Status

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.

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook 💙

Advertisements
Status

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! 

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook 💙

Status

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.

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook 💙

Status

What ‘permission to let things slide’ looks like in reality

Motherhood hit me like a sledgehammer.  

A love filled, cute as a button, wouldn’t change it for the world kind of baptism of fire.

With our incredibly high needs baby on song from the moment he was born, we didn’t even have the grace of the ‘sleepy newborn’ phase to allow us to get our breath or momentarily lull us into a false sense of security, that yeah, we could rock this parenting caper without so much as a hair out of place.

Our baby needed us SOOOOO intensely; it was stifling.

We weren’t deluded (okay, maybe we were), we knew having a baby would be life changing. We knew a newborn required a hell of a lot of care. We knew we would need to deal with sleep deprivation BUT in our deluded pre-baby state, we also thought all babies slept. We thought all babies went down in their cots to sleep and once they were asleep, they’d stay that way unless they were hungry or no longer tired. We thought that as long as we responded promptly to our baby, he’d rarely cry …how wrong we were.

Initially, we surrendered quite well to it, thinking things would calm down. But when they didn’t, the doubts crept in and grew ever stronger as they were fuelled by advice that started seeping in from every angle. We began to fight against our baby and his intense needs. We could no longer simply accept that he just needed us so, now we had to battle our way through sleep associations, wants versus needs, manipulation and being too fussy, too demanding and too wakeful to get to OUR baby.

We were desperately unhappy, desperately unsatisfied and desperate to ‘fix’ our baby so we could resume life.

We were swimming against the tide.

Thankfully, after a six-month battle, our sweet surrender came, and it changed my whole way of being.

I had heard many times that it was okay just to let things slide when you have a new baby.

I think in my head though, I had placed conditions on when this would be okay and for how long. I think I accepted that I might need help with a newborn while I recovered from birth but I must have decided that after that I ‘should’ have been able to stay on top of things (with maybe the exception of when I had a sick baby).

This unrealistic expectation I had arbitrarily set for myself, severely affected my sense of self, my mood, my confidence and ultimately, my relationship with my baby (after all, if he weren’t so demanding, I would have finished the laundry …).

A part of finding my surrender was acknowledging that permission to let things slide extends to however long it takes for you to be getting through your day easily enough to let some of it back in.

For me, I had my second baby just 20 months after my first, and a high needs baby coupled with pregnancy, then combined with new baby has meant that it is literally only now … Three years on that I am letting some of it back in.

The fog started to lift a little while back and slowly, but surely I am feeling more ‘normal’, more on top of things and not as desperately in need of rest as I was.

I know not everything can slide, and I can guarantee you, not everything did … the actual essential things were always seen to, and we lived fulfilling days, BUT I knew I had permission to choose rest over chores and rest over outings whenever I needed, and I needed it a lot for a very long time.

I am not ashamed of this, and I do not feel guilty or lazy or any of the things society may expect that I feel.

While some things did slide, my core business was my A game.

Raising my babies, meeting them at their point of need both day and night, nurturing and savouring them, keeping me well, keeping me rested… I can confidently say, I have been getting THIS done.

I am raising whole humans. I am wiring tiny, new brains with my gentle, loving tenderness and time.

The chores won’t be missing my time, love or comfort; my energies are going to exactly the right place.

If you could but measure the value of simply ‘being there’ for our babies, I firmly believe we as a society would stop fighting so hard to get away. Some days it feels like you have been able to achieve the grand total of zero, but truly, being your baby’s whole world … that is more than enough work for one day.

Every minute spent holding, comforting, nursing, nurturing, soothing and being present with your child is of infinite value to that small being in your arms, your family, your community and the world. Time spent on our babies is never time wasted.

So, you have permission to let all those other sideline things slide for as long as it takes for you to feel they fit back in without you having to sacrifice your sanity, your rest or your baby’s needs.

You’ve got this mama x

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook
💙

Status

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.

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook💙


Status

For me, a Happy Baby meant a Happy Mum

You will often hear the saying, ‘Happy Mum = Happy Baby’.  

I think the intention of the saying is good, and it may well be true for many others, but it certainly did not ring true for me when I was a struggling new mum with an intense high needs baby who took more from me than I ever thought I had. So many ‘choices’ and ‘options’ were put to me that would supposedly solve all our woes and they all pretty much boiled down to the fact that I needed to start putting myself first so that I could get back to ‘happy’ and stop being such a ‘martyr’ who was sacrificing her sanity in order to bend over backwards 24/7 for a ridiculously demanding child.

Even after I found my surrender and my mothering groove, the suggestions kept coming.

