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Is the Sleep Training culture contributing to the rise in Post Partum Anxiety and Depression?

As with most things I write, this goes against the mainstream narrative and will undoubtedly be brushed off as mere poppycock by those who subscribe to the popular Sleep Training culture but I’m going to say it anyway- Sleep Training culture strongly contributed to my Post Partum Depression and I don’t believe I am alone in this.  

a. ‘But Sleep Training saved my sanity!’

b. ‘I was heading down the path of depression so I used Controlled Crying!’

c. ‘My anxiety was crippling, I had to sleep train!’

Sound familiar?

I was heading straight for the (a) though because we ‘failed’ I was never ‘saved’ and (c) definitely featured in my decision to go the sleep training route. I get it, I really do but here’s where my experience as a ‘failure’ has helped me look at this situation very critically and I’ve come to the realisation that perhaps so many mothers have to be saved by Sleep Training because we are being groomed by the Sleep Training culture to feel like we are doing something wrong when our baby does not fit the ‘sleepy ideal’.

Sleep training culture is so pervasive, it is virtually impossible for a modern mother to remain untouched. It has come through a number of generations now and as such, the advice from older generations who we often turn to as new mothers is riddled with it. Health care professionals hail it as a ‘fix’ and with limited quality breastfeeding education as part of their training, many are ill equipped to advise on the normal development of feeding and sleeping behaviours in breastfed babies and toddlers.

Feeding and sleeping schedules that were so popular while formula feeding was the norm in the 50-70s have tainted what has become the benchmark and ‘norms’ for infant care.

First wave behaviourism struck fear into the hearts about ‘bad habits’, ‘spoiling’, ‘negative Sleep crutches’, ‘self soothing’ and Sleep as a taught skill.

Hands off, distant, independent, solitary sleep, restricted responsiveness, authoritarian, prescriptive and strict- all words that help describe what is valued when parenting very young babies and toddlers.

Being told when you can hold, nurse or comfort your baby is standard.

Being told when your baby should sleep, where they should sleep and for how long is standard.

Being told when you should respond to your baby’s cry and when you shouldn’t is standard.

Being told that your baby only wakes because of the way you help them find sleep is standard.

Being made to fear long term damage to your baby’s development and ability to achieve healthy sleep is standard.

Being made to fear that if you continue to comfort your baby in some way you’ll create a big old rod for your own back and you should break the habit now or expect you’ll have to do it this way forever is standard.

Being told that it is your responsibility to your child that you fix their sleep is standard.

This standard is what I believe is the crux of why so many mothers start heading down the path of depression and anxiety. I sure as hell did.

I bought into the standard and bent myself over backwards, forwards and inside out trying to reach it. The standard that I could not meet, the standard my baby called bullshit on, that standard left me feeling subpar as a mother every damn day.

Every day that I bought into the ‘shoulds’ for both myself and my baby was a day I finished feeling ‘less than’. We never measured up.

Every day of my baby refusing to accept anything less than the comfort and reassurance and assistance he needed drove a wedge into our relationship as I questioned again and again what was wrong with him and why couldn’t he do what he was ‘meant’ to do at his age?

It’s hard to not feel anxious and have your anxiety grow as the noise that surrounds you assures you that every day that your baby sleeps less than they say he should or wakes more than he should or asks for more assistance than he ‘should’ need is potentially affecting his long term health and development.

It’s hard to not feel depressed when yet again you are told it is because you nurse him to sleep and haven’t succeeded in putting him down drowsy but awake and you have to learn his cries that your getting this mothering and sleep business so terribly wrong- THAT’S why you feel so desperately tired and miserable. If you just follow XYZ, then you’ll get the sleep you need. When you’ve already tried these things in desperate vein for the 100 thousandth time to no avail.

It’s hard to feel light, relaxed and at peace with your brand new mothering experience when at every turn you are told you are doing it wrong.

For me and my darling wakeful little firecracker, the road to PPD was paved in Sleep Training culture bullshit.

How on earth I was ever going to get away without eventually succumbing while surrounded by all of this noise is beyond me.

Yes, there are many more factors that may well contribute to the development of PPA or PPD in each unique person but I refuse to believe this Sleep Training culture in anyway sets women up for success and healthy mental health and self esteem in their new identity.

