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Is the Sleep Training culture contributing to the rise in Post Partum Anxiety and Depression?

As with most things I write, this goes against the mainstream narrative and will undoubtedly be brushed off as mere poppycock by those who subscribe to the popular Sleep Training culture but I’m going to say it anyway- Sleep Training culture strongly contributed to my Post Partum Depression and I don’t believe I am alone in this.  

a. ‘But Sleep Training saved my sanity!’

b. ‘I was heading down the path of depression so I used Controlled Crying!’

c. ‘My anxiety was crippling, I had to sleep train!’

Sound familiar?

I was heading straight for the (a) though because we ‘failed’ I was never ‘saved’ and (c) definitely featured in my decision to go the sleep training route. I get it, I really do but here’s where my experience as a ‘failure’ has helped me look at this situation very critically and I’ve come to the realisation that perhaps so many mothers have to be saved by Sleep Training because we are being groomed by the Sleep Training culture to feel like we are doing something wrong when our baby does not fit the ‘sleepy ideal’.

Sleep training culture is so pervasive, it is virtually impossible for a modern mother to remain untouched. It has come through a number of generations now and as such, the advice from older generations who we often turn to as new mothers is riddled with it. Health care professionals hail it as a ‘fix’ and with limited quality breastfeeding education as part of their training, many are ill equipped to advise on the normal development of feeding and sleeping behaviours in breastfed babies and toddlers.

Feeding and sleeping schedules that were so popular while formula feeding was the norm in the 50-70s have tainted what has become the benchmark and ‘norms’ for infant care.

First wave behaviourism struck fear into the hearts about ‘bad habits’, ‘spoiling’, ‘negative Sleep crutches’, ‘self soothing’ and Sleep as a taught skill.

Hands off, distant, independent, solitary sleep, restricted responsiveness, authoritarian, prescriptive and strict- all words that help describe what is valued when parenting very young babies and toddlers.

Being told when you can hold, nurse or comfort your baby is standard.

Being told when your baby should sleep, where they should sleep and for how long is standard.

Being told when you should respond to your baby’s cry and when you shouldn’t is standard.

Being told that your baby only wakes because of the way you help them find sleep is standard.

Being made to fear long term damage to your baby’s development and ability to achieve healthy sleep is standard.

Being made to fear that if you continue to comfort your baby in some way you’ll create a big old rod for your own back and you should break the habit now or expect you’ll have to do it this way forever is standard.

Being told that it is your responsibility to your child that you fix their sleep is standard.

This standard is what I believe is the crux of why so many mothers start heading down the path of depression and anxiety. I sure as hell did.

I bought into the standard and bent myself over backwards, forwards and inside out trying to reach it. The standard that I could not meet, the standard my baby called bullshit on, that standard left me feeling subpar as a mother every damn day.

Every day that I bought into the ‘shoulds’ for both myself and my baby was a day I finished feeling ‘less than’. We never measured up.

Every day of my baby refusing to accept anything less than the comfort and reassurance and assistance he needed drove a wedge into our relationship as I questioned again and again what was wrong with him and why couldn’t he do what he was ‘meant’ to do at his age?

It’s hard to not feel anxious and have your anxiety grow as the noise that surrounds you assures you that every day that your baby sleeps less than they say he should or wakes more than he should or asks for more assistance than he ‘should’ need is potentially affecting his long term health and development.

It’s hard to not feel depressed when yet again you are told it is because you nurse him to sleep and haven’t succeeded in putting him down drowsy but awake and you have to learn his cries that your getting this mothering and sleep business so terribly wrong- THAT’S why you feel so desperately tired and miserable. If you just follow XYZ, then you’ll get the sleep you need. When you’ve already tried these things in desperate vein for the 100 thousandth time to no avail.

It’s hard to feel light, relaxed and at peace with your brand new mothering experience when at every turn you are told you are doing it wrong.

For me and my darling wakeful little firecracker, the road to PPD was paved in Sleep Training culture bullshit.

How on earth I was ever going to get away without eventually succumbing while surrounded by all of this noise is beyond me.

Yes, there are many more factors that may well contribute to the development of PPA or PPD in each unique person but I refuse to believe this Sleep Training culture in anyway sets women up for success and healthy mental health and self esteem in their new identity.

