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What’s in a name? Sleep training techniques 

Sleep training techniques come under many names. Some names are quite accurate, some serve to help ‘soften’ what lies beneath.  

In the interest of integrity for those parents new to this game who are wondering what the differences are, I thought I’d help a little by defining what I think is the true meaning behind the sleep training names.

CRY IT OUT – fairly self explanatory but still softened by not defining the ‘IT’ that is being cried out. The ‘IT’ is your child’s trust and belief that they will have their voice heard, respected and that they indeed matter at all once the night begins. ‘IT’ comes in the form of their heartbroken cries that go unanswered. Their whimpers, their deep sobs, their uneven breathing, their sweat, tears and drool. Possibly even their vomit. Extinction sleep training at its cruelest.
Place your baby in their bed, walk out, close the door, don’t open door until the next morning. 

To put it simply, Cry It Out is night time child neglect.

CONTROLLED CRYING– is also an extinction sleep training method with the same goal as Cry It Out but without the full blown neglect as you do actually go back in to your baby so you are, in effect, supervising them. Supervising is about it though. You go back in to ‘comfort’ and ‘reassure’ your child but without any real comfort or reassurance provided as you want to make sure your child is as ‘detached’ and ‘independent’ as possible and things like physical contact, eye contact and you know, genuine empathetic responsiveness, will only confuse your child or heaven forbid prolong their suffering as you are just going to walk back out to ‘allow’ them time to sort themselves out in a minute anyway. Oh but you’ll go back in again after the timer dings and tells you you can … it’ll be longer each time regardless of your child’s distress levels. But you know, it’s ‘controlled’? Yep, you have the control. You can follow this horrible protocol and bam, after about 3 nights or so, you will achieve full extinction… wow, what a wonderful technique. Extinguishing a helpless, completely trusting human’s belief that they can and will be heard when they cry out to their loved ones. Sounds like a great platform to build healthy sleep habits and relationships for life.

CONTROLLED COMFORTING– same as Controlled Crying but see how the word ‘comforting’ sounds so much nicer?!? Like you ARE comforting … it’s just controlled… oh how lovely. Shame that it’s exactly the same technique just with a ‘softer’ name helping it with its PR.

RESPONSIVE SETTLING/ COMFORT SETTLING– this is the one the sleep school I attended taught and advocates for. It’s more cue based than the good old timer that helps ‘control’ controlled crying and the comfort does escalate to full on in arms calming and settling once the baby is hysterical so I guess in some ways it’s kinder and gentler but it was enormously traumatic for my baby and still involved so much crying and still involved me being told to ignore his ‘protesting’ which still served to tell my baby that he couldn’t just expect to be heard and understood by calling out to me, nope, I had wait until he was ‘emotional’ which for my guy meant ‘hysterical’ as he was and is a 0-100 baby … all or nothing.

This technique still works with the premise that you are teaching your baby to ‘settle’ themselves… something that is physiologically impossible. No baby or even young child has the emotional regulation required to settle themselves from a place of distress. Sarah Ockwell Smith and Dr Tracy Cassels do a fabulous job explaining this.

This technique appeals to many who can’t ‘stomach’ the Cry It Out or Controlled Crying techniques but it begs the question, while the aims are the same – to extinguish a child’s ability to be heard, is it really that much better?

CAMPING OUT– usually involves still ‘allowing’ your child to ‘settle’ themselves in their cot but they have you there with them offering your presence, maybe your voice but without being able to hold and soothe in arms. You gradually ‘camp’ further and further away until you ultimately leave the room. All sounds great if your child is calm and comforted sufficiently by your presence but for most babies, really you are just standing as witness to their distress as the comfort they need to soothe is not forthcoming. Babies need touch to regulate their system. Withholding your touch is still teaching your baby that their cries will not be understood. They want your physical touch and you give your physical presence. The mismatch is a significant confusion and barrier between you and your baby.

