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Accepting the Reality of Infant and Toddler Sleep

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

I mean really accepted it, in all its glory. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I strongly disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

My stressors fell into four categories-

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

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

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

We desperately wanted to get this right.

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

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

The information we received was damning.

We WERE doing it all wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we did it.

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

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

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

I am hard work on myself.

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

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

I was a shell.

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

I needed help and support.

I trusted their judgement ahead of my own.

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

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

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

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

He tried so damn hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We own our experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All I have gained by ‘giving in’

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

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

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

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

Life was ugly.

But then, something gave.

I gave it all in.

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

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

I gained and regained my world.

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

My baby gained and regained his world.

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

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

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

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

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

    Time.

    An enormous investment and enormous commitment.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Being unwilling to sleep train does not make me a martyr

    Too often, parents who follow a gentler path when it comes to infant sleep are accused of being martyrs. Their experience with sleep deprivation and exhaustion is also often minimised as something they’ve brought on themselves and part and parcel of that good old rod they have created for their own back. Well I’d like to set the record straight.  
    I am not a martyr for being unwilling to sleep train my child.

    I am also not the perfect mother who’s life is as glossy as a magazine.  
    I am not holier than thou or seamlessly floating through these days with two babies born just 20 months apart.  
    I am messy. I am real and all too often, I am pretty freaking knackered.  
    I don’t need to be held to any higher level of account than any other mother and excuse me for sharing my experience regardless of how different it may appear to the mainstream idea of how this time in life should be managed.  
    There is no ‘fine line’ between being there for my baby and sacrificing it all for the sake of attachment. This is bullshit.

    My baby is a completely dependent, completely trusting human being who has ZERO capability to meet their own needs and relies 100% on me to make sure either I, or someone else who loves them responds to them.

    I hold the power here.  
    I am not a slave to a tiny dictator. I have the power. I can choose to respond or not respond. I can answer my baby’s cries each and every time or no. I decide the whens, wheres, whys and hows. I hold the power.  
    All my baby has is their cry and their sweet precious smell and looks to fall back on. They are so incredibly powerless and vulnerable that it makes my heart ache.  
    My baby has also been born incredibly prematurely by animal standards and the need for closeness to their ‘safe place’ on my chest or their daddy’s is so raw and real.

    Human babies grow an enormous amount in the first 1-2 years of life. Not just physically in length and girth but also in terms of movement, communication, brain connections, emotions and so much more. They also sprout a huge number of sharp teeth that cut through their soft gums causing great discomfort. The world is new. Every experience is mind blowing and through it all, their busy little minds are whirring away and at times making sleep incredibly hard to achieve and then maintain.

    Sleep for our babies is nothing like sleep is for us as grown, mature adults and it’s not meant to be.

    A baby waking and nursing frequently at night throughout the first year and beyond is behaving like a normal human infant. A baby needing help to find and maintain sleep is also behaving normally. Sleep is not something that can or should be taught to our babies. They know how to sleep even if they need a lot of help. They will find more independence with sleep naturally as they grow.

    My belief in this process is strong though naturally at times, while I ride the waves of intensity with my growing and developing baby, I do doubt myself, my baby and the process. I believe that a large part of this doubt stems from lack of being able to get a good handle on what is normal by looking around me in society. Our society is so far removed from normal infant sleep that the ridiculous expectations and beliefs that follow make it extremely hard for mothers who follow their baby’s lead.

    Being accused of being a martyr for being unwilling to train my baby who is behaving exactly as they should for a normally developing human is so incredibly unfair.  
    I will not train my baby because despite my exhaustion and despite the incredible pressure to conform, I am unwilling to compromise my baby’s legitimate needs for the sleepy ideal.  
    I would pick my weariness for the last 3 years always.  
    I am not a martyr though and instead, I have been forced to recognise my own needs in ways that do not compromise my baby’s need for night time parenting.  
    I make decisions that are not all about me but they definitely include me.  
    I matter but so does my completely dependent human.  
    So please, don’t think of me as a martyr.  
    I choose to mother this way because it feels right deep down in my core. I don’t do it for looks and I don’t do it as some kind of sick self flagellation. I believe my baby needs me and that my night time nurturing is worthwhile.