So perhaps, instead of heralding and crediting Sleep Training with ‘saving’ so many mother’s sanity, we should look long and hard at how it took our sanity in the first place.


Mothers of today and into the future deserve so much better than this.

Re-evaluating, resetting and reestablishing the norms of infant sleep from a a biological and anthropological standpoint would be the first place to start.

Only once we can as a society come to a fuller understanding of the reality of infant and toddler sleep will we see a shift that is so needed to undo the damage and twisted accepted norms perpetuated by the current Sleep Training culture.

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My thanks to Attachment Parenting

Attachment Parenting can get a pretty bad rap.  

This is hardly surprising in a society that places little to no value on the natural, biological development of our infants and toddlers in favour of behaviourist interventions that force babies to conform to an ideal that allows adults to get back on with the more ‘important’ business of life with as little disruption to their productivity as possible.

Interestingly though, it also gets a negative review from many a mother who while initially drawn to the basic attachment parenting tenants, then found/ decided they were unable to follow them in their setting.

Plenty of mothers explain that while all of it sounded great in theory, they simply could not or would not be able to make it work for them or they felt they ‘outgrew’ this style of parenting or felt stifled and restricted by it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading another account of how a mother felt ‘let down’ by Attachment Parenting as her children grew older and when a subsequent child didn’t respond well to the techniques recommended.

This got me thinking about my own experience with Attachment Parenting and how it has shaped me as the mother I am and the mother I continue to strive to be.

I can say that I am eternally grateful to the Attachment Parenting movement for all of the ideas, guidance, confidence boosts and belief it has provided me with in the early phase of this mothering gig. I am grateful for all of this being done without ever feeling like I had been told what I HAD to do to mother my unique children.

I am grateful because they spoke of a norm I would otherwise not have known existed.

They offered me an explanation and coping strategies and mothering techniques that no one else told me were okay let alone what might be exactly what my baby and I needed.

They helped me see why my baby only slept calmly in my arms or on my chest and offered up babywearing and co-napping as normal and natural ways for me to meet my baby at his point of need.

They encouraged me to feel confident that my baby who breastfed SO frequently did so because this was not only his source of nutrition but also his preferred method for comfort, soothing and reconnection. They also didn’t place arbitrary limits on when my baby should stop needing me so and instead encouraged me to trust that I could follow his lead with no notion of it being ‘bad’ or that I may be stifling his development.

The work done by Attachment Parenting advocates to normalise and educate about safe bedsharing is perhaps their greatest gift to me and my family. It is, to date the single best thing I have done as a parent. It saved me, my husband and my baby. It is no exaggeration to say, my life did a complete 360 turn when I finally felt like I could make this arrangement work. I finally had a way to survive my High Need baby’s non stop extreme frequent waking. I had tried EVERYTHING to ‘fix’ him. Nothing worked. But, Attachment Parenting didn’t disown me the way mainstream advocates did. They threw me a lifeline. I could still be a ‘good’ mother even if my baby woke 59 billion times a night and on top of this, my husband and I could get the best quality sleep we could get while still meeting our baby’s needs at night.

Our night time parenting schedule remained gruelling. There was no miracle that occurred or peaceful, perfect family bed image to paint here but we could live again. We could survive and most important of all, we finally felt we could accept our baby for who he was and that included being extremely wakeful.

For me, I didn’t ever feel like I HAD to do XYZ to ‘be’ an Attachment Parent. But then again, I wasn’t striving to ‘be’ anything in particular other than the best mum I could be to my babies.

I didn’t feel constrained or judged if I needed to do things in another way as I followed my baby’s lead and my own heart.

With my second baby, my parenting repertoire was a source of great comfort to me. I had no idea who this little person would be, but I felt comfortable knowing the norms of human infant behaviour and I felt confident knowing that I had the range of skills and techniques to help me meet him at his point of need wherever that may be.

I didn’t feel bound to bedshare but I knew I would keep him close to make night time parenting manageable for me. If he needed my closeness, then into our bed he’d come. If he relished his space, I happily prepared a safe sleep space next to me in case.

I experimented continually as he grew to work out how he felt most comfortable finding and maintaining sleep by and day and night and I rolled with it. Sometimes we babywore, sometimes he slept in the pram. Other times we co-napped with a boob in his mouth or he snoozed alone on our floor bed.

I didn’t HAVE to do anything other than respond to my baby in the way that worked best for us.

