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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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Looking at the ‘choices’ in the decision to sleep train- Part one: why I felt I had no choice

I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but there is always a choice not to sleep train. 

As an extremely sleep deprived, vulnerable, desperate first time mother with an extraordinarily wakeful baby, I sleep trained and I can say, hand on heart, I did not feel like I had any other choice.

I did not feel like there was any other choice.
I wasn’t told there was any other choice.
I wasn’t supported to consider any other choice.
I had no idea, there was any other choice.




For those who have never contemplated sleep training and never felt so backed into this corner, it can sound like a cop out and surrendering of responsibility to say, ‘I had no choice to sleep train.’ In a way it is. BUT, I wasn’t in the headspace then to realise this and I went into sleep training at my lowest ebb. I was in deep mental, emotional turmoil and I did not trust myself on any level anymore. I was convinced I was doing this mothering thing wrong and that the way I had been doing it was damaging my baby’s growth, development and wellbeing.

My world was a fog of confusion, anxiety, bad information, worry, stress and strain.

Today, I decided to write out just some of the strain I felt that lead into my decision to sleep train.

It’s fascinating for me now to see how if I just unpacked each one of these stressors and strains one at a time, there WERE indeed choices I could make that did not involve sleep training. But while they were all piled on top of me, while I was so very unwell and while ALL of the advice I was receiving from those around me was that I NEEDED to sleep train for both of our sakes, I could see only one path. One way to go. One solution.

My stressors fell into four categories-

1. My baby– oh my goodness! That baby! Oh how I adored him. The love of my life and an incredible piece of perfection. But holy wow, was he intense. I had never encountered a baby like him before. He seemed petrified by life outside the womb and allergic to the feeling of falling asleep. He was wide awake, his lungs were loud and strong and he demanded more care, nurturing, comfort and assistance to feel secure than any baby I had known. Being his mum was SO hard. Being his dad was SO hard. Nothing we did ever seemed to be enough. No amount of anything seemed to help him find calm for any length of time and all the things we had thought we had up our sleeve often yielded little in the way of ‘success’ and any success was often short lived and quite often that would be the one and only time it worked. We tried SO hard. We started off pretty relaxed thinking he just needed to settle into life outside the womb but when he grew more and more unsettled and we grew more and more tired and frustrated, we let the doubts any new parent would naturally feel, creep in.

  • What were we doing wrong?
  • Was there something we were missing?
  • We had quite a few people with babies of the same age and none of them seemed to be facing the problems we were, what did they have going on that we’d missed?

Once the questioning started, we commenced a slide. The slide away from trusting ourselves and trusting our baby. We began to look outside of our little family unit for ‘answers’.

We desperately wanted to get this right.

Right for us, as his mum and dad but more so, right for him. We didn’t want him unduly suffering at the hands of his ‘amateur’ parents. Nope, we wanted him to be a happy baby, who loved sleep so that he could grow and develop and love life.

The other thing that commenced was the advice and the explanations for what we should do to correct where we had gone wrong.

The information we received was damning.

We WERE doing it all wrong.

  • We didn’t follow a Feed-Play-Sleep routine and so we had allowed nursing to sleep to become a negative sleep association.
  • We didn’t place him down drowsy but awake, so naturally he was confused when he woke up somewhere else.
  • He couldn’t self- settle, no wonder he couldn’t link sleep cycles.
  • He often catnapped which of course meant he was perpetually overtired and didn’t we know that sleep promoted sleep.
  • It was official- our baby was a crap sleeper because we set him up to fail and let him ‘rule the roost’.

On top of this, we faced criticism that we were also making our baby anxious as he fed off our anxieties. Apparently, he would have been a calm, relaxed baby if only we were calmer and more relaxed. Can I just point out how much easier it is to be a relaxed, non anxious parent when you are parenting a baby who is not anxious?!? Also, how much easier it is to be less anxious when you don’t live with the anxiety that your anxiety is causing your baby’s anxiety? (Feeling confused or anxious just reading that sentence? Welcome to my head back in the day).

Then the appointment that sealed our fate … at my baby’s four month appointment at Child Health, we were told that he was chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development.

Do you know how much hearing this broke me? There was nothing left in me to question this analysis / diagnosis.

This was my reality and I believed it as gospel truth. I had no reason to think this was a falsehood and so, as any caring mother would do, I laid all my feelings aside and agreed with the only ‘answer’ I had been offered: sleep training at Mother/ Baby unit as a matter of importance and urgency.

We received both a Medicare rebate and private health pay out… this was serious and legitimate. It was my baby’s health and wellbeing at stake.

I did not see it as a choice to consider, it was THE choice we HAD to make.

And so we did it.

