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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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Ten little known facts about your baby’s sleep

1. It is biologically normal for a baby to wake and nurse frequently throughout the first year and beyond. It is not a sleep problem. Some babies do have underlying issues that may be exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour and addressing these is crucial but the idea that a baby of X age is ‘too old’ to be waking is based on fallacy not fact.  

2. Feeding to sleep is the biologically normal way for a baby to find and maintain sleep. It is not a sleep problem.

3. The vast majority of cultures do not sleep separately from their babies or young children. A baby not wanting to sleep in their cot is not a sign of something being wrong with the baby and their ability to sleep but a sign of society having a problem with how babies prefer to sleep.

4. Keeping your baby close, limits the disruption of normal wakeful behaviour to both the breastfeeding mother and her baby’s sleep. Not having to physically fully wake to go to another room, then try to stay awake to settle or then need to wind back down  to sleep, all helps the mother. Nighttime breastmilk is also packed full of sleepy goodness that help both mother and baby return to sleep more easily. This one also links to number 1, 2, and 3. In our society that is obsessed with making babies ‘sleep through the night’ by cutting nighttime parenting out of the parenting role as quickly as you can and places high value on solitary sleep, we see many mothers keeping their babies at great distance. This is exhausting and extremely difficult to maintain and can result in both mother and child losing far more sleep than if they were close together.

* There are many safe cosleeping arrangements that can be considered to suit the family, from bedsharing to side car cots. If you haven’t already, read up on safe sleeping practices to help guide your family.


5. Your baby’s sleep will cycle through patches of relative ease and then through intense times with more frequent waking right up to the age of 2. It is rare that a baby proceeds in a straight line of gradually dropping feeds and sleeping longer without ever going through times of needing more. Just because they could find and maintain sleep one way last week, does not mean they necessarily can right now. This isn’t your baby ‘forgetting’ how to sleep, this is their body and mind going through the rapid development, growth and painful experiences (like teething) that they need to in the first couple of years of life. Them needing you to help them find the comfort, peace and support to be able to fall asleep and then maintain it, is normal.

6. Babies and young toddlers lack the brain development required to self regulate enough to ‘self soothe’ themselves from a place of distress. It is normal for babies and young children to need help to find and maintain sleep.

7. No two children are the same when it comes to their sleep needs, just as no two adults are the same. No one has a ‘formula’ that tells you when and how much your child needs to sleep. The only guide is your unique child.

8. ‘Catnapping’ or sleeping for only one 1-2 sleep cycles (20-40 mins) during the day is normal. Sometimes a baby may resettle for longer but it is okay if they do not. So much time and energy is wasted trying to resettle babies who are simply ready to get up.

9. Babies who are separated from the caregiver by day may ‘reverse cycle’ by night to meet their nursing and connection needs. Closeness and contact can help achieve their needs.

10. Many ‘experts’ like to name an age when night feeds are no longer necessary. What this fails to recognise is that night nursing is so much more than feeding. They may only ‘need’ say 2 feeds but they equally needed those 2-3 other quick nurses as well. Nursing for comfort, pain relief, immune boosting, connection and to help them relax when their busy growing body and mind cannot seem to find calm are all valid reasons to need nursing aside from nutrition.

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Calling all dads – why the mother of your child deserves your support with the decision not to sleep train

I generally write for the mamas of the world, but for this particular article, I need to reach out to the other essential person in the parenting equation- the dad.      

 Being a dad can be amazing. Being a dad can be special. Being a dad can be a monumental and life-changing shift.

Being a dad can also be frustrating, exhausting and confusing.

Having a baby puts all kinds of pressure and strain on even the strongest of relationships, and for many of us, it can be the first time we find that our points of difference with our significant other REALLY matter.


All new skills need to come into play in the relationship, and this can be hard when everyone is tired, uncertain and finding their feet in this new world with a baby. It can be even messier for the mother; it is not only the baby she is learning about and getting to know but also her post-partum body. The hormones, the recovery, the breastmilk and so many other things that come and go and evolve and take over in those immediate days, weeks and months post-partum.

