Status

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.

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

Status

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 …

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

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.

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

Status

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.

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

Status

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.

Enjoying Grubby Mummy articles? Join us on Facebook 💙

If you don’t want to sleep train your baby but you are past the point of tired

If you don’t want to sleep train your baby but you are past the point of tired

I have kind of covered this a few times in a mixture of articles but I figure a dedicated article might help collect some ideas and give mothers who are trying to avoid sleep training the breathing space to truly consider their alternatives.

This is not an article telling you how to fix your baby’s sleep and its not an article telling you how to fix your sleep and it’s also not going to tell you what you can and cannot do. I do not have the answers to ‘fix’ these things because a. I don’t think either you nor baby is broken and need fixing and b. One size fits all doesn’t work and c. You have the power to take control of your own situation and you are the one who will work out what works for you, your baby and your family to make it through this weary season in your life. You don’t need yet another stranger telling you one more thing you are doing wrong. What you really need is room to breathe. Room to think and room to open your mind to the true options you have or could have in your unique situation.

I am not an expert. I repeat, I am not an expert.

I am a mama who has been where you are though and I know your desperation, your exhaustion and the feeling that no one else truly gets it.

I also fully understand and respect your instincts that sleep training is not for you.

So here’s my first suggestion.

Completely take Sleep Training off the table. Stop thinking of it like some dark cloud at the back of your mind that feels like it is ever looming larger as your last resort. The inevitable. It isn’t inevitable. Many families of extremely wakeful babies have made it through this season WITHOUT sleep training at all or having failed sleep training and been forced to come at their life with a new angle. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.

So now we’ve removed that ‘choice’ you have been thoroughly avoiding, where to now?

Well now, this is where you take over. I’ll float some ideas but they are not definitive. The idea is to get YOU thinking and problem solving. The idea is to open your mind to what could be an option that may have been something you either hadn’t considered or did not previously wish to consider.

Food for thought number 1:

• What is your goal? Is it realistic? Do you understand normal infant sleep patterns and that waking and nursing frequently throughout the first year and beyond is normal? If you wonder about your expectations and feel that they may be a too high for your baby or toddler, then reading up on the topic may help you review your expectations down a little. Having realistic expectations is so important. It alleviates many worries parents have about their little one’s sleep and the effect it may be having on them. Knowing your little one is okay, takes a big chunk of the desperation out of the process for many parents. It is very reassuring to know that while you may be exhausted, your baby is not abnormal and is in fact behaving like many other human infants.

Food for thought number 2:

• If you still feel your little one’s waking is of concern, then trust your gut and investigate possible things that may be exacerbating the wakefulness. Things like reflux, allergies, intolerances, tongue and lip ties and birth trauma a few to consider.

• If you investigate these things and it turns out there is nothing else at play, it’s okay to feel a little conflicted. I had a perfectly healthy sleep thief and while I’ll be forever grateful he was, you can’t help but feel a little deflated that it wasn’t ‘something’ that could be fixed and sleep may have returned.

Food for thought number 3:

• Don’t be afraid to experiment a little but keep it within the realms of what feels right and listen to your baby- they are by far and away the best gauge for when something is right and when it something isn’t for them. Pinky McKay offers an awesome framework to help you decide if a technique or idea is worth a try- Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? If the answer is yes, give it a crack. If it doesn’t work out, you didn’t fail and your baby isn’t being difficult.

• Pinky McKay and Sarah Ockwell Smith both have some great suggestions on the ‘sleep environment’ which also may be worth a gander. Trying a darker room, white noise, making the room a bit cooler etc … does make a difference to some babies. But, and it’s a big BUT… it doesn’t matter diddly squat to many others. Which leads me to my key thought for this section-

• Do you find yourself obsessing and stressing about nothing but sleep and how tired you are? If you do, it’s okay to let it go. It’s okay to stop focussing on the weariness. It took me by surprise how much less tired I felt when I stopped focussing on how tired I should be. Yes, you are living on stuff all sleep but if you’ve been doing it a while, I bet, like me, you are surprisingly still kicking goals most days. Your body does adjust to little and broken sleep. Some days it’ll still get you but most days, if you simply get on and up without the focus on you tiredness, you’ll instantly feel better.

