Laura Gainche is a gentle sleep consultant and scientist. She is a geneticist and has a PhD in human sleep physiology.
Laura lives with her daughter and her husband, who is Japanese in Tokyo, since 2018, but has been living in Japan on and off for 12 years. When her daughter was born she blended her scientific knowledge with her intuition and gradually developed her own sleep and parenting. She found out that her approach could be also helpful for other families. Since that time, she became passionate about helping families with a tailored sleep approach that includes so much more than just sleep.
Laura, you studied and researched all over the place in Trieste, Boston, Melbourne, Paris, Lausanne and Japan. Where were you inspired to launch your initiative “science for all women”?
I found out that I had serious hormonal issues a few months before falling pregnant, and I started studying for my own health. When I got pregnant, I knew that I was at high risk for miscarriage, I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to go all the way through my first pregnancy safely. I kept studying. And that’s when I confirmed that our society is very patriarchal and male oriented. Even though half of the population can carry children, there is very little interest in research on pregnancy or women in general. Actually, in animal study, researchers often chose male animals because they have less variation through not having period etc. And most research findings are often not applicable to women. And let’s not even get started on the lack of racial diversity in research.
Anyway, take morning sickness, for instance. Most women experience them, which means that there is a biological root, likely related to a few deficiencies. Well, even though it would be easy through the regular blood test at the gynaecologist to find out what they might be. It is not done and it is accepted that pregnancy and postpartum have to be uncomfortable and painful. I disagree with that. And that’s when sparked the idea of Science for All women, since there is a need, especially for women, to be more informed about the reality of their health and I want to give all of us the power to make our own choices throughout life whether it is taking the pill, being aware of your hormones and your sexuality, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and even menopause! We have options and choices, we should all be allowed to have them.
Did I understand it correctly that with a blood test you could find out the reason for the morning sickness and cure it?
Yes and no. In theory yes, but we need researchers to actually sort the data and find out a few root issues. And in the future pregnant women may be diagnosed for their root issue and find ways to help. It is not easy because, for instance, for sodium issue, it's a balance problem, and more intake does not always mean that you can increase your overall sodium etc.
And what can we do if we have pain or if we feel unconformable in the postpartum?
We need to be informed about which specialists to turn to for which pain. I want to be that kind of person for moms and moms to be, my network is probably one of my biggest worth outside of sleep. It is good to find people that you like and trust whether it is gynaecologist, pediatrician, osteopath, acupuncture, massage.
How do you approach the sleep training topic?
“Sleep training” is a relatively neutral expression that has unfortunately taken a specific meaning. For me sleep training simply means that there is a level of disconnection from the parent implemented in the technique. A disconnection from the child and a disconnection from the parent’s instincts.
My approach to sleep in younger ages is very different and absolutely relies on parent/child connection as well as parents’ instincts. I want parent to know the reality and biologically normal infant sleep, as well as what they can do according to their circumstances and child.
Why is the sleeping topic so important for you and why is an essential topic for parents?
I love sleep, I find it magical in so many ways. I have been fascinated about sleep since I was a teenager, and it made absolute sense for me to become a sleep scientist. After becoming a mom, I switched from being a researcher who wants to discover new findings to understanding how simple knowledge can change someone’s life. The information about sleep but also parenting and lifestyle that I share with families is life-changing, and can help from birth to the rest of a child’s life. Getting to understand the root of sleep is getting to understand what matters most in a parent-child’s relationship, and from there, things can start to flow and be more manageable.
What is important to know for moms-to be regarding sleep?
It is so important to receive realistic expectations about child sleep and postpartum before the child comes. Currently you only hear “you won’t sleep after becoming a mom” or “sleep when the baby sleep”. The reality is so different and so individual. Basically, you won’t know about your child’s preference or their needs until they come. There are kids who love sleeping in plain lights and sounds, other not. There are newborns who can be left on a bouncer for a little while, and others who will need arms constantly. There are babies who will do long stretches, and others much later. The age at which your child will do longer stretches of sleep is unique to your child. I want to mom’s to be to know that it is hard, but there are ways to make it manageable. And it is not black or white with only bedspring or sleep-training as the 2 unique options.
How can you help moms-to-be in the first year?
I can help them prepare but mostly focus on what really matters for the first few months, especially in COVID times, I feel like all moms should get EXTRA help during the postpartum time. Let me tell you a little bit; usually the first 6 to 9 months, we are supposed to follow our baby’s lead because they can communicate through few ways. That said it doesn’t mean that we cannot experiment and find different ways to make it work for us, for the family for the baby. There are many ways to sleep well with a baby that can work for a variety of people.
According to your experience, what is the “normal” sleep behavior of babies in the first months? How does it differ between breastfeeding or giving formula?
So what’s normal the first month?
1) a baby might want to only sleep on someone or in arms
2) they will likely need a lot of feedings day and night (whether breastfed or bottle fed)
3) They may refuse a bassinet or a crib
4) They can nap a lot and still wake up a lot at night
5) They may be very awake in the middle of the night
6) They may need specific ways to make them fall asleep (nurse, rock, bounce, all at once…)
And for a new mom, what’s normal?
