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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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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.

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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.

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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 💕

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Lessons my babies have taught me- if it’s hard for me, it’s even harder on them

Empathy.  

I am an empathetic person. Some may even say I am too empathetic (if there is such a thing).  
Empathy comes to me naturally and without much prompting, or so I thought until my babies taught me a thing or two about myself.  
You see, society has done a damn good job of removing a certain ‘relatability’ from our relationship with our babies.  
It’s almost like in the quest to push our babies towards independence, we have lost sight of the whole person underneath. The push to sleep independently, play independently, eat independently, dress and toilet independently; it all seems to consume so much of what we see in our babies, for good or bad.  
We view and form opinions of our own experience with our child based on how they make us feel or the demands they place on us, the parent.  
I got caught in the crush with my first baby and his whole being was minimised down to his ability/ inability to sleep without enormous input from me.  
For the longest time, my conversations and thoughts centred around how tired I was, how over it I was, how frustrated I was, and how sorry I felt for myself being stuck in this shitty situation with this baby who would not let up.  
Poor me. Pity me. Hard done by me.

For an empathetic person, I was pretty bad at seeing past my own nose to look at my beautiful baby who was struggling ever so much to find and maintain sleep.  
It may have been the hardest most relentless time in my life but he wasn’t doing it for kicks and he certainly wasn’t doing it to make me suffer. He wasn’t out to get me. He simply needed me. All of me and then some.  
He was a whole person and his experience and his feelings about it all were just as valid and just as important as my own and as the completely dependent person who was only months into life on this earth, HE deserved every ounce of empathy and understanding he could get.  
I came to this realisation eventually and life with an intense, high needs baby became ever so much more enjoyable once I could see HIM.  
All of him. The good, the bad, the easy, the hard, the beauty, the challenges… all of him. 
The whole person, worthy of being treated as such.  

My second baby, is currently a teething mess. I have never before encountered such horrific looking gums as he has right now as he simultaneously erupts molars and canines.  
I had an appointment this morning and the lady asked me how the boys are and I explained that the littlest is really not himself with his mouth so sore.  
Her response took me aback a little, ‘oh poor you, I bet you’re not sleeping then. God, I hate teething babies. Right pains in the arse they are. Fingers crossed they are through soon so you can get some rest.’ 
You see, she’s full of empathy … for me. She can relate to me, the mother, but heaven forbid she show an ounce of compassion for the poor wee soul who is living this painful struggle day in, night out right now … my baby.  
Yes, I am freaking exhausted. Yes, I do hope they come through quickly so I can rest, BUT more importantly, I want them through so HE can rest without this horrible pain. I want him to get back to his cheerful self, without this terribly sore mouth pulling him up short and dampening his day.  
HE deserves every ounce of empathy I can muster. This isn’t all about me and how I’m suffering (although sending your sympathy is fine, provided it’s not dissing my baby).  

My babies have taught me the importance of seeing the whole.

The saying, ‘your baby isn’t giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time’, has been a real game changer for me.  
Sure, I am still often having a hard time along with them but this is not due to some deliberate act of my child. They aren’t malicious and they aren’t manipulative. They are babies being babies and kids being kids. Their babyish or childish nature is not an act against me.  
The challenges they face as they grow and develop at a phenomenal rate, would have us desperately tied up in knots even as adults. It is hard on them and they are just as entitled as you or I to voice and show their feelings.  
For goodness sake, the last time I had a toothache, I was as cantankerous as an ogre!

If you are finding you are caught up in your own adult struggle with your kids, do the whole family a favour and focus on finding a way to empathise and connect with them as whole people. You’ll all feel better for it. The tough times are so much easier to take when you don’t feel like the helpless victim in it all.

Our perfectly imperfect little people deserve our respect, understanding and empathy.
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What not to say to the mother of a high needs, firecracker baby (and what to say instead)

It can be hard to know what to say to a friend who is living and breathing a high needs baby right now, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself, so here are some tips on what is best to avoid saying to the mother of a sensational little firecracker and what may be more helpful to say instead.  