If you and your partner are finding this time challenging, please know you aren’t alone! We all feel this, and it is HARD! Undeniably hard. This is, however, not the time to throw in the towel and it’s certainly not the time to go in on yourself. Your little family needs you and the way to make it through this is to dig deep. You will need to find your stores of empathy, patience and love and if you don’t have any of these things, well, it’s time for you to go out and FIND them. If you need help doing this, then seek help, this is important.

One of the very first and by far one of the most challenging points of difference you may have to overcome is the very real mismatch between how society and so many ‘experts’ including family and friends paint infant sleep and the reality of how it looks and feels for a mother following her baby and her instincts.

Society likes to sell the sleepy ideal of the ‘good baby’.

It’s all about your baby sleeping in a cot and limiting contact and comfort. 
It’s about timelines for when nursing is ‘necessary‘.  
It’s all about good sleep habits and bad sleep habits (the bad ones, being all the things a mother instinctually goes to).  
It’s all about convenience, ease and limiting any disruption to an adult’s preferred lifestyle and sleep choices.  
It’s all about forcing independence on your baby from as early an age as you can stomach.  
It’s about giving you reasons why it is okay to let your baby cry and dictating if or when it is ‘right’ and necessary to comfort them.  
It’s all about cheering mothers on as they train their baby to give up on them, reassuring her that this thing that makes her feel sick to her stomach NEEDs to be done for own and her baby’s benefit.  
It’s all about making her doubt herself and why HER baby still wakes at night while everyone else’s baby at mother’s group ‘sleeps through‘.  
   
When I say society, I mean everywhere … from virtually every angle in a mother’s life she will face pressure, advice and instruction on how to raise her baby and how to rid her life of these unnecessary ‘sleep problems’ that she has brought on herself because she has continued to meet her baby at their point of need and not withdrawn her comfort.

Nursing, cuddling, rocking, letting a baby sleep on your chest, in a carrier, in your bed– all natural methods to settle a baby that a mother instinctively goes to … society says are BAD. All are negative sleep associations, sleep crutches and things you must break the ‘habit’ of if you ever want your child to sleep. Ever. Forever. That’s right, if you comfort your baby while they are helpless infants, you are screwing them up for life. They’ll NEVER learn to ‘self-soothe‘, they’ll be needing boobie til they’re 50 and your bed? Oh, well they may leave that one day when their spouse moves in.

The scaremongering is intense, and honestly, it is utterly ridiculous and yet the relentlessness of it, the fact that it is EVERYWHERE and coming from every angle … well, it starts to seep in.


The mother who has the strength, the knowledge, the bravery and belief to stick with her instincts and her infant are in fact an incredibly rare breed. I am not one. I come to this no sleep training path after going through a living hell trying and failing to sleep train, my first baby.

If the mother of your baby is unwilling to sleep train, I can guarantee you, she has not made this decision lightly, and it has to be one of the most unselfish decisions of her life. I didn’t sleep train because I was selfish. Wanting to sleep train is a complicated choice for many and for me, it was borne of genuine concern for my baby’s development and the wellbeing of my family BUT above all, the decision to move beyond sleep training with my first and to not sleep train my second child has required a tremendous amount of strength, stamina, faith and belief. It has been character building and challenging and worth every moment and every sacrifice.

Once I had learned more about what normal infant sleep looked like, once I knew about the concept of breastsleeping, once I knew why it felt so very right to answer my baby’s every cry and to respond with nurturing comfort, once I knew that our babies and toddlers really do only need us this intensely for such a short while in the grand scheme of life. Once I knew there were so many benefits to my child as they grow and develop by simply meeting them right where they were at with no need for ‘tough love’ or to shove them towards independence (which doesn’t require any force), well this mothering business just FELT so much more natural to me. So much stress, strain and anxiety I had felt trying to do it all ‘right’ just disappeared. It freed me to be the mother I needed to be for my unique baby.

