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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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Why Responsive Settling Isn’t Truly Responsive

When in it comes to Sleep Training, there are extremes on the spectrum, with Cry It Out at the far end with complete withdrawal of response- shut the door at 7pm and do not open it again until 7am, with more ‘responsive’ techniques sitting somewhere in the middle, down to the gentlest, slow moving, truly responsive options at the far end. Responsive Settling proponents would have themselves down the ‘gentle’ end of the spectrum but as someone who has experienced the technique as the mother of a wakeful baby, I can say that gentle, it most certainly is not.

The sell is strong though and I believe that those who created the technique and those who teach and utilise it, wholeheartedly believe they are responding to the babies entrusted to their care but there is a massive gulf between any response and appropriate response. Responsive Settling whilst more responsive than no response, does not allow a parent to be appropriately responsive to their unique infant’s needs.

Why?

Well I will detail my experience more in a moment but I think first and foremost, the reason that Responsive Settling still so clearly misses the mark is that it still fails to recognise and respect normal infant sleep behaviours and instead works to pathologise and stage interventions on them when know ‘problem’ actually exists for the baby and instead the true problem lies with unrealistic sleep expectations, lack of support for very tired families and a society hellbent on ‘fixing’ anything that has been decided is undesirable or outside the accepted ‘norm’.


(Image: Gentle Parenting Memes)

But even if you don’t buy that, I will explain how the Responsive Settling technique looked in my reality and you can decide for yourself if it really could be responding to a baby in an appropriate way.

A little scene setting for you-

I was a First Time Mum. My baby was born wide awake. He was never a sleepy newborn. Not even the day he was born. He slept for brief bursts during the day, was super sensitive and startled incredibly easily. He hated being down. Ever. He wanted to be in arms or on a chest 24-hours a day.

He cried whenever we put him down and seemed to find the feeling of falling asleep very scary. He’d be all drowsy and relaxed with eyes drooping and then BAM screaming, as though that last little falling feeling you get as you drop off was the most terrifying sensation in the world. I had never heard of the Fourth Trimester. I had no idea that a baby wanting to be held close 24/7 was in the range of normal. All I knew was that everyone around me had babies who looked calm, relaxed, happy to chill out and slept for big chunks of time, flat on their back with little to no help from their mothers. My baby’s night time involved loads of waking but he was usually quickly settled by the boob. I was terrified of bedsharing and felt that I had already created so many ‘bad’ sleep habits already, I didn’t want to add anything more to our repertoire so I was insisting on getting up to him and tending to him in another room. I also had my head filled with the notion that although a newborn may wake frequently at night to nurse, this should lessen over time in a straight line, with him dropping feeds and sleeping for longer without my help.

My baby strongly disagreed.

And so, we became at odds with each other. He needed me intensely but I was convinced he wanted me but didn’t need all that he demanded.

By 3 months, I was exhausted and full of doubts.

By 4 months, I was a wreck. Cue our four-month health check with Child Health. The Nurse listened as I sobbed my heart out detailing my baby’s extremely wakeful behaviour and lack of day sleep. I was desperate for help. The nurse echoed my concerns. She told me my baby was Chronically Sleep Deprived and that she would refer me to The Mother-Baby Unit in our capital city for a stay to help me get the matter in hand. She knew there was a long wait for the public service but if we had Private Health Insurance then she knew the Private Facility in the same city offered the same program using the Responsive Settling technique.

She pointed me to the videos on the Public services website to allow me to have a try of the technique at home prior to our stay.

We attended the Private facility for a 5 day stay 2 weeks later. In the lead up, I tried to implement the strategies I had watched on the website, without any success and much distress for my baby and me. I grew ever more frustrated and intolerant of him as I came even more convinced that he was just being difficult and that he had to learn to sleep so we could all get back to being happy.

I went into the program with a desperate hope.

This HAD to work. I couldn’t for a moment consider it wouldn’t because I couldn’t fathom what my life would be or what we could do next if this didn’t work.