So perhaps, instead of heralding and crediting Sleep Training with ‘saving’ so many mother’s sanity, we should look long and hard at how it took our sanity in the first place.


Mothers of today and into the future deserve so much better than this.

Re-evaluating, resetting and reestablishing the norms of infant sleep from a a biological and anthropological standpoint would be the first place to start.

Only once we can as a society come to a fuller understanding of the reality of infant and toddler sleep will we see a shift that is so needed to undo the damage and twisted accepted norms perpetuated by the current Sleep Training culture.

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Why Responsive Settling Isn’t Truly Responsive

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

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

Why?

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


(Image: Gentle Parenting Memes)

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

A little scene setting for you-

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

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

My baby strongly disagreed.

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

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

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

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

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

I went into the program with a desperate hope.

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

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

And so, the stage was set.

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

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

We started when it was time for his afternoon sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, a few hours later for bedtime.

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

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

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

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

I was elated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t to be.

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

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

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

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

We WERE responding damn it!!!

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

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

Responsive Settling gives the illusion of response. 

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

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

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


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

So, here’s to growth.

Here’s to change.

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

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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 well rested baby

The well rested baby

Anyone who has had a baby and been within sniffing distance of a mainstream baby sleep book or received advice from a mainstream care provider would have no doubt been told that quality sleep is paramount to their baby’s growth and development and that in order to be well rested, their baby needs a certain amount of sleep for their age and to sleep in nice big chunks of time.  
This sounds like sensible advice and also a highly desirable scenario for a parent who would also reap the benefits of those heavenly chunks of time while their baby peacefully slumbers, grows and develops.

Unfortunately, this advice is contrary to the way the majority of human babies behave and leads their parents to question their baby’s ability to sleep and their ability to respond to their child.

If however, you do even a cursory review of studies into infant sleep behaviour and a look into the experience of mothers whose own babies did not fit this sleepy ideal, You will quickly discover a very reassuring trend- human babies can be well rested, develop and grow beautifully without ever achieving the elusive X amount of sleep for their age and rarely in big, long chunks, flat on their back, on their own, in their cot.

Breathe a sigh of relief.

A well rested baby is a baby who’s mother responds to their individual sleep needs and provides the comfort, security and support they need to achieve their sleep in a way that works for that baby.

To achieve this, generally, a baby who is in close proximity or contact with their caregiver, responded to quickly and soothed back to sleep as often as they require in the quickest way possible, will have no trouble being well rested.

A baby’s sleep requirements at day and through the night rapidly change and evolve throughout their first year of life and beyond. There is no hard and fast rules here and from my own experience, what my 3 month old baby required of me to keep him well rested is vastly different to what my 11 month old baby requires now. In some areas, his needs were more easily satisfied at 3 months than they are now and vice versa. The key is keeping yourself flexible, available and in sync with your unique baby.

There has been times when my baby has not been well rested and I have had to sit back and review what we have been doing and what might help him going forward. For example, while he was very little, he slept beautifully in the carrier and I could easily get him a big, long snooze all snuggled up in the morning while I took my toddler to our activity for the day- playgroup, library, groceries etc. Because I knew he’d sleep well then, it wasn’t a big deal if he only had quick kips for the rest of the day, he was well rested and calm. But as he grew, he started to become harder to settle in the carrier and often his sleep was only short and he’d be cranky. For a while, I accepted that he’d just have his short kip in the carrier and then while my toddler was having his lunch time nap, I’d lay with and nurse my baby to help him get a nice long snooze in at lunchtime. This worked for another few months. Then, he started waking earlier and was struggling to hold out for his first nap until we were out, so now he goes down after a nice long boobin session, onto his little floor bed and has a snooze before activities. Sometimes he sleeps for a long while and has a shorter lunch nap, other times it is short and we still have a nice long lunchtime boobin nap.

This is his general pattern. There are still days and even weeks when he simply can’t sleep longer than 20-40 mins for any one sleep and he may be a bit more tired and cranky than usual but through those times, I simply put him in the carrier or offer him more breastfeeds to help keep him calmer and restful even if he’s a bit low on sleep.

At night, if my baby wakes every 40 minutes to an hour all night, he never truly ‘wakes’. He stirs, calls to me, a boob appears and he is straight back to sleep.

