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Looking at the ‘choices’ in the decision to sleep train- Part one: why I felt I had no choice

I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but there is always a choice not to sleep train. 

As an extremely sleep deprived, vulnerable, desperate first time mother with an extraordinarily wakeful baby, I sleep trained and I can say, hand on heart, I did not feel like I had any other choice.

I did not feel like there was any other choice.
I wasn’t told there was any other choice.
I wasn’t supported to consider any other choice.
I had no idea, there was any other choice.




For those who have never contemplated sleep training and never felt so backed into this corner, it can sound like a cop out and surrendering of responsibility to say, ‘I had no choice to sleep train.’ In a way it is. BUT, I wasn’t in the headspace then to realise this and I went into sleep training at my lowest ebb. I was in deep mental, emotional turmoil and I did not trust myself on any level anymore. I was convinced I was doing this mothering thing wrong and that the way I had been doing it was damaging my baby’s growth, development and wellbeing.

My world was a fog of confusion, anxiety, bad information, worry, stress and strain.

Today, I decided to write out just some of the strain I felt that lead into my decision to sleep train.

It’s fascinating for me now to see how if I just unpacked each one of these stressors and strains one at a time, there WERE indeed choices I could make that did not involve sleep training. But while they were all piled on top of me, while I was so very unwell and while ALL of the advice I was receiving from those around me was that I NEEDED to sleep train for both of our sakes, I could see only one path. One way to go. One solution.

My stressors fell into four categories-

1. My baby– oh my goodness! That baby! Oh how I adored him. The love of my life and an incredible piece of perfection. But holy wow, was he intense. I had never encountered a baby like him before. He seemed petrified by life outside the womb and allergic to the feeling of falling asleep. He was wide awake, his lungs were loud and strong and he demanded more care, nurturing, comfort and assistance to feel secure than any baby I had known. Being his mum was SO hard. Being his dad was SO hard. Nothing we did ever seemed to be enough. No amount of anything seemed to help him find calm for any length of time and all the things we had thought we had up our sleeve often yielded little in the way of ‘success’ and any success was often short lived and quite often that would be the one and only time it worked. We tried SO hard. We started off pretty relaxed thinking he just needed to settle into life outside the womb but when he grew more and more unsettled and we grew more and more tired and frustrated, we let the doubts any new parent would naturally feel, creep in.

  • What were we doing wrong?
  • Was there something we were missing?
  • We had quite a few people with babies of the same age and none of them seemed to be facing the problems we were, what did they have going on that we’d missed?

Once the questioning started, we commenced a slide. The slide away from trusting ourselves and trusting our baby. We began to look outside of our little family unit for ‘answers’.

We desperately wanted to get this right.

Right for us, as his mum and dad but more so, right for him. We didn’t want him unduly suffering at the hands of his ‘amateur’ parents. Nope, we wanted him to be a happy baby, who loved sleep so that he could grow and develop and love life.

The other thing that commenced was the advice and the explanations for what we should do to correct where we had gone wrong.

The information we received was damning.

We WERE doing it all wrong.

  • We didn’t follow a Feed-Play-Sleep routine and so we had allowed nursing to sleep to become a negative sleep association.
  • We didn’t place him down drowsy but awake, so naturally he was confused when he woke up somewhere else.
  • He couldn’t self- settle, no wonder he couldn’t link sleep cycles.
  • He often catnapped which of course meant he was perpetually overtired and didn’t we know that sleep promoted sleep.
  • It was official- our baby was a crap sleeper because we set him up to fail and let him ‘rule the roost’.

On top of this, we faced criticism that we were also making our baby anxious as he fed off our anxieties. Apparently, he would have been a calm, relaxed baby if only we were calmer and more relaxed. Can I just point out how much easier it is to be a relaxed, non anxious parent when you are parenting a baby who is not anxious?!? Also, how much easier it is to be less anxious when you don’t live with the anxiety that your anxiety is causing your baby’s anxiety? (Feeling confused or anxious just reading that sentence? Welcome to my head back in the day).

Then the appointment that sealed our fate … at my baby’s four month appointment at Child Health, we were told that he was chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development.

Do you know how much hearing this broke me? There was nothing left in me to question this analysis / diagnosis.

This was my reality and I believed it as gospel truth. I had no reason to think this was a falsehood and so, as any caring mother would do, I laid all my feelings aside and agreed with the only ‘answer’ I had been offered: sleep training at Mother/ Baby unit as a matter of importance and urgency.