My enthusiasm was there but I had a dull ache in my heart the whole time leading up to the stay that remained throughout. I had never wanted to listen to my baby cry. Why o why couldn’t my sweet baby just find sleep like all the other babies? I didn’t want to do this to him but I couldn’t allow his lack of sleep impact on him anymore. No, I was stronger than that and I would do whatever I needed to meet my baby’s needs and if that meant having strangers keep me in check so I didn’t ‘give in’ too easily, then that’s what I’d do.

And so, the stage was set.

We started off with a meet and greet circle time. We had to tell each other why we were there. I could barely hold my head up as I confessed my child’s ‘sleep sins’ and my role in his ‘bad habits’; there were sympathetic head tilts, a knowing look in the eye, a shoulder rub and word of, ‘it’ll be okay, we can help’ offered up.

Then came the slide show that detailed the game plan. My 4.5-month-old was deemed too old for the ‘Comfort Settling/ Hands on Settling’ group which was for the two newborns present. We were instead with the older ‘Responsive Settling’ group.

We started when it was time for his afternoon sleep.

We had to implement a Feed-Play-Sleep routine and so I had to feed my baby and make sure he didn’t fall asleep, then read him a story, kiss him and tell him it was time to sleep, place him in his cot and walk out and close the door.

Then, I waited by the door, to see what, if any, response my baby would require to find sleep.

The nurses had zero interest in hearing what I thought he needed, or even what I thought may happen next. It was assumed I had never afforded my baby the opportunity or space to try and settle himself before and therefore, we needed to ‘just wait and see as I might be pleasantly surprised’.

Pleasant it was not. Initially, my trusting baby just kicked his legs around and chatted, no doubt feeling safe in the knowledge that mama would reappear soon. But she didn’t. He then started sounding worried. If he could talk back then, I’d say the sounds would roughly translate to, ‘Mama, I’m getting worried, where are you, I need you, where are you?

I knew this, but I wasn’t allowed in. This was just him ‘grizzling’ because he was getting ready to sleep, apparently.

He then ramped it up. I explained that this only ever went one way and it most certainly wasn’t headed towards sleep and if anything, it was driving him ever further from it. The nurse assured me he was okay and suggested I move to the base level ‘response’ while we stayed at the door. We opened the door and ‘shushed’ loudly at him to let him know I was there but it was sleep time and he wouldn’t get picked up. My baby wailed on.

I told them it wasn’t working and they told me to persist a bit longer. He continued to cry.

We then crawled into the room (so as not to give him the false impression we would pick him up), and I patted the mattress next to his head and continued to ‘shush’ loudly, no eye contact was to be made. He cried even more.

I was then encouraged to place my hand on his chest and continue to ‘shush’ him. He was past hysterical by now.

The nurse then told me I could pick him up to calm him as we had to respond to that level of distress as it wasn’t good for him. I scooped him up and soothed my sweating hysterical baby. But, as if it wasn’t enough, once he was calm, down he had to go again. He immediately howled. I placed my hand on his chest and ‘shushed’ but my heart could take no more.

THIS is one of the key moments I look back on with great shame-

I could take no more, so I fled. I ran from that room, without my baby and sat in the hall and rocked in a ball crying my heart out. The nurse had picked my baby up at this point and she rocked him off to sleep as it was decided that was enough for that settle. I should have run WITH my baby, not away from him, but I guess this is testament to how crushed I was.

Once asleep, she came out to find me to assure me we would try again next time and I’d be surprised how quickly he’d learn.

And so, a few hours later, we did it all again. It went almost exactly the same way. The only difference was that there wasn’t that momentary calm at the start. My clever little man knew what was going on and was crying before I could even walk to the door.

Door, shushing, floor, shushing, mattress patting, shushing, chest rocking, shushing, calming hysteria, shushing, place back down, shushing, hysteria, me running, nurse rocking.

This second time, one of the nurses came to me to give what she no doubt thought was pep talk and asked me if I was going to be ‘stronger’ than my baby or not? I told her to p#%s off and get away from me.

Again, a few hours later for bedtime.

My mum came to visit the next morning and was upset by what she could see. She told me my baby looked pale and exhausted and asked what was going on. I told her and she told me that I either spoke up to the nurses and told them this wasn’t working and we needed a new tack or we’d be leaving. I was a mess.

