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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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Why Responsive Settling Isn’t Truly Responsive

When in it comes to Sleep Training, there are extremes on the spectrum, with Cry It Out at the far end with complete withdrawal of response- shut the door at 7pm and do not open it again until 7am, with more ‘responsive’ techniques sitting somewhere in the middle, down to the gentlest, slow moving, truly responsive options at the far end. Responsive Settling proponents would have themselves down the ‘gentle’ end of the spectrum but as someone who has experienced the technique as the mother of a wakeful baby, I can say that gentle, it most certainly is not.

The sell is strong though and I believe that those who created the technique and those who teach and utilise it, wholeheartedly believe they are responding to the babies entrusted to their care but there is a massive gulf between any response and appropriate response. Responsive Settling whilst more responsive than no response, does not allow a parent to be appropriately responsive to their unique infant’s needs.

Why?

Well I will detail my experience more in a moment but I think first and foremost, the reason that Responsive Settling still so clearly misses the mark is that it still fails to recognise and respect normal infant sleep behaviours and instead works to pathologise and stage interventions on them when no ‘problem’ actually exists for the baby and instead the true problem lies with unrealistic sleep expectations, lack of support for very tired families and a society hellbent on ‘fixing’ anything that has been decided is undesirable or outside the accepted ‘norm’.


(Image: Gentle Parenting Memes)

But even if you don’t buy that, I will explain how the Responsive Settling technique looked in my reality and you can decide for yourself if it really could be responding to a baby in an appropriate way.

A little scene setting for you-

I was a First Time Mum. My baby was born wide awake. He was never a sleepy newborn. Not even the day he was born. He slept for brief bursts during the day, was super sensitive and startled incredibly easily. He hated being down. Ever. He wanted to be in arms or on a chest 24-hours a day.

He cried whenever we put him down and seemed to find the feeling of falling asleep very scary. He’d be all drowsy and relaxed with eyes drooping and then BAM screaming, as though that last little falling feeling you get as you drop off was the most terrifying sensation in the world. I had never heard of the Fourth Trimester. I had no idea that a baby wanting to be held close 24/7 was in the range of normal. All I knew was that everyone around me had babies who looked calm, relaxed, happy to chill out and slept for big chunks of time, flat on their back with little to no help from their mothers. My baby’s night time involved loads of waking but he was usually quickly settled by the boob. I was terrified of bedsharing and felt that I had already created so many ‘bad’ sleep habits already, I didn’t want to add anything more to our repertoire so I was insisting on getting up to him and tending to him in another room. I also had my head filled with the notion that although a newborn may wake frequently at night to nurse, this should lessen over time in a straight line, with him dropping feeds and sleeping for longer without my help.

My baby strongly disagreed.

And so, we became at odds with each other. He needed me intensely but I was convinced he wanted me but didn’t need all that he demanded.

By 3 months, I was exhausted and full of doubts.

By 4 months, I was a wreck. Cue our four-month health check with Child Health. The Nurse listened as I sobbed my heart out detailing my baby’s extremely wakeful behaviour and lack of day sleep. I was desperate for help. The nurse echoed my concerns. She told me my baby was Chronically Sleep Deprived and that she would refer me to The Mother-Baby Unit in our capital city for a stay to help me get the matter in hand. She knew there was a long wait for the public service but if we had Private Health Insurance then she knew the Private Facility in the same city offered the same program using the Responsive Settling technique.

She pointed me to the videos on the Public services website to allow me to have a try of the technique at home prior to our stay.

We attended the Private facility for a 5 day stay 2 weeks later. In the lead up, I tried to implement the strategies I had watched on the website, without any success and much distress for my baby and me. I grew ever more frustrated and intolerant of him as I came even more convinced that he was just being difficult and that he had to learn to sleep so we could all get back to being happy.

I went into the program with a desperate hope.

This HAD to work. I couldn’t for a moment consider it wouldn’t because I couldn’t fathom what my life would be or what we could do next if this didn’t work.

My enthusiasm was there but I had a dull ache in my heart the whole time leading up to the stay that remained throughout. I had never wanted to listen to my baby cry. Why o why couldn’t my sweet baby just find sleep like all the other babies? I didn’t want to do this to him but I couldn’t allow his lack of sleep impact on him anymore. No, I was stronger than that and I would do whatever I needed to meet my baby’s needs and if that meant having strangers keep me in check so I didn’t ‘give in’ too easily, then that’s what I’d do.

And so, the stage was set.