NIGHTTIME FADING– this is a slow and gentler technique that sees you very gradually making changes and fading certain ways of comforting out of your baby’s sleep and settling rhythm. When done well, there should be little to no crying as your baby’s cry should be used as a sign to take a step back rather than ploughing on forward. If your baby is not ready for the fading it will not ‘work’ and that should also be respected and fading may be attempted further down the track if you so desire. Pinky McKay, Sarah Ockwell Smith, Elizabeth Pantley and Dr Pamela Douglas of The Possums Clinic, all offer more detailed information on attempting to make any changes to your baby’s sleep and settling. As Pinky McKay says, ‘gently and with love’ should always be your motto when trying anything new with your baby.

The good old, ever popular ‘rip the bandaid off’ mantra is just downright cruel and heartless when it comes to a baby’s sleep. Our babies are new in this world. They naturally find comfort in our arms and at our breast. They do not have the physiological or emotional capacity to be ‘independent’ with sleep from a very young age and their sleep looks nothing like how society paints it.

If you’re facing pressure to leave your baby cry or subject them to sleep training, I strongly ask you to do your homework on what normal infant sleep looks like, how it develops and what you can do besides  sleep training to get through this time in your life. Our society is obsessed with sleep training but hates it when anyone scratches the surface to reveal what’s underneath.

It is high time we as a society move beyond sleep training.

We can and should do better.

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I AM enough, but today, it’s too much

I AM enough, but today, it’s too much


Heart on sleeve- I’m a broken woman today. The mask is off, façade has come crumbling down. Today I am not okay.  

Today, is the first time in months I have cried and felt just plain sorry for me.

I don’t want to mum.  
I don’t want to give one more ‘cuggle’.  
I don’t want to handle any more whining or tantrums.  
I’m sick of having someone clinging to my leg and someone else calling out, ‘mama’ for the 300 billionth time today.  
I’m sick of nappies and chasing muscly little bodies as the twist and struggle while I try to change them.  
I’m sick of waking up tired.  
I’m sick of being woken up.  
I’m sick of breastfeeding.  
I’m sick of the dumb fucking Mirena that has given me nothing but hell for 12 months and now has added horrendous hormone headaches and the periods from hell to its crappy repertoire of non stop spotting and breakthrough bleeding..  
I dream of my old life before kids.  
I dream of running away.  
I’ve been mentally planning a ‘Girl’s weekend’ in my head all morning even though none of my girlfriends will be able to attend for the next 5-10 years with the way we seem to be multiplying like rabbits.  
I sat and cried while I held my two precious babes and felt the weight of the world so squarely on my shoulders that it ached.

My two year old saw my tears and as he wiped them away, he said, ‘ are you okay, mama? Why you crying? Do you need me to hug you tighter?’  
He then squeezed me tight and comforted his mama.  
He then pipes up and says, ‘I know mama, you need a Nana cuggle, she’ll help you feel better, she your mummy, mama.’ 
And just like that, my bitter pity party tears slipped away and instead gave way to gratefulness and love.

I am so done today but when I tried to think of one thing I’d like to change, the only thing that came to mind was that I desperately needed a break to catch my breath.

I LOVE being a mum.  
I LOVE being able to cuddle my babies and soothe their woes.  
I LOVE watching my babies grow and learn and I know that whining and tantrums are part of finding their sense of self and working through their emotions.  
I LOVE that my babies know they can depend on me and I LOVE being called, ‘mama’.  
I LOVE that twisting, active energiser bunny who is so busy he can’t fathom why he must stop for menial tasks like nappy changes or eating.  
I LOVE knowing my baby’s needs are met at night.  
I am not ready to stop bedsharing or interested in night weaning.  
I LOVE having the privilege of being able to nurse my baby and I know a lot of my aversion is due to hormones that are out of whack.  
I LOVE that the Mirena has prevented me from getting pregnant but I’m so relieved I am getting it out. 