We received both a Medicare rebate and private health pay out… this was serious and legitimate. It was my baby’s health and wellbeing at stake.

I did not see it as a choice to consider, it was THE choice we HAD to make.

And so we did it.

I can easily tease each part of this tale apart and call BULLSHIT to each thing that lead up to it all now, but back then… well, I made the best decision I could with the knowledge and resources available to me at that time. I knew what I knew which is not what I know now. AND THAT IS OKAY! As the beautiful Emalitza from Raising Ziggy pointed out in her most recent blog piece, none of us come to this parenting gig knowing all there is to know and there is nothing wrong with that. It is for this exact reason we should approach all things parenting with an open heart and mind but also stay well aware that NOBODY has THE answer and that anyone selling a ‘fix’ may as well sell you snake oil.

2. The second part of the pressure and stress in my brain came from me and the new uncharted territory that is mothering and honour, privilege and humbling experience of being someone’s mum.

HOLY SHIT! It was a baptism of fire. I actually thought I’d be quite a natural at mothering. I’d always loved and wanted babies and children. I worked with primary aged children and loved nurturing the little people who entered my world. I loved pregnancy and was ever so excited to have my little person but then, I am also a perfectionist and a people pleaser. I have always strived to do things not only ‘right’ but also better than just good or okay. At university, a pass would not suffice, anything less than a distinction would see me angry with myself for not doing this, that or the other. In my personal relationships, I strive so hard to keep everyone happy and onside. I love being loved and can’t stand conflict or feeling that I have disappointed or let someone down.

I am hard work on myself.

My expectations for myself as a mother were ridiculously high. To this day, I swear that is why I was blessed with the little firecracker I received. He needed to come into my world to break this cycle. I needed to find new and better ways to feel good about myself and discover what is truly important in life and the endless push for perfection was never going to get me there.

But, the point all of this is I had an enormous weight of stress within me leading into the decision to sleep train. I was not in anyway comfortable in my new identity as mother and the lack of self belief and confidence was crushing. This doesn’t even consider how much worse all of this was when I was chronically sleep deprived myself.

I was a shell.

I was not capable of making well thought out decisions and I most certainly was not in the head space to consider that professionals who spend their whole working lives advising mothers and their babies, may be giving outdated or inappropriate advice and that if there were other options out there, why they wouldn’t also mention them.

I needed help and support.

I trusted their judgement ahead of my own.

As a new mum, I wholeheartedly believed I HAD to sleep train. I did not think I had a choice.

So the perfect storm was brewing- my baby’s wellbeing was at stake and I was failing at being the mother he needed.

3. The next piece of the puzzle was my relationship. My husband and I are a fabulous match and to this day, I would not want to do this life with another human but NOTHING tests your relationship as much as an unsettled baby, chronic sleep deprivation, feeling like you f#%^ing suck at parenting your kid and brewing mental health issues. Add in the fact that the baby in question won’t settle AT ALL for his dad, won’t take a bottle and screamed nonstop when daddy took him to give the Boob Lady a break. Just for fun, throw in hours of one of us being stuck in a darkened room trying different settling techniques to try and eek out the elusive sleep you’ve been told your kid needs. Oh and then when you get them down for the night after yet another marathon shitfight, clean the kitchen and plonk on the couch for 2 minutes only to hear said child wake with a howl and GROUNDHOG DAY/NIGHT, let’s jump on that merry-go-round again.

So much of the time my husband could not do a damn thing to relieve me of this relentless pressure and need. He felt like a useless, stressed out, third wheel as he watched me struggle with my feelings of resentment and jealousy of his freedom while we also mourned the relationship we had before THIS baby and the relationship we’d imagined he’d have with our baby, too.

He tried so damn hard.

He’d have given his bloody kidney to me if he’d thought it would have helped relieve the strain and so, upon hearing we were in fact screwing up our child, he also heartily supported the decision to sleep train. He was with me every step of the way.

He, too, felt we had no other choice. We could not keep living the hell we were in.

4. The final piece of the pie, comes from our lifestyle and the lifestyle expectations we had for ourselves and our family. We had no clue what was or wasn’t normal for a human baby when it came to sleep and all mainstream advice seemed to indicate we were perfectly reasonable to expect our baby would fall asleep on his own, in his own sleep space and that night feeds (the only ‘real’ reason your baby wakes at night) would decrease in a straight line over time to a point where we could categorically rule out his ‘need’ to wake and nurse.

We believed this was reasonable and so it became our expectation.