We started off with a meet and greet circle time. We had to tell each other why we were there. I could barely hold my head up as I confessed my child’s ‘sleep sins’ and my role in his ‘bad habits’; there were sympathetic head tilts, a knowing look in the eye, a shoulder rub and word of, ‘it’ll be okay, we can help’ offered up.

Then came the slide show that detailed the game plan. My 4.5-month-old was deemed too old for the ‘Comfort Settling/ Hands on Settling’ group which was for the two newborns present. We were instead with the older ‘Responsive Settling’ group.

We started when it was time for his afternoon sleep.

We had to implement a Feed-Play-Sleep routine and so I had to feed my baby and make sure he didn’t fall asleep, then read him a story, kiss him and tell him it was time to sleep, place him in his cot and walk out and close the door.

Then, I waited by the door, to see what, if any, response my baby would require to find sleep.

The nurses had zero interest in hearing what I thought he needed, or even what I thought may happen next. It was assumed I had never afforded my baby the opportunity or space to try and settle himself before and therefore, we needed to ‘just wait and see as I might be pleasantly surprised’.

Pleasant it was not. Initially, my trusting baby just kicked his legs around and chatted, no doubt feeling safe in the knowledge that mama would reappear soon. But she didn’t. He then started sounding worried. If he could talk back then, I’d say the sounds would roughly translate to, ‘Mama, I’m getting worried, where are you, I need you, where are you?

I knew this, but I wasn’t allowed in. This was just him ‘grizzling’ because he was getting ready to sleep, apparently.

He then ramped it up. I explained that this only ever went one way and it most certainly wasn’t headed towards sleep and if anything, it was driving him ever further from it. The nurse assured me he was okay and suggested I move to the base level ‘response’ while we stayed at the door. We opened the door and ‘shushed’ loudly at him to let him know I was there but it was sleep time and he wouldn’t get picked up. My baby wailed on.

I told them it wasn’t working and they told me to persist a bit longer. He continued to cry.

We then crawled into the room (so as not to give him the false impression we would pick him up), and I patted the mattress next to his head and continued to ‘shush’ loudly, no eye contact was to be made. He cried even more.

I was then encouraged to place my hand on his chest and continue to ‘shush’ him. He was past hysterical by now.

The nurse then told me I could pick him up to calm him as we had to respond to that level of distress as it wasn’t good for him. I scooped him up and soothed my sweating hysterical baby. But, as if it wasn’t enough, once he was calm, down he had to go again. He immediately howled. I placed my hand on his chest and ‘shushed’ but my heart could take no more.

THIS is one of the key moments I look back on with great shame-

I could take no more, so I fled. I ran from that room, without my baby and sat in the hall and rocked in a ball crying my heart out. The nurse had picked my baby up at this point and she rocked him off to sleep as it was decided that was enough for that settle. I should have run WITH my baby, not away from him, but I guess this is testament to how crushed I was.

Once asleep, she came out to find me to assure me we would try again next time and I’d be surprised how quickly he’d learn.

And so, a few hours later, we did it all again. It went almost exactly the same way. The only difference was that there wasn’t that momentary calm at the start. My clever little man knew what was going on and was crying before I could even walk to the door.

Door, shushing, floor, shushing, mattress patting, shushing, chest rocking, shushing, calming hysteria, shushing, place back down, shushing, hysteria, me running, nurse rocking.

This second time, one of the nurses came to me to give what she no doubt thought was pep talk and asked me if I was going to be ‘stronger’ than my baby or not? I told her to p#%s off and get away from me.

Again, a few hours later for bedtime.

My mum came to visit the next morning and was upset by what she could see. She told me my baby looked pale and exhausted and asked what was going on. I told her and she told me that I either spoke up to the nurses and told them this wasn’t working and we needed a new tack or we’d be leaving. I was a mess.

The morning settle was the same so after lunch I started packing our bags.

A nurse saw and came to ask me what I had hoped from the stay. I told her I NEEDED help but I didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere and no one seemed to have any better ideas to help my baby as their way still ended with hysteria and rocking in arms which was no better than I was doing at home anyway.

She asked me what I thought might work, and I told her that if I could at least go to him BEFORE he was so upset, I may be able to keep him calm enough to find sleep. She agreed to support me on the next settle and miracle of miracles, it worked.

I was elated.

It continued to work my way for the next few days there but nights continued to be a challenge as they wanted me to try to resettle before offering a night feed but I needed their help with this as the instant he had me, he wanted the boobs and my husband was a 2.5-hour flight away.

The nurse was ‘happy’ to help but just as they showed no faith in what I told them about my baby by day, they showed no interest in hearing my belief that being prompt was essential because if you allowed him to wake right up, the settle could take hours versus the minutes if he was still drowsy.