I can easily tease each part of this tale apart and call BULLSHIT to each thing that lead up to it all now, but back then… well, I made the best decision I could with the knowledge and resources available to me at that time. I knew what I knew which is not what I know now. AND THAT IS OKAY! As the beautiful Emalitza from Raising Ziggy pointed out in her most recent blog piece, none of us come to this parenting gig knowing all there is to know and there is nothing wrong with that. It is for this exact reason we should approach all things parenting with an open heart and mind but also stay well aware that NOBODY has THE answer and that anyone selling a ‘fix’ may as well sell you snake oil.

2. The second part of the pressure and stress in my brain came from me and the new uncharted territory that is mothering and honour, privilege and humbling experience of being someone’s mum.

HOLY SHIT! It was a baptism of fire. I actually thought I’d be quite a natural at mothering. I’d always loved and wanted babies and children. I worked with primary aged children and loved nurturing the little people who entered my world. I loved pregnancy and was ever so excited to have my little person but then, I am also a perfectionist and a people pleaser. I have always strived to do things not only ‘right’ but also better than just good or okay. At university, a pass would not suffice, anything less than a distinction would see me angry with myself for not doing this, that or the other. In my personal relationships, I strive so hard to keep everyone happy and onside. I love being loved and can’t stand conflict or feeling that I have disappointed or let someone down.

I am hard work on myself.

My expectations for myself as a mother were ridiculously high. To this day, I swear that is why I was blessed with the little firecracker I received. He needed to come into my world to break this cycle. I needed to find new and better ways to feel good about myself and discover what is truly important in life and the endless push for perfection was never going to get me there.

But, the point all of this is I had an enormous weight of stress within me leading into the decision to sleep train. I was not in anyway comfortable in my new identity as mother and the lack of self belief and confidence was crushing. This doesn’t even consider how much worse all of this was when I was chronically sleep deprived myself.

I was a shell.

I was not capable of making well thought out decisions and I most certainly was not in the head space to consider that professionals who spend their whole working lives advising mothers and their babies, may be giving outdated or inappropriate advice and that if there were other options out there, why they wouldn’t also mention them.

I needed help and support.

I trusted their judgement ahead of my own.

As a new mum, I wholeheartedly believed I HAD to sleep train. I did not think I had a choice.

So the perfect storm was brewing- my baby’s wellbeing was at stake and I was failing at being the mother he needed.

3. The next piece of the puzzle was my relationship. My husband and I are a fabulous match and to this day, I would not want to do this life with another human but NOTHING tests your relationship as much as an unsettled baby, chronic sleep deprivation, feeling like you f#%^ing suck at parenting your kid and brewing mental health issues. Add in the fact that the baby in question won’t settle AT ALL for his dad, won’t take a bottle and screamed nonstop when daddy took him to give the Boob Lady a break. Just for fun, throw in hours of one of us being stuck in a darkened room trying different settling techniques to try and eek out the elusive sleep you’ve been told your kid needs. Oh and then when you get them down for the night after yet another marathon shitfight, clean the kitchen and plonk on the couch for 2 minutes only to hear said child wake with a howl and GROUNDHOG DAY/NIGHT, let’s jump on that merry-go-round again.

So much of the time my husband could not do a damn thing to relieve me of this relentless pressure and need. He felt like a useless, stressed out, third wheel as he watched me struggle with my feelings of resentment and jealousy of his freedom while we also mourned the relationship we had before THIS baby and the relationship we’d imagined he’d have with our baby, too.

He tried so damn hard.

He’d have given his bloody kidney to me if he’d thought it would have helped relieve the strain and so, upon hearing we were in fact screwing up our child, he also heartily supported the decision to sleep train. He was with me every step of the way.

He, too, felt we had no other choice. We could not keep living the hell we were in.

4. The final piece of the pie, comes from our lifestyle and the lifestyle expectations we had for ourselves and our family. We had no clue what was or wasn’t normal for a human baby when it came to sleep and all mainstream advice seemed to indicate we were perfectly reasonable to expect our baby would fall asleep on his own, in his own sleep space and that night feeds (the only ‘real’ reason your baby wakes at night) would decrease in a straight line over time to a point where we could categorically rule out his ‘need’ to wake and nurse.

We believed this was reasonable and so it became our expectation.

  • We expected to be sleep deprived and that we might struggle with other things in the immediate newborn period but we expected that it would end relatively soon after that.
  • We expected to be able to settle our baby to sleep if he was tired without too much fuss.
  • We expected we should be able to put him down for sleep.
  • We expected he’d sleep long enough for us to get other things done.
  • We expected that after some time in a basket by our bed that he’d transition to sleeping in a cot in his own room.
  • We expected to still find time in the evening for ‘us’ and that after a while, we’d be fine to arrange a sitter so we could go out in the evening as a couple once again.