  • We expected to be sleep deprived and that we might struggle with other things in the immediate newborn period but we expected that it would end relatively soon after that.
  • We expected to be able to settle our baby to sleep if he was tired without too much fuss.
  • We expected we should be able to put him down for sleep.
  • We expected he’d sleep long enough for us to get other things done.
  • We expected that after some time in a basket by our bed that he’d transition to sleeping in a cot in his own room.
  • We expected to still find time in the evening for ‘us’ and that after a while, we’d be fine to arrange a sitter so we could go out in the evening as a couple once again.

We did not consider any of this to be unreasonable. We truly thought this was fair. And it was, for MOST of our friends and acquaintances, so why not for us?

Our child health Nurses, our GP, mainstream infant sleep books and sites all confirmed these expectations.

And under this net of expectations, we filtered OUR reality.

Our baby, his sleep, well they just didn’t measure up. There must have been something wrong. A problem to be fixed. A solution to be found.

The way he behaved was just so far removed from the ‘normal’ we’d been lead to expect, it was logical to us that this ‘Sleep Problem’ our child had would be impacting on him. How could he possibly be okay if he slept so much less and ‘worse’ than his peers who seemed to get a solid 12 hours each night and consolidated that with long, hearty naps each day?

We had no idea there were any other ways of managing this wakeful baby of ours but in light of these expectations we held, it is unsurprising that we could not for the life of us see WHY we should even consider accepting and adapting our life to match his ‘unhealthy’ and ‘problematic’ sleep patterns.

We didn’t give it more thought because we honestly didn’t think we should have to.

And so, the chronically sleep deprived baby who was suffering as a result of his inability to sleep alone, joined by the chronically sleep deprived, vulnerable first time, perfectionist mum, with the desperate to help, out of his depth dad, all wrapped up in mainstream society’s unrealistic view of infant sleep and the ways in which it is viewed and managed … we HAD to sleep train.


The weight, the pressure, the stress, the strain, the knowledge, the beliefs, the trust, the intentions all lead us there.

We own our experience.

We can see at every single turn how we came to our decision and as much as we can see now how utterly wrong we were, we made the best decision we could at that time.

My goal and possibly my life work will be to see a very real shift away from this feeling that mothers so often get, that they have no choice but to sleep train.

There is always a choice not to sleep train but how that choice looks, will be unique to each family.

Babies do not need sleep training. They know how to sleep. Society just does not like how it looks. It’s not tidy, it’s not straightforward, it’s cyclical and at times elusive. It’s not predictable and it doesn’t always allow the freedom and ease society likes it to have to allow the parents to get on with ‘more important’ work that isn’t the time spent helping their baby get the sleep they need in a manner that is normal for that baby.

We can and should do better. Our very tired mothers and their babies deserve to know their true choices.

Part two of this series will see me go into greater detail illustrating where my choices lay in my particular situation. Coming soon …

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Moving beyond the sleep training culture

At the beginning of the year, I established The Beyond Sleep Training Project.  

Originally, I wanted to collect tales of how people have managed the early years of their children’s lives without sleep training at all or if they had ‘failed’ to successfully sleep train and were forced to come at life from a different angle. I wanted to collate these tales in an eBook to be able to offer a resource for others who wanted to be able to see that there truly was a way to do this and still be a happy, fulfilled, functioning family. The book is a work in progress with many tales already collected and more still in the works.

The group that I created to provide contact with those who wanted to be a part of the Project has blossomed into a being of its own! With nearly 3000 members as I write, it now serves as a safe space for people to seek advice, solidarity and ideas where they can be sure they will not have sleep training suggested to them. It’s a beautiful space and it has filled me with so much hope and enthusiasm as so many people actively take part to be the change they wish to see in the world.

But, I must admit I was stung today when I was told that my efforts only serve as an echo chamber for those who just want to hear one way and that I promote an ‘us and them’ mentality which is not helpful and alienates the majority of people who would prefer that I showed some respect for their parental choices for their own family.

Really? I thought. Am I really just going around in circles with those who would have found this path without so much as a hint of online support? Am I really alienating people who would otherwise have supported my choices?

I thought on it briefly but it honestly did not take me long to disagree on both counts.

I know the first claim to be utterly untrue because I am proof that unless people know they have the choice not to sleep train, often they feel like it is something they MUST do. I did. I did it. I have been on the other side and everywhere in between. I know I am not the only one to experience this either, so no, this is not an echo chamber. This is mothers who know better and those who want to do better. It is mothers wanting to go against the grain because the grain feels all sorts of wrong for them and their family.

