I have a problem with ‘it’s not a problem unless it’s a problem for you’ statements and it’s all to do with perception.I have read this statement used repeatedly and while technically, yes, it is right, I think it can be very unhelpful and confusing for a mother, especially one who is struggling.
As a first time mum, I had no clue what was and wasn’t normal for a baby especially when it came to sleep. I remember reading this ‘it’s not a problem…’ statement while I rocked, fed and held my intense wee man. I was exhausted. My body ached. I felt like I was stuck, like I was doing it all wrong and so reading this I ABSOLUTELY felt I had a problem for me.
But, a massive part of my problem was my lack of knowledge of what was normal.
If I had known that this high needs baby was behaving like a huge number of other high needs babies and that although I was shattered, I WAS doing everything right for my baby, the shape of that problem and therefore how I looked to solve it would have been vastly different.
When the problem shifts away from the baby and onto the mother and her wellbeing we stop trying to change the baby who is behaving just as they should (after making sure all potential medical reasons for wakefulness have been explored- intolerance, allergies, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma) and we start trying to work out the support and changes (physical, mental and environmental) required by that unique family and in particular, the mother, to help her through this weary season in her life.
It upset me greatly last week to see a particular sleep training company’s post appear in my newsfeed using this statement. They used it cleverly and appeared to be being super supportive and inclusive. It went on with various statements like … ‘If you love cosleeping, then great keep cosleeping.’ This automatically implies if you are cosleeping but not loving it then you SHOULD change it. Thing is, you don’t have to love every minute of something for it still to be the best option for your family. It may simply be what you need to do because it is what your unique child or children need. It may still be the way that gets YOU the best quality sleep in your setting, even if it is uncomfortable for you. You don’t have to love it. You may even kind of hate it. Not everything is meant to be easy, fun, stress free and full of sleep.
These sleep trainers are essentially building on the ‘create a rod for your own back’ mentality by making out that the things you have done or may do to get your child the sleep they need in the way that works best for them are all just ‘choices’ and therefore you can simply ‘choose’ to not do it anymore.
You can. You can try to train these things out of your baby and your relationship with them and while you feel like you shouldn’t have to comfort your child so much or be helping them back to sleep as often as you do, then naturally these sleep trainers ‘fix’ for what they view as the baby’s sleep problems sounds appealing.
No one in their right minds would sign up for seemingly endless night’s of disrupted sleep if they didn’t think it was absolutely necessary and above all a NORMAL part of this time in our lives while our baby needs us so intensely.
So, the take home message here is that if you are one very tired mama reaching out for support, if the support you choose looks firstly at ‘fixing’ your baby, you may want to investigate other options. Quality support for sleep deprived mothers in my opinion, should always start with the mother. Work with her. Help her mother her unique baby her way, the way her baby needs and help her make the changes and rally the support she needs to keep mothering this way. If some changes are deemed necessary for the baby, then gently making changes with love is only fair and no crying should be involved. A child who is ready, will do so without tears.
A shift in the support for tired mothers is beginning but the vast majority still focuses heavily on sleep training. I hope through continued discussion, this topic becomes routinely viewed through a different lens. One that honours both the mother AND her baby’s biological needs.
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