1. If you are in the company of a mother whose precious wee bundle is only happy or able to sleep in her arms in the first few months of life, DO NOT suggest she needs to teach her baby to self settle or mention any ‘rod’ she is creating or even use the word ‘habit’ to her.

Instead, congratulate her for meeting her baby where they are at and assure her that this is completely normal behaviour for many new babies as they live and breathe the Fourth Trimester. If she hasn’t heard of the concept of the Fourth Trimester, here are a couple of articles from BellyBellySarah Ockwell-Smith and Pinky McKay on this precious time with our newborn babies.

2. If you have a friend who has a baby who is incredibly hard to settle to sleep and the whole process can leave her feeling exhausted and defeated DO NOT tell her it is because she needs to teach her baby to self settle. A little firecracker baby is one of the very worst candidates to expect to calmly pop off to sleep when left to their own devices. It will not happen as they, like all other human infants, are physiologically incapable of soothing themselves from a place of distress and if you want to see distressed, you should see the absolute panic, terror and sheer desperation of a high needs baby being expected to sleep unaided and away from the person/people who help them regulate their system and find their calm.

Instead, tell her that she is doing incredibly important work and while it is ever so intense right now, her baby will need her less and less as the days, weeks, months and years pass by and it is okay to surrender to the intensity of now and to see how much her little bundle is struggling and how much they need every ounce of help they can get. THEN make that mama a cuppa, if she’s not already discovered the joys of babywearing, help investigate a local babywearing group or library who can help get her started. If her sink is full, wash her dishes, drop off some dinner once a week, if she hasn’t showered, offer to hold babe while she has a nice long, hot one. Listen to her, let her vent, give her a hug and check in on her regularly. She’s not necessarily going to be in the headspace to keep asking for help so you need to show up. Above all, help her to keep seeing her baby as a whole and worthwhile person who is more than their ability to sleep and help her see herself for the hugely valuable, dedicated nurturer she is as well as a wonderful woman, mother, partner and friend.

3. If you have a friend with a baby who is easily frightened, super sensitive to their surroundings and easily upset, please DO NOT tell her that she has created an unhealthy attachment and that her child behaves this way because of her mothering.

Instead, tell her that some babies experience this world more vividly and intensely than others and by providing her child with comfort and reassurance each and every time the world appears too scary, they are creating a safe place for their child to rest and build their own confidence in this world. There is no rush. There is no magic time where a baby needs to stop being ‘afraid’ or ‘clingy’. They are so new to this world. Comfort them and help them feel safe and secure. They will find their confidence as they grow at their own rate.

4. If you have a friend who has a baby who wakes and nurses extremely frequently Every. Single. Night. Not just during developmental leaps, sickness or teething DO NOT tell her that she needs to sleep train her baby. DO NOT tell her to top up her otherwise well nourished baby with formula or solids to stop them waking. DO NOT tell her she has created this situation and that her baby only wakes this frequently out of habit. DO NOT harp on about how early or easily your own child started to sleep long stretches or through the night. She doesn’t need to know. It doesn’t help her in this moment and can have a very damaging effect on her mental state and relationship and expectations of her own unique child.

Instead, firstly reassure her that she is doing an incredible job by nurturing her child at night and that her efforts are worthwhile. Then let her know that waking and nursing frequently at night for the first year and beyond is actually the biologically normal way for a human baby to behave. It is not a sleep problem. IF that baby is waking in an extreme fashion, then talk with her about possible underlying issues that may be exacerbating her baby’s normal wakeful behaviour.

  • Has babe been checked by a qualified IBCLC for tongue and lip ties and had any other nursing issues looked into?
  • Has babe been looked at for reflux, intolerances, allergies or food sensitivities? A Paediatrician and/ or Dietician can help with this.
  • Is baby a noisy breather while they sleep or do they snore? If they do, suggest they head to the GP for a referral to an Ear Nose Throat specialist to check on tonsils and adenoids. If these are enlarged, they can cause Sleep Apnea.
  • Could babe be experiencing residual pain from birth trauma? An Osteopath or Chiropractor may be able to help alleviate any physical discomfort.

