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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 no ‘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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My thanks to Attachment Parenting

Attachment Parenting can get a pretty bad rap.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten little known facts about your baby’s sleep

1. It is biologically normal for a baby to wake and nurse frequently throughout the first year and beyond. It is not a sleep problem. Some babies do have underlying issues that may be exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour and addressing these is crucial but the idea that a baby of X age is ‘too old’ to be waking is based on fallacy not fact.  

2. Feeding to sleep is the biologically normal way for a baby to find and maintain sleep. It is not a sleep problem.

3. The vast majority of cultures do not sleep separately from their babies or young children. A baby not wanting to sleep in their cot is not a sign of something being wrong with the baby and their ability to sleep but a sign of society having a problem with how babies prefer to sleep.

4. Keeping your baby close, limits the disruption of normal wakeful behaviour to both the breastfeeding mother and her baby’s sleep. Not having to physically fully wake to go to another room, then try to stay awake to settle or then need to wind back down  to sleep, all helps the mother. Nighttime breastmilk is also packed full of sleepy goodness that help both mother and baby return to sleep more easily. This one also links to number 1, 2, and 3. In our society that is obsessed with making babies ‘sleep through the night’ by cutting nighttime parenting out of the parenting role as quickly as you can and places high value on solitary sleep, we see many mothers keeping their babies at great distance. This is exhausting and extremely difficult to maintain and can result in both mother and child losing far more sleep than if they were close together.

* There are many safe cosleeping arrangements that can be considered to suit the family, from bedsharing to side car cots. If you haven’t already, read up on safe sleeping practices to help guide your family.


5. Your baby’s sleep will cycle through patches of relative ease and then through intense times with more frequent waking right up to the age of 2. It is rare that a baby proceeds in a straight line of gradually dropping feeds and sleeping longer without ever going through times of needing more. Just because they could find and maintain sleep one way last week, does not mean they necessarily can right now. This isn’t your baby ‘forgetting’ how to sleep, this is their body and mind going through the rapid development, growth and painful experiences (like teething) that they need to in the first couple of years of life. Them needing you to help them find the comfort, peace and support to be able to fall asleep and then maintain it, is normal.

6. Babies and young toddlers lack the brain development required to self regulate enough to ‘self soothe’ themselves from a place of distress. It is normal for babies and young children to need help to find and maintain sleep.

7. No two children are the same when it comes to their sleep needs, just as no two adults are the same. No one has a ‘formula’ that tells you when and how much your child needs to sleep. The only guide is your unique child.

8. ‘Catnapping’ or sleeping for only one 1-2 sleep cycles (20-40 mins) during the day is normal. Sometimes a baby may resettle for longer but it is okay if they do not. So much time and energy is wasted trying to resettle babies who are simply ready to get up.

9. Babies who are separated from the caregiver by day may ‘reverse cycle’ by night to meet their nursing and connection needs. Closeness and contact can help achieve their needs.

10. Many ‘experts’ like to name an age when night feeds are no longer necessary. What this fails to recognise is that night nursing is so much more than feeding. They may only ‘need’ say 2 feeds but they equally needed those 2-3 other quick nurses as well. Nursing for comfort, pain relief, immune boosting, connection and to help them relax when their busy growing body and mind cannot seem to find calm are all valid reasons to need nursing aside from nutrition.

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The powerful bonds forged through the sleepy snuggle

The powerful bonds forged through the sleepy snuggle

Australia is a massive country, most people would agree, but not many have a grasp of the true magnitude. I live in the outback in the heart of it all. We are a 1.5 hour drive from the Northern Territory border, a 10 hour drive to the East Coast, a 20 hour drive to Brisbane as our nearest capital city. My family is a 2.5 hour flight away and my husband’s is 2 x 2.5 hour flights away and the cost … well it is extortionate. Our time with our family is precious beyond measure and though it is limited by time and space, the bonds that have been forged with my babies and with my nieces are strong and heartfelt. These bonds have been strengthened through the sharing of a most precious and memorable experience… the sleepy snuggle.  

