exactly what she needed to do to keep her feeding.
Sheyne always wondered why on earth she had fell into this career and the day her daughter was diagnosed with cancer she realized her gift was never to save anyone else, it was only ever to save her daughter. (I just got goosebumps!)
Sheyne is incredibly passionate about children and the families she meets. I feel deeply touched from speaking with her and hearing her experiences. I got a taste of the incredible experience I know families would receive from working with her. She is incredibly humble. It’s always about the babies and families. We need more Sheyne’s in this world.
If you’d like to get in touch CONTACT JESS I’d love to hear from you.