We did not consider any of this to be unreasonable. We truly thought this was fair. And it was, for MOST of our friends and acquaintances, so why not for us?

Our child health Nurses, our GP, mainstream infant sleep books and sites all confirmed these expectations.

And under this net of expectations, we filtered OUR reality.

Our baby, his sleep, well they just didn’t measure up. There must have been something wrong. A problem to be fixed. A solution to be found.

The way he behaved was just so far removed from the ‘normal’ we’d been lead to expect, it was logical to us that this ‘Sleep Problem’ our child had would be impacting on him. How could he possibly be okay if he slept so much less and ‘worse’ than his peers who seemed to get a solid 12 hours each night and consolidated that with long, hearty naps each day?

We had no idea there were any other ways of managing this wakeful baby of ours but in light of these expectations we held, it is unsurprising that we could not for the life of us see WHY we should even consider accepting and adapting our life to match his ‘unhealthy’ and ‘problematic’ sleep patterns.

We didn’t give it more thought because we honestly didn’t think we should have to.

And so, the chronically sleep deprived baby who was suffering as a result of his inability to sleep alone, joined by the chronically sleep deprived, vulnerable first time, perfectionist mum, with the desperate to help, out of his depth dad, all wrapped up in mainstream society’s unrealistic view of infant sleep and the ways in which it is viewed and managed … we HAD to sleep train.


The weight, the pressure, the stress, the strain, the knowledge, the beliefs, the trust, the intentions all lead us there.

We own our experience.

We can see at every single turn how we came to our decision and as much as we can see now how utterly wrong we were, we made the best decision we could at that time.

My goal and possibly my life work will be to see a very real shift away from this feeling that mothers so often get, that they have no choice but to sleep train.

There is always a choice not to sleep train but how that choice looks, will be unique to each family.

Babies do not need sleep training. They know how to sleep. Society just does not like how it looks. It’s not tidy, it’s not straightforward, it’s cyclical and at times elusive. It’s not predictable and it doesn’t always allow the freedom and ease society likes it to have to allow the parents to get on with ‘more important’ work that isn’t the time spent helping their baby get the sleep they need in a manner that is normal for that baby.

We can and should do better. Our very tired mothers and their babies deserve to know their true choices.

Part two of this series will see me go into greater detail illustrating where my choices lay in my particular situation. Coming soon …

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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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My thoughts on the ‘well it worked for me’ statements around Sleep Training


Sleep training and all of the miracles it works for tired families everywhere are heralded throughout our western society and culture. You’ll hear incredible success stories of how it saved someone’s sanity, or marriage or relationship with their baby and other children. It is the ‘go to’ for many a family who know that the mother will need to return to paid employment in the short, medium or even longer term after her baby is born. You’ll hear about it from friends, family, strangers on the street, Child Health Nurses, General Practitioners, Paediatricians and other trusted care providers. You’ll read about it in parenting books and on forums, websites and social media.  
Why on earth would anyone choose to stay sleep deprived and put their child’s development and future sleep patterns at risk when there is an answer to be found, a cure all that brings back heavenly sleep, a sanity saving treatment that has ‘worked’ for so many others?

You’d have to be a glutton for punishment, careless or even downright lazy not to find the strength to sort this out.

Babies need a lot of sleep, don’t you know? 
They are safest sleeping on their backs in their own cots, don’t you know?  
Babies shouldn’t be nursed to sleep, it’s a bad habit that is hard to break, don’t you know?  
A baby needs to learn to self settle and they need you to teach them this so they can get the sleep they need, don’t you know?  
Babies shouldn’t be nursing whenever they want as it’s not nutritive and they are just using you as a pacifier, don’t you know? 
A catnapping baby is chronically sleep deprived, don’t you know?  
Aah, the sleepy ideal of the self settling, long napping, all night sleeping baby: the holy grail of parenting and beacon of successful coping of life after baby- the ‘good baby’ can match this and the ‘good’ mother can make it so.
This is how most people see and base their beliefs around infant sleep and it is completely and utterly at odds with the way normal human infants behave when it comes to nursing and sleeping.

The sleep training industry is going gangbusters. The rise and rise of the baby sleep whisperers seems to know no end.

And it’s got nothing to do with any rise in infant sleep problems (which are in fact extremely rare and are far more likely the result of an underlying health issue that is exacerbating the normal wakeful behaviour of the baby … that’s right, it’s normal for a baby to be wakeful). Our society has come so far from the knowledge of what truly normal infant sleep looks like and how it plays out over the first few years of life that close to half of parents (36-45%) claim that their baby at 6 months has a sleep problem.