If it turns out nothing else is at play, help her find her tribe with the wonderful world of mothers with High Needs little Firecrackers.

This article from Dr William Sears helped me immensely.

I have also written a few articles that may assist getting their head in the game-
Extreme Night Waking- living, loving and surviving the ultimate sleep thief
If you don’t want to sleep train but you are past the point of tired
Surrendering to your baby’s sleep needs does not mean becoming stagnant
There are many support groups on line and pages such as Pinky McKay, Evolutionary Parenting, The Milk Meg, The Possums Clinic, and Sarah Ockwell Smith can help you keep a handle on normal behaviours of infants while supporting their needs in a gentle way.


5. If you have a friend who is well into the first year and beyond with a high needs baby who is as wakeful as ever, DO NOT tell her it is time to let her baby Cry It Out and do not wash your hands of her just because she is not willing to sleep train. All you are doing is devaluing her huge efforts and asking her once again to doubt herself, her instincts and her baby.

Instead, keep her in mind and keep showing up for her. Keep on listening, keep on nurturing this incredibly exhausted nurturer, keep on building her confidence in herself and her baby. Keep her head in the game but let her let it all out when she needs. Let her lean on you and let her feel safe to just be. In the eyes of most, she’s now a seasoned mother but she is still living with the same intensity of the newborn days. She hasn’t yet made it out of the fog and she will still benefit from all the things that would have helped in those very early days and months. Make sure she is eating, showering and getting out of the house. Delivering dinners, popping on a load of washing, surprising her with a cup of coffee. Nurture the nurturer.

With these 5 tips, if you can now recognise a mother of a treasured little firecracker, I hope you will have more of an insight and some useful ideas to be the friend she needs so much right now.

Mothering a high needs baby can be an incredibly isolating and lonely experience especially if every one around her have babies who seem to find sleep and calm so easily.

Be the connection she needs. Help her to feel real, validated and important.

Be the light she needs as she lives this intensely weary season in her life.


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‘Kids these days’ are the product of mainstream parenting and yet mainstream society can’t see that

With the regular rounds of memes and articles that get around harping on about ‘kids these days’ and how they lack discipline and are basically entitled, disrespectful little blighters, really come as no surprise whatsoever. Throughout time, older generations have bemoaned ‘kids these days’ and waxed lyrical about ‘back in my day…’. It’s nothing new.  

What is interesting today, is that with social media sending these things viral, it isn’t just the older generation having a dig. Nope, now everyone, sometimes even those who would still be categorised as a ’kid’ these days, or even those currently raising the kids of today are buying in and jumping in on the bandwagon of blame.

Nearly every single one of these posts will recommend a stronger, more authoritarian approach to child rearing. From Cry It Out for babies, to smacking toddlers and children, to shaming and humiliating children and teens, all for their own good. So they know their place. As they apparently did, ‘back in my day’. All of the problems we face as a society with the youth of the day stems from parents being too soft, too easily pushed over, lack of boundaries and lack of physical punishment for consequences.

I am a parent of young children and also a primary school teacher so I have a pretty good exposure to mainstream, commonplace, socially accepted parenting practices that are happening right now and I have to say I am deeply confused.

Mainstream parenting is mainstream because it practiced by the MAJORITY of parents in society, right?

Well mainstream parenting IS pretty much all of these authoritarian components! I know, because I choose to parent differently and I am completely at odds with the vast majority of parents around me.

Mainstream Parenting Toolkits are full of- 
Sleep training  
Rewards, Bribes 
Threats, yelling and standover tactics 
Control and obedience  
Non logical consequences 
Isolation through time outs 
Humiliation 
Shaming 
Ignoring 
Withdrawal of affection and approval 
Smacks, taps and clips around the ears 

I honestly cannot see very much room for many families to take a ‘tougher’ approach than they already take without it becoming downright cruel.