On the second count, I hate the ‘us and them’ bullshit as much as the next person but I will not sit back and pretend for a minute that I am accepting of the practice of sleep training as a legitimate parental choice. I won’t because don’t believe it is. I wish to see it removed from the parenting repertoire entirely and assigned to pages of history books. I am passionately opposed to this practice. My passion and belief stem from extensive reading and research.

This does not mean I am against ‘them’ being the mothers who have sleep trained or will in the future. I have said time and again, I AM A SLEEP TRAINING FAILURE, I did it. I know why people do it, I know its appeal, I know the sales pitch, I know the arguments and I know the heartfelt belief in the process. This isn’t a matter of ‘us and them’ in the ‘good mother, bad mother’ mummy wars bullshit. Just as the formula companies profit daily from promoting the Breastfeeding Nazi bollocks, the Sleep Training industry profits from ensuring that mothers feel as though they need to take a side. The side of heavenly sleep or the side of ridiculously unnecessary sleep deprivation. They like to take away any true ‘choice’ by making it seem so utterly ridiculous for you to consider not doing what they say. They rely on studies that have zero interest in biologically normal infant sleep behaviour and instead focus on confirming why the bizarre western practice of solitary sleep and behaviourist approaches to infant sleep are ‘safe’. They serve to protect the main goal of society which is to get people back to being as economically productive outside the home as soon as possible.

I am DONE with this.

I am done with this industry and the huge amounts of money it generates from desperately tired and vulnerable families.

I am done with their disregard for a baby’s legitimate need for night time parenting.

I am done with false science and scaremongering.

I am done with this being accepted mainstream parenting practice.

It is not okay.

It never has been.

It never will be.

As a society, it’s high time we move beyond this sleep training culture. Our babies and their families deserve better and until such time that we expect and respect normal infant sleep behaviour we will continue to place unrealistic and unfair expectations on our youngest and most vulnerable members of society and undue pressure on their families that is completely at odds with normal behaviour.

We can and should do better.

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The ‘good girl, people-pleaser’ who went down the sleep training path

I was talking with a dear friend this morning about how she isn’t sure why she never really felt compelled to follow the Sleep Training norm because quite simply, it felt wrong. I admire her for this so much and it really made me think, what was so different for me? Why didn’t I feel confident enough to simply go, ‘yeah, nah, that doesn’t feel right,’ end of story?!? 

I think I’ve found my answer in two parts …

1. I experienced Sleep or the lack thereof on a WHOLE other level to this friend. She had a baby who slept like a baby- a relatively cruisy, in the range of ‘normal’ baby. She did not face the same frequency or fervour or insistence to sleep train that I faced as the mother of an extremely wakeful baby who ended up suffering from PND. She was vulnerable to the pressure as any tired new mother is, but I was VULNERABLE and primed for the taking as the severely and chronically sleep deprived new mother.

2. The second part though, is worthy of consideration. I have to accept personal responsibility for the fact that I have always been what I refer to as a, ‘good girl, people-pleaser’. I have always sought and longed for approval. I hated to disappoint people. I hated being less than perfect in anyone’s eyes and as an over-achieving perfectionist, parenting has by far been my biggest lesson in the difference between doing things by the book and ‘right’ by standards set by others versus doing things ‘right’ by your baby and your family.

This Good Girl hated to be scolded. So scolding after scolding by those I trusted for advice on my baby’s sleep, slowly whittled me away. Whittled my confidence in myself and belief in my baby’s ability to communicate with me. This People Pleaser, no matter how hard she tried, simply COULDN’T get that baby of hers to sleep the way she was told he needed to sleep.

Each shake of the head, each ‘you really need to try harder’, ‘if you just try this and stick with it…’ ate away at me.

I wasn’t a ‘good’ mother in the eyes of these people. Not that they thought I was bad as such but certainly not the ‘good’ they aimed to train mothers to be. There was no pleasure in their eyes upon hearing I still fed my baby to sleep. There was no pleasure upon hearing how dedicated I was to meeting my baby’s night time needs.

These things were not seen as good nor pleasing.

This was uncharted territory and one I did not feel comfortable with at all.

By contrast, my dear friend is very self confident and no where near as susceptible to pressure that goes against her grain. Her traits have helped her find her feet as a parent in a much less complicated way and I admire her greatly for it.