The people who suggested it were genuinely concerned for me. They could see no good coming from this situation I lived in with my extremely frequent waker who nursed all night and wanted to be held all day. I looked dishevelled and unkempt. I looked exhausted and washed out. I looked to have been consumed so wholly by this mothering gig that there was no semblance of the person I was before. I was someone to be worried about, pitied and in need of advice and a push in the ‘right’ direction.

From the outside looking in, I made this mothering business look ridiculously hard and not at all appealing to those around me.

BUT, on the inside I was growing. On the inside I was glowing. On the inside, I was developing a new strength.

I was becoming a new and fuller version of myself.

Maybe for some the path to a happy mum is to focus her self-care on doing things for herself. This kind of self-care has slowly appeared into my world, too and as my babies have grown, it fits more and more frequently and comfortably into our lives. But, I am not ashamed to say that for the longest time with my first baby, there was simply no way I could feel ‘happy’ unless I knew my baby was happy, too.

I am an empath and as such, I keenly feel and take on board other people’s emotions. This is both a strength and a weakness in my life but I have learned to accept it as an essential part of ME, and because I like me and care for me, I know that I need to be mindful and care for my Empath tendencies for me to feel well within myself. Does this mean I need to fix the ills of the world as well as my children’s every discomfort to find happiness? No, it does not, but it does mean that while I have a highly dependent and attached infant relying on me as their primary source of comfort and nutrition, they WILL require my care first and I will need to know they are happy before I can embark on any form of self-care without them.

I remember trying on many occasions to seek to make the more traditional types of self-care happen. More often than not, the stress and anxiety of even having to contemplate doing these things were enough to make me unhappy. Then on the occasions where I did ‘just go, they’ll be fine, you are just stressing. They always do better than you think.’ … I’d be called back home within the hour to a hysterical child who would not calm for dad and needed boob or I’d get home to them looking wrecked as my husband ‘toughed’ it out to give me a break. Interestingly, on none of these occasions was I out having the time of my life or even feeling particularly happy, despite the fact that I was getting ‘me’ time that was meant to make me a happier mum. I wasn’t enjoying it because despite what other people told me, that my baby would be just fine, he wasn’t, and I knew he wouldn’t be. He is now the cruisiest dude in town and can easily be left with daddy, babysitters, daycare, his grandparents, friends and family, but while he was an infant, he wanted his mum. That was it. 

Once I accepted this, as where he was at and what he needed, I was so much happier within myself. He needed me, all of me and more. He was happy when he had me, and unhappy when he didn’t. My self-care simply had to fit within these bounds and to work that out saved both of us so much heartache.

This doesn’t mean that at times I didn’t dream of running away. I didn’t wish for some time to be alone and untouched. It didn’t mean that my dreams and desires ceased to exist.

I still needed and wanted time just to be, but for me to be happy, I didn’t need to have everything I wanted and needed right then and there. To be happy, I had to be right where I was needed.

I needed to have a happy baby and to have a happy baby made me the happiest mum I could be.

I do not need perfect to be happy. I can be a mess of contradiction, raw and exhausted and still be okay.

What was key for me was getting to a place where I could talk about my worries, frustrations and struggles without feeling like I needed to filter them out of my life completely to be happy.

We all come as we are as people to motherhood. For some mothers, truly, the happy mum =happy baby path may well be the best and most appropriate course to chart, but I feel it is necessary to express why this may not indeed be the route to happiness for ALL mothers and should therefore not be held over mother’s heads as yet another pressure she has to do this mothering thing ‘right’.

If you only feel happy when your baby is happy, there is nothing wrong with that.

Mothering does not need to look pretty, perfect or easy for it to be ‘right’.

Sometimes, it may be ugly, raw, unfiltered and undeniably taxing on a mother’s heart, mind and soul and still be all kinds of ‘right’ for her.

A massive shout out to all the mothers out there who are simply doing what feels right for their family without a succumbing to pressure to conform.

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook 💙

Status

The question all mothers should not be afraid to ask- Can you provide the evidence to back your advice?

As a new mother, you will be faced with a great many challenges as you find your feet and one of the biggest hurdles is working out who you can trust to give you advice.  
Not just small scale advice, like knowing if your baby needs socks on or how often to trim their fingernails, but large scale advice that can impact not only on your mothering experience but also on the way you and your baby experience each other.

Advice on breastfeeding, sleep and settling, weight gain, health and development – the big ticket items, who can you trust to offer their advice? Who actually has the evidence to back what they are saying? Who is up to date and who is just feeding the same tired advice of years before? Has this person ever actually trained in this specific area they are advising on?

