As with most things I write, this goes against the mainstream narrative and will undoubtedly be brushed off as mere poppycock by those who subscribe to the popular Sleep Training culture but I’m going to say it anyway- Sleep Training culture strongly contributed to my Post Partum Depression and I don’t believe I am alone in this.
a. ‘But Sleep Training saved my sanity!’
b. ‘I was heading down the path of depression so I used Controlled Crying!’
c. ‘My anxiety was crippling, I had to sleep train!’
I was heading straight for the (a) though because we ‘failed’ I was never ‘saved’ and (c) definitely featured in my decision to go the sleep training route. I get it, I really do but here’s where my experience as a ‘failure’ has helped me look at this situation very critically and I’ve come to the realisation that perhaps so many mothers have to be saved by Sleep Training because we are being groomed by the Sleep Training culture to feel like we are doing something wrong when our baby does not fit the ‘sleepy ideal’.
Sleep training culture is so pervasive, it is virtually impossible for a modern mother to remain untouched. It has come through a number of generations now and as such, the advice from older generations who we often turn to as new mothers is riddled with it. Health care professionals hail it as a ‘fix’ and with limited quality breastfeeding education as part of their training, many are ill equipped to advise on the normal development of feeding and sleeping behaviours in breastfed babies and toddlers.
Feeding and sleeping schedules that were so popular while formula feeding was the norm in the 50-70s have tainted what has become the benchmark and ‘norms’ for infant care.
Hands off, distant, independent, solitary sleep, restricted responsiveness, authoritarian, prescriptive and strict- all words that help describe what is valued when parenting very young babies and toddlers.
Being told when you can hold, nurse or comfort your baby is standard.
Being told when you should respond to your baby’s cry and when you shouldn’t is standard.
Being told that your baby only wakes because of the way you help them find sleep is standard.
Being made to fear long term damage to your baby’s development and ability to achieve healthy sleep is standard.
Being made to fear that if you continue to comfort your baby in some way you’ll create a big old rod for your own back and you should break the habit now or expect you’ll have to do it this way forever is standard.
Being told that it is your responsibility to your child that you fix their sleep is standard.
This standard is what I believe is the crux of why so many mothers start heading down the path of depression and anxiety. I sure as hell did.
I bought into the standard and bent myself over backwards, forwards and inside out trying to reach it. The standard that I could not meet, the standard my baby called bullshit on, that standard left me feeling subpar as a mother every damn day.
Every day that I bought into the ‘shoulds’ for both myself and my baby was a day I finished feeling ‘less than’. We never measured up.
Every day of my baby refusing to accept anything less than the comfort and reassurance and assistance he needed drove a wedge into our relationship as I questioned again and again what was wrong with him and why couldn’t he do what he was ‘meant’ to do at his age?
It’s hard to not feel anxious and have your anxiety grow as the noise that surrounds you assures you that every day that your baby sleeps less than they say he should or wakes more than he should or asks for more assistance than he ‘should’ need is potentially affecting his long term health and development.
It’s hard to not feel depressed when yet again you are told it is because you nurse him to sleep and haven’t succeeded in putting him down drowsy but awake and you have to learn his cries that your getting this mothering and sleep business so terribly wrong- THAT’S why you feel so desperately tired and miserable. If you just follow XYZ, then you’ll get the sleep you need. When you’ve already tried these things in desperate vein for the 100 thousandth time to no avail.
It’s hard to feel light, relaxed and at peace with your brand new mothering experience when at every turn you are told you are doing it wrong.
For me and my darling wakeful little firecracker, the road to PPD was paved in Sleep Training culture bullshit.
How on earth I was ever going to get away without eventually succumbing while surrounded by all of this noise is beyond me.
Yes, there are many more factors that may well contribute to the development of PPA or PPD in each unique person but I refuse to believe this Sleep Training culture in anyway sets women up for success and healthy mental health and self esteem in their new identity.
So perhaps, instead of heralding and crediting Sleep Training with ‘saving’ so many mother’s sanity, we should look long and hard at how it took our sanity in the first place.
Re-evaluating, resetting and reestablishing the norms of infant sleep from a a biological and anthropological standpoint would be the first place to start.
Only once we can as a society come to a fuller understanding of the reality of infant and toddler sleep will we see a shift that is so needed to undo the damage and twisted accepted norms perpetuated by the current Sleep Training culture.
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