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Accepting the Reality of Infant and Toddler Sleep

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

I mean really accepted it, in all its glory. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I strongly disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

In defence of the dreaded ‘sleep associations’

Are you currently feeding your baby to sleep? Rocking, singing or cuddling your baby to sleep? Wearing your baby as they sleep in a carrier or letting them sleep on your chest on the couch? Has your baby grown accustomed to dropping off as they ride in the car or pushed in the pram? Does your baby need the touch of their mum’s skin, hum of her voice or feeling of her hand on their chest to feel relaxed enough to sleep? Maybe you are holding a very tired baby tightly as they cry and struggle to relax but with your calm reassurance, they will eventually drift off?
Will your baby only sleep in your bed?

If this sounds familiar, I am here to say you make my heart swell beautiful mama.

Your baby associates sleep with feelings of being supported, responded to and comforted. You are not doing you or your baby a disservice to have them come to expect that they can trust and rely on you to get them the rest they need in the way that works best for them. Not all babies rest easily. Many need a lot of support to go off to sleep peacefully. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with your baby if they can only settle with help from you. Some babies can and do go to sleep peacefully on their own without help from their caregiver. These babies are the exception, not the norm.

You are also not creating a rod for your own back by responding to your baby this way. Time with our babes is in fact fleeting and they grow, change and evolve constantly and what they need today will not necessarily be what they need tomorrow.

I learnt all of this the hard way as I battled away trying to ‘undo’ sleep associations with my first. Simply accepting that for this season he needed me intensely saved both of us so much heartache.

You may be thinking that it is all too much and you may be very unhappy with your situation.

If this is you, first thing I’d do is a little soul searching. Get to the root of the unhappiness before changing anything.

Are you unhappy because you are hearing or reading you and your baby should not be on this path? Are you genuinely over it or are you having a crappy day or week? Is Bub, particularly intense right now as they go through a big growth spurt, leap, sickness or separation anxiety? Are you stressing that you will NEVER be able to leave your Bub and know you need to get back to work or have a wedding to attend or simply want a day, evening or night off?

It’s important to get to the crux of it all because so many of our fears and frustrations can be momentary or way too far down the track to warrant our genuine concern now. Often times, we are so into our own heads about what we and our baby ‘should’ be doing that we forget that we can also listen to our baby and our heart.

If, after all this thinking and listening, you still feel you need to do something to change the way your baby goes to sleep, I’d highly recommend looking into gentle resources such as books like Sleeping like a Baby by Pinky McKay, The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas or The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. These books will help you make changes gently and with love.

One very important thing to keep in mind though is, like me, you may try it all and your baby may simply not respond. They still aren’t broken. They are simply telling you that they aren’t ready for this yet.

Trust that your baby knows what they need. Trust that they know when they are ready to become a little more independent with their sleep. It will happen gradually. Even the baby with the tightest grip on their mama right now can blossom to a beautifully independent sleeper in time. No fear, no tears, no training required.

So rock, cuddle, sing, hum, carry and nurse on gentle mamas. You ARE doing it right. You are doing what works for you and your baby. Your time and effort is not in vain. Your work right now is the most important investment to our world. You are resting a tired, rapidly wiring, growing brain. Allowing it to flourish feeling secure, comforted and loved. You will never regret this time with your babe. Take a deep breath, relax and know just how valuable you are.
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