I’ll say that again, close to HALF of parents think their 6 month old baby has a sleep problem.

Hmmmmm, I smell a rat. If close to half of babies are behaving this way, then perhaps that’s because that’s how babies are meant to behave … I know, a revolutionary thought right there.

This is especially important to be considered alongside the fact that MANY people choose to sleep train their baby from before 6 months and even from the day they are born and therefore they would never see the normal development or pattern of signalling a baby would follow as they’ve been trained to not call out for help from the very early days of life. They also wouldn’t be factored in to the 36-45% of reported as having sleep problems. If they hadn’t already been ‘intervened on’, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that easily more than half and therefore the majority of babies would have been identified as having sleep problems as defined by our western societal norms.

It begs the question, is it the babies with the problem or society’s misguided, disjointed and unrealistic expectations that are the true problem?

So while this massive industry is thriving and word of mouth and real life examples of the miracles that occur when ‘my baby was waking at least 3-4 times a night but is now sleeping 12 hours straight in their own cot and I’m like a new woman, I can’t recommend it highly enough!’ the thinking continues that THIS is the way to go.

This is what we do now and you can jump on this bandwagon and live happily sleepy ever after or you can stay over there in your sleep deprived haze with your child who will never EVER sleep on their own, without your boob in their mouth and they’ll be forever damaged because you didn’t get them the nicely consolidated chunks of sleep you would get if you just did your job and taught them to self settle … so don’t come to me whingeing about how exhausted you are, you’ve made your bed, so now lay in it. How’s that rod treating you? I’m feeling refreshed and energised, but those bags under your eyes really do become you.

You get my drift.

It’s just the usual shit you hear on a regular if not daily basis as you mother your very young, wakeful child.

But then there’s folks like me, the riff raff if you like, who spend much of our time poking holes and asking questions about the wonder that is Sleep Training.

We, the sleep training failures of the world … well, we don’t really fit so well in society.

You see, we didn’t come from the beginning of our journey as flat out refusers. Nope, sadly for us and our children, we bought in to this world and the magic of ‘it worked for me’ sucked us in, turned us around, slapped us on the arse, dropped us on our heads and the vomited us back out the other side in disgust as we ‘failed’. Our babies didn’t comply. They couldn’t or wouldn’t conform.

We were forced to pull ourselves back from all that we had known, all that we’d been told and all that we were taught and reassess and find a new way to move forward and carry on mothering without ever finding the end to our sleep deprivation in the form of a ‘fix’.

We also had the chance to reflect on what was really at play in the sleep training relationship.

‘Well it worked for me.’ is a standard line I hear. I get it all the time. And I’m going to pick it a part a little right now.

‘It’ being sleep training

‘Worked’ achieved what you set out to achieve- more and better sleep for you and a baby who ‘sleeps’ in long chunks without signalling for help to fall asleep or to resettle.

‘For’- for the benefit of

‘Me’ key word- mother

I agree it may well have ‘worked’ in achieving the benefit ‘for’ the mother but I wholeheartedly disagree that it ‘worked’ ‘for’ the baby.

The baby didn’t need to be ‘worked on’ and therefore they didn’t benefit from the training other than having a mother who was better rested and believed her child was also better rested (even if they aren’t).

A more accurate way to describe it would be, ‘well it worked for me and it worked on my baby.’

At least then, there’d be an acknowledgment of who benefited and who lost out in the process.

The baby has sleep training done to them, not for them.

Even if the sleep trainers and baby whisperers all cry out, ‘Never! This is just as important for the baby’s wellbeing as it is for the mother!’

I’ll call bullshit.

It’s not.

A baby does not need to be trained.

It is normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently during the day and night for the first year of life and beyond. It is not a sleep problem. It is normal for them to need help and support to find and maintain sleep.

I have gone into detail in posts before about my thoughts on sleep training babies on the extreme end of the waking spectrum and also when a mother is being treated for PND or PNA. It is not an appropriate way to manage infant sleep behaviour nor their desperately tired mothers.

We can and should do better and as long as we accept that sleep training ‘works’ for anyone other than the adults or anyone other than the baby we will continue on this warped path. I know this doesn’t sit well for many. I know most disagree but I hope to at least give some people pause to reflect on their experience and question and consider rather than simply accepting what is popularly accepted.

As always, this conversation deserves a far more critical eye cast on it and the only way that will happen is to keep the discussion happening.

Our babies deserve to be heard in this.

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The true bad habits around baby sleep

The true bad habits around baby sleep

As a new mother, particularly if you are blessed with a wakeful little firecracker who is the anti sleepy ideal of a ‘good’ baby, you very quickly start hearing all about ‘bad habits’, ‘sleep crutches’ and ‘negative sleep associations’. The general gist of all of these ‘bad habits’ is that your baby is using you, you are spoiling them, you aren’t teaching them to sleep, you aren’t encouraging independence, you are creating a rod for your own back.  

