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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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The question all mothers should not be afraid to ask- Can you provide the evidence to back your advice?

As a new mother, you will be faced with a great many challenges as you find your feet and one of the biggest hurdles is working out who you can trust to give you advice.  
Not just small scale advice, like knowing if your baby needs socks on or how often to trim their fingernails, but large scale advice that can impact not only on your mothering experience but also on the way you and your baby experience each other.

Advice on breastfeeding, sleep and settling, weight gain, health and development – the big ticket items, who can you trust to offer their advice? Who actually has the evidence to back what they are saying? Who is up to date and who is just feeding the same tired advice of years before? Has this person ever actually trained in this specific area they are advising on?

I know who I trusted- my Midwives, my GP and my Child Health Nurses.

If I knew back at the beginning what I know now, I wouldn’t have so wholeheartedly accepted the wisdom of these trusted advisors… no, I would have questioned them far more heavily and discovered that more often than I wish I had to admit, they were giving me incorrect, inaccurate, incomplete or simply out of date advice. They gave it sincerely, with, I have no doubt, the very best of intentions but, the ramifications for my baby and I were significant.

This isn’t me, discrediting these wonderful folk who have dedicated their working lives to mothers as they establish their young families, absolutely not!

I have also received some of the most life enhancing, life changing and valuable advice from these very same people. Their value is not diminished BUT this does not mean their advice should not be held to account or that it is above scrutiny and questioning.

New mothers need to know that it is okay to question any advice they are given and should be able to expect that the person giving it, has the evidence to back them. IF the person is unable to provide the evidence and sufficient explanation for their advice, then it would be most suitable for that mother to ask to be referred to someone who is more specialised in the area in question. For example, breastfeeding advice would always be best coming from a trained International Board Certified Lactation Consultant over the breastfeeding advice of a GP who may have no training in lactation other than a few hours back at University. IF  the person giving the advice, is in fact the ‘specialist’ then, they need examine their practice if they are unable to back what they do with up to date evidence. 

I had one particular piece of advice that was given repeatedly to me as the mother of an extremely wakeful baby that illustrates this issue-

That I needed to adopt a Feed-Play-Sleep routine.

This was given to me in an extremely matter of fact manner on numerous occasions over the course of my baby’s first 12 months.

The first time I heard it, was from the Child Health Nurse who came to do our 4 week health check. We had well and truly established that this baby of ours was intense. We had already established that one of the very few ways to settle him with any success to sleep was through nursing. We’d already established that he hated to be put down and that he struggled to find and maintain sleep. As first time parents, we were still in the shell shocked ‘we had no idea what to expect’ stage and what we really needed was a little reassurance from this visitor who we trusted to have knowledge in the area … instead, what we got was a lecture on why our baby was so unsettled and the crux of it was that because I nursed him to sleep and didn’t ‘allow’ him to settle to sleep without nursing, he was now all out of whack. She told us that a Feed-Play-Sleep routine was what we needed to do. I actually laughed and jokingly said, ‘I’m not sure you know this baby!’ But she shook her head and said, ‘I’m telling you now, Feed-Play-Sleep is what your baby needs. Do him a favour and sort this out now.’

I felt as though the air was knocked out of me. When she left, I said to my husband, ‘but he’ll just cry and cry! There’s no way he’ll fall asleep! He gets so distressed when we put him down any time, let alone when he was tired!’ My husband agreed. We kept up soothing and I kept nursing my baby to sleep.

But then his 6 week check came around … a different Child Health Nurse saw us. I reported honestly when asked about his sleep and settling and once again, I was told I was creating ‘unhealthy associations’ for sleep and to get a Feed-Play-Sleep routine happening as soon as possible. I told the nurse that while this may seem simple, my baby did not agree and that he was terribly distressed any time we withheld nursing or tried to place him down for sleep. She explained that I had established this routine and that he’d naturally be distressed by the change but change was necessary.

I tried on many more occasions that failed dismally each time.

It was at four months, yet another Child Health Nurse saw me and after I detailed in tears the mess that was our sleep and settling and all the things I had tried and ‘failed’ at, she informed me that my baby was ‘chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development.’ She shared the details of the Public Mother/ Baby unit (sleep school) in our capital city as well as the details of a private facility as she’d heard the wait for the public unit was quite lengthy.

I then had an appointment with my GP to sort out the required referral to sleep school and she also reiterated that our sleep issues came down to me continuing to have to nurse my baby to sleep.

I have detailed the experience and learnings that came of my time at sleep school in articles before so I won’t rehash but I need to add that we were given a slide show of the process we would be following there and low and behold … we needed to put our babies onto a Feed-Play-Sleep routine in order to undo this association of nursing to sleep.

The paediatrician we saw reiterated that nursing to sleep at the grand old age of 4.5 months was ‘unhelpful’ and possibly the cause of his ‘disrupted’ sleep patterns.

Even under the guidance of sleep school, Feed- Play-Sleep was a disaster.

I can honestly say, I used all of my willpower to not punch the nurse who saw us for the 6 month health check. I was at the height of PND and at my lowest ebb when it came to all things sleep and still she had the hide to imply I needed to ‘get that child into routine’.

At my 12 month appointment, I was in a much better place and though my child still woke frequently and needed to be nursed to sleep, I knew enough to know we were okay. I flat out lied to the Nurse when she asked about sleep.

At 18 months, I was feeling much stronger mentally and decided I would speak up. When asked about Sleep, I explained in a brief, but frank manner what we’d been through and just how unhelpful the advice I’d received each and every time I went to them had been. She seemed to listen. She wrote notes.
I was noticeably pregnant which should have nothing to do with this, but as I prepared to leave, she said, ‘well at least you’ll know not to make those same mistakes this time around. Nursing to sleep creates so many problems.’
I flushed red and walked right out.
All the come backs, all the things that needed to be said … they came to me later. In that moment, I had nothing.

