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The Natural Waves of Infant Sleep

My precious person is 12 weeks old tomorrow.

She is by far and away the sleepiest of my three and she has pretty much slept off her fourth trimester

I’m talking 3 hour day naps and 8-10 hour blocks at night.

Yep, I’ve put up my umbrella to shield the lemons coming my way for admitting that.

She’s one chilled little customer and though she’s had her ‘needier’ days, by and large, sleep has come easily to her.

She’s been boobed to sleep, cuddled, rocked and carrier napped each and every time. She’s easily transferred to her basket and side car cot 90% of the time.

She’s never been ‘taught’ to ‘self soothe’ but she obviously links sleep cycles just fine.

But suddenly, these last 3 days and nights, she’s catnapping like an expert …

She’s barely making 2-3 hours without waking to nurse at night …

Regression’ I hear them cry!

But, with even the smallest amount of observation, I can see my sweet babe is far from going backwards, she’s actually progressing with impressive speed.

Yes, her sleep has changed.

Yes, she is clearly needing more assistance than she did last week.

But a regression implies she has somehow ‘lost’ some ‘abilities’ and this is simply not true.

Her rapidly growing mind and body are hard at work.

She isn’t the same as she was last week.

She’s more advanced and far more ‘awake’ to her world.

Sure, she’s tiring more quickly. She was lasting between 1.5 to 2 hours between naps but after a catnap she’s lucky to make an hour but can you blame her?!?

The hour she is awake she doesn’t stop moving!

Little hands that can now grasp an object!

Little hands that can now open and move things with supreme concentration.

Little voice that chats and experiments with a range of sounds.

Little bright eyes that smile and light up at the sights before her.

Little chuckles and giggles that burst from within

Little legs that kick, push and dig in.

A little torso that twists and arches with attempts to roll becoming closer and closer to reality.

She’s nursing more often, needing more help to calm off to sleep and waking more frequently, but not because she has forgotten some mad sleep skills and in need of re-training.

She may not get back to the 8-10 hour blocks at night for the next month, year or even for life (I never make more than 4-5 hours before waking for a sip of water and/ or a toilet break and I’m 36 years old …) and that is okay.

I’m not sitting here wishing and praying for the sleep to return.

I’ve spent far too much time doing that in the past.

I’m living for the now.

She is only asking of me what she needs right now and I’m here to walk right beside her at this time in her life when she needs me so intensely.

I could ask all the questions, I could keep dreaming of the day, I could lament the hours of sleep lost but I don’t want to waste my precious energy on questions that have no answers and time since past.

I will spend my days in awe of what a small human learns in these early days, weeks, months and years and my nights knowing I am exactly where I need to be.

I’ll ride this wave with my darling and you can be sure I’ll be straight back there with her for the next one and the one after that.

We are in this together, my sweet love and I.

It’s an honour and privilege to be her mum ❤️

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Should we expect sympathy and support from everyone?

 
I have been told on more than one occasion that for someone who talks a lot about empathising and sympathising, I lack empathy and sympathy for mothers who are experiencing challenges.  I have been told I create an ‘us and them’ and a competitive edge to parenting challenges that shouldn’t exist.

I’m a massive over thinker and muller of all things, particularly criticism, so I’ve thought about this a lot and I’ve observed similar accusations being levelled at others which helped me see that this is a greater issue.

In my situation, this relates to my voicing my experience of having to weather hearing people complain of their exhaustion and frustration with their child’s sleep when what they claim is nearly killing them is the kind of night’s sleep I used to only be able to dream of.

Apparently, I shouldn’t feel that way because sleep deprivation isn’t a competition or a pissing contest and maybe that mother who has been getting hours of solid sleep every night while I was lucky to get 30 minutes in a row really WAS as exhausted as I was because we all experience these things differently.

Where was my empathy for this mother while demanding she recognise me?!?

Honestly, merely thinking on this at the height of my extreme sleep deprivation would have seen me in tears of despair.

No one seemed to be able to see me and my struggle in real light without minimising it with faux empathy. They couldn’t give true empathy because unless you’ve lived it, you can’t actually empathise with what was going on a deeper, more meaningful way.