    To the gentle mamas facing heavy questioning right now, hold strong. Your work right now matters. You haven’t brought this on yourself, you are simply following the needs of your unique human and there is beauty to be found through the weariness. Keep on nurturing mamas x

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    Would I have been happier if I’d just sleep trained like my friends?

    Would I have been happier if I’d just sleep trained like my friends?

    This question appeared in my feed.

    The answer best comes in the shape of another question, is the grass always greener on the other side?

    Sleep training is not the miracle cure all that it is often portrayed as and although it is proclaimed to have worked ‘wonders’ for many, it is the source of much stress, anxiety, repetition and struggle for the parents who often find they train, retrain, retrain and you guessed it retrain again. I have MANY friends and acquaintances who have sleep trained and all in all, while it may seem like they are living the high life full of solitary sleep, easy naps and non-needy babies, in actual real life, they seem to struggle just as much, if not more than I do with my nontrained, nonconforming, wakeful little bedsharers.

    Life with little kids is tough and stressful and poses many challenges regardless as to whether you managed to hit the supposed pinnacle of successful parenting and achieved the all night cot sleeping, self settling, predictable nap ‘good’ baby.

    So yes, you may still be picturing yourself as somehow a happier, more well rested version if you’d gone the sleep training route but this then begs the question, how and why did you take this alternate route?

    For me, it was because I ‘failed’ at sleep training and so was forced to rethink my way of approaching infant sleep and through that experience, I came to recognise just how wrong sleep training felt to me on a visceral level. My motherly instinct screamed at me that my baby needed me so but for a long time I didn’t trust this instinct to know what was best for my child.

    My instinct was right.

    My baby desperately needed me just as much at night as he did during the day and one thing that has really helped me quantify the huge value of the comfort I have provided to him from the time I ceased sleep training is the thought of just how many nursing sessions, cuddles, hand holding, comforting words, singing and prompt response my baby would have lost out on had I indeed ‘succeeded’ at silencing him.

    His intense needs have been incredibly stifling at times but honestly, the knowledge that he has always had his needs met fills my heart so much.

    The thought that I may never have known, recognised or understood his needs saddens me beyond belief. My sensitive, beautiful babe has at times, asked more of me than I ever thought I could give but I kept on showing up. He needed me and I was there.

    I feel comfortable and at peace in this knowledge and it something that those who ‘succeeded’ in sleep training will never know. They will never know if their baby had every need met because they were silenced. They were taught not to call out when they needed help through the night.

    For that, the grass on my side will always appear greenest to me. I have no doubts of what I have gained in this long weary season and I am grateful also to not have to worry about what may have been lost.

    It can be a long and lonely path to take choosing to go against the dominant sleep training culture but for those on it right now, keep faith in yourself and faith in your baby. You will make it through this together and it will all be worthwhile. Hang in there mamas x

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    Why following your instincts is even more challenging if your baby has high end needs

    Why following your instincts is even more challenging if your baby has high end needs

    Honouring your instincts and mothering the way that feels right for you is extremely challenging in today’s society that values styles of parenting that are very ‘textbook’ and focus heavily on setting boundaries, routines and limits on responsiveness right from the very early days of a baby’s life. Anyone who has opted to follow their baby’s lead when it comes to nursing and sleep will tell you it can be a lonely path to take and it is hard not to doubt yourself and your baby as you make your way through this season in life with all the twists, turns and challenges it naturally takes. I’d like shed some light on a subgroup of mothers who face even heavier challenges … the mother of the high end needs baby.  


    I was just at the park with my kids and I was standing with a group of mums when one mum asked the other if she was getting any more sleep as she’d looked shattered the previous day. The mum says, ‘oh my gosh, I’m just so exhausted! My little guy (about 6 months) has started waking twice overnight and my big guy woke for a drink and has done for a few nights in a row. The baby seems hungry but oh my god, I’m exhausted!’