I no longer felt like I was fighting against my heart or my child. Suddenly, we were on the same side. There was no ‘us and them’ and no battle to be had or to win.


There are good reasons why a baby’s cry brings physical and mental anguish. A baby has no other way to communicate their needs. I’m very sure that if you ever found yourself in a state that rendered you completely helpless to the whim of your caregiver, you’d hope to have your limited ability to express your needs honoured promptly and each and every time. I’m sure it would make no sense to you that your cries be ignored in favour of what some textbook or relative had to say about when, how and why your cries are worthy of answering, and the same applies to your infant.

A baby and even toddlers lack the brain development to manipulate so if this is another fear you have thanks to old Aunt Gladys sharing her pearls of wisdom, then you can alleviate it right now. It’s impossible. If your baby is crying, they need you or their mum. Every time.

I know you are probably exhausted and worried about your family, but after all, is said and done, the mother of your baby does not need yet another voice telling her she is wrong, her instincts are wrong and that she cannot trust her (your) baby. She just doesn’t.

She DOES need your support.

This may not be how you pictured this parenting gig. Newsflash, it’s probably not how she pictured it either. But this is it for now. Please know that there is no harm in surrendering to now with your child. NOTHING lasts forever with babies. Things will evolve and change many times in the next few years, and it will all be so much more enjoyable if it happens as a team. Indeed, even while this feels so right for this mother on the inside, she will be battling through so much doubt, frustration and exhaustion at times, that she will need you there to see her through. Appreciate the stamina, passion and belief she puts in day in night out. It’s no mean feat when society loves to tell you you’ve got it all wrong.


This is a marathon worth running.

Once you commit to this alongside the mother of your child, you can then think as a team to make it work in your situation. She cannot and should not be doing this on her own. Talk it through, work it through. Be the adults together.

Thank you for caring enough, to have read this far. I have linked articles throughout this piece to help you gain a deeper understanding of this time from your baby’s perspective and also the mother’s.

Your child deserves this, and so does the mother of that child.

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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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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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The true bad habits around baby sleep

The true bad habits around baby sleep

As a new mother, particularly if you are blessed with a wakeful little firecracker who is the anti sleepy ideal of a ‘good’ baby, you very quickly start hearing all about ‘bad habits’, ‘sleep crutches’ and ‘negative sleep associations’. The general gist of all of these ‘bad habits’ is that your baby is using you, you are spoiling them, you aren’t teaching them to sleep, you aren’t encouraging independence, you are creating a rod for your own back.  

As a new mum, this has an extremely damaging effect on your confidence and belief that you can trust your instincts and your baby to tell you what you should and should not be doing to assist your baby to get the sleep they need. I know. I heard it all and more with my first and it took me down an extremely ugly path of sleep training, sleep school, sleep training ‘failure’ and PND.

But it’s not always as hideous as it was for me, and unfortunately this is why this notion of ‘bad habits’ continues. Because sleep training ‘works’ and ‘saves’ so many, it has become the go to technique and method for our society. If you aren’t willing to sleep train, you are on the outer. If you aren’t willing to sleep train, then you better just suck it up because that wakeful child of yours is only that wakeful because you refuse to break their ‘bad habits’.

Well I’d like to take the time today to call bullshit to this and highlight the TRUE bad habits we’ve gotten into when it comes to managing this very weary season in a mother’s life and the handling of our babies sleep.

BAD HABIT #1 Assuming our baby should sleep in a manner that resembles our preferred way of sleeping as adults by night and in a way that allows us to be ‘productive’ by day as quickly as possible and certainly by 6 months of age. Babies are meant to sleep for short stints before rousing and nursing back to sleep by night. Sometimes, they will go through patches where they do sleep for longer stints before going through other patches of waking up even more frequently than they had previously. This cycle is normal for a normally developing human infant. Their sleep looks nothing like an adult’s sleep because an adult brain and body is not undergoing the incredibly rapid growth and change our babies experience in their first couple of years of life.