I know who I trusted- my Midwives, my GP and my Child Health Nurses.

If I knew back at the beginning what I know now, I wouldn’t have so wholeheartedly accepted the wisdom of these trusted advisors… no, I would have questioned them far more heavily and discovered that more often than I wish I had to admit, they were giving me incorrect, inaccurate, incomplete or simply out of date advice. They gave it sincerely, with, I have no doubt, the very best of intentions but, the ramifications for my baby and I were significant.

This isn’t me, discrediting these wonderful folk who have dedicated their working lives to mothers as they establish their young families, absolutely not!

I have also received some of the most life enhancing, life changing and valuable advice from these very same people. Their value is not diminished BUT this does not mean their advice should not be held to account or that it is above scrutiny and questioning.

New mothers need to know that it is okay to question any advice they are given and should be able to expect that the person giving it, has the evidence to back them. IF the person is unable to provide the evidence and sufficient explanation for their advice, then it would be most suitable for that mother to ask to be referred to someone who is more specialised in the area in question. For example, breastfeeding advice would always be best coming from a trained International Board Certified Lactation Consultant over the breastfeeding advice of a GP who may have no training in lactation other than a few hours back at University. IF  the person giving the advice, is in fact the ‘specialist’ then, they need examine their practice if they are unable to back what they do with up to date evidence. 

I had one particular piece of advice that was given repeatedly to me as the mother of an extremely wakeful baby that illustrates this issue-

That I needed to adopt a Feed-Play-Sleep routine.

This was given to me in an extremely matter of fact manner on numerous occasions over the course of my baby’s first 12 months.

The first time I heard it, was from the Child Health Nurse who came to do our 4 week health check. We had well and truly established that this baby of ours was intense. We had already established that one of the very few ways to settle him with any success to sleep was through nursing. We’d already established that he hated to be put down and that he struggled to find and maintain sleep. As first time parents, we were still in the shell shocked ‘we had no idea what to expect’ stage and what we really needed was a little reassurance from this visitor who we trusted to have knowledge in the area … instead, what we got was a lecture on why our baby was so unsettled and the crux of it was that because I nursed him to sleep and didn’t ‘allow’ him to settle to sleep without nursing, he was now all out of whack. She told us that a Feed-Play-Sleep routine was what we needed to do. I actually laughed and jokingly said, ‘I’m not sure you know this baby!’ But she shook her head and said, ‘I’m telling you now, Feed-Play-Sleep is what your baby needs. Do him a favour and sort this out now.’

I felt as though the air was knocked out of me. When she left, I said to my husband, ‘but he’ll just cry and cry! There’s no way he’ll fall asleep! He gets so distressed when we put him down any time, let alone when he was tired!’ My husband agreed. We kept up soothing and I kept nursing my baby to sleep.

But then his 6 week check came around … a different Child Health Nurse saw us. I reported honestly when asked about his sleep and settling and once again, I was told I was creating ‘unhealthy associations’ for sleep and to get a Feed-Play-Sleep routine happening as soon as possible. I told the nurse that while this may seem simple, my baby did not agree and that he was terribly distressed any time we withheld nursing or tried to place him down for sleep. She explained that I had established this routine and that he’d naturally be distressed by the change but change was necessary.

I tried on many more occasions that failed dismally each time.

It was at four months, yet another Child Health Nurse saw me and after I detailed in tears the mess that was our sleep and settling and all the things I had tried and ‘failed’ at, she informed me that my baby was ‘chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development.’ She shared the details of the Public Mother/ Baby unit (sleep school) in our capital city as well as the details of a private facility as she’d heard the wait for the public unit was quite lengthy.

I then had an appointment with my GP to sort out the required referral to sleep school and she also reiterated that our sleep issues came down to me continuing to have to nurse my baby to sleep.

I have detailed the experience and learnings that came of my time at sleep school in articles before so I won’t rehash but I need to add that we were given a slide show of the process we would be following there and low and behold … we needed to put our babies onto a Feed-Play-Sleep routine in order to undo this association of nursing to sleep.

The paediatrician we saw reiterated that nursing to sleep at the grand old age of 4.5 months was ‘unhelpful’ and possibly the cause of his ‘disrupted’ sleep patterns.

Even under the guidance of sleep school, Feed- Play-Sleep was a disaster.

I can honestly say, I used all of my willpower to not punch the nurse who saw us for the 6 month health check. I was at the height of PND and at my lowest ebb when it came to all things sleep and still she had the hide to imply I needed to ‘get that child into routine’.

At my 12 month appointment, I was in a much better place and though my child still woke frequently and needed to be nursed to sleep, I knew enough to know we were okay. I flat out lied to the Nurse when she asked about sleep.