As my babies grow, I thank Attachment Parenting for ensuring I continue to actively question commonly accepted mainstream practices. I have found gentle parenting, respectful parenting and peaceful parenting as well and I continue to read, grow and learn with my babies.

The single best thing Attachment Parenting has gifted me is to ensure that while I pick and choose and grow and evolve, at the heart of my parenting decisions is my heart. Decisions are made with ALL of the humans in our family considered as valuable people worthy of respect. My children’s childish nature is not held against them, just as their babyish behaviour wasn’t while they were infants.

As a family, we work as a team, to meet each other right where we are at and see value in each other for who we are.

I will be forever grateful for the healthy questioning that Attachment Parenting stirred in me. To feel confident in questioning accepted parenting practices, to look more deeply at why they are popular, what outcomes they may have and what their impact may be, intentionally or unintentionally, is so important to me.

So thank you Attachment Parenting for opening my eyes to possibilities.  
Thank you for having my back when I couldn’t fit with the mainstream.  
Thanks for having my baby’s back when my faith in him was at its lowest.  
Your work in this world is so needed.  

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Accepting the Reality of Infant and Toddler Sleep

Imagine if we, as a society accepted normal infant and toddler sleep. 

I mean really accepted it, in all its glory. 

Every part of society, from every generation, every family, every profession, every community, every culture, every religion.

What if we knew and accepted it as expected and respected elements of a child’s development? 
What if everybody knew well before having their own children that their child would need night time parenting for the first few years of life? 
If everybody knew that waking frequently to nurse was the biologically normal way for an infant/ toddler human to sleep? 
If everybody knew that we are in fact ‘carry mammals’ and that our young require near constant contact with a caregiver for the first few months to continue their growth and development outside of the womb? 
If everybody knew that a baby’s and toddler’s sleep can fluctuate a lot  over the first couple of years as they grow and develop at a phenomenal rate? 
If everybody recognised that a baby’s and toddler’s need for comfort, closeness and nurturing at night is just as valid and important as their need for these things during the day? 
What if nobody doubted the value of night time parenting and wouldn’t even for a moment consider that they could trade it off so they could be a ‘better’ parent by day? 

We, as a society, would come at infant and toddler sleep from a whole other place than we do right now.

There’d be no sleep training and therefore no sleep training industry.

There would be less focus on the baby and their behaviour and more focus on the dyad as a dynamic pair and nurturing the nurturer.

There would be focus on all levels from family right through to the political sphere on the kinds of support families need to navigate this time in their lives.

Antenatal classes and Mums and Bubs groups would be all about helping mothers to build their support network and discovering options that will allow them to meet their baby’s needs while also meeting their own.

For mothers who are struggling with intense high needs babies, the support would recognise the extra level of challenge these mother face as they run the Ultra Marathon of her life and help put the supports in place that mother needs and deserves.

Mothers with mental health concerns would be nurtured and treated in ways that respect her child’s legitimate needs day and night.

Families making decisions about paid employment would do so with the full knowledge that their baby will still require night time parenting.

Wouldn’t the world look so different to the way it does right now.?


The stress, strain, struggle and sacrifices made all because so few people know and recognise what has always been and always will be the way our tiniest most vulnerable humans find sleep normally.

I was told that new and expecting mothers don’t want to know that babies continue waking for a couple of years. I was told I was scaring them unnecessarily and that it was the equivalent of telling horror birth stories to a pregnant mama as she prepared to birth.

I strongly disagree.

Knowing and accepting what IS likely to happen as your baby grows and develops is not a horror story. No one knows how your baby will find sleep in this world but one thing is for sure, they will need you and that is not something you need to fear. Instead of fear, it gives room to mentally, physically and practically prepare. It takes away the element of surprise. It removes the angst of ‘shouldn’t they be sleeping better yet?’, ‘why does my baby still wake?’

A birthing mother doesn’t need to hear every horrific tale of every horrific thing that may or may not happen to her. That does nothing to help her towards her own journey. But it equally does not help to tell her that it will be easy, straight forward and you practically just sneeze and the baby falls out without pain/ discomfort.

A pregnant or new mother does not need to hear every detail of every form of sleep torture she may or may not face in the years ahead with her child. But she equally doesn’t need to sprint to some arbitrary finish line that someone has told her and think that her child’s night-time needs will magically cease and her sleep will return to that of pre-baby.