So, this approach that is beholden as the ‘go to’ for establishing healthy sleep in your baby, it’s evidence based right?

Wrong.

Highly respected GP and researcher, Dr Pamela Douglas and her colleague Koa Whittingham, conducted a systematic review of literature behavioural infant sleep interventions, sleep regulation and sleep disturbance (2014) and made findings about the Feed-Play-Sleep routine that are actually quite concerning-

‘Feed–play–sleep cycles are thought to bring sleep under the regulation of other learned stimulus cues such as bedtime routines, which are deemed to be more appropriate. However, we argue that post- prandial somnolence, a tendency to fall asleep after feeding, is not learned through operant conditioning. In fact, it is present at birth. Postprandial somnolence is an innate neurobehavior resulting from the effects of parasympathetic nervous system activation, elevated oxytocin, and elevated plasma cholecystokinin. The decoupling of innate neurobehavioral patterns may have unintended outcomes within the complex system for some mother–infant dyads, such as premature cessation of breast-feeding or frequent high levels of arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA system (Douglas & Hill, 2013). In the first weeks and months, this may result in a sensitized stress response. Further, we argue that from a behavioral perspective, the appropriate stimulus control of sleep is not an external stimulus at all. We contend that an appropriate stimulus cue for sleep is the internal state of sleepiness or felt sleep pressure.

Feed–play–sleep cycles not only decouple the innate neurobe- havioral link between feeds, bodily contact, and downregulation but also the appropriate stimulus of felt sleep pressure from sleep. This decoupling has been theorized to play a role in insomnia in adults (Ong et al., 2012) and is likely to place some infants at risk of developing sleep problems. In addition, feed–play–sleep cycles may have consequences for the parents, as the promotion of feed–play–sleep cycles falsely suggests to parents that their baby’s postprandial somnolence was either created by their actions as parents or is not a legitimate cue. This places unnecessary stress on the parent–infant relationship, including on the breast-feeding relationship, at a vulnerable time. (Whittingham, K & Douglas, P. 2014, Optimizing Parent Infant Sleep in the first 6 months: a new paradigm, INFANT MENTAL HEALTH JOURNAL, Vol. 35(6), 614–623 )

So basically, falling asleep after feeding  is the biologically normal way for a baby to fall asleep and is present from birth, not something that is taught/ conditioned by a parent after. It is also plays a part in a baby’s the normal development of a their parasympathetic nervous system and a healthy breastfeeding relationship. By decoupling feeding from sleeping, there are concerns raised about potential unintended outcomes as well as the increase stress it places on the parent- infant relationship unnecessarily.

With these findings in mind, it begs the question, why a technique that may actually cause the sleep problems it supposedly aims to solve and may jeopardise the mother and baby’s breastfeeding relationship, is so frequently and confidently dished out to new mothers?

The fact that this advice is also coming from a trusted professional who actually specialises in maternal and child health makes the issue even more concerning.

What evidence is being used to back current practice by frontline professionals working with mothers and their babies? How recent and up to date is their practice? Can and should we be doing better in terms of the more blanket approaches offered to parents when it comes to their baby’s wellbeing?

I felt so extraordinarily letdown by the professionals I had placed my trust in and though I can see that at no point was the advice I was given, given with any view to cause myself or baby trauma, the fact remains, it did. Knowing that this very advice is not backed by evidence does little to help me feel I was an isolated case.

I wish I had known I could ask for the evidence. I wish I’d asked if there was an alternative view.

I will finish this though by telling you that my midwife was my shining light who saw me through this storm. She helped me find MY feet. She guided me without forcing her views, she allowed me to discover the mother I needed and wanted to be for my unique baby. There is so much good going on in the world of mother/ baby support and with continued discussion, questioning and awareness, I hope that the field will continue to flourish under the watchful care of those who care.

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For those who wish to read further on why a Feed-Play-Sleep routine makes no sense for a breastfed baby, check out this awesome article from The Milk Meg 💕

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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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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They said I shouldn’t rock you

They said I shouldn’t rock you

They said I shouldn’t rock you 
Shouldn’t nurse to sleep
They said I shouldn’t hold you
Nor sing you off to sleep

They said I’d create a rod
That was so very hard to break
They said it might be alright now
But later the problems it would make

They said you needed to be left
To learn to sleep alone
They said I shouldn’t bring you to my bed
Instead just listen to you moan

They said it might be okay
To do this with just one babe
But what would I do when number two
Needed me more in some way

They said I shouldn’t wear you
They said you were too clingy
They said you needed space from me
To stop you being whingey

They said that you’d sleep better
If I stopped responding so
They said you were manipulating
And who was boss I had to show

They said I’d not be able to leave you
That my social life was dead
No semblance of a sex life
Is what they confidently said

They said you’re getting too old
And when was I going to teach
My small sweet man to fall asleep
Asleep out of my reach

But here we are today
And happily I can say
Your independence is growing
With every single day

You can fall asleep at day care
You can fall asleep with Nan
You can fall asleep in the car
Or dad, your favourite man

You love your baby brother
You’ve adjusted oh so well
Some days you need me more
But your gentle love still tells

The only habit that remains
Is one that I hold so dear
If your mama’s arms are free
Then you’ll snuggle in right here

So I am thankful to this day
For learning to follow you
You showed me just how to mother
And what I should and shouldn’t do

Grubby Mummy and the Grubby Bubbies


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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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