• If you are obsessing about awake times and how long until your baby wakes … give it a break. The wheels won’t fall off and the earth won’t stop turning if you simply let all of it fade into the background. It’s time to shift focus for both you and your baby onto things that make you happy. Time outside, catch ups with friends, gardening, parks … anything. Get them off to sleep when they seem weary, resettle if you want to and stop if it doesn’t seem to be working and get on with it. At night, ditch the clock. Stop calculating how much sleep you’ve had, how long until the next wake up, how long you’ve been awake … it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t help.

• If you’ve tried all you wish to try and your baby is still super wakeful, then it’s okay to accept that this is just them. They simply need the extra comfort, help and closeness that they demand and it’s okay to just go with it. It’s okay to accept that it’s normal.


Food for thought number 4:

• If your baby’s sleep is ‘normal’ and doesn’t require fixing, then perhaps the problem truly lies with your sleep deprivation, not theirs. If we take the focus off babe and shift it to you, take some time to think on your lifestyle and where the lack of sleep actually stems.

• My example to get you thinking- For me, a lot of my severe sleep deprivation came down to me insisting on getting up and keeping my baby in his cot. Me insisting that he didn’t need a feed and persisting with resettling instead of just nursing him and getting him straight back to sleep with no fuss. The resettling also had a compound effect where my baby was losing more sleep than he needed to and I was so razzed up from the lengthy crying and fussing that even once I did finally ‘give in’ and nurse him (resettling had a zero % success rate in our house), I took FOREVER to wind back down to sleep myself and sometimes I’d take so long, that my anxiety would kick up a notch panicking that I wouldn’t even get back to sleep at all or if I’d just fall asleep and he’d wake up again (which was often the case). My quality of sleep was dismal. I lived in a warped state of falling asleep to wake back up… for a while there, I actually doubt I EVER hit a deep sleep. Not even momentarily. I was forever in the drifting off … BAM baby crying and awake. It was fucked. It was unhealthy. This was actually post sleep school using their techniques that were meant to ‘fix’ the waking.

• What does YOUR sleep look like right now? It may be similar to mine or poles apart. Doesn’t matter. Try not to focus on quantity. Quantity can be elusive and uncontrollable. Quality on the other hand … you can work on that.

• For me, to get better quality sleep, I needed to work out how I could stay relaxed and drowsy while tending to my baby. The waking right up and taking forever to wind back down was making me way more sleep deprived than the wake ups in themselves. I solved this for me by no longer trying to resettle and taking baby to bed with me once he woke after I went to bed. I could not believe how much more rested I felt simply by no longer physically having to get up and no longer needing to wind back down after hearing my baby cry. It was seriously the biggest game changer for me.

• I know not all families can safely bedshare but if you can, then please investigate it and consider it. It’s not always pretty and can be mighty uncomfortable but it still got me way better quality sleep than the alternative.

• If you can’t safely bedshare, could you side car the cot or at least put it next to the bed? Could you lay a mattress next to the cot so you don’t have to go far? Are there any other physical changes you could make to limit the amount of time you spend having to stay awake to tend to your baby?

• Could your partner take on some of the nighttime load or can they take the morning shift once babe wakes so you can get some more sleep in then? Even if it’s not every day? My husband helps with the morning shift when he can because both of our babies have been all about the boob lady through the night. He tried very hard with our first to do his ‘fair share’ but it backfired horribly and ended up with all 3 of us being even more sleep deprived. It’s okay to accept that your baby will only settle for the boobs at night, but your partner can help with the sleep deprivation during the day (obviously around work schedules).


Food for thought number 5

• Your own health may be contributing to your struggle and not just because you are sleep deprived.

• I blamed my PND so much on being sleep deprived and yet I made a full recovery while my baby still woke at least 1-2hourly around the clock. My point is, while being sleep deprived can impact on your health, it may be masking something else that is going on. It’s important to look further to find what is really at play.