Let’s be real. Let’s be honest and let’s give new parents the very best chance to set themselves up with realistic expectations for the early time in their child’s life where they will be needed just as much at night as they are by day.

I know this may seem like a pipe dream right now, but all it takes is for voices to rise. Mothers and babies of the future deserve better than what is offered up in mainstream society today.

When we know better, we can do better and so, for all of those in the know, it’s our turn to share our voice, speak our knowledge and share with all we can the truths of normal infant and toddler sleep.

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

My stressors fell into four categories-

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

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

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

We desperately wanted to get this right.

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

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

The information we received was damning.

We WERE doing it all wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we did it.

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

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

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

I am hard work on myself.

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

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

I was a shell.

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

I needed help and support.

I trusted their judgement ahead of my own.

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

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

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

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

He tried so damn hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We own our experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dehumanising babies while treating their mother’s Mental Illness

Dehumanising babies while treating their mother’s Mental Illness

It is of major concern to me that peak bodies entrusted with the treatment, education and support of mothers with mental illnesses are following what they call a ‘simple and effective’ intervention to rid ‘problematic’ waking by their baby to facilitate the mother’s recovery. The intervention is Controlled Crying or Controlled Comforting.  

The basis for this is that an ‘infant sleep problem’ is a strong indicator for maternal depression and ‘Infant sleep problems and postnatal depression are both associated with increased marital stress, family breakdown, child abuse, child behaviour problems and maternal anxiety. Postnatal depression can adversely affect a child’s cognitive development.’ (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 2014 )

These are seriously heavy consequences and certainly not something that can nor should be ignored, BUT the fact remains that by and large, very few babies genuinely suffer from true sleep problems and therefore it must be asked, if the baby itself is not behaving in a biologically unhealthy manner, should it be their normal, functioning behaviour that professionals look to intervene on, or should the interventions be focused directly on the person who is exhibiting the unhealthy, non functioning behaviour?

It is understandably a blurred line as the mother- baby dyad is unique and shouldn’t be treated in isolation but the current recommendations by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Raising Children Network as an arm of the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services to employ the Controlled Crying technique, in no way honour this dyad.

Yes, a mother’s mental health is essential to her ability to successfully and healthily mother her children but let’s not dive straight for the measure that provides a ‘simple and effective’ fix to her problem that has been in fact oversimplified and effectively silences a baby’s cry and therefore their ability to communicate their night time needs.

This problem is complex and delicate. What will be effective for both mother and child in one setting may not be for any other but I do believe there are processes that could be put in place in order to take a deeper more holistic approach to this very serious and critical issue.

The place to start should be the research into human infant’s biological sleep patterns and behaviours. No, not research into sleep problems and sleep training or interventions but a solid grounding in what is truly normal from a biological, physiological, psychological and anthropological stand point.

Starting with this baseline, scientific understanding will naturally lead those seeking information to learn more about the intricate link between infant sleep, breastfeeding, maternal sleep and sleep environments and situations.

From here, it is no stretch to see why the disconnect and misalignment of modern societal views and expectations of infant sleep has created incredibly difficult barriers and challenges for mothers to face while trying to mother her infant who understands and knows nothing of modern society and its expectations and being able to fit in to what is seen to be a ‘successful’ mother, wife, partner, friend, daughter, sister, employee, volunteer and community member.

The RACGP state, ‘ Infants with sleep problems are more likely to sleep in the parental bed, be nursed to sleep, take longer to fall asleep, and wake for often and for longer periods.’ I’d like this to be viewed in light of what normal infant sleep actually looks like in the 6-12 month age group of infancy. These are NOT sleep problems for the infant but DO pose sleep problems for their parents and in particular their mother particularly for parents who are unable, unwilling or unaware of what changes they need to make to their own sleep habits, lifestyle, environment and support network to enable them to meet these biologically normal sleep behaviours of their baby or toddler that are seen in every culture and society in the world but are only identified as problematic and linked so closely with the incidence of maternal depression in our Western societies.