From my time of attempted sleep training and before I started bedsharing, my first baby definitely was not well rested a lot of the time. He was severely sleep deprived and so was I during this period where I set arbitrary rules on how and when I’d settle him.

The sleep school told me that 4 hour minimum for feeds overnight was an acceptable window to expect at his age (4.5 months) and to persist with other settling methods if he woke before this to teach him that he wouldn’t be able to rely on boob every time he woke.

In my house, this looked like- my baby waking at maximum 2 hours after previous settle. My husband and I ‘allowing’ him some time to resettle without our help (Read- cry with a 100% fail rate), we’d then go to his door and reassure him we were there by ‘shhhh’ing him. When that didn’t work, we’d go to the cot and pat his mattress and ‘ssssh’ him. When he got too upset (usually within minutes) his dad would pick him up, offer him his dummy or a drink of water and rock and sway with him. He’d howl and howl and howl. We’d both be trying to remain calm and low key while our insides tore up. My husband would then try taking him for a walk to get the crying away from me. It always failed.

We were so f#%^ing desperate that we persisted with this god awful failed process for weeks post sleep school.

My poor baby was beyond exhaustion but all it did in my sleep training indoctrinated brain was reiterate just how important it was that I get this right. HE NEEDED MORE SLEEP! His growth and brain development depended on it.

What I was missing was that, yes, my baby needed a hell of lot more sleep to be rested, but that he’d get SOOOO much more sleep if I simply responded to his NEEDS in exactly the way my body and his body were built for.

It is no mistake that a baby falls quickly back to sleep when put onto the breast at night. Our night time breastmilk is full of lovely sleep inducing hormones that not only help our baby back to sleep but also the mother. Our very clever bodies, know the importance of both mother and child being well rested and also recognises that it will be required to help our little human manage their normal wakeful behaviour.

A baby wakes for so many reasons at night. Nutrition is only one reason. Breastfeeding/ nursing your baby at night satisfies practically every need your baby may have- pain relief, comfort, reassurance, calming, hunger, company and many more.

Some babies are extraordinarily hard to settle and extraordinarily hard to keep well rested. This is a extremely heartbreaking and exhausting situation for a mother to find herself in. For many of these babies who seem to resist all attempts to soothe and fights sleep to the death, it can appear that sleep training is the only answer. If they are distraught and crying while their mother soothes them in arms, surely it won’t make things any worse having them cry while they ‘learn’ to ‘soothe’ themselves?!? Nothing could be further from the truth. These baby’s bodies are not releasing the stress hormones that are released in response to sleep training because although they are still crying and fighting, they KNOW that they are not alone, they know their loving person has them, they know that they are fully supported as they struggle with whatever they are struggling with that makes sleep so incredibly hard for them to come by.

Put yourself in their shoes. When you are inconsolable and unable to simply switch off your crying, how would you wish your loving person respond to you? Would you like them to stay with you and support you while your overwhelming feelings have control of you or would you rather say,’ well I gave you a cuddle and told you are okay but you still keep crying, best sort yourself out. I’ll be here but I can’t help you directly anymore.’

I know what I’d prefer and I’m a grown woman with a far more developed ability to control and process my emotions than my underdeveloped baby ever could hope to.

These hard to settle babies, who cry a lot and wake very frequently, often have underlying health issues and to train them to stop signalling for help from their caregiver does nothing but mask the real issues at play and plants the very first seeds in that child’s heart and mind that their very real needs and feelings, are only selectively attended to and at times, no one will listen. Heartbreaking but true.

Attending to any underlying issues and continuing to meet your baby at their point of need will see your baby the very best rested version of themselves.

A well rested baby does not have to fit a perfect sleepy mould.

You know your baby. You know what works and what doesn’t work right now. It’s okay to admit your baby isn’t well rested all of the time, just as it is okay to admit that maybe it’s time to try something different to help keep your baby getting the rest they need.

It may not be perfect. It may not be easy. It may not be convenient.

Waking is normal. Sleep is messy.

To be well rested, a baby does not need to be trained. They simply need your understanding, awareness, flexibility and response.