As a new mum, this has an extremely damaging effect on your confidence and belief that you can trust your instincts and your baby to tell you what you should and should not be doing to assist your baby to get the sleep they need. I know. I heard it all and more with my first and it took me down an extremely ugly path of sleep training, sleep school, sleep training ‘failure’ and PND.

But it’s not always as hideous as it was for me, and unfortunately this is why this notion of ‘bad habits’ continues. Because sleep training ‘works’ and ‘saves’ so many, it has become the go to technique and method for our society. If you aren’t willing to sleep train, you are on the outer. If you aren’t willing to sleep train, then you better just suck it up because that wakeful child of yours is only that wakeful because you refuse to break their ‘bad habits’.

Well I’d like to take the time today to call bullshit to this and highlight the TRUE bad habits we’ve gotten into when it comes to managing this very weary season in a mother’s life and the handling of our babies sleep.

BAD HABIT #1 Assuming our baby should sleep in a manner that resembles our preferred way of sleeping as adults by night and in a way that allows us to be ‘productive’ by day as quickly as possible and certainly by 6 months of age. Babies are meant to sleep for short stints before rousing and nursing back to sleep by night. Sometimes, they will go through patches where they do sleep for longer stints before going through other patches of waking up even more frequently than they had previously. This cycle is normal for a normally developing human infant. Their sleep looks nothing like an adult’s sleep because an adult brain and body is not undergoing the incredibly rapid growth and change our babies experience in their first couple of years of life.

Catnapping by day is normal even though it can seriously give you the shits. Wanting to be held or hang out on the boob for naps is also normal and is why babywearing has saved many a mother’s sanity. Short naps may impede a caregiver’s ability to get around to many of the things they need to do but they are not a sleep problem. Being inconvenient is different to being a problem. Catnapping babies may require an extra kip or two compared to a baby who enjoys long, luxurious naps of their own accord but this again, is inconvenient, not a sleep problem. I’ve now survived two babies who relished a good stint of catnapping at many points during their first year and it really helped me to recognise the important work I WAS getting done by spending so much time getting my baby’s the sleep they needed in the way that worked best for them. Integrity Calling has also written a fabulous article on all the very productive things you can do while CoNapping which may help you if you are in the thick of this right now.

BAD HABIT #2 Failing to recognise and respect a baby’s biological need for comfort, closeness and frequent nursing throughout their first year and beyond. By insisting on a baby needing to learn to sleep away from their mother, out of her arms and most certainly not at her breast, we are effectively ripping our babies off on a huge amount of skin to skin contact and sensory stimulation. Our babies thrive both physically and emotionally through loving touch and closeness. You can literally never cuddle your baby too much or offer them too much comfort but you can absolutely offer them to little.

BAD HABIT #3 Diagnosing and pathologising a baby’s normal sleep behaviour as a sleep problem due to lack of understanding for normal infant sleep behaviour. A baby waking and nursing frequently at night throughout the first year and beyond is normal. The actual frequency varies a huge amount as it does with all unique adult humans. What one baby needs and how they behaves has exactly bupkis to do with what their peers are doing. IF a baby is waking in an extreme fashion, then it is of high importance that any potential underlying issues that may be exacerbating their normal waking behaviour needs to be investigated. If after investigation, there is nothing at play, it perfectly acceptable to accept that this very wakeful baby has a more intense need for nighttime parenting than the majority of their peers and accept that they will become more relaxed and independent with sleep in time (as all babies and toddlers do if they are allowed to develop at their own pace).
Upon finding acceptance, the family’s energy can then be focused on navigating their sleep needs outside of sleep training. Here’s an article to float some ideas. 

BAD HABIT #4 Trying to force independence upon a baby with regards to sleep when they are developmentally incapable of such independence. Babies are physiologically unable to self settle from a place of distress. Sarah Ockwell Smith does as great job explaining this in her article here. Independence with sleep like independence in all other areas of life, blossoms from dependence without any force from a parent. By supporting and honouring a baby who is dependent on their caregiver for every single one of their needs, a baby is growing deep, trusting emotional roots on which they can grow and branch from as they become more capable. Babyhood and childhood are not a race and just as we cannot rush or force a baby to roll, crawl or walk, we should not rush or force them to find sleep more independently until they are actually capable of such a feat.