    Now I’m not claiming she wasn’t exhausted. In her experience, she most likely is.

    But, I swear to god, if I’d heard that same conversation a couple of years ago while I mothered my first high needs baby, I would have-

    a. Wanted to slap her across the face
    b. Burst into tears and shaken her while I screamed, ‘exhausted? I’ll show you f#%^ing exhausted!’ then run away and gone home with my little sleep thief feeling even more shit and alone because no one else seemed to get it.
    c. Or most likely, just walked away with my baby quickly to hide my tears and gone home feeling desperately alone.

    Now, I realise that most people who already follow their baby’s sleep lead would know that 2 wake ups a night at 6 months freaking rocks and is absolutely normal BUT for the mother who is following her wakeful little firecracker’s lead, two wake ups can sound like the ultimate luxurious dream as she wakes for the 6+ time that night.

    It’s not just that it’s hard for this mother to feel as though she is understood (because let’s face it, she’s largely not), what’s even harder is for this mother to be able to keep any faith in herself and her baby and what they are doing as a pair when everyone around them seems to experience this infant sleep business in such a different way.

    Why can’t my baby sleep like that? Why does my baby wake so excessively? Is there something wrong with them? Have I created this mess? Maybe it’s because I breastfeed to sleep? Maybe I do have to teach my baby to self soothe so they can link sleep cycles? Maybe it’s because I’m drinking a coffee a day now? Maybe it’s because I am misunderstanding my baby’s early sleep cues and missing their window? Maybe it’s because I let my baby catnap during the day? Maybe I need to start solids? Maybe a bedtime bottle of formula? Maybe it’s because we bedshare? Maybe I should try the cot again?

    I can safely say as a person on the outside who once lived inside this confusing, disheartening, sleep deprived, muddled haze, that provided your baby has been checked out for any underlying health issues that may be exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour, you have not done a single thing to cause this waking. Your little person just happens to have an intense need for parenting both day and night. It is normal for a baby to wake and nurse back to sleep frequently at night. It is physiologically impossible for an infant or toddler to soothe themselves from a place of distress and therefore, self soothing is not something you can teach your baby.

    This may feel like cold comfort to the mother in the thick of living and loving their high needs person but I can tell you now, the first time I heard this, I felt like an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders …

    It was no longer MY fault.

    It was no longer my BABY’s fault.

    And, it felt almost heavenly to know I was not alone.

    And still, the weight would grow heavier and heavier and heavier over time as the relentless waking, the relentless weariness, the relentless need for comfort day after night after day after day after night …

    I would cycle through patches of extreme vulnerability so frequently and all of the beauty that a gentler approach to parenting would become tainted by my exhaustion. The questions and doubts would creep on in and heaven forbid I showed it to anyone for I’d be swooped on by pitying faces and sleep training promises and told my baby was manipulating me and all about the good old rod I’d created and how abnormal he was and how unnecessary breastfeeding at night was.

    It may be seen as super judgemental for a gentle parent to propose that maybe a mainstream parenting technique like sleep training is inappropriate but my goodness, in my experience it’s a bloody free for all when it comes to advice coming from the other way.

    My gentle ways that felt so right even if I was shattered and brought my baby so much comfort were routinely ripped to shreds which in effect, ripped me and my extraordinary efforts to shreds, too. Society held so little value for the huge amount of blood, sweat and tears I poured into that baby of mine. I was treated as though I was a bit crazy, a bit of an alternative hippy and once people learned of my complete distaste for sleep training (even if they knew what we had gone through), they so often gave me that pitiful shrug and head tilt, of ‘oh well, if you aren’t willing to do it then I guess you’ll just have to stay tired.’

    So little empathy.

    No true understanding.

    It was a truly lonely journey.

    I had to cling to little things to get me through. I had to tell myself and my baby frequently that we were a team and we’d get through this together. Posts on The Milk Meg that normalised night waking and boobin all night became a lifeline. Pinky McKay’s reassuring articles about breastfeeding and soothing a baby to sleep helped me gain more confidence in why it felt right to help my baby so. The 12 Features of the High Needs Baby by Dr William Sears saw me in tears … for the first time, someone seemed to ‘get’ my baby. Evolutionary Parenting and Sarah Ockwell Smith helped me better understand why sleep training is not something any baby needs but why it is so popular. I found the amazing books Sweet Sleep by La Leche League and The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas and learned so much about normal infant sleep patterns.