The morning settle was the same so after lunch I started packing our bags.

A nurse saw and came to ask me what I had hoped from the stay. I told her I NEEDED help but I didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere and no one seemed to have any better ideas to help my baby as their way still ended with hysteria and rocking in arms which was no better than I was doing at home anyway.

She asked me what I thought might work, and I told her that if I could at least go to him BEFORE he was so upset, I may be able to keep him calm enough to find sleep. She agreed to support me on the next settle and miracle of miracles, it worked.

I was elated.

It continued to work my way for the next few days there but nights continued to be a challenge as they wanted me to try to resettle before offering a night feed but I needed their help with this as the instant he had me, he wanted the boobs and my husband was a 2.5-hour flight away.

The nurse was ‘happy’ to help but just as they showed no faith in what I told them about my baby by day, they showed no interest in hearing my belief that being prompt was essential because if you allowed him to wake right up, the settle could take hours versus the minutes if he was still drowsy.

So, I’d hear him stir and knowing my baby, I knew this only meant one thing- he was waking and would not return to sleep without help, so I’d go to the nurse’s station and alert her to his waking and ask for her to attempt the resettle. She’d deliberately go slow saying I need to not rush to his side as he needs to try to resettle himself first. At 2am in the morning, I’d say, we talked about this during the day and this DOES NOT work for my baby, please come now or we’ll be awake for hours. Feet.Dragging.Teeth.Pulling.Sloth.Slow movements, before starting the horseshit ‘shhing’ at the door routine responses and then rocking a hysterical baby who was now wide awake and HAD to have a breastfeed to find any form of calm. At least an hour later, I’d finally crawl back to bed only for him to wake an hour or so later and rinse and repeat. It. Was. F^&*ed.

The next day, in daylight hours, I would reiterate the need for prompt response and I’d firstly get reminded that the goal was to get my baby self-soothing and that affording him space was essential. I’d then try to explain the HUGE difference in awake time because of this and they assured me that this short-term pain and extra loss of sleep, would have a long-term pay off that was worthwhile.

I agreed to stick with it. He was sleeping a longer block at the start of the night so I felt that maybe they were onto something and I owed the effort to try and make it work.

So, after 5 days, my baby was sleeping in his cot, settling to sleep without much help and having a longer block at the start of the night.

I left feeling like the wheels of positive change were in motion and I felt positive that with continued commitment, we would have him sleeping ‘well’ in no time.

It wasn’t to be.

My husband and I threw ourselves at the technique with a 300% commitment to being consistent and persistent (bordering on lunacy).

Our baby however, held an even greater faith in us and belief in his own needs and he continued to fight and call and demand our presence with an intensity that was even more than before.

Within a week of returning home, despite adhering to every responsive settling ‘rule’, we were up to 2-hour battles for every nap, every bedtime and ever resettle through the night. It was horrific.

We were all exhausted, frustrated and incredibly at odds with each other.

We WERE responding damn it!!!

We responded to every god damn cry, every god damn whimper (well the whimpers that sounded ‘emotional’ anyway). He couldn’t possibly NEED us, he just WANTED us. This was bulls&*t. Why did he need more from us than they said we should give? WHY? Why wasn’t he learning? Why wouldn’t he just let up?

Our poor baby on the other hand was no doubt deeply confused about why these people who he loved and needed so completely seemed to be so hellbent on pretending like they couldn’t respond the way he truly needed them. Why do they keep standing at the door or tapping my mattress when they know I need a cuddle? Why are they taking so long to let me nurse when all I need is a quick minute and we could all be back to the sleep we all need?

Responsive Settling gives the illusion of response. 

Being told how to respond, when to respond and when to withdraw that responsiveness is NOT being responsive. It’s the equivalent of when someone is talking to us and we are busy or can’t really hear so we just smile and nod or say something like, ‘that’s nice dear’. It allows the adult to feel they are doing SOMETHING and therefore they are being ‘gentle’ while they train their baby. It is a disturbing mismatch that plays a significant role in the justification and vindication of the widespread use of these techniques in Public and Private facilities and by consultants around the world.