Hang in there tired mamas x

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The utter crap spun by Baby Sleep Whisperers: episode 1- linking sleep cycles

The utter crap spun by Baby Sleep Whisperers: episode 1- linking sleep cycles

So this series of blog posts is dedicated to calling out some of the crappy advice given in sleep training books and sites. My particular beefs generally all stem from my biggest beef of all- sleep training books make mums and dads who are actually parenting and responding to their own unique child beautifully, suddenly feel like big fat failures, like they’ve been doing it all wrong and THAT’S why their baby sleeps the way they do. These books prey on vulnerable, sleep deprived, desperate families and instead of building them up with knowledge based on actual research on normal infant sleep they offer a prescription to ‘fix’ their perfectly normal child’s sleep. It blows my mind that all the things that happen so naturally, so instinctually to settle and soothe our baby to sleep are exactly the things these faux ‘sleep whisperers’ belittle and warn against. Sleep deprivation really freaking sucks but dreaming up a one size fits all, follow this and do that prescription to train our tiny new humans to do something they are physiologically not meant to do is just bullshit in my opinion. So here I go, in all my non expert but real life, non textbook baby related experience, this is something I call UTTER CRAP on.  

In the very first instalment of what no doubt will be quite a lengthy series, I’d like to discuss one particular bit of bullshit I’m sure you would be familiar with if you’ve even skim read a mainstream sleep training book … In order for your baby to link sleep cycles successfully, they need to be in the same place they fell asleep while being settled in the same way- if you feed your baby to sleep then you can expect them to wake between sleep cycles and only settle back if you feed them again OR if you teach your baby to ‘self settle’ in their cot then they will happily resettle through their sleep cycles because nothing has changed from the way they went to sleep in the first place.


Now, you may be thinking what I thought when I initially bought into sleep training- this makes sense. Of course it would be a rude shock to find yourself in a completely different place than where you were when you fell asleep (eg. Fell asleep in someone’s arms only to wake after a cycle alone in a cot). It does kind of sound like these sleep geniuses may be on to something. Especially if you have nothing to compare it to other than your frequently waking, catnapping, non resettling, non sleep cycle linking little sleep thief like I did. It CAN look very much like this is the answer. The holy grail as to why your little dear cannot stay asleep between cycles. But … As I found and many before me and I’m sure many after, this isn’t actually why our babies wake.

I am no sleep expert, although I have certainly had a little on the job experience, so I don’t claim to know it all but based on my observations of my own babies and babies around me, this myth just does not stack up.

Here are my anecdotal observations …

1. My non sleep cycle linking, catnapping, frequent waking shocker STILL woke and catnapped even after our few ‘successful’ settles we ‘achieved’ at and briefly after sleep school. Riddle me that. He fell asleep, in his cot, alone. No boob, no cuddles, without outside comfort aaaaaannnnnnnddddd he still couldn’t link a sleep cycle most of the time. Why?!? Because he freaking well couldn’t link a sleep cycle. It had stuff all to do with how he went to sleep and everything to do with him waking and NEEDING comfort back to sleep. Whether we withdrew the comfort and trained him not to call out for help despite still needing it or provided the comfort and helped him he woke regardless. I am thankful to this day I finally came to my senses and could see this. My poor baby needed me. The end.

2. This non sleep cycle linking, catnapping, frequent waking incredibly high needs guy once I finally surrendered, was and continues to be 2 years on, comforted in whatever way he needs to sleep every day and night of his life and guess what? He has miraculously linked sleep cycles (I know, what the hell?!?). He sometimes has 2-3 hour day sleeps and sleeps for long hours if not through the night … Even if he fell asleep in my arms and I put him in his bed. Shock horror!

3. My second guy, well he really mixes it up as far as his ability or inability to link sleep cycles goes … He’s never been trained, he’s always nursed or cuddled to sleep, he starts the night on his own mattress and then moves into bed with me sometime during the night. During the day, he sometimes sleeps in bed and other times in the carrier. With all this variation and ‘inconsistency’ you’d expect he’d be the Catnap King and wake frequently at night because he’d surely wake confused that he wasn’t still on boob or in my arms and yes, sometimes he does catnap and yes, he does go through patches of waking incredibly frequently but in general he links his sleep cycles just fine. Some nights he sleeps 8 hours straight without my help to link cycles without ever having been ‘taught’ even remotely to ‘self settle’. Some days he sleeps for 1.5-2 hours without a resettle despite having fallen asleep in my arms.