BAD HABIT #5 Accepting that crying is good or necessary for our babies to learn to ‘self settle’. See article above about the myth of self soothing and also some information from Tracy Cassells PHD of Evolutionary Parenting who explains what is actually happening while a baby cries and what is also happening when the crying is extinguished. A crying baby needs comfort- EVERY SINGLE TIME. Not sometimes, not when a timer or some baby whisperer or sleep expert says. When they cry, they are using their voice. They deserve to be heard. Not just once they’ve reached emotional hysteria but while they calmly and trustingly request your presence.

BAD HABIT #6 Through sheer ignorance and sensationalist reporting and scaremongering, our society ignores that cosleeping and bedsharing can be done safely by MOST (not all) families and are the preferred manner in which normal night waking of a breastfed baby is managed in the majority of cultures around the world. Read more on the amazing research of Prof James McKenna and the concept of Breastsleeping and check out the safe bedsharing information provided by La Leche League’s Safe Sleep 7 and the Infant Sleep Information Source. The physical getting up and going to another room, the forcing yourself to stay awake to nurse, the ridiculous, arbitrary feeding schedules and resettling … all are bad habits western society has added to this warped view of what is ‘normal’ and it is exhausting mothers more than they ever needed to be exhausted. It’s physically torture and largely where the notion of ‘sleep problem’ stems. Once a mother has hit full blown sleep deprivation delirium… of course she thinks everything is wrong and of course she thinks her baby wakes too much, of course she can’t keep it up.

BAD HABIT #7 Placing heavy importance on a mother’s need for uninterrupted sleep and advocating for methods that will help her achieve this even if they do not respect her baby’s night time need for parenting. I’m seeing this all the time. Mothers themselves, family members, professionals treating a mother’s mental health issues … so many times sleep training is seen as 100% necessary as this mother will only be okay, only make a recovery, only be able to function if she can get her sleep back to normal. Thing is, ‘normal’ with a baby or toddler in the house is meant to look very different to the normal of prechild. A solution that only works to solve the problem of a mother’s acute sleep deprivation but does not respect her baby’s biological sleep needs, is frankly not a solution at all. We should not be asking these mothers to make a decision such as this. SHE matters but so does her baby. She needs assistance to work out what needs to happen in her world to ensure she can get the quality (not quantity) of sleep she needs in a way that still allows her to mother her baby the way they need to be mothered.

BAD HABIT #8 Placing the weight of responsibility heavily on the mother to bear the burden of sleep deprivation particularly if she is trying to navigate paid employment while managing this season in her life. Too often, mothers sleep train as they are back at work and simply cannot function on the broken sleep they managed while on maternity leave. This one has a few branches to look at- first- are we providing adequate maternity leave and flexible work arrangements for women who are living this weary season their lives? In most cases, no. What about arrangements for the father of the child? What is his role in parenting by night and day during this season? I have far more questions than answers here but as a society I fear we have long since stopped thinking on this accepted imbalance as the majority of weight when it comes to child care is borne by the mother.

BAD HABIT #9 Lacking empathy and advocacy for our babies. As the voiceless, helpless, dependent, trusting souls in this story, they bear the brunt of the decisions and this skewed view of what their family should expect of them. Babies are often accused of being ‘manipulative’, ‘sooky’, ‘too demanding’, ‘whiny’, ‘needy’ and worse. Their very babyish nature seems to be misconstrued as having some kind of malice or ill intention built in which is such a heartbreaking reality in today’s world. At the ripe old age of 6 months, how dare a baby cry out for comfort, how dare they protest when placed in their cot, how dare they cling to your neck when you try to put them on the ground or hand them to another person, how dare they cry until they see you’ve come back and then immediately switch to a big warm smile to show you how relieved they are that you came back … how very manipulative and needy. It breaks my heart even trying to wrap my head around why this is so accepted. 

BAD HABIT #10 Frowning on those who choose to parent in a way that society doesn’t recognise as ‘normal’. As a breastfeeding, bedsharing, babywearing family, we have been ridiculed and frowned upon many times. It is assumed that because I mother this way, I must be some ‘stinking hippy’ or ‘backwards’. I have been called a lactivist bitch, dangerous, a judgemental cow with a superiority complex and a sanctimummy. All for expressing my differing and somewhat scathing view on the entrenched parenting practices of our modern society. 

Closed minds and closed hearts- now that will always be a bad habit worth speaking up on.

And so, to close this somewhat depressing summary of the true BAD habits that deserve to be beaten when it comes to our treatment of our babies and their sleep, I urge anyone in the thick of it who is hearing all these voices telling them they are creating ‘bad habits’ with their precious baby, to stop for a moment and reflect on the place that these well meaning people have forged their view- a society and culture who would rather a baby cry than have a cuddle is so seriously warped, I’d go with your instinct on this one mama.

Cuddle all the babies.