I dream of my old life before kids but can’t imagine life without them.  
I dream of running away but only for an hour or two.  
I dream of my girl’s weekend and I know it will come all too soon in the grand scheme of things.  
I am happy and sad.  
Grateful and used up 
Fulfilled and unfulfilled  
Complete and incomplete  
Simple and complex.  
I am a whole person and what I can give is ENOUGH.  
I am a mother and woman in my own right.  
I have limits that get exceeded and sometimes being enough is too much.  
Today, I need to find me.  
I am enough.  
I matter.  
I can do hard things but I may need support to do them.  
I am enough, even when it’s all too much.  
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Cutting to the chase when it comes to Sleep Trainer’s advertising

I love how the ABC’s show The Checkout dissects advertising to help people who are not trained in the area of marketing to recognise the tricks and smoke shields that have been employed to distract the audience while hammering home their true message. Sometimes it’s bleedingly obvious, other times, it’s subtle and hard to identify. One thing remains the same – they are trying to SELL you something. If they can’t get you or enough of your fellow potential customers to shell out, then they’ll be out of business.  

That does not mean that all businesses are sneaky or lack integrity. Businesses can be very honest and hold extremely high standards both in actual dealings with customers but also in their advertising. They may be clever with their advertising while not being sneaky. They may reach out to prospective clients without preying on them. But, even those businesses with the most outstanding moral code, would not deny (and shouldn’t deny because it is a business after all), that they are out to make a buck and any form of advertising needs to make back its own cost and generate extra business and money flow to make it worthwhile.

The sleep training industry and sleep training consultancies are no different.

Make no mistake, while they may genuinely believe they want to help you and your family, they also want your business.

I have seen an increasing number of sleep training business’ advertisements popping up on my Facebook newsfeed, which does not surprise me considering how many articles and conversations I have about infant sleep. Of course, Facebook has identified it as a potential ‘interest’ for me and so I bear the brunt of the same onslaught many new mothers would bear when they’ve been up googling, ‘why the f#%^ won’t my baby sleep?’ And I have to say, the marketing is particularly clever.

So often, I see advertisements and the posts attached that are claiming to be all so very open minded about whether sleep training is the right ‘choice’ for you and your family- offers of refunds, some partially accurate information on normal infant sleep (always with some kind of limitation on how long this behaviour is ‘normal’) and loads of, ‘if it’s working for you, great, keep going’ kind of talk.

What can look like these businesses have finally seen some sense and updated their advice against sleep training babies who are sleeping exactly as a human baby should, is actually a guise for a marketing tool that totally sucked me in while I was in my haze of sleep deprived exhaustion. It is a tool that makes you sound like they totally ‘get’ what it’s like to have a baby and to feel tired, and like they totally ‘get’ that waking is normal (to a point) and they even ‘get’ that some people may not want to ‘change’ anything and go a la naturale. Meanwhile, the kicker comes at the end in the sometimes subtle, other time not so subtle, ‘but if you want an out, we’ve got it!’ ‘ If you want to return to the magical land of sleep, step right this way!’ ‘If you change your mind and decide you want to train your child, I’ll be right here to hold your hand.’

That’s a very big kick in the guts that keeps on kicking for mothers who have been following their instincts and have been riddled with doubt with their wakeful baby, still wondering if this is something they should ‘just put up with’ or whether it can/ should be ‘fixed’.

Do you know how good those promises sound to an extremely vulnerable, completely exhausted mother who is living on struggle street day in night out?!? They sound like the magical freaking oasis you’d dream of after four days lost in the desert and you are out of your mind dehydrated and delirious.

No matter that what you get to drink at the end is basically freaking sand.

Oh hang on, but what about all the testimonials of how awesomely amazing and awesome and stuff this trainer Consultant person was/ is?!? They don’t sound like their throat is raw from drinking sand?!? What’s going on here?

Well, the failures like me most certainly sounded very hoarse, not to mention crushed and soul destroyed by the experience but as I’ve said before, we are the riff raff… most ‘success’ stories do sound like they’ve drunk some of the magic elixir and are full of praise and gushing with gratitude.

So am I just some bitter and twisted shrew? Surely if most of the clients finish happy then what’s the problem?

Well two problems really.