• Having tests done to check your thyroid function, iron levels etc. are particularly important as they can really effect your energy levels.

• Pre existing mental and physical health conditions may be exacerbated during this highly stressful time in your life. Have you been attending to them as well as you could to make sure you are in the best health you can be, or have they slipped a little with baby in the focus? Your health, is so vitally important during this weary season. Work out how to meet your health needs so you can keep up with your baby.

• Pre existing or even undiagnosed sleep disorders of your own may mean you are losing more of your own sleep even while your baby sleeps. ‘Mumsomnia’ is not technically a condition but I found when I was almost totally GaGa with sleep deprivation, I suffered terrible insomnia. I also had it while pregnant. It definitely made the wakeful baby of mine harder to deal with but it was MY poor sleep that made it even more challenging. I started reading a familiar novel before bed or listening to meditation music and gradually got over the insomnia.

Food for thought number 6

• Exercise and self care are supremely important. What are you doing to keep your body and mind well?

• With these incredibly intense babies it can be so very difficult to find time for you but it is ever so I important that you do. It doesn’t have to be much. I am no gym junky but I found great joy in going for evening walks with my husband and baby after we’d had dinner and babe was bathed. The peace of night, the conversation with my husband, the calming effect of walking on my baby, the light exercise for my weary body all helped me feel better in myself.

• Other mamas find the crèche at gyms a great way to have a break (even if you skip the workout for a long luxurious shower and wash your hair and shave your legs) or there are many options out there for exercise with your baby such as mum and bub Pilates or KangaTraining classes.

• What would work for you? What makes you feel good? How are you keeping yourself moving?

Food for thought number 7

• How can you work more rest into your day?

• Note, I did not say ‘sleep’ but instead rest. Sleep is not always possible but if it is … go ahead and take it.

• If it’s not though, how can you give those weary bones of yours a break? One way I got more rest, was to purposely let babe hang out on the boob and sleep on my chest while I chilled on the recliner. It was the perfect excuse to just stop still and relax for a while. The ‘to do list’ in my head just had to shut up as I was already doing the most important work- getting my baby and I the rest we needed to make it through this season. I still do it now when I can, especially while my big boy is at daycare. I also write and have a cuppa, read a book … whatever. But I make sure I stop and relax when my baby’s sleep and do the chores etc when they wake. I have prioritised rest over chores for a long time now and sometimes (more often than I care to admit), the chores miss out. I do what is absolutely necessary and the rest can wait.

• If you work, is there a way to work a rest period into your day? Even if it is just 15 minutes chilling in your car listening to some music?

• Your rest may not come each and every day as our unpredictable babies keep us on our toes along with other children and life but try to make rest a priority whenever you can.

Food for thought number 8

• Your support network can make or break any new mum. It can take a while to work out who is actually ‘supportive’ and who is anything but. Put your feelers out for those special people in your life who build you up, support you and encourage you to mother the way you wish to mother. Not everyone will fit the bill and that’s okay.

• Support for a mother of a wakeful child comes both emotionally and practically.

• It can feel very isolating mothering a baby who doesn’t behave the way our society says they should behave and often mothers feel embarrassed or even ashamed as though they have done something to make their child this way. Thing is, you are absolutely not alone and mother’s all over the world have mothered, are currently mothering, or will mother in the future a baby that is every bit as perfect, sensationally adorable and downright challenging as your baby is now. You may be lucky enough to have people in your direct support network who have had the pleasure of mothering one of these beauties and can offer you all the reassurance and connection you need, but if not, fear not, there are many groups online these days to help you connect with other mothers of little sparklers and they do a wonderful job of filling your confidence right back up when the doubts creep in.

• Who are your support crew for your emotional well being? If you don’t have anyone, consider reaching out today. Mother’s groups, Australian Breastfeeding Association meet ups, La Leche League groups, playgroups and libraries can be great places to meet other  mothers. 