    I looked, learned and reached out and you know what I found in all of this … I was so far from alone.

    My baby was not a freak.

    And I most certainly was not the only mother sitting by herself crying over the fact that her friends thought that 2 wake ups at night was something they’d call a ‘bad night’.

    To those who have less intense little people, I know how many times you would have experienced doubt and worry on your gentle journey but I ask you to really think of those mothers in both your real and virtual communities who have an extra added layer of ‘hard’ that they are battling through and take time to show them you see them and their incredible efforts and the way they continue on despite the heavy weight of societal pressure telling them they are wrong every chance it gets.

    Next time you read a, ‘I never wanted to sleep train but I honestly can’t do this anymore!’ plea, please, I beg you to stop, reflect and then respond. The whole, ‘I could never do that, how could you consider…’ comments are by far the worst.

    Talk with this mama. Fill her confidence in mothering with her instincts back up. She needs you to have her back when she’s vulnerable. She needs to know she can do this incredibly hard thing but may need to ask help to keep doing it. She needs your practical help and a little empathy never went astray.

    To those mamas with intense little ones, I salute you. You are the unsung heroes of the mothering world and your wee one will forever benefit from the incredible commitment of love, time and patience you have given them. Your efforts are not in vain. You are doing incredibly important work, never doubt it.

     I sincerely hope to see the day where it is normal to nurture your baby and meet them at their point of need regardless of how intense those needs may be. Until then, I will continue to speak of the biological norm and shine a light on the wonderful work being done by gentle mothers the world over that deserves to be revered instead of ridiculed.

    I dream of the day we can say we have truly moved beyond the sleep training culture.

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    Cutting to the chase when it comes to Sleep Trainer’s advertising

    I love how the ABC’s show The Checkout dissects advertising to help people who are not trained in the area of marketing to recognise the tricks and smoke shields that have been employed to distract the audience while hammering home their true message. Sometimes it’s bleedingly obvious, other times, it’s subtle and hard to identify. One thing remains the same – they are trying to SELL you something. If they can’t get you or enough of your fellow potential customers to shell out, then they’ll be out of business.  

    That does not mean that all businesses are sneaky or lack integrity. Businesses can be very honest and hold extremely high standards both in actual dealings with customers but also in their advertising. They may be clever with their advertising while not being sneaky. They may reach out to prospective clients without preying on them. But, even those businesses with the most outstanding moral code, would not deny (and shouldn’t deny because it is a business after all), that they are out to make a buck and any form of advertising needs to make back its own cost and generate extra business and money flow to make it worthwhile.

    The sleep training industry and sleep training consultancies are no different.

    Make no mistake, while they may genuinely believe they want to help you and your family, they also want your business.

    I have seen an increasing number of sleep training business’ advertisements popping up on my Facebook newsfeed, which does not surprise me considering how many articles and conversations I have about infant sleep. Of course, Facebook has identified it as a potential ‘interest’ for me and so I bear the brunt of the same onslaught many new mothers would bear when they’ve been up googling, ‘why the f#%^ won’t my baby sleep?’ And I have to say, the marketing is particularly clever.

    So often, I see advertisements and the posts attached that are claiming to be all so very open minded about whether sleep training is the right ‘choice’ for you and your family- offers of refunds, some partially accurate information on normal infant sleep (always with some kind of limitation on how long this behaviour is ‘normal’) and loads of, ‘if it’s working for you, great, keep going’ kind of talk.