To make sense of this is really quite simple- When he can link sleep cycles he does, when he can’t, he asks for help or during the day he just has an extra kip later if resettling isn’t on the cards

The answer to why your baby can’t link cycles may be complex. There are many, many reasons they wake but I can confidently say the only sure thing to explain your baby’s waking is that they wake because they wake and if they ask for help to get back to sleep it’s because they need help back to sleep. By accepting this is where they are at and they need you as much or as little as they do today, you can save yourself and your baby so much stress and heartache.

If your baby is waking extremely frequently and you have ruled out medical reasons (eg. Reflux, food allergies or intolerances and other conditions) it is okay to simply roll with their crazy flow. They will learn to link sleep cycles in their own time. In the meantime, keep on settling that baby off to sleep in the way that works best for both of you. You aren’t doing anything wrong and it will all work out fine in the end.
The utter crap spun by Baby Sleep Whisperers: episode 2– knowing your baby’s cry

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To give a shit or not to give a shit? That is the question…

To give a shit or not to give a shit? That is the question…

As many of you would have gathered, I take this mothering gig very seriously and strongly believe that ‘giving a shit’ about the important stuff is absolutely essential. However, I do believe there is also a lot of peripheral ‘shit’ that is simply not worthy of our time, effort or brain space. Here are some things I seriously don’t give a shit about … Some I used to care about, some I used to obsess about, some barely entered my radar…

1. Duration of day naps

• Seriously, who gives a shit. I used to. Back when I was sucked into the vortex of trying to make my baby sleep the ‘required’ amount of sleep in chunks that are seen as essential to get quality of sleep but also to give mum a good break I absolutely DID give a shit, and you know what I got for all hours, days, weeks and months of obsessing and dedication to the cause? I got to go bat shit crazy, I got angry, I got frustrated, I got disappointed, I got tired. I most certainly did not get a baby who said, ‘oh, ok mum, sleep time is it? Rightio, well just time it right, tuck me in, shush me a little and I’ll drift off and give you 2 hours to yourself.’ Was it worth my time, effort or brain space? Hell no! With this baby, I seriously couldn’t give a shit. I get him down when he’s tired. If he wakes after 20-40 mins who actually cares? He sure as shit doesn’t. I have a toddler to get around with so even thinking of trying to resettle is limited to the baby’s lunchtime nap (if he has one) while the toddler is sleeping, sometimes I can sneak a boob in and get the baby to give me a good long snooze, other times he happily sucks away and finishes with a big milk dribbly grin that says, ‘nice one sucker!’ Some times he’s a bit grizzly and probably could have done with a bit more sleep, once again, who cares? I simply get him back to sleep a bit later when he’s good and ready. Oh, but don’t I know that ‘sleep breeds sleep’? Um, yeah. I’ve heard that one many times and actually it’s complete and utter horseshit. Maybe, some babies do sleep a bit better if they have these whopping great day naps but there are many babies who sleep perfectly well at night who run on catnaps and kips through the day. Some of these catnapping/ kipping kids do sleep like shit at night too, but you know what, it’s got sweet bugger all to do with the days. They are who they are. My two are a total mixed bag right now and I see absolutely zero correlation between ratty days and ratty nights vs good days and good nights. They like to mix it up to keep me on my toes.

• One thing I simply can’t get to the ‘I don’t give a shit’ stage with is waking a sleeping baby! It seriously upsets me. Big shout out to all those mamas doing daily school runs and having to disturb sleeping kids! What a freaking nightmare!

2. How baby gets to sleep or back to sleep

• Cuddles, carrier, boob, pram, car whatever works, I’ll do it. Getting a baby the sleep they need in the way that works best for them is all I give a shit about. How I do it, I could not give a shit. Is it always convenient? No. Do I sometimes wish my babies would just be popped down and drift off peacefully? Sometimes (although I know I’d actually miss the cuddles most of time). But babies aren’t here to be convenient. They are little people, with busy minds and an intense need for comfort. I sometimes struggle to get to sleep first up at night, or after I’ve ducked to the loo and for me day sleeps are extremely hit and miss. Sometimes, I am awake for hours, tossing, turning, feeling frustrated about the fact I should be asleep. Sometimes, sleep doesn’t come easily to me. And yet, we expect total consistency from our little ones … If they take too long, or fuss about or ask for extra help to get to sleep, we so often feel cranky with them. Particularly if you feel like you’ve given all that you have to give. But they aren’t doing it to drive us bat shit crazy. They are having trouble. They are human. Give them the help they need to get the rest they need. It’s that simple. I don’t give a shit how.