What was needed was sympathy but even that was in short supply.

But where was my sympathy?

Well you know what? As the person at the very fringe of sanity, deep in the hell hole of deepest darkest, relentless sleep deprivation, I honestly had to leave the sympathy for those not so up to their neck in it, to others who could empathise or sympathise without it causing physical anxiety and despair.

There is always someone worse off than us in this world.

That is most certainly true.

It’s true in every facet of life.

It is such an important perspective to keep and I never, in all my time felt like I had nothing to be grateful for.

But, I think this perspective can also help us to recognise in any given context, when someone simply should not have the onus on them to be providing sympathy and support to another.

I say onus as expectation, because I am sure some outstanding humans are able to remove their own struggles well enough to offer the required sympathy and support but I simply do not believe it should be a given.

For me and millions of mothers like me, when I was at my lowest ebb, it near broke me to hear a mother complain of her exhaustion because her baby woke twice the night before. I could not and should not have had to be her support while so heavily in need of support myself.

This applies to other areas, a mother who has been unable to meet her breastfeeding goals and is still processing her experience, should not be called upon to be the source of sympathy and support for a mother who has successfully breastfed but is facing a challenge in her journey.

The mother with a baby in NICU, who is yet to be able to hold her baby freely and has had to witness her baby having painful medical procedures, should not be called on for sympathy and support for the mother of the baby fighting off a cold.

The mother with a chronic illness or pain should not be called on for sympathy and support for the mother temporarily debilitated with an illness while still caring for her children.

In each and every scenario, these mothers DO deserve empathy, sympathy and support but the point is, it does matter where we expect it to come from.

We as mothers often bear incredible burdens.

This mothering game can be hideously lonely and isolating.

We should not be being asked to bear even more burden by our sisters in motherhood by expecting those in extremely vulnerable circumstances to minimise their own significant, genuine struggles in the name of sympathy and support for those who while also struggling, when put in perspective, their struggles are less profound.

I am past the severe sleep deprivation stage now, and I usually average 8 hours of broken sleep a night with good chunks mixed in. I am in a totally different headspace now to back in sleep deprived hell and my ability to offer sympathy and support to those facing all kinds of situations they find challenging has significantly increased.

I CAN be the source of sympathy and support and even throw a little empathy in for good measure.

The space within me that was completely taken up with self preservation has opened up again and I try to fill it with compassion and understanding.

One thing that will forever remain though is my heartfelt love, admiration and fierce defence for mothers mothering their extremely wakeful little firecrackers. They are and always will be my people.

Our shared experience is one of unimaginable relentless challenge. The stamina, the faith, the vulnerability and strength of those who live and survive this will never be lost on me.

It’s okay if you can’t relate. Just try to keep things in perspective. Seek sympathy and support from those who are capable of giving it and forgive those who, in all their humanly glory, simply cannot muster it today.

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For me, a Happy Baby meant a Happy Mum

You will often hear the saying, ‘Happy Mum = Happy Baby’.  

I think the intention of the saying is good, and it may well be true for many others, but it certainly did not ring true for me when I was a struggling new mum with an intense high needs baby who took more from me than I ever thought I had. So many ‘choices’ and ‘options’ were put to me that would supposedly solve all our woes and they all pretty much boiled down to the fact that I needed to start putting myself first so that I could get back to ‘happy’ and stop being such a ‘martyr’ who was sacrificing her sanity in order to bend over backwards 24/7 for a ridiculously demanding child.

Even after I found my surrender and my mothering groove, the suggestions kept coming.

The people who suggested it were genuinely concerned for me. They could see no good coming from this situation I lived in with my extremely frequent waker who nursed all night and wanted to be held all day. I looked dishevelled and unkempt. I looked exhausted and washed out. I looked to have been consumed so wholly by this mothering gig that there was no semblance of the person I was before. I was someone to be worried about, pitied and in need of advice and a push in the ‘right’ direction.

From the outside looking in, I made this mothering business look ridiculously hard and not at all appealing to those around me.

BUT, on the inside I was growing. On the inside I was glowing. On the inside, I was developing a new strength.

I was becoming a new and fuller version of myself.