    What can look like these businesses have finally seen some sense and updated their advice against sleep training babies who are sleeping exactly as a human baby should, is actually a guise for a marketing tool that totally sucked me in while I was in my haze of sleep deprived exhaustion. It is a tool that makes you sound like they totally ‘get’ what it’s like to have a baby and to feel tired, and like they totally ‘get’ that waking is normal (to a point) and they even ‘get’ that some people may not want to ‘change’ anything and go a la naturale. Meanwhile, the kicker comes at the end in the sometimes subtle, other time not so subtle, ‘but if you want an out, we’ve got it!’ ‘ If you want to return to the magical land of sleep, step right this way!’ ‘If you change your mind and decide you want to train your child, I’ll be right here to hold your hand.’

    That’s a very big kick in the guts that keeps on kicking for mothers who have been following their instincts and have been riddled with doubt with their wakeful baby, still wondering if this is something they should ‘just put up with’ or whether it can/ should be ‘fixed’.

    Do you know how good those promises sound to an extremely vulnerable, completely exhausted mother who is living on struggle street day in night out?!? They sound like the magical freaking oasis you’d dream of after four days lost in the desert and you are out of your mind dehydrated and delirious.

    No matter that what you get to drink at the end is basically freaking sand.

    Oh hang on, but what about all the testimonials of how awesomely amazing and awesome and stuff this trainer Consultant person was/ is?!? They don’t sound like their throat is raw from drinking sand?!? What’s going on here?

    Well, the failures like me most certainly sounded very hoarse, not to mention crushed and soul destroyed by the experience but as I’ve said before, we are the riff raff… most ‘success’ stories do sound like they’ve drunk some of the magic elixir and are full of praise and gushing with gratitude.

    So am I just some bitter and twisted shrew? Surely if most of the clients finish happy then what’s the problem?

    Well two problems really.

    In the vast majority, (though not all), the baby being the other human client has been put through a huge amount of stress and trauma. You can break it down and call it short term, you can say it was worth it, you can dismiss it as ‘protesting’ but considering none of us can actually hear it from the baby’s mouth as they are too immature to be able to share their actual thoughts and experience here, I’m going to take the opportunity to offer an alternative to the narrative the sleep trainers and many of their successful clients will tell on behalf of the voiceless being in the picture. I strongly believe that if a baby undergoing sleep training could talk, they’d say, ‘I just want you Mummy. Please pick me up. Please hold me tight. I don’t feel good right now. I’m tired and scared. Why won’t you hold me mummy? I know you love me. Please pick me up mum, I’m tired.’

    A baby does not need to be sleep trained. Ever. They know how to sleep, even if they need a huge amount of help to get to sleep and maintain it, they know how to sleep.

    It is normal for a baby to wake and nurse frequently throughout the first year and beyond. A baby waking extremely frequently may very likely have underlying health issues that are exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour. They do not need sleep training.

    The second problem is the end product of a mother who now feels more ‘confident’ in how to mother her baby.

    Now that doesn’t sound like a problem, that sounds like a good thing doesn’t it?!?

    Yep, so glossy and good on the surface but so ugly underneath.

    This faux ‘confidence’ has come at an expensive cost. This mother now feels she knows just the ‘right’ amount of response and comfort she should offer her baby.

    Problem is, the only true answer to the ‘right’ amount of response and comfort can come from following her baby’s lead, not some regime or set of rules and limitations as set out by the sleep training consultant.

    The mother went in thinking she had no idea how to settle or read her baby, sadly, despite what she thinks on exiting the program, she now knows even less.

    And so, the dollars keep on rolling in.

    The sleep training juggernaut continues to grow.

     Another happy, satisfied customer comes away with the sleep they were promised, along with the bonus of new found confidence and staunch belief that they, too should impart their new knowledge with mothers who cross their paths.

    And so it goes.

    And so it will sadly continue until we, who can see through the guise, can find our voices and unite to take a stand.

    We need to first imagine a world that has moved beyond sleep training. A world that recognises and values a baby’s biologically normal sleep and nursing behaviours as expected and respected elements of development and in turn recognise, respect and honour the very real need for support for mothers as they make their way through this critical, though exhausting time in her life.

    Our babies and mothers deserve better than to have companies profiting from this confusing and vulnerable time.

    We can and should call for a change.

    It’s high time we moved beyond sleep training.

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