3. How often my baby feeds- day/ night

• Yeah, so, I can’t actually tell you an answer to this as it varies so much day to day, night to night. And you know what? I don’t give a shit because this is exactly as nature intended. A breastfed baby feeds/ nurses in an erratic fashion because it meets virtually every need they have, from nutrition to comfort, to sensory input, to immune building and many more. This can not be timed or timetabled and nor should it be. Who actually gives a shit that my baby who went 5 hours yesterday with out nursing wanted boob 3 times in an hour this morning? Certainly not I.

 


(Courtesy of The Milk Meg)

 4. Where I feed

• I feed/ nurse wherever and whenever my baby needs. I don’t give a shit where this may be. Home, bed, park, shop, church, pub, café, playgroup, beach, train … Wherever. Whenever.

5. Having a spotless house

• I do cheat this one a bit because I got myself a cleaner (seriously a life changer if you can afford one, get one!!)

• Despite having a cleaner, there is still the endless day to day cleaning and tidying you have in any house with two adults, a toddler, a baby and a big hairy bugger of a dog. There’s always loads of washing, dishwasher to stack or unstack, plastics that won’t go through the dishwasher, tidying after a never ending snacking and playing toddler, sweeping up dog hair of a dog who seems to be malting year round etc etc. There was a time where I would not have dreamt of having people around to visit or for a meal unless I had my house in order … Now, they’re lucky if they can find my sink and you know what, I actually don’t give a shit. My friends and family know and love me anyway and anyone else, I couldn’t care less. My house will be clean and tidy again one day … Probably when the boys leave home.

  
6. Feeding my toddler only home made healthy foods

• Yeah, I seriously don’t give a shit on this one. My husband and I are healthy people. We have a healthy lifestyle and diet. Having said that, we both love our food. Sometimes the food we eat isn’t exactly top of the line healthy. Sometimes it’s downright naughty but you know what, we aren’t big people because we out weigh the bad with the good and we have a healthy attitude towards food and eating. Since we are a family who embraced Baby Led Weaning, my toddler’s diet very closely resembles our own (sans wine and coffee). I was very conscious of his salt and sugar intake prior to turning one and to an extent I monitor it now but mostly, we just eat. My little Grubby Bubby will soon be joining us for meals and fingers crossed he is a cruisy little eater too.

7. How much or what my toddler chooses to eat in any one sitting

• This one is one I was surprised to find my self almost alone on with my family and friends. I have fully embraced the idea that it is my job as mother to provide my children with food and it is their job to eat it. This idea sits particularly well as a breastfeeding mother, as up until the introduction of solids, I had trusted my baby to control the when and how much side of eating so why would I stop trusting him now?!? Sometimes my first guy ate a lot in a sitting, sometimes he ate bugger all. Sometimes he became obsessed with one type of food and refused all others. I just kept putting a range of food on his plate and he decided what he would eat and how much. I refuse to buy into mealtime battles. My babies don’t HAVE to eat anything. I will not bargain and I will not threaten. I refuse to give a shit about something beyond my control. I know sometimes there are other issues at play here and I have been very lucky to have not had to face an underweight child or one with many aversions, however, I would hope that even if I did, we could find a way to allow the child to still control their food intake because after all, listening to your own body is a key part of learning to eat what you need to be satisfied as opposed to an empty plate.

8. Toilet training

• Of course, we will have to do it but I’m just not into it being a battle. I don’t give enough of a shit. I’ve been told that when your toddler is ready, it will be easy so call me lazy, but I’m waiting for the easy! We do all the lead up groundwork everyday but currently my guy is simply not ready. He’ll get there though and in the meantime, I refuse to stress about it.

Looking back on this list, I am relieved to know this is not where my head is at. As a mum it can be so easy to get bogged down in the nitty gritty. Hard to decipher the things that warrant our time, energy and head space. It is okay to let some things wash. Working out what is actually important and also what is within my control was a big part of my surrender. It’s liberating to simply not give a shit sometimes.

  (Source Unknown)

What have I missed that you’d add to this list?
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