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Sleep needs versus sleep wants

Our society and our infants are at odds with each other when it comes to sleep.  Society has a very fixed and adult centred view on sleep ‘needs’ and this is commonly projected onto our infants and has created a mismatch between what we as parents view as sleep ‘needs’ versus sleep ‘wants’.

We as adults are very quick to defend our sleep ‘needs’ and often put up an almighty battle to regain a sleep pattern that we would say we ‘need’ to be normal – long, uninterrupted sleep in a bed away from our baby.

We ‘need’ this in order to function, to avoid or overcome PPD or PPA, to be able to be a good mother, to be able to return to our paid work, to have energy for our toddlers and other children, to be able to enjoy life.

Not coincidentally, society has become all accepting of the belief and understanding that our preferred way of sleeping at night and our preferred way to be productive during the day are what is not only best for our infants and toddlers but also what we should expect.


The rise of extinction methods such as Cry It Out and modified techniques that fit under the Controlled Crying banner was rampant during the era most mothers today were being mothered. Since then, there has been a push to achieve the same results but by being ‘more present’ and ‘softened’ approaches have grown more popular, even if in actual reality they are only softer by name or seem softer for the adults but are still arduous and traumatic for the child. Responsive settling or comfort settling are two such examples. Sleep training can and does vary greatly and the impact it has both in the immediate, short and long term on the child is heavily dependent on that individual child but the risks, well they are becoming more and more documented.

Despite this, many mothers feel that sleep training is something she MUST do. This is even more true if she has a baby who is far from the sleepy ideal of a ‘good’ baby. She believes her baby needs to learn to sleep and in order to do that, they need to self settle and learn to sleep away from her in chunks that will see them develop and grow the way they should.

 

It is a common misconception that a child needs a certain quota of sleep and in big, long chunks to grow and develop. Babies and toddlers DO need sleep and overall, they need quite a lot, BUT it has been shown many times over that there is no golden rule for how much sleep any one baby needs at any one time in their life. It is also normal for a human infant to sleep in short chunks, rouse and nurse before drifting back to sleep many times at night. During the day, a baby may sometimes have short naps versus sleeps and other times a nap may be extended with help through the cycle. This is NORMAL.

As for self settling, this is perhaps the saddest misconception of all. It is physiological fact that babies and young toddlers are incapable of being taught to self soothe. If you’d like to read more on this, I highly recommend this article and if you are shouting, ‘but my baby CAN self soothe!’ then check this one out.

It is also untrue that a baby needs to cry and that allowing them to cry is in any way ‘good’ for a baby either physically or mentally.

A baby or toddler NEEDS a caregiver to help them to sleep through contact, nursing and soothing when they are tired (not when some random book dictates). Some babies take a hell of a lot of energy to soothe off to sleep and may fight and struggle, but they are not alone in this if you are fully supporting them in your arms. You should never be made to feel your baby would be better off crying out of your loving arms. Pick up your baby every time. They don’t just want you, they need you and your calm.

A baby or toddler also NEEDS you within close proximity to sleep calmly and soundly. To begin with, only your chest may do (a carrier can help with this), then it may be right next to you in bed or in their side carred cot, or little mattress next to yours.

Your baby and toddler NEEDS your help when they wake at night. It is normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently at night for the first 12 months AND BEYOND.


Their body NEEDS to wake, refuel, feel comfort and connection, make sense of new learnings and feel any discomfort or worry is soothed.

Some baby’s NEED for night time comfort is far more intense than others just as some baby’s are more intense by day. Their needs are just as legitimate as their less intense peers.

There will be times where you will wonder what the hell has gone wrong, as a baby who had been sleeping relatively well will begin waking more and NEEDING more help at night.

All of this is normal infant sleep behaviour.

No, it looks nothing like the adult sleep we prefer.

No, it’s not how most people describe infant sleep but in a society who sleep train most babies, there is little hope that mothers will be able to garner a genuine picture of what is normal and what to expect when most babies in her world have been trained to override their biological sleep pattern.

Sadly, a baby seeking comfort to sleep is interpreted as something they want not a need.

A baby past a certain age who is seeking to nurse, is said to want to nurse when really they need to nurse.

A baby who sleeps best on or very near their caregiver is interpreted as wanting this contact but they truly need it.

A baby asking for help in the night only wants assistance because they are accustomed to it, but nope, they legitimately need it.

While these biologically normal behaviours are so quickly dismissed as wants, it is easy to see why sleep training seems like such a viable and necessary option to families.

Loving mothers everywhere want to meet their baby’s needs but while society believes that what a baby needs is – solitary sleep, to learn to self settle, to stop nursing at night as quickly as possible and to become as independent at night as possible then we’ll continue on this skewed path.

These beliefs go hand in hand with the belief that adults are only well rested if their sleep is long and uninterrupted.