I desperately NEEDED help. There is an overwhelming need for help for new mothers, particularly those with mental health challenges and those with very wakeful babies.

The Possums Clinic in Brisbane offer the service I needed back then and I can only hope that all service providers begin the rapid shift to their approach. The Possums Sleep Film, should be compulsory viewing for Mums and Bubs groups nationwide and their Professional Development courses would surely see a change for the better in the practice of Frontline Care Professionals.


I hold no malice for the people who worked with me during my stay at the Mother/Baby Unit but it would be wrong of me not to speak up and to demand they reflect on their practice, the impact it had on not only me and my baby, but many of the people they see and to ask, maybe there is a better way.

So, here’s to growth.

Here’s to change.

Here’s to ensuring very tired mothers and babies receive the care and support they deserve and need.

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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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My thoughts on the ‘well it worked for me’ statements around Sleep Training


Sleep training and all of the miracles it works for tired families everywhere are heralded throughout our western society and culture. You’ll hear incredible success stories of how it saved someone’s sanity, or marriage or relationship with their baby and other children. It is the ‘go to’ for many a family who know that the mother will need to return to paid employment in the short, medium or even longer term after her baby is born. You’ll hear about it from friends, family, strangers on the street, Child Health Nurses, General Practitioners, Paediatricians and other trusted care providers. You’ll read about it in parenting books and on forums, websites and social media.  
Why on earth would anyone choose to stay sleep deprived and put their child’s development and future sleep patterns at risk when there is an answer to be found, a cure all that brings back heavenly sleep, a sanity saving treatment that has ‘worked’ for so many others?

You’d have to be a glutton for punishment, careless or even downright lazy not to find the strength to sort this out.

Babies need a lot of sleep, don’t you know? 
They are safest sleeping on their backs in their own cots, don’t you know?  
Babies shouldn’t be nursed to sleep, it’s a bad habit that is hard to break, don’t you know?  
A baby needs to learn to self settle and they need you to teach them this so they can get the sleep they need, don’t you know?  
Babies shouldn’t be nursing whenever they want as it’s not nutritive and they are just using you as a pacifier, don’t you know? 
A catnapping baby is chronically sleep deprived, don’t you know?  
Aah, the sleepy ideal of the self settling, long napping, all night sleeping baby: the holy grail of parenting and beacon of successful coping of life after baby- the ‘good baby’ can match this and the ‘good’ mother can make it so.
This is how most people see and base their beliefs around infant sleep and it is completely and utterly at odds with the way normal human infants behave when it comes to nursing and sleeping.

The sleep training industry is going gangbusters. The rise and rise of the baby sleep whisperers seems to know no end.

And it’s got nothing to do with any rise in infant sleep problems (which are in fact extremely rare and are far more likely the result of an underlying health issue that is exacerbating the normal wakeful behaviour of the baby … that’s right, it’s normal for a baby to be wakeful). Our society has come so far from the knowledge of what truly normal infant sleep looks like and how it plays out over the first few years of life that close to half of parents (36-45%) claim that their baby at 6 months has a sleep problem.

I’ll say that again, close to HALF of parents think their 6 month old baby has a sleep problem.

Hmmmmm, I smell a rat. If close to half of babies are behaving this way, then perhaps that’s because that’s how babies are meant to behave … I know, a revolutionary thought right there.

This is especially important to be considered alongside the fact that MANY people choose to sleep train their baby from before 6 months and even from the day they are born and therefore they would never see the normal development or pattern of signalling a baby would follow as they’ve been trained to not call out for help from the very early days of life. They also wouldn’t be factored in to the 36-45% of reported as having sleep problems. If they hadn’t already been ‘intervened on’, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that easily more than half and therefore the majority of babies would have been identified as having sleep problems as defined by our western societal norms.

It begs the question, is it the babies with the problem or society’s misguided, disjointed and unrealistic expectations that are the true problem?