In the vast majority, (though not all), the baby being the other human client has been put through a huge amount of stress and trauma. You can break it down and call it short term, you can say it was worth it, you can dismiss it as ‘protesting’ but considering none of us can actually hear it from the baby’s mouth as they are too immature to be able to share their actual thoughts and experience here, I’m going to take the opportunity to offer an alternative to the narrative the sleep trainers and many of their successful clients will tell on behalf of the voiceless being in the picture. I strongly believe that if a baby undergoing sleep training could talk, they’d say, ‘I just want you Mummy. Please pick me up. Please hold me tight. I don’t feel good right now. I’m tired and scared. Why won’t you hold me mummy? I know you love me. Please pick me up mum, I’m tired.’

A baby does not need to be sleep trained. Ever. They know how to sleep, even if they need a huge amount of help to get to sleep and maintain it, they know how to sleep.

It is normal for a baby to wake and nurse frequently throughout the first year and beyond. A baby waking extremely frequently may very likely have underlying health issues that are exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour. They do not need sleep training.

The second problem is the end product of a mother who now feels more ‘confident’ in how to mother her baby.

Now that doesn’t sound like a problem, that sounds like a good thing doesn’t it?!?

Yep, so glossy and good on the surface but so ugly underneath.

This faux ‘confidence’ has come at an expensive cost. This mother now feels she knows just the ‘right’ amount of response and comfort she should offer her baby.

Problem is, the only true answer to the ‘right’ amount of response and comfort can come from following her baby’s lead, not some regime or set of rules and limitations as set out by the sleep training consultant.

The mother went in thinking she had no idea how to settle or read her baby, sadly, despite what she thinks on exiting the program, she now knows even less.

And so, the dollars keep on rolling in.

The sleep training juggernaut continues to grow.

 Another happy, satisfied customer comes away with the sleep they were promised, along with the bonus of new found confidence and staunch belief that they, too should impart their new knowledge with mothers who cross their paths.

And so it goes.

And so it will sadly continue until we, who can see through the guise, can find our voices and unite to take a stand.

We need to first imagine a world that has moved beyond sleep training. A world that recognises and values a baby’s biologically normal sleep and nursing behaviours as expected and respected elements of development and in turn recognise, respect and honour the very real need for support for mothers as they make their way through this critical, though exhausting time in her life.

Our babies and mothers deserve better than to have companies profiting from this confusing and vulnerable time.

We can and should call for a change.

It’s high time we moved beyond sleep training.

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My thoughts on the ‘well it worked for me’ statements around Sleep Training


Sleep training and all of the miracles it works for tired families everywhere are heralded throughout our western society and culture. You’ll hear incredible success stories of how it saved someone’s sanity, or marriage or relationship with their baby and other children. It is the ‘go to’ for many a family who know that the mother will need to return to paid employment in the short, medium or even longer term after her baby is born. You’ll hear about it from friends, family, strangers on the street, Child Health Nurses, General Practitioners, Paediatricians and other trusted care providers. You’ll read about it in parenting books and on forums, websites and social media.  
Why on earth would anyone choose to stay sleep deprived and put their child’s development and future sleep patterns at risk when there is an answer to be found, a cure all that brings back heavenly sleep, a sanity saving treatment that has ‘worked’ for so many others?

You’d have to be a glutton for punishment, careless or even downright lazy not to find the strength to sort this out.

Babies need a lot of sleep, don’t you know? 
They are safest sleeping on their backs in their own cots, don’t you know?  
Babies shouldn’t be nursed to sleep, it’s a bad habit that is hard to break, don’t you know?  
A baby needs to learn to self settle and they need you to teach them this so they can get the sleep they need, don’t you know?  
Babies shouldn’t be nursing whenever they want as it’s not nutritive and they are just using you as a pacifier, don’t you know? 
A catnapping baby is chronically sleep deprived, don’t you know?  
Aah, the sleepy ideal of the self settling, long napping, all night sleeping baby: the holy grail of parenting and beacon of successful coping of life after baby- the ‘good baby’ can match this and the ‘good’ mother can make it so.
This is how most people see and base their beliefs around infant sleep and it is completely and utterly at odds with the way normal human infants behave when it comes to nursing and sleeping.

