Normal infant sleep: honouring the village mother within

Normal infant sleep: honouring the village mother within

Once upon a time, we lived a village life. I know, I know … we don’t anymore and quite honestly when it comes to raising our families, the lack of village frankly sucks. But it’s not just the support structures that a village life provided for families that has been lost. Something possibly even more crucial has all but disappeared… knowledge of what is normal and practical day to day, night to night experience with a range of infants and watching mothers mother.  

For generations, mothers were surrounded by mothers, surrounded by babies and children of varying ages and stages.

It would have been an easier and far more natural education for a new mother to transition into her role as she would have been coming with a whole life experience of living and learning about infants and how they behave as they develop in a biologically normal manner.

She would’ve witnessed the early days of nursing, experimenting with holds and attachment, cluster feeding, night nursing, establishing supply and maintaining supply.

She would’ve already known that some babies sleep easily while most need a lot of help. She would’ve seen babies progress through their first year and beyond. She would’ve noticed the cyclical nature of their sleep. Sometimes waking more frequently and nursing more often or requiring more help than they had previously.

She would’ve been taught to babywear and probably had already worn other babies in her village and so knew the benefits to both mother and child.

She would’ve not thought twice about bringing her child to her bed to maximise both of their sleep.

She would’ve seen that day sleep was as varied in length from infant to infant as night sleep and she would know it was okay for a baby to ‘catnap’ and that sometimes a breastfeed or cuddle may extend a nap but other times, resettling simply wasn’t what was needed by that baby right then.

She would know to look for signs her baby was getting weary and she would’ve calmed that baby off to sleep at the breast, in her arms or in a carrier without stressing about getting them ‘down’.

She would’ve been witness to the heartbreakingly short but extremely intense weary season that is the first couple of years of an infant’s life.

She would not have had to worry about ‘bad habits’, she would not have worried her baby would still be needing to be nursed or rocked to sleep out of infanthood. She would not have worried if that baby would ever leave her bed.

She would not have worried because she would have witnessed the beautiful unfolding of independence that occurs so naturally as the children of her village grew.

She would have been confident that her baby’s dependence on her in the early days and years is but a fleeting and ever so normal and needed stage in that child’s life.

By unquestioningly responding to her baby’s normal dependent behaviour, she would have known she was allowing deep, healthy, reliable roots to establish in her baby’s world upon which independence and a sense of self would branch and blossom.

Sleep training would not be something she knew of and if it had been described to her, she would’ve recoiled and protectively enveloped her child, wanting to shield them from a practice that is so foreign and at odds with a baby’s biologically normal sleep behaviour.

This village mother still lives. I know. I found her deep in my heart. Deep in my motherly instincts. Deep in my soul.

Sadly for me, I didn’t honour her as she deserved until after I fell prey to the sleep training industry.

In the absence of village life with mothers coming to mothering with a solid grounding in what is normal, we have become a world that is disconnected from ourselves and our baby’s legitimate needs. We have succumbed to fear … fear of birth, fear of mothering, fear of breastfeeding and fear for our sleep being unnecessarily interrupted by our baby.

So here’s our challenge… if you can recognise the village mother in yourself, honour her by mothering with knowledge of the norm and do it loudly and proudly. Talk, educate and support mothers and mothers of the future in your world. The physical village may be a thing of the past but mothers helping pass on the art of mothering is here … she is within us. Let’s play our part 💙😊

My top tips for getting your head around and accepting normal infant sleep for new and expecting mamas

1. Expect that your baby will wake ALOT and want to nurse back to sleep most times throughout the first year and beyond. 

2. Even if your baby starts sleeping longer … Expect it not to last. 

3. Expect there to be times when your baby will be super hard to settle and may be impossible to put down. 

4. Expect that your baby will catnap during the day (20-40minutes) and you may spend more time getting them to sleep than they actually stay asleep. 

5. Expect that at times, you will need to call in back up support to help you get the rest you need while meeting the night time needs of your baby. 

6. Expect that you may need to consider some sleeping arrangements that you may not see as your ideal situation (eg. Bedsharing when you really wanted a cot sleeper). 

7. Expect that your baby will want to sleep on the boob and not let go at times. This is normal and not a sleep or supply problem. 

8. Expect that in a few short years, it is a long forgotten ‘ stress’ and all you miss is all the cuddles , nursing and closeness.

Expect these things and then, if it turns out your baby finds sleep more easily than this, winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Realistic expectations (even if you consider them low expectations) make it so much easier mentally to prepare, surrender and make peace with your baby’s sleep behaviour. 
Your baby is so much more than their ability to sleep. Expect little in the way of sleep and enjoy them for the whole person they are 💙😴👍🏻

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