If you've ever looked after a young child for longer than a few hours, you know that sleep is a huge part of their life! And for new parents, it's a hugely daunting thing to get right. No matter their predisposition, all babies and children go through challenges with sleeping and relaxing at some point - due to anything from teething to growth spurts to something literally called sleep regression. And these challenges can sometimes be easy to ride out... and sometimes you need a little extra wisdom. What can you do? Sophie White, of Raise Workshops, has an answer for that...
GRASP: Tell us all about how you came to create Raise Workshops.
SOPHIE: I trained as a Norland Nanny and then spent over 10 years nannying and maternity nursing with some of the most amazing families. I loved working with all ages but had a specific interest in the first year or so and supporting the parents during this time, as well as looking after the baby. This sparked my first initial thoughts about a business and then after about 2 years of planning I launched Raise in February 2020 - just one month before the world shut down. The business has naturally evolved a lot since then and I have also moved out of London to Bloxham in Oxfordshire, which has given me the space to have a studio and offer workshops and classes to groups, which has been so fantastic.
GRASP: There's a ton of benefits to baby massage but it can still seem daunting. What advice would you give to people who are nervous to try it with their baby?
SOPHIE: A lot of people don't realise that baby massage is actually 80% about the communication between baby and carer and only 20% about the specific strokes. I think when parents hear this they feel less pressure to get every stroke perfect. I always start my 5 week course with the leg and feet massage as they are the least sensitive parts of the body and so a good starting point to get the babies used to the sensation of massage. As baby massage is a fully baby led activity, we only massage when the baby is calm and happy to be massaged - this again reduces pressure on a parent. Even if you just massage for a few minutes, you and your baby will still receive lots of the benefits.
GRASP: You've mentioned previously you like to talk about 'sleep education' over 'sleep training', and we love that this can inspire more confidence in the grown ups! What's your first piece of advice to new parents worried about their baby's sleep?
SOPHIE: I'm so passionate about 'sleep education', as the narrative around baby sleep seems to have drifted from what is often normal, healthy and developmentally correct for a baby's sleep to the expectation for babies to be sleeping 12 hours through the night and having perfect long naps everyday. For some babies this is their normal sleep, but for a lot of babies it isn't and this can cause a lot of stress for parents. A big part of my sleep workshops covers the science behind infant sleep and then things we can do to support healthy and positive sleep. It is so normal for babies' sleep to chop and change depending on development, illness, teething, environment etc., and a lot of the time we can reduce our stress and worries if we understand how we can support our babies through transitions and bumps in their sleep journeys. As you have said, it is so important to give parents the confidence to follow their instincts and that they can support their baby whilst supporting and enabling healthy and positive sleep.
GRASP: How important is it for people to see the links between a baby's sleep and their feeding, activity, or other elements of their day?
SOPHIE: So important. Exposure to natural light during the day helps support the development of a baby's circadian rhythm (their body's wake/sleep cycle). A hungry baby will be very hard to settle to sleep and will wake shortly after falling asleep. We also need to build up our need for sleep: giving your baby unrestricted but supervised play time on the floor on their tummy and back massively supports their development but also builds up their need to sleep, as do social interactions. This can be as simple as a newborn looking up at you and watching you talk to them from your arms.
GRASP: How was the pandemic for you - both in terms of your work but also the families you dealt with?
SOPHIE: I launched Raise Workshops initially back in February 2020. Not the best timing unfortunately! I did go online but I didn't have a large client base as I had only just started so this was tricky, but a good learning curve on how to pivot and always expect the unexpected in business! I was nannying two days a week and running my business on the other days. Working with a toddler and newborn during the long winter lockdown of 2021 was actually such a positive in such a hard time (I upped my days to four days a week during this lockdown). I was always a sociable nanny who liked to go to classes and have playdates so I missed this part massively but we spent a lot of time outside (wrapped up against the elements) exploring corners of our London Borough that we probably would never have found at other times. The little river, the days the canal froze over and the discovery that a torch and a park full of daffodils could entertain a toddler for extended periods of time was wonderful! It also gave the family time to settle into being a family of four and get to know their new addition without the rushing around that comes with everyday life out of lockdowns. It was definitely hard and a worrying time for Raise Workshops as I had just got going finally during the summer of 2020 and having to cancel lots of clients who had booked onto face to face workshops in the November was a very tough moment.
GRASP: What does the future hold for Raise Workshops?
SOPHIE: Hopefully lots of happy babies and parents coming into the studio to play, learn baby massage, and take part in workshops. I'm excited to support lots more parents through sleep and weaning journeys and teaching lots of parents, grandparents and nannies paediatric first aid. I feel so lucky I get to do what I love day in and out and meet so many wonderful parents and babies, so if I can keep doing that I'll be so happy!
Our Spotlight series features founders and brands that inspire us. Whether it’s empowering kids, inspiring parents, or making sustainable solutions part of everyday life, we’ve spoken to people who embody the values at the heart of GRASP. Our hope is that these founder’s stories, the products they’re making, and their ambition to make a difference in the world also inspires you.