The sleep training industry is going gangbusters. The rise and rise of the baby sleep whisperers seems to know no end.

And it’s got nothing to do with any rise in infant sleep problems (which are in fact extremely rare and are far more likely the result of an underlying health issue that is exacerbating the normal wakeful behaviour of the baby … that’s right, it’s normal for a baby to be wakeful). Our society has come so far from the knowledge of what truly normal infant sleep looks like and how it plays out over the first few years of life that close to half of parents (36-45%) claim that their baby at 6 months has a sleep problem.

I’ll say that again, close to HALF of parents think their 6 month old baby has a sleep problem.

Hmmmmm, I smell a rat. If close to half of babies are behaving this way, then perhaps that’s because that’s how babies are meant to behave … I know, a revolutionary thought right there.

This is especially important to be considered alongside the fact that MANY people choose to sleep train their baby from before 6 months and even from the day they are born and therefore they would never see the normal development or pattern of signalling a baby would follow as they’ve been trained to not call out for help from the very early days of life. They also wouldn’t be factored in to the 36-45% of reported as having sleep problems. If they hadn’t already been ‘intervened on’, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that easily more than half and therefore the majority of babies would have been identified as having sleep problems as defined by our western societal norms.

It begs the question, is it the babies with the problem or society’s misguided, disjointed and unrealistic expectations that are the true problem?

So while this massive industry is thriving and word of mouth and real life examples of the miracles that occur when ‘my baby was waking at least 3-4 times a night but is now sleeping 12 hours straight in their own cot and I’m like a new woman, I can’t recommend it highly enough!’ the thinking continues that THIS is the way to go.

This is what we do now and you can jump on this bandwagon and live happily sleepy ever after or you can stay over there in your sleep deprived haze with your child who will never EVER sleep on their own, without your boob in their mouth and they’ll be forever damaged because you didn’t get them the nicely consolidated chunks of sleep you would get if you just did your job and taught them to self settle … so don’t come to me whingeing about how exhausted you are, you’ve made your bed, so now lay in it. How’s that rod treating you? I’m feeling refreshed and energised, but those bags under your eyes really do become you.

You get my drift.

It’s just the usual shit you hear on a regular if not daily basis as you mother your very young, wakeful child.

But then there’s folks like me, the riff raff if you like, who spend much of our time poking holes and asking questions about the wonder that is Sleep Training.

We, the sleep training failures of the world … well, we don’t really fit so well in society.

You see, we didn’t come from the beginning of our journey as flat out refusers. Nope, sadly for us and our children, we bought in to this world and the magic of ‘it worked for me’ sucked us in, turned us around, slapped us on the arse, dropped us on our heads and the vomited us back out the other side in disgust as we ‘failed’. Our babies didn’t comply. They couldn’t or wouldn’t conform.

We were forced to pull ourselves back from all that we had known, all that we’d been told and all that we were taught and reassess and find a new way to move forward and carry on mothering without ever finding the end to our sleep deprivation in the form of a ‘fix’.

We also had the chance to reflect on what was really at play in the sleep training relationship.

‘Well it worked for me.’ is a standard line I hear. I get it all the time. And I’m going to pick it a part a little right now.

‘It’ being sleep training

‘Worked’ achieved what you set out to achieve- more and better sleep for you and a baby who ‘sleeps’ in long chunks without signalling for help to fall asleep or to resettle.

‘For’- for the benefit of

‘Me’ key word- mother

I agree it may well have ‘worked’ in achieving the benefit ‘for’ the mother but I wholeheartedly disagree that it ‘worked’ ‘for’ the baby.

The baby didn’t need to be ‘worked on’ and therefore they didn’t benefit from the training other than having a mother who was better rested and believed her child was also better rested (even if they aren’t).

A more accurate way to describe it would be, ‘well it worked for me and it worked on my baby.’

At least then, there’d be an acknowledgment of who benefited and who lost out in the process.

The baby has sleep training done to them, not for them.

Even if the sleep trainers and baby whisperers all cry out, ‘Never! This is just as important for the baby’s wellbeing as it is for the mother!’