Catnapping by day is normal even though it can seriously give you the shits. Wanting to be held or hang out on the boob for naps is also normal and is why babywearing has saved many a mother’s sanity. Short naps may impede a caregiver’s ability to get around to many of the things they need to do but they are not a sleep problem. Being inconvenient is different to being a problem. Catnapping babies may require an extra kip or two compared to a baby who enjoys long, luxurious naps of their own accord but this again, is inconvenient, not a sleep problem. I’ve now survived two babies who relished a good stint of catnapping at many points during their first year and it really helped me to recognise the important work I WAS getting done by spending so much time getting my baby’s the sleep they needed in the way that worked best for them. Integrity Calling has also written a fabulous article on all the very productive things you can do while CoNapping which may help you if you are in the thick of this right now.

BAD HABIT #2 Failing to recognise and respect a baby’s biological need for comfort, closeness and frequent nursing throughout their first year and beyond. By insisting on a baby needing to learn to sleep away from their mother, out of her arms and most certainly not at her breast, we are effectively ripping our babies off on a huge amount of skin to skin contact and sensory stimulation. Our babies thrive both physically and emotionally through loving touch and closeness. You can literally never cuddle your baby too much or offer them too much comfort but you can absolutely offer them to little.

BAD HABIT #3 Diagnosing and pathologising a baby’s normal sleep behaviour as a sleep problem due to lack of understanding for normal infant sleep behaviour. A baby waking and nursing frequently at night throughout the first year and beyond is normal. The actual frequency varies a huge amount as it does with all unique adult humans. What one baby needs and how they behaves has exactly bupkis to do with what their peers are doing. IF a baby is waking in an extreme fashion, then it is of high importance that any potential underlying issues that may be exacerbating their normal waking behaviour needs to be investigated. If after investigation, there is nothing at play, it perfectly acceptable to accept that this very wakeful baby has a more intense need for nighttime parenting than the majority of their peers and accept that they will become more relaxed and independent with sleep in time (as all babies and toddlers do if they are allowed to develop at their own pace).
Upon finding acceptance, the family’s energy can then be focused on navigating their sleep needs outside of sleep training. Here’s an article to float some ideas. 

BAD HABIT #4 Trying to force independence upon a baby with regards to sleep when they are developmentally incapable of such independence. Babies are physiologically unable to self settle from a place of distress. Sarah Ockwell Smith does as great job explaining this in her article here. Independence with sleep like independence in all other areas of life, blossoms from dependence without any force from a parent. By supporting and honouring a baby who is dependent on their caregiver for every single one of their needs, a baby is growing deep, trusting emotional roots on which they can grow and branch from as they become more capable. Babyhood and childhood are not a race and just as we cannot rush or force a baby to roll, crawl or walk, we should not rush or force them to find sleep more independently until they are actually capable of such a feat.

BAD HABIT #5 Accepting that crying is good or necessary for our babies to learn to ‘self settle’. See article above about the myth of self soothing and also some information from Tracy Cassells PHD of Evolutionary Parenting who explains what is actually happening while a baby cries and what is also happening when the crying is extinguished. A crying baby needs comfort- EVERY SINGLE TIME. Not sometimes, not when a timer or some baby whisperer or sleep expert says. When they cry, they are using their voice. They deserve to be heard. Not just once they’ve reached emotional hysteria but while they calmly and trustingly request your presence.