The other side of this statement from RACGP is it is another nail in the coffin to very tired mothers everywhere to see once again, their child’s sleep behaviour being blamed on natural nurturing parenting behaviours.
It is normal and natural for an infant to sleep in a family bed. This is how the majority of culture’s in the world manage normal night waking of breastfed infant and toddlers. It is not and has never been the cause of a ‘sleep problem’ for a baby or child. It can and is done safely by most (not all) families.
It is normal for a human infant or toddler to be nursed to sleep. It is not a sleep problem. Our night time breastmilk is packed full of sleep inducing components that act to assist both mother and child to sleep more easily and remain more relaxed. Mother Nature is no idiot and this is by perfect design not error.
It is biologically normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently at night for the first year and beyond. It is not a sleep problem.

IF a baby is waking in an extreme fashion or staying awake for long periods on many occasions, then I urge all General Practitioners and other professionals on the front line who work with these vulnerable mothers to not ignore this key factor. Absolutely DO NOT take steps to extinguish this child’s cries and calls for help. There is highly likely an underlying issue exacerbating this child’s normal wakeful behaviour and they deserve to have this fully investigated. Reflux, allergies, food intolerances, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma and the residual discomfort from it are all possible issues that need to be looked into and ruled in or ruled out.
After all of the investigations have taken place, if nothing else is at play, please consider this child as a whole person. It is highly likely that a child waking in this extreme fashion is highly sensitive, extremely intense and requires a huge amount of parental nurturing to be able to regulate their body and mind throughout the day and also by night. It has been shown that some children are far more sensitive to parenting choices and techniques than others and I would argue that a baby exhibiting such high level needs could be safely considered a strong candidate to be one of the children who will be heavily effected by the way they are parented and as such, their parents and those acting to care for those parents, need to be mindful of what interventions are suitable not only for the mother but also her unique child.

This brings me to my next point, with so little focus on the well being of the baby in this advice, I would like to bring into question the Hippocratic Oath, ‘first, do no harm’. I have read the studies cited by RACGP and the Raising Children Network and there is a heavy bias toward Proof of Harm and in particular Proof of Harm in the short and medium term but I question whether this is enough. Proof of Harm is vastly different to Proof of No Harm and there is most certainly not any Proof of no harm. It also seems that RACGP has focused only on studies that support the method they wish to employ with no recognition of studies that indicate otherwise.

As the babies in these situations are not in fact the patients but are intricately linked to the problem and the solution, it is not enough to find that the improvement in maternal depression warrants the widespread use of these techniques that cannot be proven to be doing no harm to their babies. A solution that only considers the mother’s needs and sacrifices her baby’s need for night time parenting is frankly no solution at all.

I am no stranger to this situation. I have lived and survived an extremely wakeful baby, I have been referred to a Mother-Baby unit for sleep training by my GP, I have been diagnosed and recovered from Post Natal Depression, I have tried and failed to implement a modified Controlled Crying technique and my extraordinarily intense baby resisted all attempts to extinguish his cries. I have had to recover from Post Natal Depression while STILL mothering my extremely wakeful baby and therefore while still sleep deprived.

I take this topic extremely seriously. I do not doubt or question that many mothers who are given this advice and have implemented it to varying degrees of ‘success’ will largely attest that they NEEDED this intervention. I don’t question that they needed help but I do question that THIS intervention is what was needed.

I sincerely hope to see a shift in practice in the management of severe sleep deprivation, Post Natal Depression and the handling of infant sleep by the professionals mothers turn to for support and assistance at his extremely vulnerable time in her life.

I ask that RACGP, review their current guidelines and practice by seeking access to research and techniques that will give a fuller more human view of this issue for all people involved.

I am not an expert, so my thoughts may be largely dismissed but the true experts in this field are resources that RACGP should acknowledge. Here are a few to get the ball rolling:

  • The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health has a position paper regarding Controlled Crying which can be accessed here.
  • Dr Pamela Douglas who runs the Possums Clinic for mothers and babies in Brisbane, Australia is a wealth of knowledge on normal infant sleep and working with mothers during this weary season in their lives. The Possums Clinic also offers Professional Development opportunities for those working with vulnerable mothers.
  • Tracy Cassells PHD of Evolutionary Parenting is a wealth of knowledge and can assist with identifying research from across this topic around the world.
  • Professor James McKenna of Notre Dame University can offer an Anthropological understanding of infant and mother sleep particularly for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Professor Helen Ball runs the UK Infant Sleep Information Source and is a wealth of information and will be in Australia in 2017 for professional development opportunities.
  • Pinky McKay and Meg Nagle are both International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who offer alternative views on managing infant sleep with a particular focus on breastfeeding mothers.