I’ll call bullshit.

It’s not.

A baby does not need to be trained.

It is normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently during the day and night for the first year of life and beyond. It is not a sleep problem. It is normal for them to need help and support to find and maintain sleep.

I have gone into detail in posts before about my thoughts on sleep training babies on the extreme end of the waking spectrum and also when a mother is being treated for PND or PNA. It is not an appropriate way to manage infant sleep behaviour nor their desperately tired mothers.

We can and should do better and as long as we accept that sleep training ‘works’ for anyone other than the adults or anyone other than the baby we will continue on this warped path. I know this doesn’t sit well for many. I know most disagree but I hope to at least give some people pause to reflect on their experience and question and consider rather than simply accepting what is popularly accepted.

As always, this conversation deserves a far more critical eye cast on it and the only way that will happen is to keep the discussion happening.

Our babies deserve to be heard in this.

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The powerful bonds forged through the sleepy snuggle

The powerful bonds forged through the sleepy snuggle

Australia is a massive country, most people would agree, but not many have a grasp of the true magnitude. I live in the outback in the heart of it all. We are a 1.5 hour drive from the Northern Territory border, a 10 hour drive to the East Coast, a 20 hour drive to Brisbane as our nearest capital city. My family is a 2.5 hour flight away and my husband’s is 2 x 2.5 hour flights away and the cost … well it is extortionate. Our time with our family is precious beyond measure and though it is limited by time and space, the bonds that have been forged with my babies and with my nieces are strong and heartfelt. These bonds have been strengthened through the sharing of a most precious and memorable experience… the sleepy snuggle.  

We are currently staying with my folks following the birth of my newest niece and I had an appointment this morning that ran over my baby’s first nap time. If the boob lady is around, only the boob will do for a snooze but when I’m not, well, Nana and Pa have got it covered. Pa has the magic touch with a little walk around the trees for calming or a short stroll down the beach front and then he swings him to calm him further. Today, the swing actually conked him out but as he couldn’t be left there, Nana scooped him up and held him while they waited for me. I came home to a peaceful sleeping baby, wrapped in his Nana’s loving arms, rocking in the rocking chair. She kissed him as she passed him to me, later saying, ‘I could have tried to put him down but I was just enjoying my snuggle.’

Just enjoying her snuggle.

I look back through all my photos of our family over each year as I make the new calendar and I can tell you now, hands down, my favourites are those of my babies sleeping on someone they love – me, their Dad, my Mum, my husband’s Mum, one of the Pa’s an Aunty, an Uncle… sometimes it’s snuggling on the couch, sometimes in a carrier (don’t you know babywearing is for dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, too?!?), sometimes it was bedsharing. In each and every photo, I see people at peace. I see relaxed faces, smiles on lips, kisses on heads, warmth and love. I see trust. I see time. I see incredible memories and bonds being forged.

While my sister was in hospital following the birth of her newest babe, I had the privilege to be able to lay with and cuddle my niece as she went to sleep for her nap each day. I loved every minute of it. I have never felt more special in her world than I did those days.

In the days since they have come home, I have had a number of sleepy snuggles with my new niece who is rarely out of the loving arms of someone unless she’s happy to be down.

As a family, we have embraced the power of the embrace.

It wasn’t always so. Back before I found my gentle path, these same loving arms belonged to people who also once believed a baby needed to sleep alone. We have all come such a very long way and I credit these beautiful little humans in our lives for showing us a better way. They have shown us the power of the sleepy snuggle for not only the baby but for the person they are finding their comfort in.

We may live so very far apart but our love is closer than ever.

Never underestimate the value of passing a baby from your loving arms to more loving arms. It takes a village to raise a child and sometimes that child is the catalyst for changing views in the village into which they were born.

(Quote and image credit: Mothers, Milk & Mental Health

If you recognise the power of the sleepy snuggle, try to extend that love in your family and help create the shift we need to see in society away from solitary sleep.