• Practical support comes in many shapes and forms, from hiring a cleaner to borrowing an au pair for a couple of hours a week … the options are boundless. Whatever budget you are on, there are ways for you to ask for and accept help when you need it. It may surprise you just how much people enjoy helping you. I was astonished to find how many people jumped to my aid when I put a call out when I was reaching the end of my tether. Meals were dropped to my door, friends stacked and unstacked my dishwasher while making me a cuppa, laundry was hung and taken off … a friend even hired a guy to mow my lawn so my husband could spend extra time with babe that weekend instead of tending to the forest outside…

• I have since returned the favour and paid that kindness forward and it has forever changed my view on reaching out and showing vulnerability. For all my pride and worry that people would think I wasn’t coping, I wasted so much time and energy unnecessarily suffering. People love helping. It feels good in your soul. Don’t think that by reaching out you have somehow failed … you haven’t. This job was never meant to done alone and what you are in fact doing is opening the door to those who are helping you to one day respond in kind and call on you in their time of need.

• Your practical support may be regular, such as a weekly clean or sporadic, such as an occasional baby sitter on a weekend morning so you can have coffee with your partner. It may be emergency, such as flying in family or moving in with grandma temporarily to offer more intense assistance or your partner taking a day or even a week’s leave to allow you to get back on board and able to keep on keeping on.

• What practical support do you think would help you in your situation with your budget, how can you make it happen? You may need to think creatively.


Food for thought number 9

• Your load and expectations of yourself may be making this season even more weighty than it needs to be.

• Are you saying, ‘yes’ to things that could otherwise be done by someone else or wait until you have made it through this season? You CAN have everything and CAN do everything in this life, just not necessarily all at one time. It’s okay to accept that now is not the time for some endeavours.

• What expectations do you hold of yourself that may be making it harder to accept your baby’s sleep or the way life is right now? It’s worth reviewing what we expect of ourselves by projecting onto a beloved friend in our life. Would you expect the same of them in the same circumstances? If the answer, is no, then it is okay to give yourself the grace to lower your expectations even if it is only for this season. Surrendering to the here and now is not forever.

So where do you find yourself now, mama? Hopefully this has planted some seeds of thought, hope and discussions to be had for you and your family. If there are other key factors at play that I haven’t mentioned, don’t ignore them. Consider them and work with them to unravel the pieces of YOUR puzzle.

If you are simply not in the headspace to think this through on your own, some experts who will not ask you to sleep train your baby, may be your next port of call as they can help you see your way through in your setting.

Here are some I know of who offer Skype consults-

The Possums Clinic

Pinky McKay

Meg Nagle (The Milk Meg)

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Tracy Cassels Phd (Evolutionary Parenting)

This list isn’t definitive but a place to start. If you do access a provider and what they suggest to you doesn’t feel right, it is okay to walk away and seek an alternative. Never feel trapped into having do something. You are your baby’s biggest advocate and you know them best.

I know it can be utterly demoralising not being able to see a light at the end of this ridiculously sleep deprived tunnel. No matter what you do or how positive your mind set, some days you will feel defeated. You will wonder what you did in another life to deserve this. You will once again doubt yourself and your baby. This is normal. All of the mothers who have lived or are living this experience feel this from time to time. But, it’s at times like this that you need to know just how incredible you are and despite your struggle, your baby is every bit as wonderful as they are because of you. Your time, your patience, your unconditional love is not in vain. YOU are your baby’s whole world and they love every inch of you. They truly would sleep better if they could and when they can, they will. They need you ever so intensely right now, but it WILL end. One day, they will be too big for boob, they will be too big to sleep on your chest, they’ll be too big to pick up, they’ll be too big for your singing and humming, too big for your stories. Right now it feels like a distant pipe dream but the sad truth of life is that time slows for no one. The intensity and rawness of now will soften and fade into memories but the impact you have had on your growing baby’s brain will last a lifetime.


Hang in there tired mama. With the support you need and deserve, you CAN keep mothering that baby of yours just as they are needing to be mothered. Xxx

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