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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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