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Dehumanising babies while treating their mother’s Mental Illness

Dehumanising babies while treating their mother’s Mental Illness

It is of major concern to me that peak bodies entrusted with the treatment, education and support of mothers with mental illnesses are following what they call a ‘simple and effective’ intervention to rid ‘problematic’ waking by their baby to facilitate the mother’s recovery. The intervention is Controlled Crying or Controlled Comforting.  

The basis for this is that an ‘infant sleep problem’ is a strong indicator for maternal depression and ‘Infant sleep problems and postnatal depression are both associated with increased marital stress, family breakdown, child abuse, child behaviour problems and maternal anxiety. Postnatal depression can adversely affect a child’s cognitive development.’ (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 2014 )

These are seriously heavy consequences and certainly not something that can nor should be ignored, BUT the fact remains that by and large, very few babies genuinely suffer from true sleep problems and therefore it must be asked, if the baby itself is not behaving in a biologically unhealthy manner, should it be their normal, functioning behaviour that professionals look to intervene on, or should the interventions be focused directly on the person who is exhibiting the unhealthy, non functioning behaviour?

It is understandably a blurred line as the mother- baby dyad is unique and shouldn’t be treated in isolation but the current recommendations by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Raising Children Network as an arm of the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services to employ the Controlled Crying technique, in no way honour this dyad.

Yes, a mother’s mental health is essential to her ability to successfully and healthily mother her children but let’s not dive straight for the measure that provides a ‘simple and effective’ fix to her problem that has been in fact oversimplified and effectively silences a baby’s cry and therefore their ability to communicate their night time needs.

This problem is complex and delicate. What will be effective for both mother and child in one setting may not be for any other but I do believe there are processes that could be put in place in order to take a deeper more holistic approach to this very serious and critical issue.

The place to start should be the research into human infant’s biological sleep patterns and behaviours. No, not research into sleep problems and sleep training or interventions but a solid grounding in what is truly normal from a biological, physiological, psychological and anthropological stand point.

Starting with this baseline, scientific understanding will naturally lead those seeking information to learn more about the intricate link between infant sleep, breastfeeding, maternal sleep and sleep environments and situations.

From here, it is no stretch to see why the disconnect and misalignment of modern societal views and expectations of infant sleep has created incredibly difficult barriers and challenges for mothers to face while trying to mother her infant who understands and knows nothing of modern society and its expectations and being able to fit in to what is seen to be a ‘successful’ mother, wife, partner, friend, daughter, sister, employee, volunteer and community member.

The RACGP state, ‘ Infants with sleep problems are more likely to sleep in the parental bed, be nursed to sleep, take longer to fall asleep, and wake for often and for longer periods.’ I’d like this to be viewed in light of what normal infant sleep actually looks like in the 6-12 month age group of infancy. These are NOT sleep problems for the infant but DO pose sleep problems for their parents and in particular their mother particularly for parents who are unable, unwilling or unaware of what changes they need to make to their own sleep habits, lifestyle, environment and support network to enable them to meet these biologically normal sleep behaviours of their baby or toddler that are seen in every culture and society in the world but are only identified as problematic and linked so closely with the incidence of maternal depression in our Western societies.

The other side of this statement from RACGP is it is another nail in the coffin to very tired mothers everywhere to see once again, their child’s sleep behaviour being blamed on natural nurturing parenting behaviours.
It is normal and natural for an infant to sleep in a family bed. This is how the majority of culture’s in the world manage normal night waking of breastfed infant and toddlers. It is not and has never been the cause of a ‘sleep problem’ for a baby or child. It can and is done safely by most (not all) families.
It is normal for a human infant or toddler to be nursed to sleep. It is not a sleep problem. Our night time breastmilk is packed full of sleep inducing components that act to assist both mother and child to sleep more easily and remain more relaxed. Mother Nature is no idiot and this is by perfect design not error.
It is biologically normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently at night for the first year and beyond. It is not a sleep problem.