We are currently staying with my folks following the birth of my newest niece and I had an appointment this morning that ran over my baby’s first nap time. If the boob lady is around, only the boob will do for a snooze but when I’m not, well, Nana and Pa have got it covered. Pa has the magic touch with a little walk around the trees for calming or a short stroll down the beach front and then he swings him to calm him further. Today, the swing actually conked him out but as he couldn’t be left there, Nana scooped him up and held him while they waited for me. I came home to a peaceful sleeping baby, wrapped in his Nana’s loving arms, rocking in the rocking chair. She kissed him as she passed him to me, later saying, ‘I could have tried to put him down but I was just enjoying my snuggle.’

Just enjoying her snuggle.

I look back through all my photos of our family over each year as I make the new calendar and I can tell you now, hands down, my favourites are those of my babies sleeping on someone they love – me, their Dad, my Mum, my husband’s Mum, one of the Pa’s an Aunty, an Uncle… sometimes it’s snuggling on the couch, sometimes in a carrier (don’t you know babywearing is for dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, too?!?), sometimes it was bedsharing. In each and every photo, I see people at peace. I see relaxed faces, smiles on lips, kisses on heads, warmth and love. I see trust. I see time. I see incredible memories and bonds being forged.

While my sister was in hospital following the birth of her newest babe, I had the privilege to be able to lay with and cuddle my niece as she went to sleep for her nap each day. I loved every minute of it. I have never felt more special in her world than I did those days.

In the days since they have come home, I have had a number of sleepy snuggles with my new niece who is rarely out of the loving arms of someone unless she’s happy to be down.

As a family, we have embraced the power of the embrace.

It wasn’t always so. Back before I found my gentle path, these same loving arms belonged to people who also once believed a baby needed to sleep alone. We have all come such a very long way and I credit these beautiful little humans in our lives for showing us a better way. They have shown us the power of the sleepy snuggle for not only the baby but for the person they are finding their comfort in.

We may live so very far apart but our love is closer than ever.

Never underestimate the value of passing a baby from your loving arms to more loving arms. It takes a village to raise a child and sometimes that child is the catalyst for changing views in the village into which they were born.

(Quote and image credit: Mothers, Milk & Mental Health

If you recognise the power of the sleepy snuggle, try to extend that love in your family and help create the shift we need to see in society away from solitary sleep.

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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

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Status

‘I bet you can’t wait to get them out of your bed!’

‘I bet you can’t wait to get them out of your bed!’

Actually I can. 
Time passes by too darn quickly watching my babies grow to ever want to live just ‘waiting’ for the future. 

I’d rather live in the here and now. 
Right now I live in the land of twilight cuddles, nursing, sweet milk breath, tiny hands, kicky legs, sleepy sounds, toddler nightmares, teething pain, cries in the night that I can calm just with my touch, my presence. 

My bed is incredibly full right now, although the new addition of a single mattress next to our King has created the space we all needed to feel comfortable. 
I didn’t choose bedsharing first time around. My baby chose it and I will be forever grateful to him for forcing my hand. 

Second time around, we chose it from the start. Why?

  • Because it feels so right for us. 
  • I get more rest. 
  • My babies have me promptly when they need me. 
  • I can be the parent I want to be through the night. 
  • It’s easy when we travel. 

My husband and I will have years of our bed to ourselves. 

I can wait for that. 

Right now, our family bed is for our family. Always present. Always comforting. Ever loving. 

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Mummy’s Little Booby Monster

Mummy’s Little Booby Monster

Mummy calls my baby brother 

By a very funny name

She says that he’s her Booby Monster

And that nursing’s his favourite game.

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Our baby can do other things

He loves to watch me play

He shrieks with laughter watching me

And crawls right in my way.

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But if our baby is feeling tired

Or something makes him sad

Mummy scoops him up and pops him on

And soon he’s back to glad.

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Our baby now eats some food like me

But while he was tiny he never

That’s why mummy has her boobs with her

So he wasn’t hungry ever.

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Mummy fed him while we were at playgroup

In the carrier at the shops

He had boob while she chased me

Even playing wouldn’t make him stop.

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Our baby likes to play booby monster

Lots and lots during the night

So he sleeps with us right next to mum

So he can boob along and sleep tight.

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Mummy says I was once her booby monster

When I was a baby too

She says she loved to cuddle me close

And nurse away my blues.

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Mummy and our baby Booby Monster

Have lots of cuddles now

But Mummy always has cuddles for me

And she loves to show me how.

💙
Grubby Mummy and the Grubby Bubbies

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