I don’t regret where I’ve been though. Both of these key parts in the equation have completely changed my way of being and I’ll be forever grateful for that. My personal growth has seen a monumental shift in the way I see myself and the role I allow others to have in how I see myself.

I no longer crave approval.

I know who I am and what feels right for me and my family and I while I seek connection with others, I no longer feel the need to try to live up to anyone else’s expectations of me.

It feels good no longer seeking to please those around me while shrinking my true self to make sure no one else’s feathers are ruffled.

Mothering these sensational humans has been a privilege and the lessons I have learned have helped make me a stronger, truer and more confident person within myself.

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GUEST BLOG- one father’s attempt to understand why sleep training holds so much power

By Philip Hoad (Originally posted on The Beyond Sleep Training Project group page)

A first-time posting dad writes (long-windedly)…

This post is not a request for support, more a sharing of philosophy; it might be repetitious but hopefully not against the grain for the group. It’s really my attempt to work out why the hell it is that so many people seem to get sucked into the sleep training vortex… 

Brief backstory: my amazing, gentle, tenacious, selfless, sleep-starved, bloody-minded, boob machine wife and I are 12 months into the journey with our second son. Our first was a wakeful infant and was around 10-12 months before he slept through without needing some comfort. He seemed to take longer to ‘get it’ than other babies but we just blundered along as first time parents do, sending my wife into a really tough place along the way. Our second is a whole other level of difficult… 12 months in and the longest single sleep he’s had must be 3.5 hours, with an average night including about 5/6 awakenings, punctuating stretches that are usually 1-2 hours long. Some nights are much worse.

We have read a lot. We have learned much about infant sleep, developmental milestones, the wondrous wonders of breastfeeding, and the remarkable human body. We now know there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with our little sleep-thief, which makes it all the harder to just keep going until he doesn’t need us quite so much. But we do and we will, because we love the little bugger and can’t bear the thought of not helping him when he needs us most. 

We have agonised over what to do. We have spent many nights in different beds so at least one of us (me, the one without milky boobs) gets some sleep, so as to be useful to the other. 
And all the while, we have had the same first questions every parent seems to get: “is he a good baby?”, “is he sleeping through yet?”, followed swiftly by “have you tried sleep school?”.

We never, ever liked the idea of letting babies cry; it was intuitively wrong to us, right from day 1. But it was everywhere and we couldn’t understand why. And so, to my point:

We have come to feel that the sleep training movement is closely analogous to fundamentalist religious zealotry. The fervour with which its supporters espouse its virtues, the vehemence with which they defend their stance, their attacks on those who believe (or experience) differently, and the willingness to surrender reason and sensitivity in favour of someone else’s persuasive words, all sound far too familiar.

I am not saying that religious belief and gentle parenting are incompatible, far from it. I do however see parallels between the sleep training / gentle parenting divide and the fundamentalist religious doctrine / secular humanist standoff. Being an atheist, data-driven, science-loving type, I’ve had the odd debate with people who value belief above all else, and who are willing to accept as true, things which I tend to react to with “that doesn’t sound right, where can I see some published, peer-reviewed, controlled experiment based research to back it up?”. I have very similar conversations with people who advocate sleep training, and I almost always end up backing away from the discussion mumbling something about it “not being right for us”, rather than attacking it head on as something that I see as selfish, dangerous, and cruel. I do so because I know I’m likely to end up in a dead end debate where I bang my head against a brick wall. I have seen numerous examples of others being lambasted by sleep training advocates, conjuring up images of a Monty Python-esque stoning of a blasphemer. 

I think there is something deeply engrained in the human psyche for many people which allows them to take on a belief if it supports their existing worldview, and which defends those beliefs in the face of reason, (alternative!) facts, or their own instinct. Sadly, the propaganda machine for sleep training advocates has wormed its way into our collective psyche to the point where many accept its legitimacy without question. This makes the journey for those of us who would ordinarily trust ourselves much harder.

But there is hope! 
I think the hope comes from groups such as this, where like-minded folks can share their thoughts, doubts, experiences, wins, and setbacks; it comes from talking about what we see and feel and it comes from trusting our own eyes, ears, guts, and boobs. It comes from gaining the courage to question the accepted wisdom. It won’t happen overnight, but I think the movement is gaining ground and I’m proud to stand alongside all the other bleary-eyed parents who advocate listening to their babies and themselves. 

Rambling over, I’m going to get back to trying to support my hero-wife through the toughest (but finite!) months of our lives. 
Power to you, mums and dads. We’ll get there! 

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