IF a baby is waking in an extreme fashion or staying awake for long periods on many occasions, then I urge all General Practitioners and other professionals on the front line who work with these vulnerable mothers to not ignore this key factor. Absolutely DO NOT take steps to extinguish this child’s cries and calls for help. There is highly likely an underlying issue exacerbating this child’s normal wakeful behaviour and they deserve to have this fully investigated. Reflux, allergies, food intolerances, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma and the residual discomfort from it are all possible issues that need to be looked into and ruled in or ruled out.
After all of the investigations have taken place, if nothing else is at play, please consider this child as a whole person. It is highly likely that a child waking in this extreme fashion is highly sensitive, extremely intense and requires a huge amount of parental nurturing to be able to regulate their body and mind throughout the day and also by night. It has been shown that some children are far more sensitive to parenting choices and techniques than others and I would argue that a baby exhibiting such high level needs could be safely considered a strong candidate to be one of the children who will be heavily effected by the way they are parented and as such, their parents and those acting to care for those parents, need to be mindful of what interventions are suitable not only for the mother but also her unique child.

This brings me to my next point, with so little focus on the well being of the baby in this advice, I would like to bring into question the Hippocratic Oath, ‘first, do no harm’. I have read the studies cited by RACGP and the Raising Children Network and there is a heavy bias toward Proof of Harm and in particular Proof of Harm in the short and medium term but I question whether this is enough. Proof of Harm is vastly different to Proof of No Harm and there is most certainly not any Proof of no harm. It also seems that RACGP has focused only on studies that support the method they wish to employ with no recognition of studies that indicate otherwise.

As the babies in these situations are not in fact the patients but are intricately linked to the problem and the solution, it is not enough to find that the improvement in maternal depression warrants the widespread use of these techniques that cannot be proven to be doing no harm to their babies. A solution that only considers the mother’s needs and sacrifices her baby’s need for night time parenting is frankly no solution at all.

I am no stranger to this situation. I have lived and survived an extremely wakeful baby, I have been referred to a Mother-Baby unit for sleep training by my GP, I have been diagnosed and recovered from Post Natal Depression, I have tried and failed to implement a modified Controlled Crying technique and my extraordinarily intense baby resisted all attempts to extinguish his cries. I have had to recover from Post Natal Depression while STILL mothering my extremely wakeful baby and therefore while still sleep deprived.

I take this topic extremely seriously. I do not doubt or question that many mothers who are given this advice and have implemented it to varying degrees of ‘success’ will largely attest that they NEEDED this intervention. I don’t question that they needed help but I do question that THIS intervention is what was needed.

I sincerely hope to see a shift in practice in the management of severe sleep deprivation, Post Natal Depression and the handling of infant sleep by the professionals mothers turn to for support and assistance at his extremely vulnerable time in her life.

I ask that RACGP, review their current guidelines and practice by seeking access to research and techniques that will give a fuller more human view of this issue for all people involved.

I am not an expert, so my thoughts may be largely dismissed but the true experts in this field are resources that RACGP should acknowledge. Here are a few to get the ball rolling:

  • The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health has a position paper regarding Controlled Crying which can be accessed here.
  • Dr Pamela Douglas who runs the Possums Clinic for mothers and babies in Brisbane, Australia is a wealth of knowledge on normal infant sleep and working with mothers during this weary season in their lives. The Possums Clinic also offers Professional Development opportunities for those working with vulnerable mothers.
  • Tracy Cassells PHD of Evolutionary Parenting is a wealth of knowledge and can assist with identifying research from across this topic around the world.
  • Professor James McKenna of Notre Dame University can offer an Anthropological understanding of infant and mother sleep particularly for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Professor Helen Ball runs the UK Infant Sleep Information Source and is a wealth of information and will be in Australia in 2017 for professional development opportunities.
  • Pinky McKay and Meg Nagle are both International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who offer alternative views on managing infant sleep with a particular focus on breastfeeding mothers.

If we as a society truly wish to see a change in the occurrence of Post Natal Depression and Anxiety in mothers, let’s work to create the environment and support they need to be able to mother their babies the way they need to be mothered while also being able to be mentally well and the best way to do this is to ensure all parties work together to find a solution that fits with all of the humans involved. Controlled Crying is hopefully soon to live in the deep, dark recesses of history. Our mothers and babies deserve better.

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