BAD HABIT #6 Through sheer ignorance and sensationalist reporting and scaremongering, our society ignores that cosleeping and bedsharing can be done safely by MOST (not all) families and are the preferred manner in which normal night waking of a breastfed baby is managed in the majority of cultures around the world. Read more on the amazing research of Prof James McKenna and the concept of Breastsleeping and check out the safe bedsharing information provided by La Leche League’s Safe Sleep 7 and the Infant Sleep Information Source. The physical getting up and going to another room, the forcing yourself to stay awake to nurse, the ridiculous, arbitrary feeding schedules and resettling … all are bad habits western society has added to this warped view of what is ‘normal’ and it is exhausting mothers more than they ever needed to be exhausted. It’s physically torture and largely where the notion of ‘sleep problem’ stems. Once a mother has hit full blown sleep deprivation delirium… of course she thinks everything is wrong and of course she thinks her baby wakes too much, of course she can’t keep it up.

BAD HABIT #7 Placing heavy importance on a mother’s need for uninterrupted sleep and advocating for methods that will help her achieve this even if they do not respect her baby’s night time need for parenting. I’m seeing this all the time. Mothers themselves, family members, professionals treating a mother’s mental health issues … so many times sleep training is seen as 100% necessary as this mother will only be okay, only make a recovery, only be able to function if she can get her sleep back to normal. Thing is, ‘normal’ with a baby or toddler in the house is meant to look very different to the normal of prechild. A solution that only works to solve the problem of a mother’s acute sleep deprivation but does not respect her baby’s biological sleep needs, is frankly not a solution at all. We should not be asking these mothers to make a decision such as this. SHE matters but so does her baby. She needs assistance to work out what needs to happen in her world to ensure she can get the quality (not quantity) of sleep she needs in a way that still allows her to mother her baby the way they need to be mothered.

BAD HABIT #8 Placing the weight of responsibility heavily on the mother to bear the burden of sleep deprivation particularly if she is trying to navigate paid employment while managing this season in her life. Too often, mothers sleep train as they are back at work and simply cannot function on the broken sleep they managed while on maternity leave. This one has a few branches to look at- first- are we providing adequate maternity leave and flexible work arrangements for women who are living this weary season their lives? In most cases, no. What about arrangements for the father of the child? What is his role in parenting by night and day during this season? I have far more questions than answers here but as a society I fear we have long since stopped thinking on this accepted imbalance as the majority of weight when it comes to child care is borne by the mother.

BAD HABIT #9 Lacking empathy and advocacy for our babies. As the voiceless, helpless, dependent, trusting souls in this story, they bear the brunt of the decisions and this skewed view of what their family should expect of them. Babies are often accused of being ‘manipulative’, ‘sooky’, ‘too demanding’, ‘whiny’, ‘needy’ and worse. Their very babyish nature seems to be misconstrued as having some kind of malice or ill intention built in which is such a heartbreaking reality in today’s world. At the ripe old age of 6 months, how dare a baby cry out for comfort, how dare they protest when placed in their cot, how dare they cling to your neck when you try to put them on the ground or hand them to another person, how dare they cry until they see you’ve come back and then immediately switch to a big warm smile to show you how relieved they are that you came back … how very manipulative and needy. It breaks my heart even trying to wrap my head around why this is so accepted. 

BAD HABIT #10 Frowning on those who choose to parent in a way that society doesn’t recognise as ‘normal’. As a breastfeeding, bedsharing, babywearing family, we have been ridiculed and frowned upon many times. It is assumed that because I mother this way, I must be some ‘stinking hippy’ or ‘backwards’. I have been called a lactivist bitch, dangerous, a judgemental cow with a superiority complex and a sanctimummy. All for expressing my differing and somewhat scathing view on the entrenched parenting practices of our modern society. 

Closed minds and closed hearts- now that will always be a bad habit worth speaking up on.

And so, to close this somewhat depressing summary of the true BAD habits that deserve to be beaten when it comes to our treatment of our babies and their sleep, I urge anyone in the thick of it who is hearing all these voices telling them they are creating ‘bad habits’ with their precious baby, to stop for a moment and reflect on the place that these well meaning people have forged their view- a society and culture who would rather a baby cry than have a cuddle is so seriously warped, I’d go with your instinct on this one mama.

Cuddle all the babies.

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