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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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I have a problem with ‘it’s not a problem unless it’s a problem for you’ statements…

I have a problem with ‘it’s not a problem unless it’s a problem for you’ statements…

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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Is the difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ souring your time with your baby?

Is the difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ souring your time with your baby?

This is a question I’ve pondered before and I’ve found myself back there again today. Today, it was a mix of my own way of talking and thinking about my baby and toddler but also listening to a mummy of a very young baby and toddler venting.

My contributions were-

 ‘why won’t you go to bloody sleep?’ While trying to convince my wonder weeking wonder that sleep was indeed what his cranky arse needed.

And ‘I just got you to bloody sleep! Why won’t you just stay there!! It’s your fault you woke up and now I need to get the baby down.’ After my cranky toddler didn’t transfer from car to bed as I’d hoped.

The mummy with the little baby contributed-

 ‘she won’t sleep anywhere but on the boob at the moment.’

 And ‘even when I’ve gotten her enough sleep, she still won’t be happy. She’s always cranky right now.’


Now it may all sound a bit nitpicky but trying to change these thoughts from ‘won’t’ statements to ‘can’t’ statements can actually really help you mentally while working through the many frustrations we face with our babes.

The reason for this is that by using the word ‘won’t’ we are inadvertently implying that our baby can do whatever it is that is giving us the shits but they are choosing to be a little arsehole who will not take this option.

By choosing the word ‘can’t’ instead, we are able to acknowledge that our baby, while still giving us the shits is currently unable to simply do whatever it is we desire. Therefore, we are able to see they are not actually being an arsehole who chooses to make our life hard but a small person who is in fact struggling with an action.

This difference can really shape your current relationship with our baby or toddler (certainly not irreversibly) and as I learned first hand, YOU are the one in control here.

You have so many things that aren’t within your control as a mama that sometimes I think it’s really important to reflect on what is. Two things in our power and control at all times are our thoughts and actions.

We can choose to focus on meeting our baby at their point of need and accept that at this moment they simply can not do everything we ask or desire or we can focus on where we think they should be and grow ever more frustrated that they won’t live up to these unrealistic expectations.

So here’s our challenge. Think of all the ‘won’ts’ you are currently putting on our baby and turn them around and rework our thoughts into ‘can’t’ statements. 

Let’s rework our expectations.

Here are some more possible ‘won’t’ moments that may be in your world …

• Baby won’t self settle

• Baby won’t be put down

• Baby won’t sleep in bassinet/ cot

• Baby won’t sleep for more than 20-40 minutes

• Baby won’t resettle.

• Baby won’t sleep without boob

• Baby won’t stay lying in cot

• Baby won’t stay asleep unswaddled

• Baby won’t play alone.

• Baby won’t go to strangers

• Baby won’t settle for anyone but mum

• Baby won’t stop crying in the car

• Baby won’t stop moving/ crying while you try to get them to sleep

Now we’ve clued in and identified our thoughts, let’s try to make the mental shift away from all that they won’t do to what they simply cannot do right now. If they could the would. They can’t so let’s give them and ourselves some grace.

Breathe a little and rest easy knowing that while our little people cannot do these things, before we know it, they’ll be grown and will have mastered these and many more accomplishments all in their own time.

Accept. Breathe in. Rest easy. This too shall pass. 

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