Maybe for some the path to a happy mum is to focus her self-care on doing things for herself. This kind of self-care has slowly appeared into my world, too and as my babies have grown, it fits more and more frequently and comfortably into our lives. But, I am not ashamed to say that for the longest time with my first baby, there was simply no way I could feel ‘happy’ unless I knew my baby was happy, too.

I am an empath and as such, I keenly feel and take on board other people’s emotions. This is both a strength and a weakness in my life but I have learned to accept it as an essential part of ME, and because I like me and care for me, I know that I need to be mindful and care for my Empath tendencies for me to feel well within myself. Does this mean I need to fix the ills of the world as well as my children’s every discomfort to find happiness? No, it does not, but it does mean that while I have a highly dependent and attached infant relying on me as their primary source of comfort and nutrition, they WILL require my care first and I will need to know they are happy before I can embark on any form of self-care without them.

I remember trying on many occasions to seek to make the more traditional types of self-care happen. More often than not, the stress and anxiety of even having to contemplate doing these things were enough to make me unhappy. Then on the occasions where I did ‘just go, they’ll be fine, you are just stressing. They always do better than you think.’ … I’d be called back home within the hour to a hysterical child who would not calm for dad and needed boob or I’d get home to them looking wrecked as my husband ‘toughed’ it out to give me a break. Interestingly, on none of these occasions was I out having the time of my life or even feeling particularly happy, despite the fact that I was getting ‘me’ time that was meant to make me a happier mum. I wasn’t enjoying it because despite what other people told me, that my baby would be just fine, he wasn’t, and I knew he wouldn’t be. He is now the cruisiest dude in town and can easily be left with daddy, babysitters, daycare, his grandparents, friends and family, but while he was an infant, he wanted his mum. That was it. 

Once I accepted this, as where he was at and what he needed, I was so much happier within myself. He needed me, all of me and more. He was happy when he had me, and unhappy when he didn’t. My self-care simply had to fit within these bounds and to work that out saved both of us so much heartache.

This doesn’t mean that at times I didn’t dream of running away. I didn’t wish for some time to be alone and untouched. It didn’t mean that my dreams and desires ceased to exist.

I still needed and wanted time just to be, but for me to be happy, I didn’t need to have everything I wanted and needed right then and there. To be happy, I had to be right where I was needed.

I needed to have a happy baby and to have a happy baby made me the happiest mum I could be.

I do not need perfect to be happy. I can be a mess of contradiction, raw and exhausted and still be okay.

What was key for me was getting to a place where I could talk about my worries, frustrations and struggles without feeling like I needed to filter them out of my life completely to be happy.

We all come as we are as people to motherhood. For some mothers, truly, the happy mum =happy baby path may well be the best and most appropriate course to chart, but I feel it is necessary to express why this may not indeed be the route to happiness for ALL mothers and should therefore not be held over mother’s heads as yet another pressure she has to do this mothering thing ‘right’.

If you only feel happy when your baby is happy, there is nothing wrong with that.

Mothering does not need to look pretty, perfect or easy for it to be ‘right’.

Sometimes, it may be ugly, raw, unfiltered and undeniably taxing on a mother’s heart, mind and soul and still be all kinds of ‘right’ for her.

A massive shout out to all the mothers out there who are simply doing what feels right for their family without a succumbing to pressure to conform.

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The last resort- when sleep training feels like it’s not a matter of choice anymore

The last resort- when sleep training feels like it’s not a matter of choice anymore

‘If you have a flexible relaxed baby you don’t really have a problem do you? I have a 10 month old and she won’t sleep anywhere but in my arms, takes up to 1-2hours to get her to sleep. SHE needs sleep, I need sleep. So what other choice do I have but to try sleep training? So once again let’s not judge people. Not all sleep training is cry it out so get off your high horses and go back to being perfect mums while I do what I can to survive’

This is a comment I received on my latest article and it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart for this mama.

I know this feeling all too well. The desperation, the feeling that I had no choice but to try sleep training.

The crossroads.

