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Is the Sleep Training culture contributing to the rise in Post Partum Anxiety and Depression?

As with most things I write, this goes against the mainstream narrative and will undoubtedly be brushed off as mere poppycock by those who subscribe to the popular Sleep Training culture but I’m going to say it anyway- Sleep Training culture strongly contributed to my Post Partum Depression and I don’t believe I am alone in this.  

a. ‘But Sleep Training saved my sanity!’

b. ‘I was heading down the path of depression so I used Controlled Crying!’

c. ‘My anxiety was crippling, I had to sleep train!’

Sound familiar?

I was heading straight for the (a) though because we ‘failed’ I was never ‘saved’ and (c) definitely featured in my decision to go the sleep training route. I get it, I really do but here’s where my experience as a ‘failure’ has helped me look at this situation very critically and I’ve come to the realisation that perhaps so many mothers have to be saved by Sleep Training because we are being groomed by the Sleep Training culture to feel like we are doing something wrong when our baby does not fit the ‘sleepy ideal’.

Sleep training culture is so pervasive, it is virtually impossible for a modern mother to remain untouched. It has come through a number of generations now and as such, the advice from older generations who we often turn to as new mothers is riddled with it. Health care professionals hail it as a ‘fix’ and with limited quality breastfeeding education as part of their training, many are ill equipped to advise on the normal development of feeding and sleeping behaviours in breastfed babies and toddlers.

Feeding and sleeping schedules that were so popular while formula feeding was the norm in the 50-70s have tainted what has become the benchmark and ‘norms’ for infant care.

First wave behaviourism struck fear into the hearts about ‘bad habits’, ‘spoiling’, ‘negative Sleep crutches’, ‘self soothing’ and Sleep as a taught skill.

Hands off, distant, independent, solitary sleep, restricted responsiveness, authoritarian, prescriptive and strict- all words that help describe what is valued when parenting very young babies and toddlers.

Being told when you can hold, nurse or comfort your baby is standard.

Being told when your baby should sleep, where they should sleep and for how long is standard.

Being told when you should respond to your baby’s cry and when you shouldn’t is standard.

Being told that your baby only wakes because of the way you help them find sleep is standard.

Being made to fear long term damage to your baby’s development and ability to achieve healthy sleep is standard.

Being made to fear that if you continue to comfort your baby in some way you’ll create a big old rod for your own back and you should break the habit now or expect you’ll have to do it this way forever is standard.

Being told that it is your responsibility to your child that you fix their sleep is standard.

This standard is what I believe is the crux of why so many mothers start heading down the path of depression and anxiety. I sure as hell did.

I bought into the standard and bent myself over backwards, forwards and inside out trying to reach it. The standard that I could not meet, the standard my baby called bullshit on, that standard left me feeling subpar as a mother every damn day.

Every day that I bought into the ‘shoulds’ for both myself and my baby was a day I finished feeling ‘less than’. We never measured up.

Every day of my baby refusing to accept anything less than the comfort and reassurance and assistance he needed drove a wedge into our relationship as I questioned again and again what was wrong with him and why couldn’t he do what he was ‘meant’ to do at his age?

It’s hard to not feel anxious and have your anxiety grow as the noise that surrounds you assures you that every day that your baby sleeps less than they say he should or wakes more than he should or asks for more assistance than he ‘should’ need is potentially affecting his long term health and development.

It’s hard to not feel depressed when yet again you are told it is because you nurse him to sleep and haven’t succeeded in putting him down drowsy but awake and you have to learn his cries that your getting this mothering and sleep business so terribly wrong- THAT’S why you feel so desperately tired and miserable. If you just follow XYZ, then you’ll get the sleep you need. When you’ve already tried these things in desperate vein for the 100 thousandth time to no avail.

It’s hard to feel light, relaxed and at peace with your brand new mothering experience when at every turn you are told you are doing it wrong.

For me and my darling wakeful little firecracker, the road to PPD was paved in Sleep Training culture bullshit.

How on earth I was ever going to get away without eventually succumbing while surrounded by all of this noise is beyond me.