At 18 months, I was feeling much stronger mentally and decided I would speak up. When asked about Sleep, I explained in a brief, but frank manner what we’d been through and just how unhelpful the advice I’d received each and every time I went to them had been. She seemed to listen. She wrote notes.
I was noticeably pregnant which should have nothing to do with this, but as I prepared to leave, she said, ‘well at least you’ll know not to make those same mistakes this time around. Nursing to sleep creates so many problems.’
I flushed red and walked right out.
All the come backs, all the things that needed to be said … they came to me later. In that moment, I had nothing.

So, this approach that is beholden as the ‘go to’ for establishing healthy sleep in your baby, it’s evidence based right?

Wrong.

Highly respected GP and researcher, Dr Pamela Douglas and her colleague Koa Whittingham, conducted a systematic review of literature behavioural infant sleep interventions, sleep regulation and sleep disturbance (2014) and made findings about the Feed-Play-Sleep routine that are actually quite concerning-

‘Feed–play–sleep cycles are thought to bring sleep under the regulation of other learned stimulus cues such as bedtime routines, which are deemed to be more appropriate. However, we argue that post- prandial somnolence, a tendency to fall asleep after feeding, is not learned through operant conditioning. In fact, it is present at birth. Postprandial somnolence is an innate neurobehavior resulting from the effects of parasympathetic nervous system activation, elevated oxytocin, and elevated plasma cholecystokinin. The decoupling of innate neurobehavioral patterns may have unintended outcomes within the complex system for some mother–infant dyads, such as premature cessation of breast-feeding or frequent high levels of arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA system (Douglas & Hill, 2013). In the first weeks and months, this may result in a sensitized stress response. Further, we argue that from a behavioral perspective, the appropriate stimulus control of sleep is not an external stimulus at all. We contend that an appropriate stimulus cue for sleep is the internal state of sleepiness or felt sleep pressure.

Feed–play–sleep cycles not only decouple the innate neurobe- havioral link between feeds, bodily contact, and downregulation but also the appropriate stimulus of felt sleep pressure from sleep. This decoupling has been theorized to play a role in insomnia in adults (Ong et al., 2012) and is likely to place some infants at risk of developing sleep problems. In addition, feed–play–sleep cycles may have consequences for the parents, as the promotion of feed–play–sleep cycles falsely suggests to parents that their baby’s postprandial somnolence was either created by their actions as parents or is not a legitimate cue. This places unnecessary stress on the parent–infant relationship, including on the breast-feeding relationship, at a vulnerable time. (Whittingham, K & Douglas, P. 2014, Optimizing Parent Infant Sleep in the first 6 months: a new paradigm, INFANT MENTAL HEALTH JOURNAL, Vol. 35(6), 614–623 )

So basically, falling asleep after feeding  is the biologically normal way for a baby to fall asleep and is present from birth, not something that is taught/ conditioned by a parent after. It is also plays a part in a baby’s the normal development of a their parasympathetic nervous system and a healthy breastfeeding relationship. By decoupling feeding from sleeping, there are concerns raised about potential unintended outcomes as well as the increase stress it places on the parent- infant relationship unnecessarily.

With these findings in mind, it begs the question, why a technique that may actually cause the sleep problems it supposedly aims to solve and may jeopardise the mother and baby’s breastfeeding relationship, is so frequently and confidently dished out to new mothers?

The fact that this advice is also coming from a trusted professional who actually specialises in maternal and child health makes the issue even more concerning.

What evidence is being used to back current practice by frontline professionals working with mothers and their babies? How recent and up to date is their practice? Can and should we be doing better in terms of the more blanket approaches offered to parents when it comes to their baby’s wellbeing?

I felt so extraordinarily letdown by the professionals I had placed my trust in and though I can see that at no point was the advice I was given, given with any view to cause myself or baby trauma, the fact remains, it did. Knowing that this very advice is not backed by evidence does little to help me feel I was an isolated case.

I wish I had known I could ask for the evidence. I wish I’d asked if there was an alternative view.

I will finish this though by telling you that my midwife was my shining light who saw me through this storm. She helped me find MY feet. She guided me without forcing her views, she allowed me to discover the mother I needed and wanted to be for my unique baby. There is so much good going on in the world of mother/ baby support and with continued discussion, questioning and awareness, I hope that the field will continue to flourish under the watchful care of those who care.

💙Enjoying reading Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook 💙

For those who wish to read further on why a Feed-Play-Sleep routine makes no sense for a breastfed baby, check out this awesome article from The Milk Meg 💕