If we as a society truly wish to see a change in the occurrence of Post Natal Depression and Anxiety in mothers, let’s work to create the environment and support they need to be able to mother their babies the way they need to be mothered while also being able to be mentally well and the best way to do this is to ensure all parties work together to find a solution that fits with all of the humans involved. Controlled Crying is hopefully soon to live in the deep, dark recesses of history. Our mothers and babies deserve better.

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The power of reaching out to stem the tide of sleep training

You don’t have to do this.  
You can stop anytime.
Your baby will be okay.
You will be okay.
I know how tired you are, I’ve been that tired, too.
I know how desperate you are, I’ve been that desperate, too.
I know you adore your baby and only want the very best for them.
You have to do what feels right for you and your family but I’m here if you want out.
I’m here if you need an out.
You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to or if it hurts your heart.
I’m here. You aren’t in this alone.
Again, this morning, I read a thread on a fabulous group I’m in, where a mother was in deep distress after reading a relay of posts and comments on a dear friend’s page as she sleep trained her baby. The baby had cried so hard he’d lost his voice. The mother was struggling but she had many rallying voices telling her to ‘stay strong’ and indicating her baby was manipulating her.

The mother in my group was heartbroken but didn’t know what to say.

She didn’t want to interfere. Didn’t want to seem like she was judging. She ended up hiding the post. She could bare no more.

Many people on the page supported her on this.

Best to leave it.

Then there was the usual comments of ‘I don’t know how you could ever … I could never.’

And then … some comments appeared about perhaps reaching out to this mama. Perhaps sending a PM or if she was nearby, catching up for a cuppa.

Suggestions that maybe she was only doing it because she thought she had to, because the only voices she could hear supported sleep training.

Perhaps she had never been told she didn’t have to do it.

THIS is key.

Sure, we all make our own choices based on what we feel is right for our family but we also make our mind up about what choices we have from the models of parenting around us.

In a world so supportive of all things baby training, of course sleep training is normal.

In a world that has so little knowledge of normal infant sleep patterns, a world with so little understanding of how to promote and support mothers to continue breastfeeding, in a world hell bent on getting mothers to ‘bounce back’ and resume work as soon as possible and make her baby as independent as she possibly can, it is little wonder that many families see sleep training as something you just end up doing. Something everyone has to do. Something their baby needs.

But it’s not.

Yes, it does ‘work’ for many but at what cost?

For those, like me, who it didn’t work for, it can be an incredibly traumatic experience and in the end, my midwife was the one who gave me the ‘out’ I desperately needed.

She was the one who said, ‘you know, you don’t actually have to do this, don’t you?’

In all honesty, no, I didn’t know I didn’t have to.

I needed her clear head. Her understanding. Her bravery to speak up for me.

She called me back.

She helped me see an option where I felt there was no option before.

I didn’t need more rallying cries.

I needed someone to reach out to me and tell me we would be okay without sleep training.

So please, if you truly wish to see change in the way we manage this weary season in mother’s lives, don’t turn inward. You don’t necessarily need to engage publicly. You may not be well received every time.

But, my goodness, if you can reach but one mother, and help her see her true choices … you’ve done more good then you ever would from staying silent.

Reach out.

Reach out with empathy, love and compassion.

Reach out with an alternative.

Simply knowing she’s not alone in this may be all that is needed.

Empathy, love, compassion.

Mothers and mothering matters.

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Surrendering to your baby’s sleep needs is not about becoming stagnant

It seems lately, I am hearing the ‘so we just have to suck it up?!?’ Or ‘so it’s just a matter of ‘wait it out’, there’s nothing I can do?’ queries more frequently and I think that maybe it’s because there is a misconception about the idea that ‘surrendering’ to your baby’s needs somehow means throwing your hands in the air and all is lost as you dig down deeper into the trenches of sleep deprivation and you just have to suck it up while you wait until your baby is 5, maybe 10 or at least before they head off to University. 

It seems to be attached to a feeling of helplessness.  

My own experience of surrender did involve a momentary stop and take stock element where I worked out what the hell my baby actually did need from me and it did at times feel like I was up to my nostrils in mud trying to keep my head down in the trenches as I pulled my weary body through yet another shitty patch of 20-40min sleep hell.