But this brings us to the main point- if most people are already parenting in this harsh authoritarian way that people so wholeheartedly believe will raise the children we want and need for the society of the future then WHY is this current generation still bemoaning ‘kids these days’?

If after all is said and done, the majority of children are still not growing to be the adults we wish to see in this society, then maybe the way the majority of people raise their children may not indeed be the best way to achieve the goal.

Very few families raise their children using gentle, peaceful or attachment parenting principles. Very few people are indeed ‘soft’ with their children. But as someone who is living and breathing a gentler style of parenting, I do not fear that my own children will grow to be simply ‘the kids these days’. I do not fear it because I do not rely on my children needing me or their dad to put the fear of god into them to make good, fair, respectful choices. I do not fear it because my children will be raised as fully connected, fully understood, fully appreciated people in their own right who are comfortable in their own skin so they feel comfortable with those around them. I do not fear it because they are being raised as empathetic, thinking, feeling humans. I do not fear it because they have had boundaries set and held with compassion as their age and needs have dictated.

That’s right, boundaries. They are healthy and necessary. The difference is, they can be fair and they can be held with compassion, not just because, ‘I said so!’

You cannot blame the woes of society and youth on practices that are rarely employed and rarely the issue.

Permissive parenting is an issue but I have very occasionally seen parents of the gentler ilk who genuinely struggled to guide their child and establish the boundaries that were needed but more often the permissive parents I’ve come across have been mainstream but more ambivalent to their children in general. I can vividly recall many occasions of parents yelling, threatening and telling their child, ‘no’ before giving in as though they’d been defeated. This isn’t them being in any way aligned with a gentle approach. Their decision to change their mind does not mask their very mainstream approach to behaviour and it does not mask how it fails frequently when it comes down to power plays and power struggles.

Mainstream society- it’s time to take responsibility. It’s time to reflect on what is really going on. It’s time to see that maybe ‘tough love’ isn’t the way we are going to see any real change in society that is already a harsh enough place as it is.

If you want more responsible, empathetic, independent thinking people, let’s start treating our children with respect from their very first days so that they know that they belong, that they matter, that those around them matter. Let’s stop teaching them to only do things because there is a reward or punishment attached. Let’s stop expecting them to blindly obey us and then wonder why they are so easily lead as teens.

When you are at your lowest and most challenging, you always learn more from those who bother to listen, connect and support you. Our children are no different.

The time for change is now. If you have recently clicked ‘like’ on any of these ‘kids these days’ posts, it’s time to do a solid review of what is really at the heart of the issue.

If tough love isn’t working, is tougher love the answer? Or perhaps, is simply love the answer?

It’s worth contemplating and discussing further. .

Our kids these days are worth it!

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All I have gained by ‘giving in’

My big baby will be three in less than a month and I know how cliché it is to say I can’t believe how much he has grown and how far we have come but for me, it truly does blow my mind.  

For the last few months, a miracle has occurred on a nightly basis- my big guy has happily snuggled in with his dad and gone to sleep. I know right … miracles do happen.
Yeah, okay, I can hear many a sneer of, ‘wow, your almost three year old still needs his dad to go to sleep.’
But, if you thought this, then you have no idea of the ride we’ve been on and also haven’t gained all we have gained from the process, so bare with me while I share some of the beauty of this with you.
My guy was an extraordinarily high needs baby and I have written of the tumultuous first few months of life as a new family in many articles. We followed in the footsteps of many who have walked the sleep training path and despite our deep commitment, persistence and consistency (which in hindsight bordered on obsessive lunacy), we failed. Our baby did not comply. He resisted all attempts and life was a living, sleepless hell. Nobody slept while we sleep trained. Not me, not my husband, not our poor dog and most certainly not my poor exhausted, desperately helpless baby.

Our failure lead us down an even darker road with me plunging into the depths of Post Natal Depression. I was so very unwell. I saw no light. I saw no joy. I saw no end to this sleepless torture. I saw myself as a terrible mother. I thought I was too weak and useless to be able to meet the needs of my baby. I was sure they were right, all the times I was told that if I couldn’t withstand his will at this age, what kind of hope did I stand when he was a toddler or heaven forbid a teenager!