So while this massive industry is thriving and word of mouth and real life examples of the miracles that occur when ‘my baby was waking at least 3-4 times a night but is now sleeping 12 hours straight in their own cot and I’m like a new woman, I can’t recommend it highly enough!’ the thinking continues that THIS is the way to go.

This is what we do now and you can jump on this bandwagon and live happily sleepy ever after or you can stay over there in your sleep deprived haze with your child who will never EVER sleep on their own, without your boob in their mouth and they’ll be forever damaged because you didn’t get them the nicely consolidated chunks of sleep you would get if you just did your job and taught them to self settle … so don’t come to me whingeing about how exhausted you are, you’ve made your bed, so now lay in it. How’s that rod treating you? I’m feeling refreshed and energised, but those bags under your eyes really do become you.

You get my drift.

It’s just the usual shit you hear on a regular if not daily basis as you mother your very young, wakeful child.

But then there’s folks like me, the riff raff if you like, who spend much of our time poking holes and asking questions about the wonder that is Sleep Training.

We, the sleep training failures of the world … well, we don’t really fit so well in society.

You see, we didn’t come from the beginning of our journey as flat out refusers. Nope, sadly for us and our children, we bought in to this world and the magic of ‘it worked for me’ sucked us in, turned us around, slapped us on the arse, dropped us on our heads and the vomited us back out the other side in disgust as we ‘failed’. Our babies didn’t comply. They couldn’t or wouldn’t conform.

We were forced to pull ourselves back from all that we had known, all that we’d been told and all that we were taught and reassess and find a new way to move forward and carry on mothering without ever finding the end to our sleep deprivation in the form of a ‘fix’.

We also had the chance to reflect on what was really at play in the sleep training relationship.

‘Well it worked for me.’ is a standard line I hear. I get it all the time. And I’m going to pick it a part a little right now.

‘It’ being sleep training

‘Worked’ achieved what you set out to achieve- more and better sleep for you and a baby who ‘sleeps’ in long chunks without signalling for help to fall asleep or to resettle.

‘For’- for the benefit of

‘Me’ key word- mother

I agree it may well have ‘worked’ in achieving the benefit ‘for’ the mother but I wholeheartedly disagree that it ‘worked’ ‘for’ the baby.

The baby didn’t need to be ‘worked on’ and therefore they didn’t benefit from the training other than having a mother who was better rested and believed her child was also better rested (even if they aren’t).

A more accurate way to describe it would be, ‘well it worked for me and it worked on my baby.’

At least then, there’d be an acknowledgment of who benefited and who lost out in the process.

The baby has sleep training done to them, not for them.

Even if the sleep trainers and baby whisperers all cry out, ‘Never! This is just as important for the baby’s wellbeing as it is for the mother!’

I’ll call bullshit.

It’s not.

A baby does not need to be trained.

It is normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently during the day and night for the first year of life and beyond. It is not a sleep problem. It is normal for them to need help and support to find and maintain sleep.

I have gone into detail in posts before about my thoughts on sleep training babies on the extreme end of the waking spectrum and also when a mother is being treated for PND or PNA. It is not an appropriate way to manage infant sleep behaviour nor their desperately tired mothers.

We can and should do better and as long as we accept that sleep training ‘works’ for anyone other than the adults or anyone other than the baby we will continue on this warped path. I know this doesn’t sit well for many. I know most disagree but I hope to at least give some people pause to reflect on their experience and question and consider rather than simply accepting what is popularly accepted.

As always, this conversation deserves a far more critical eye cast on it and the only way that will happen is to keep the discussion happening.

Our babies deserve to be heard in this.

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The true bad habits around baby sleep

The true bad habits around baby sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuddle all the babies.