But as I’ve made it much further through my journey, I can now see that surrender is far from static.

Surrender is malleable and responsive, although it is a particularly slow moving beast who moves in an unpredictable pattern governed by your unique baby and your unique family.

Surrender is all about not fighting or swimming against the tide. It’s about finding comfort and a higher level of trust in the natural current and going with the flow, even when you hit some heavy rapids and you feel completely washed out.


If you have just found your surrender and have just accepted that this is where your baby is at right now and they need you every bit as intensely as they do right now. You are accepting the here and now. This is not forever.

As you follow your baby’s lead, you will find gradual changes will naturally occur or windows of opportunity will open up where you can gently encourage minor adjustments to keep things ticking along for you all.

  • The baby who only sleeps on your chest, will one day allow you to put them down or lay next to you instead of on you.
  • The baby who never sleeps more than 20 minutes in their cot but then has 2 hours on your chest after being picked up, will one day bust out a 1.5hour sleep in their cot or on your bed as you roll away like a stealth ninja.
  • The baby who has only ever slept while there is a boob in their mouth may be gently night weaned once they reach an age where they understand what is going on.
  • The baby who has needed to be rocked to sleep, may one day accept rocking in the rocking chair, then simply sitting and cuddling and then one day, they may be happy just to hold your hand as they drift off to sleep.
  • The baby who only sleeps during the day while snuggled up tight in a carrier, will one day transfer.

These are but a few examples of what I mean. There is nothing to fear in surrendering to the here and now. Nothing in surrender will be set in stone.

It is also a perfectly normal part of the mother-baby relationship that at times, you will feel at odds. Your baby will need more from you in a way you wish they didn’t. Sometimes, it is all we can do to accept this mismatch, but at other times, we CAN make changes to regain the balance in both the mother and baby’s favour.

I have two examples of this-

1. I chose to night wean my 15 month old as I was 5 months pregnant and had severe breastfeeding aversion and he was wanting to nurse hourly around the clock. The nursing was making me feel physically ill and my skin crawled. My toes would curl, my teeth clench and my hands bunched into fists. I had to fight against the urge to throw him off me, each and every time he nursed. It was KILLING my relationship with him. He needed my comfort. I respected that. I did not deny he needed me. I simply could not keep meeting those needs through nursing anymore. It was an undeniably hard time for him but he was cuddled, sung to, reassured and continued to sleep with us in our bed. He was not alone through this change. I still met his needs for comfort and reassurance as he continued to wake at least every couple of hours, but no longer through breastfeeding. Our relationship was restored and was as strong as ever.

2. By the time my guy was 2, he was horrible to have in our bed. He was restless and extremely rough in his sleep. Hitting, kicking, thumping. Things really came to a head when my husband copped a heel to the privates more than once in the night and he told me he couldn’t do it anymore and went to the spare room. When we talked it over, we both agreed that he wasn’t yet ready to spend a full night in his room (he starts the night there but always migrates sometime around midnight), but we needed him out of the bed. We decided to buy him a lovely comfy single mattress and add it to our King size floor mattress. I made a bit of a fuss with him about picking a new quilt set for it and he and I practiced laying on it so he knew exactly where I was and how he could still reach out and touch me and hold my hand but he could also roll and thump and kick around with hurting anyone. It worked a treat.

My major tip with these kinds of changes is to be wary of making them unnecessarily if your child does not seem ready. Your baby is the best gauge of whether what you imagined should be the plan is in fact a good match or not. If they are ready, changes should be pretty uneventful- more a natural step forward than some momentous jump.

Never be afraid to take a step back if your baby seems stressed or you feel stressed. Both are reactions that deserve recognition.

Not being ready now, does not mean they won’t be ready ever.

Keep things in perspective. Our babies are biologically designed to grow more independent with sleep over the first few years of life … This process is not one where you look for development and growth every other day or even weeks. Look over months and years and you will see a beautiful progression.

Surrender to now, knowing that it is just for now. There is no long term with babies. You have not entered the twilight zone.

Surrender is a great way to allow you to take sleep out of sharp focus. When you stop zoning in on all the unhelpful details of your baby’s sleep, you open and free your mind to take in everything else that is going on in your baby’s world and indeed your own life.

So yes, surrender but don’t stagnate. Embrace the flow and trust the ride. You will make it out the other end. You really will.

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