‘How could we have helped you better?’ While I was reflecting on how best to answer the question the Nurse Manager of my sleep school had asked me, it occurred to me that the very first thing they could have asked me is how I had hoped I would be able to mother my baby.
- Was I someone who likes the idea of baby being put on a routine from early on or would I prefer to follow my baby’s cues?
- Was I someone who did not want to feed, cuddle or rock my baby to sleep or was I happy to utilise whatever method/s suited my baby best?
- Was I someone who was keen to get baby into their own room in their own cot as soon as possible or someone who felt more comfortable having baby close by and would be interested in learning more about co sleeping and bedsharing?
- Was I someone who was happy to or needed to formula feed, combination feed or breastfeed at set times and not too phased if breastfeeding ends before natural term or was I someone who wanted to exclusively breastfeed on demand until weaning, paced bottle feed or combination feed on demand?
Asking these questions would have helped them to find out what felt right in my heart and what my instincts told me was important for MY baby. Instead, they have their prescribed ‘responsive settling’ techniques that are the supposed answer to all sleep deprived mother’s prayers. This prescribed approach is not only inflexible but it can completely contradict everything a mother has been doing making her feel like she herself has been ‘failing’ and is the root cause of her wakeful baby’s habits. The notion that you have set up sleep associations, sleep crutches, bad habits all because you have been responding to your baby’s needs for comfort and sleep in the way that suits them best is as unfair as it is dangerous.
For me, if they had bothered to ask, my answers would have been-
o I would prefer to follow my baby’s cues
o Utilise whatever method works as long as I got some rest!
o I felt much more comfortable having my baby near me and I would love to learn more about bedsharing safely and how to breastfeed lying down.
o I wanted to exclusively breastfeed to 6 months and then continue to breastfeed after the introduction of solids to compliment his diet until at least 12 months if not beyond. I do not want to use formula.
For other mothers, if they had cared to ask, may well prefer the more routine approach or somewhere in between the two. It all matters. How a mother wants to mother, matters. It matters more than ever in today’s society where so many mother’s are isolated. With limited or without family support. Without everyday, practical examples of what mothering can look like (not just the glossy Facebook version). Without a ‘village’. A mother needs to be encouraged to find what feels right in her heart as well her head because this mothering gig is riddled with guilt. If she is trying to walk around wearing someone else’s shoes, following someone else’s designated way of mothering it is going to be very difficult for a mother to find her confidence and her place in this new all encompassing role in her life.
So maybe that’s where these facilities could start. Respect the mother. Respect her instincts. Trust that she knows her baby best. Listen to her. Listen to her beliefs. Follow her lead.
If she thinks Responsive Settling is the right match for her and her baby then go ahead and support to her to implement this technique. If she wants to take a gentler path, don’t discount her. Help her to maximise the quality of her sleep while allowing her to settle her baby the way that suits her baby. Model safe bedsharing/ cosleeping options for her to see and try. Show her how to breastfeed lying down and teach her about safe babywearing.
If she’s not sure who she is yet and is struggling to answer these questions, talk with her. Talk about her childhood. Talk about mothers she knows. Allow her to explore her options without being lead down a path.
Educate mothers about normal infant sleep patterns. Help them realise that it is normal for babies to regularly cycle through times of waking more frequently. Progression is not linear, it is cyclical. Cat napping is normal. Resettling is only sometimes required and sometimes successful and not something to get hung up on. Waking when being put down is an evolutionary and biological norm, not a sleep problem. Falling asleep on the boob is normal, why else would your milk contain beautiful sleep inducing components. While some of these things may be ‘problematic’ if your aim is self settling they are normal nonetheless.
This too shall pass … The mothers motto. It’s all a phase and they are only this little and this needy this one time.
Help these mama’s network. Help her find her tribe. The internet is both a blessing and a curse for new mothers. It was a curse for me until I found my niche. Now I follow the most wonderful pages that are full of ideas, encouragement and support for mamas mothering the way I want to mother. If your facility cannot provide the after care and support these mothers need then don’t leave them hanging. Head them in the right direction to finding the support networks they will need. This is vital especially for those with no or limited family support or friends with babies.
I know not everyone will agree with what I am saying as many of you are coming from a similar gentle/ attachment parenting viewpoint as myself- sleep training has not been proven to be safe for the long term mental health of our babies and should therefore never be used. Thing is, many mothers disagree (rightly or wrongly). They make their decisions for their babies, for their family and their situation. They will implement strategies that they see fit.
The role I see for these facilities here is to guide these families to help their babies to sleep as hands free as possible while still following the cues the baby gives. If bub is getting distressed add in as much comfort as required to see that baby go to sleep with minimal fuss. This would be particularly important where mum’s preference is at odds with bub’s personality (mum wants a self settling cot sleeper but Bub is a high needs Velcro baby who needs loads of comfort and closeness). Reassure the mother that ‘giving in’ is not a bad thing. Surrendering to their baby’s needs is not setting them up for a clingy sooky mama’s baby long term. Help them to gently make changes to get them to their end goal. Baby steps. All does not need to be ‘solved’ in the time they are at the facility. The goal should be to fill that Mama’s toolbox and confidence right back up. She can do this by working WITH her baby not against her baby.
Being sleep deprived with a happy, calm baby is a very different experience to being sleep deprived with a distressed, angry and insecure baby.
Now this may all be my fanciful pie in the sky thinking right now, but truly, if they really want to know, ‘how they could have helped me better,’ then I hope that they at least pause to imagine what I have said being actioned. Confident mothers, following their instincts, mothering their way in a safe and respectful manner- surely that is a vision worth fighting for.
I would love to hear if other mamas who have been in the same position would have appreciated a service such as this.