Yes, there are many more factors that may well contribute to the development of PPA or PPD in each unique person but I refuse to believe this Sleep Training culture in anyway sets women up for success and healthy mental health and self esteem in their new identity.

So perhaps, instead of heralding and crediting Sleep Training with ‘saving’ so many mother’s sanity, we should look long and hard at how it took our sanity in the first place.


Mothers of today and into the future deserve so much better than this.

Re-evaluating, resetting and reestablishing the norms of infant sleep from a a biological and anthropological standpoint would be the first place to start.

Only once we can as a society come to a fuller understanding of the reality of infant and toddler sleep will we see a shift that is so needed to undo the damage and twisted accepted norms perpetuated by the current Sleep Training culture.

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To give a shit or not to give a shit? That is the question…

To give a shit or not to give a shit? That is the question…

As many of you would have gathered, I take this mothering gig very seriously and strongly believe that ‘giving a shit’ about the important stuff is absolutely essential. However, I do believe there is also a lot of peripheral ‘shit’ that is simply not worthy of our time, effort or brain space. Here are some things I seriously don’t give a shit about … Some I used to care about, some I used to obsess about, some barely entered my radar…

1. Duration of day naps

• Seriously, who gives a shit. I used to. Back when I was sucked into the vortex of trying to make my baby sleep the ‘required’ amount of sleep in chunks that are seen as essential to get quality of sleep but also to give mum a good break I absolutely DID give a shit, and you know what I got for all hours, days, weeks and months of obsessing and dedication to the cause? I got to go bat shit crazy, I got angry, I got frustrated, I got disappointed, I got tired. I most certainly did not get a baby who said, ‘oh, ok mum, sleep time is it? Rightio, well just time it right, tuck me in, shush me a little and I’ll drift off and give you 2 hours to yourself.’ Was it worth my time, effort or brain space? Hell no! With this baby, I seriously couldn’t give a shit. I get him down when he’s tired. If he wakes after 20-40 mins who actually cares? He sure as shit doesn’t. I have a toddler to get around with so even thinking of trying to resettle is limited to the baby’s lunchtime nap (if he has one) while the toddler is sleeping, sometimes I can sneak a boob in and get the baby to give me a good long snooze, other times he happily sucks away and finishes with a big milk dribbly grin that says, ‘nice one sucker!’ Some times he’s a bit grizzly and probably could have done with a bit more sleep, once again, who cares? I simply get him back to sleep a bit later when he’s good and ready. Oh, but don’t I know that ‘sleep breeds sleep’? Um, yeah. I’ve heard that one many times and actually it’s complete and utter horseshit. Maybe, some babies do sleep a bit better if they have these whopping great day naps but there are many babies who sleep perfectly well at night who run on catnaps and kips through the day. Some of these catnapping/ kipping kids do sleep like shit at night too, but you know what, it’s got sweet bugger all to do with the days. They are who they are. My two are a total mixed bag right now and I see absolutely zero correlation between ratty days and ratty nights vs good days and good nights. They like to mix it up to keep me on my toes.

• One thing I simply can’t get to the ‘I don’t give a shit’ stage with is waking a sleeping baby! It seriously upsets me. Big shout out to all those mamas doing daily school runs and having to disturb sleeping kids! What a freaking nightmare!

2. How baby gets to sleep or back to sleep

• Cuddles, carrier, boob, pram, car whatever works, I’ll do it. Getting a baby the sleep they need in the way that works best for them is all I give a shit about. How I do it, I could not give a shit. Is it always convenient? No. Do I sometimes wish my babies would just be popped down and drift off peacefully? Sometimes (although I know I’d actually miss the cuddles most of time). But babies aren’t here to be convenient. They are little people, with busy minds and an intense need for comfort. I sometimes struggle to get to sleep first up at night, or after I’ve ducked to the loo and for me day sleeps are extremely hit and miss. Sometimes, I am awake for hours, tossing, turning, feeling frustrated about the fact I should be asleep. Sometimes, sleep doesn’t come easily to me. And yet, we expect total consistency from our little ones … If they take too long, or fuss about or ask for extra help to get to sleep, we so often feel cranky with them. Particularly if you feel like you’ve given all that you have to give. But they aren’t doing it to drive us bat shit crazy. They are having trouble. They are human. Give them the help they need to get the rest they need. It’s that simple. I don’t give a shit how.