This is not a mother coming to sleep training willingly. She has for 10 months, helped her child to sleep in her arms because that was the way that worked. She has responded. She has given. She has no doubt tried gentler techniques and still her baby finds sleep difficult and still this mother is exhausted, desperate and doubting everything she has done.

I reached this point earlier. For me, it was the 4 month appointment with a CHN that left me feeling I had ‘no choice’ but to sleep train and it is how I came to be in sleep school with my baby 2 weeks later.

This is a horrific situation for a mother to find herself in. To find herself feeling as though she must do something to her baby that she has desperately been trying to avoid. If this mother or I had truly believed that our baby needed to be taught to sleep through whatever name the sleep trainers would like to call their Controlled Crying technique, then we wouldn’t have left it to our last resort. Our only last remaining ‘choice’.

I remember saying to the nurse manager at my check in meeting at sleep school that I never wanted to be the mother who let her baby cry.

I wanted to soothe my babies. I wanted to hold, nurse and see them comfortably off to sleep. But I also wanted SLEEP!!! I wanted sleep in chunks. I wanted to recover from birth. I wanted to stop having to think, talk, live and breathe nothing but sleep. I was convinced that I could reasonably expect this from my baby. I was convinced that what I was experiencing with my child was far from normal. I was convinced that it must have been what I was doing that had led to my baby’s wakeful behaviour and that the ONLY way to fix it was to undo all of these ‘sleep associations’ and train him to learn to sleep alone through the ‘Responsive Settling’ techniques prescribed at the sleep school I attended.

I looked on the surface to be a willing participant in the process. I agreed to it. I went along with it. I persisted with it. I ultimately ‘failed’ at it.

But under the surface, I was anything but willing and this is where I see the failure of the system, society and these ‘services’ of the Sleep Training Industry.

A mother’s instinct to mother her unique baby the way they need to be mothered is there for a reason. These intense, high needs babies often have underlying health issues that further exacerbate the wakefulness and to ‘train’ them to the point that they stop signalling to their caregiver that they need help is so incredibly unfair on that baby. Other intense, high needs babies, such as mine, don’t have underlying health issues but simply NEED the extra comfort, contact and support to be able to rest relatively peacefully. They aren’t broken but do not fit the mould. They ask more of their mother even when she has nothing more to give. They are relentless and with no light at the end of the sleep deprived tunnel, it is beyond the point of difficult for the mother of such a child to keep things in perspective. ‘This too shall pass’ has a hollow ring as night after night after night for months and even years the waking continues. The intensity continues. The neediness continues.

Of course, when this mother hits the point of, ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ She will be vulnerable and far more accepting of advice and techniques that go against her instinct. She is fucking done. She is SO unbelievably over it and tired that she actually dreams of running away and sleeping whole nights away.

When someone is at their most vulnerable, it is easy to manipulate and take advantage of them. They are DESPERATE for an answer. They will pretty well try anything to change the current circumstances. They are in no fit state to be making decisions that may or may not have long term implications for their baby because surely, a short term pain is worth it to regain the sanity and SLEEP that is ‘needed’.

It makes me absolutely WILD that our mothers are being left to get to this point. Society and the sleep training norm have allowed and even encouraged us to get here though.

If a mother presents herself to a GP, Paediatrician, CHN, Sleep School or Sleep Consultant with a tale of desperation and last resort then it is THEIR responsibility to that mother to bring her back from that brink. It is their responsibility to find out how that unique child of hers is asking to be mothered, why it has brought her to the point of exhaustion, what supports can be put in place (physical, emotional and environmental) to help her come back from the brink and continue mothering this baby of hers the way they need to be mothered. It is absolutely NOT the time to be encouraging her to sleep train her baby as though it is the answer to her prayers.

Her baby is wakeful for a REASON and that reason has fuck all to do with what she has been doing and fuck all with not being able to ‘self soothe’.

Firstly, rule out health concerns: allergies, intolerances, food sensitivities, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma to name but a few possible causes of wakefulness. 

If her baby nurses to sleep and refuses the ‘feed, play, sleep’ routine, it’s because that baby finds the perfectly normal biologically perfect method of nursing to sleep the best way to go to sleep.

If they take a long time to drift off or fight sleep tooth and nail even while being held tight and rocked, but eventually go- this is what they need!!