This is not true.

This is a WANT not a need.

Yes, we need sleep.

No, we don’t need perfect, uninterrupted sleep to be okay.

We can and should adjust our lives and habits to be able to meet the night time parenting needs of our babies and toddlers.

Quality sleep is what parents should strive for. Forget the quantity.

Instead of all the energy we pour into ‘fixing’ and overanalysing the sleep behaviour of our babies, let’s pour our effort in to working out what we can do maximise the quality of our broken sleep.

What are we doing that could be exacerbating our weariness?

What choices are we making that fight against this time in our lives?

Maybe it’s staying up long after babies are in bed and losing sleep. Maybe it’s forcing yourself to keep getting up and staying awake to tend to your baby. Maybe it’s looking at screens in the night and waking right up. Maybe you have trouble winding back down. Maybe you are awake longer because you are trying hard to resettle when you could all be back to sleep if you simply nursed or cuddled. Maybe you are laying awake predicting the next wake up.

There is so much to consider and no one answer.

What is key here is recognising the true needs versus the wants in your unique situation.

Babies are exhausting. Being sleep deprived is no joke but as a society we have it so skewed that we have this big wall up that serves to protect the societal view of what sleep should look like and overemphasises how important it is to attain this even while we are raising our very dependent, very trusting little humans who need us intensely both day and night.

If you sit back and think, I sincerely hope we can shift this conversation and belief a little.

How much sleep you want is vastly different to what you need to be okay.

How you want to get that sleep will also be different to how you need to get it with a baby or toddler in the house.

It’s of mutual benefit to the mother and child to think on this a little.

The only way to change an entrenched view is to keep offering up the alternative.

Please, take some time to review your own beliefs about your own sleep needs and that of your baby or toddlers.




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The power of reaching out to stem the tide of sleep training

You don’t have to do this.  
You can stop anytime.
Your baby will be okay.
You will be okay.
I know how tired you are, I’ve been that tired, too.
I know how desperate you are, I’ve been that desperate, too.
I know you adore your baby and only want the very best for them.
You have to do what feels right for you and your family but I’m here if you want out.
I’m here if you need an out.
You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to or if it hurts your heart.
I’m here. You aren’t in this alone.
Again, this morning, I read a thread on a fabulous group I’m in, where a mother was in deep distress after reading a relay of posts and comments on a dear friend’s page as she sleep trained her baby. The baby had cried so hard he’d lost his voice. The mother was struggling but she had many rallying voices telling her to ‘stay strong’ and indicating her baby was manipulating her.

The mother in my group was heartbroken but didn’t know what to say.

She didn’t want to interfere. Didn’t want to seem like she was judging. She ended up hiding the post. She could bare no more.

Many people on the page supported her on this.

Best to leave it.

Then there was the usual comments of ‘I don’t know how you could ever … I could never.’

And then … some comments appeared about perhaps reaching out to this mama. Perhaps sending a PM or if she was nearby, catching up for a cuppa.

Suggestions that maybe she was only doing it because she thought she had to, because the only voices she could hear supported sleep training.

Perhaps she had never been told she didn’t have to do it.

THIS is key.

Sure, we all make our own choices based on what we feel is right for our family but we also make our mind up about what choices we have from the models of parenting around us.

In a world so supportive of all things baby training, of course sleep training is normal.

In a world that has so little knowledge of normal infant sleep patterns, a world with so little understanding of how to promote and support mothers to continue breastfeeding, in a world hell bent on getting mothers to ‘bounce back’ and resume work as soon as possible and make her baby as independent as she possibly can, it is little wonder that many families see sleep training as something you just end up doing. Something everyone has to do. Something their baby needs.

But it’s not.

Yes, it does ‘work’ for many but at what cost?

For those, like me, who it didn’t work for, it can be an incredibly traumatic experience and in the end, my midwife was the one who gave me the ‘out’ I desperately needed.

She was the one who said, ‘you know, you don’t actually have to do this, don’t you?’

In all honesty, no, I didn’t know I didn’t have to.

I needed her clear head. Her understanding. Her bravery to speak up for me.

She called me back.

She helped me see an option where I felt there was no option before.

I didn’t need more rallying cries.

I needed someone to reach out to me and tell me we would be okay without sleep training.

So please, if you truly wish to see change in the way we manage this weary season in mother’s lives, don’t turn inward. You don’t necessarily need to engage publicly. You may not be well received every time.

But, my goodness, if you can reach but one mother, and help her see her true choices … you’ve done more good then you ever would from staying silent.

Reach out.

Reach out with empathy, love and compassion.

Reach out with an alternative.

Simply knowing she’s not alone in this may be all that is needed.

Empathy, love, compassion.

Mothers and mothering matters.

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