3. How often my baby feeds- day/ night

• Yeah, so, I can’t actually tell you an answer to this as it varies so much day to day, night to night. And you know what? I don’t give a shit because this is exactly as nature intended. A breastfed baby feeds/ nurses in an erratic fashion because it meets virtually every need they have, from nutrition to comfort, to sensory input, to immune building and many more. This can not be timed or timetabled and nor should it be. Who actually gives a shit that my baby who went 5 hours yesterday with out nursing wanted boob 3 times in an hour this morning? Certainly not I.

 


(Courtesy of The Milk Meg)

 4. Where I feed

• I feed/ nurse wherever and whenever my baby needs. I don’t give a shit where this may be. Home, bed, park, shop, church, pub, café, playgroup, beach, train … Wherever. Whenever.

5. Having a spotless house

• I do cheat this one a bit because I got myself a cleaner (seriously a life changer if you can afford one, get one!!)

• Despite having a cleaner, there is still the endless day to day cleaning and tidying you have in any house with two adults, a toddler, a baby and a big hairy bugger of a dog. There’s always loads of washing, dishwasher to stack or unstack, plastics that won’t go through the dishwasher, tidying after a never ending snacking and playing toddler, sweeping up dog hair of a dog who seems to be malting year round etc etc. There was a time where I would not have dreamt of having people around to visit or for a meal unless I had my house in order … Now, they’re lucky if they can find my sink and you know what, I actually don’t give a shit. My friends and family know and love me anyway and anyone else, I couldn’t care less. My house will be clean and tidy again one day … Probably when the boys leave home.

  
6. Feeding my toddler only home made healthy foods

• Yeah, I seriously don’t give a shit on this one. My husband and I are healthy people. We have a healthy lifestyle and diet. Having said that, we both love our food. Sometimes the food we eat isn’t exactly top of the line healthy. Sometimes it’s downright naughty but you know what, we aren’t big people because we out weigh the bad with the good and we have a healthy attitude towards food and eating. Since we are a family who embraced Baby Led Weaning, my toddler’s diet very closely resembles our own (sans wine and coffee). I was very conscious of his salt and sugar intake prior to turning one and to an extent I monitor it now but mostly, we just eat. My little Grubby Bubby will soon be joining us for meals and fingers crossed he is a cruisy little eater too.

7. How much or what my toddler chooses to eat in any one sitting

• This one is one I was surprised to find my self almost alone on with my family and friends. I have fully embraced the idea that it is my job as mother to provide my children with food and it is their job to eat it. This idea sits particularly well as a breastfeeding mother, as up until the introduction of solids, I had trusted my baby to control the when and how much side of eating so why would I stop trusting him now?!? Sometimes my first guy ate a lot in a sitting, sometimes he ate bugger all. Sometimes he became obsessed with one type of food and refused all others. I just kept putting a range of food on his plate and he decided what he would eat and how much. I refuse to buy into mealtime battles. My babies don’t HAVE to eat anything. I will not bargain and I will not threaten. I refuse to give a shit about something beyond my control. I know sometimes there are other issues at play here and I have been very lucky to have not had to face an underweight child or one with many aversions, however, I would hope that even if I did, we could find a way to allow the child to still control their food intake because after all, listening to your own body is a key part of learning to eat what you need to be satisfied as opposed to an empty plate.

8. Toilet training

• Of course, we will have to do it but I’m just not into it being a battle. I don’t give enough of a shit. I’ve been told that when your toddler is ready, it will be easy so call me lazy, but I’m waiting for the easy! We do all the lead up groundwork everyday but currently my guy is simply not ready. He’ll get there though and in the meantime, I refuse to stress about it.

Looking back on this list, I am relieved to know this is not where my head is at. As a mum it can be so easy to get bogged down in the nitty gritty. Hard to decipher the things that warrant our time, energy and head space. It is okay to let some things wash. Working out what is actually important and also what is within my control was a big part of my surrender. It’s liberating to simply not give a shit sometimes.

  (Source Unknown)

What have I missed that you’d add to this list?
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