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They said I shouldn’t rock you

They said I shouldn’t rock you

They said I shouldn’t rock you 
Shouldn’t nurse to sleep
They said I shouldn’t hold you
Nor sing you off to sleep

They said I’d create a rod
That was so very hard to break
They said it might be alright now
But later the problems it would make

They said you needed to be left
To learn to sleep alone
They said I shouldn’t bring you to my bed
Instead just listen to you moan

They said it might be okay
To do this with just one babe
But what would I do when number two
Needed me more in some way

They said I shouldn’t wear you
They said you were too clingy
They said you needed space from me
To stop you being whingey

They said that you’d sleep better
If I stopped responding so
They said you were manipulating
And who was boss I had to show

They said I’d not be able to leave you
That my social life was dead
No semblance of a sex life
Is what they confidently said

They said you’re getting too old
And when was I going to teach
My small sweet man to fall asleep
Asleep out of my reach

But here we are today
And happily I can say
Your independence is growing
With every single day

You can fall asleep at day care
You can fall asleep with Nan
You can fall asleep in the car
Or dad, your favourite man

You love your baby brother
You’ve adjusted oh so well
Some days you need me more
But your gentle love still tells

The only habit that remains
Is one that I hold so dear
If your mama’s arms are free
Then you’ll snuggle in right here

So I am thankful to this day
For learning to follow you
You showed me just how to mother
And what I should and shouldn’t do

Grubby Mummy and the Grubby Bubbies


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In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

Are you currently feeding your baby to sleep? Rocking, singing or cuddling your baby to sleep? Wearing your baby as they sleep in a carrier or letting them sleep on your chest on the couch? Has your baby grown accustomed to dropping off as they ride in the car or pushed in the pram? Does your baby need the touch of their mum’s skin, hum of her voice or feeling of her hand on their chest to feel relaxed enough to sleep? Maybe you are holding a very tired baby tightly as they cry and struggle to relax but with your calm reassurance, they will eventually drift off?
Will your baby only sleep in your bed?

If this sounds familiar, I am here to say you make my heart swell beautiful mama.

Your baby associates sleep with feelings of being supported, responded to and comforted. You are not doing you or your baby a disservice to have them come to expect that they can trust and rely on you to get them the rest they need in the way that works best for them. Not all babies rest easily. Many need a lot of support to go off to sleep peacefully. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with your baby if they can only settle with help from you. Some babies can and do go to sleep peacefully on their own without help from their caregiver. These babies are the exception, not the norm.

You are also not creating a rod for your own back by responding to your baby this way. Time with our babes is in fact fleeting and they grow, change and evolve constantly and what they need today will not necessarily be what they need tomorrow.

I learnt all of this the hard way as I battled away trying to ‘undo’ sleep associations with my first. Simply accepting that for this season he needed me intensely saved both of us so much heartache.

You may be thinking that it is all too much and you may be very unhappy with your situation.

If this is you, first thing I’d do is a little soul searching. Get to the root of the unhappiness before changing anything.

Are you unhappy because you are hearing or reading you and your baby should not be on this path? Are you genuinely over it or are you having a crappy day or week? Is Bub, particularly intense right now as they go through a big growth spurt, leap, sickness or separation anxiety? Are you stressing that you will NEVER be able to leave your Bub and know you need to get back to work or have a wedding to attend or simply want a day, evening or night off?

It’s important to get to the crux of it all because so many of our fears and frustrations can be momentary or way too far down the track to warrant our genuine concern now. Often times, we are so into our own heads about what we and our baby ‘should’ be doing that we forget that we can also listen to our baby and our heart.

If, after all this thinking and listening, you still feel you need to do something to change the way your baby goes to sleep, I’d highly recommend looking into gentle resources such as books like Sleeping like a Baby by Pinky McKay, The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas or The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. These books will help you make changes gently and with love.

One very important thing to keep in mind though is, like me, you may try it all and your baby may simply not respond. They still aren’t broken. They are simply telling you that they aren’t ready for this yet.

Trust that your baby knows what they need. Trust that they know when they are ready to become a little more independent with their sleep. It will happen gradually. Even the baby with the tightest grip on their mama right now can blossom to a beautifully independent sleeper in time. No fear, no tears, no training required.

So rock, cuddle, sing, hum, carry and nurse on gentle mamas. You ARE doing it right. You are doing what works for you and your baby. Your time and effort is not in vain. Your work right now is the most important investment to our world. You are resting a tired, rapidly wiring, growing brain. Allowing it to flourish feeling secure, comforted and loved. You will never regret this time with your babe. Take a deep breath, relax and know just how valuable you are.
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