1) to feel overwhelmed
2) to be resentful towards your partner
3) to feel like you have no idea what you are doing
4) to have the baby blues
5) to struggle with breastfeeding if that’s your choice (it is hard, and definitely get professional support) By the way lactation consultant can help bottle-feeding mothers too
What can we do?
- Use what works for you and baby for naps: carrier, stroller, darkness
• If that is an option for you, bedharing may help at least temporarily
• do a mix of bassinet/crib and bedsore (or a sidecar)
• Try to create a village of emotional and physical support (as safe as possible during COVID)
• Be specific about the help that you need and ASK for it
• Keep an eye on baby blues, and don’t be scared of asking mental health help too
• Practice self care.
According to the age of the baby, I can discuss realistic expectation for different ages.
Breastfeeding and Formula makes a huge difference. I am open to both, however, breastfeeding gives a variety of support at once. A bottle-fed baby may look for other ways to connect and feel secure.
Research is not great because it has been done either on all breastfed babies, or on all bottle-fed babies. What we know is that breastfed babies and moms who bed-share are strongly connected and will wake up almost simultaneously through the night. It is believed by anthropologist that this is a survival method, and it can lower the risk of SIDS for instance. In that case breast-sleeping and waking up a lot may be a protective mechanism that our society wants to tag as “bad behavior” but may be on the contrary, very positive.
Bottle-fed babies tend to sleep more deeply because, among other thing, it is higher in fat content compared to human milk. Breastsleeping specialist usually do not actively recommend (or at least cannot tale the responsibility) to bedshare with a bottle-fed baby. This is explained because there has not been research done to see if the connection and wakefulness of the mom and baby is the same when not breastfed. Since the breastmilk has a specific smell, it’s believed that the baby stays at a safe position next to mom and doesn’t go wonder around the bed where it may be less safe.
How can you help pregnant women? Do you also consult on nutrition?
I can help mom’s to be to really understand the first few months of postpartum. I can help prepare for what is actually needed. We are brainwashed by the society to believe that what we need is a pretty nursery, a crib and a stroller. Chances are you may get a baby that hates the stroller. I want pregnant women to and be able to be prepared for what they will actually need. I believe that is education and flexibility. Being a mom is hard, it is the hardest job. We love to be parents and there are so many things that we miss, and that’s ok. I want to help women find their way of parenting according to their environment, their culture, their beliefs.
I have also provided clients with various information for which I do a specific research on a given topic. However, at the moment I provide only family sleep services as it already takes up a lot of time.
What’s your opinion about sleep training?
The expression “sleep training” doesn’t bother me in itself, I find it neutral. However, it took on a new meaning in the modern years. Firstly, it implies that we need to train our babies to sleep, which is ridiculous. Secondly, most “sleep training” techniques actually do not train the baby to do anything. They tend to be a combination between training the parent to disconnect and distance themselves from their child. On top of that, they force the parent to ignore and disconnect their instincts that are actually built in for a reason. So in a nutshell, for me sleep training is a training for parents to not be parents at nighttime.
How does a consultation start and how does it look like?
A consult with me starts by 30 minutes free to get to know each other and see if we are on the same page. Some families need some services that I cannot provide, and I try to decipher whether we are a good match.
Then I send a very thorough intake (about 80 questions) including a lot about the family, the parents, and then the child of course.
I analyze the intake and then we schedule a 1h30 call where we discuss everything and start planning what we may need. It could be a referral to some other experts (which is often the case). It can be a plan to start some gradual changes. Everything is a work together to find what may work best for each family, I consider myself a consultant and not a coach because of that.
If moms / parents want to contact you, what is the best way to get in touch with you and will you be for some time around here in Japan, right?
The best way is to go on my website and contact me either on the “call me maybe button” which directs to booking a 30min session with me on my calendar. Or send me an email at email@example.com
At the moment I have specific schedules, but once we discuss via email, I always try to adapt and be as flexible as I can.
“People should accept that they feel bad during pregnancy or after they have a baby”, you said you disagree – what’s your advice?
Yes I totally disagree. As women we are told that it is normal to feel bad before/during our period. It is normal to feel uncomfortable or in pain when pregnant. And during postpartum all the focus is on the baby and we forget about the mom! I think it is unacceptable.
If you feel any discomfort whether digestive, or back pain, or insomnia, or even morning sickness… Whatever it may be you have the right to consult a Doctor and that Doctor should be good enough to listen to you and hear and take care of you. If you see a Doctor or any health provider and they don’t listen or answer your worries, I would recommend to see someone else. Take care of yourself, you matter, and you are an amazing human being.
Last but not least: what advice would you give pregnant women in Japan, regarding “sleep”?
I want to let them know that IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT! When you are pregnant you need to be taken care of, you need to be nurtured and feel your best. You are doing a huge job creating life and it is a short period of your life when it may be a good thing to let go and really focus on you and your needs. So take it easy, do what you like, be happy, and sleep as much as you need to!
Safe bed-sharing and breast-sleeping:
https://www.llli.org/the-safe-sleep-seven/ Instagram page of the completely illustrated breastfeeding book in English:
https://www.instagram.com/the_cibb/ ...and in French:
https://www.instagram.com/tt.en.tt/ ... slowly working towards a Japanese version: https://www.instagram.com/tchuu.tchuu/ English speaking pediatrician in Tokyo who cares for optimal nutrition: https://www.afc.tokyo/home