If they wake at night and only fall back to sleep while nursing, they are behaving like a normal breastfed human infant. If it is happening many times, then investigating why through health concerns is important but encouraging safe cosleeping or bedsharing arrangements may help anyway.

A baby wanting to be cuddled and not put down IS NORMAL.

If these support services, truly have these vulnerable mothers AND their baby’s best interest at heart, they will do whatever they can to best meet the needs of both mother and child.

She should NEVER be made to feel that she has no choice but to sleep train. There should always be a choice and the goal should be to work with her to establish her true choices and go with the one that feels right in her heart, right for her baby and right for the family.

The conversation around sleep training needs more branches. Yes, it ‘works’ for many. Yes, it is touted as having ‘saved’ many mothers but what if we could avoid it? What if we never had to get to it as ‘last resort’?

What if.


For some thoughts on alternatives to sleep training, check out this article 👍🏻💙

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

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

I have a problem with ‘it’s not a problem unless it’s a problem for you’ statements and it’s all to do with perception.I have read this statement used repeatedly and while technically, yes, it is right, I think it can be very unhelpful and confusing for a mother, especially one who is struggling.


As a first time mum, I had no clue what was and wasn’t normal for a baby especially when it came to sleep. I remember reading this ‘it’s not a problem…’ statement while I rocked, fed and held my intense wee man. I was exhausted. My body ached. I felt like I was stuck, like I was doing it all wrong and so reading this I ABSOLUTELY felt I had a problem for me.

But, a massive part of my problem was my lack of knowledge of what was normal.

If I had known that this high needs baby was behaving like a huge number of other high needs babies and that although I was shattered, I WAS doing everything right for my baby, the shape of that problem and therefore how I looked to solve it would have been vastly different.

When the problem shifts away from the baby and onto the mother and her wellbeing we stop trying to change the baby who is behaving just as they should (after making sure all potential medical reasons for wakefulness have been explored- intolerance, allergies, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma) and we start trying to work out the support and changes (physical, mental and environmental) required by that unique family and in particular, the mother, to help her through this weary season in her life.

It upset me greatly last week to see a particular sleep training company’s post appear in my newsfeed using this statement. They used it cleverly and appeared to be being super supportive and inclusive. It went on with various statements like … ‘If you love cosleeping, then great keep cosleeping.’ This automatically implies if you are cosleeping but not loving it then you SHOULD change it. Thing is, you don’t have to love every minute of something for it still to be the best option for your family. It may simply be what you need to do because it is what your unique child or children need. It may still be the way that gets YOU the best quality sleep in your setting, even if it is uncomfortable for you. You don’t have to love it. You may even kind of hate it. Not everything is meant to be easy, fun, stress free and full of sleep.

These sleep trainers are essentially building on the ‘create a rod for your own back’ mentality by making out that the things you have done or may do to get your child the sleep they need in the way that works best for them are all just ‘choices’ and therefore you can simply ‘choose’ to not do it anymore.

You can. You can try to train these things out of your baby and your relationship with them and while you feel like you shouldn’t have to comfort your child so much or be helping them back to sleep as often as you do, then naturally these sleep trainers ‘fix’ for what they view as the baby’s sleep problems sounds appealing.

No one in their right minds would sign up for seemingly endless night’s of disrupted sleep if they didn’t think it was absolutely necessary and above all a NORMAL part of this time in our lives while our baby needs us so intensely.

So, the take home message here is that if you are one very tired mama reaching out for support, if the support you choose looks firstly at ‘fixing’ your baby, you may want to investigate other options. Quality support for sleep deprived mothers in my opinion, should always start with the mother. Work with her. Help her mother her unique baby her way, the way her baby needs and help her make the changes and rally the support she needs to keep mothering this way. If some changes are deemed necessary for the baby, then gently making changes with love is only fair and no crying should be involved. A child who is ready, will do so without tears.

A shift in the support for tired mothers is beginning but the vast majority still focuses heavily on sleep training. I hope through continued discussion, this topic becomes routinely viewed through a different lens. One that honours both the mother AND her baby’s biological needs.

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