I dreamed of running away. I thought on numerous occasions my baby would be better off if I just left.  
Why couldn’t I get this baby the sleep he needed? 
Why couldn’t I get this right? 
Everyone seemed to know that you just had to Feed Play Sleep.  
Everyone seemed to know if you just taught your baby to self soothe, they’d sleep.  
Everyone seemed to know that it was because I’d rocked my baby, nursed him to sleep, been unsuccessful at putting him in his cot and hadn’t taught him to sleep alone, that it was all MY fault. He only slept like crap because I had developed such bad sleep habits, associations, crutches … whatever you want to call it.  
My baby was a ‘bad’ baby. He was ‘naughty’ for not letting his mother sleep.  
Everyone pitied me and my weariness.  
They all wished and willed it to end and that my baby would somehow miraculously become the sleepy baby he wasn’t.  
What an absolute pack of failures, outcasts and a cautionary tale of what not to do with your baby.

Life was ugly.

But then, something gave.

I gave it all in.

I surrendered. Hands in air, do whatever. I was so done trying to get it right. I was so done hating motherhood. I was so done with people not seeing my baby for anything other than his ability/ inability to sleep the way he ‘should’.

I went back to every bad habit there was.  
Anything, as long as I didn’t have to hear him cry.  
I fed him to sleep and held him for every nap.  
I rocked with him in the chair and held him tight if boob didn’t work.  
I brought him to my bed after his first wake up at night.  
I never ever resettled him in any way other than boob again.  
I threw away the clock in our room and stopped counting wake ups.  
I sang, soothed, comforted, nursed, snuggled, breathed in and savoured every inch of my baby’s being.  

I gained and regained my world.

I was happy though I was tired.  
My heart sang while my eyes sagged.  
I found peace of mind while exhausted right through to my weary bones.  

My baby gained and regained his world.

He was happy and well rested.  
His heart was full and never in doubt.  
He found peaceful slumber though his body still challenged him daily.  

I have gained an inner strength, faith and confidence in myself that only stems from having lived through a truly life changing experience.  
The same way people gain discipline and strength through taking vows of silence or abstinence, I gained it through a vow to be constant, to be show up no matter what.  

It hurt and it tested me. I thought at times I could not go on. I doubted myself and my baby again and again and still, I kept going.  

And my faith and my vow to be constant has meant that I have gained more from this time in my life than I ever dreamed possible.  

    The hours spent with that baby in my arms, at my breast, rocking, singing, humming, holding, cuddling and loving. The months. The years.

    Time.

    An enormous investment and enormous commitment.


    It was interpreted by others at times to be the behaviour of a martyr or at least that I was being selfless and at the mercy of my child.

    But from the inside, it was as much for me as it was for him.
    We needed each other. He needed me in the whole sense of a dependent, deeply feeling, highly sensitive new human. I needed him to teach me things about myself I never knew were there.

    The fact that this intense sweet man, is now finally in a place where he can comfortably find sleep with his dad is momentous.
    It is an enormous source of joy for his dad, who has longed to be able to comfort him at night and has remained ever patient through nearly three years of rejection.
    It is an enormous milestone for me, to know he has reached a new level of comfort and dare I say it, independence from me and this make my heart swell with pride while also ache with memories of what was.

    He’s nearly done with day sleeps and only ever drops off when exhausted in the car now, no more sleepy nap snuggles.

    He’s in bed and asleep with daddy before I’m done settling his brother at night, no more bedtime snuggles for the most part.

    He still sneaks in to his little mattress next to our bed during the night though and reaches out to hold his mama’s hand and I cherish this little gesture as I celebrate and reflect on all that has been on our unconventional sleep journey.

    All the cuddles and all the settles seemed ever so intense and overwhelming while I was in the thick of it all. But here I am, poking my head out the other side with tears streaming down my face wondering where has the time gone.

    I will never regret giving in.
    All I have gained is the riches of the deepest most constant love there is.
    It is an honour and privilege to be his mother.

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