So, I’d hear him stir and knowing my baby, I knew this only meant one thing- he was waking and would not return to sleep without help, so I’d go to the nurse’s station and alert her to his waking and ask for her to attempt the resettle. She’d deliberately go slow saying I need to not rush to his side as he needs to try to resettle himself first. At 2am in the morning, I’d say, we talked about this during the day and this DOES NOT work for my baby, please come now or we’ll be awake for hours. Feet.Dragging.Teeth.Pulling.Sloth.Slow movements, before starting the horseshit ‘shhing’ at the door routine responses and then rocking a hysterical baby who was now wide awake and HAD to have a breastfeed to find any form of calm. At least an hour later, I’d finally crawl back to bed only for him to wake an hour or so later and rinse and repeat. It. Was. F^&*ed.

The next day, in daylight hours, I would reiterate the need for prompt response and I’d firstly get reminded that the goal was to get my baby self-soothing and that affording him space was essential. I’d then try to explain the HUGE difference in awake time because of this and they assured me that this short-term pain and extra loss of sleep, would have a long-term pay off that was worthwhile.

I agreed to stick with it. He was sleeping a longer block at the start of the night so I felt that maybe they were onto something and I owed the effort to try and make it work.

So, after 5 days, my baby was sleeping in his cot, settling to sleep without much help and having a longer block at the start of the night.

I left feeling like the wheels of positive change were in motion and I felt positive that with continued commitment, we would have him sleeping ‘well’ in no time.

It wasn’t to be.

My husband and I threw ourselves at the technique with a 300% commitment to being consistent and persistent (bordering on lunacy).

Our baby however, held an even greater faith in us and belief in his own needs and he continued to fight and call and demand our presence with an intensity that was even more than before.

Within a week of returning home, despite adhering to every responsive settling ‘rule’, we were up to 2-hour battles for every nap, every bedtime and ever resettle through the night. It was horrific.

We were all exhausted, frustrated and incredibly at odds with each other.

We WERE responding damn it!!!

We responded to every god damn cry, every god damn whimper (well the whimpers that sounded ‘emotional’ anyway). He couldn’t possibly NEED us, he just WANTED us. This was bulls&*t. Why did he need more from us than they said we should give? WHY? Why wasn’t he learning? Why wouldn’t he just let up?

Our poor baby on the other hand was no doubt deeply confused about why these people who he loved and needed so completely seemed to be so hellbent on pretending like they couldn’t respond the way he truly needed them. Why do they keep standing at the door or tapping my mattress when they know I need a cuddle? Why are they taking so long to let me nurse when all I need is a quick minute and we could all be back to the sleep we all need?

Responsive Settling gives the illusion of response. 

Being told how to respond, when to respond and when to withdraw that responsiveness is NOT being responsive. It’s the equivalent of when someone is talking to us and we are busy or can’t really hear so we just smile and nod or say something like, ‘that’s nice dear’. It allows the adult to feel they are doing SOMETHING and therefore they are being ‘gentle’ while they train their baby. It is a disturbing mismatch that plays a significant role in the justification and vindication of the widespread use of these techniques in Public and Private facilities and by consultants around the world.

I desperately NEEDED help. There is an overwhelming need for help for new mothers, particularly those with mental health challenges and those with very wakeful babies.

The Possums Clinic in Brisbane offer the service I needed back then and I can only hope that all service providers begin the rapid shift to their approach. The Possums Sleep Film, should be compulsory viewing for Mums and Bubs groups nationwide and their Professional Development courses would surely see a change for the better in the practice of Frontline Care Professionals.


I hold no malice for the people who worked with me during my stay at the Mother/Baby Unit but it would be wrong of me not to speak up and to demand they reflect on their practice, the impact it had on not only me and my baby, but many of the people they see and to ask, maybe there is a better way.

So, here’s to growth.

Here’s to change.

Here’s to ensuring very tired mothers and babies receive the care and support they deserve and need.

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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 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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The utter crap spun by Baby Sleep Whisperers: episode 2- knowing your baby’s cry

The utter crap spun by Baby Sleep Whisperers: episode 2- knowing your baby’s cry

Did you miss episode 1: linking sleep cycles? Find it here 💙

In my second instalment, I’d like to discuss another popular element in sleep training bibles -the notion that in order to teach your baby to self settle, you need to be able to tell the difference between their ‘protest cry’ versus their ‘emotional cry’. The idea being that if they are just protesting then they are fine to be left and it’s only when they start becoming ‘emotional’ that they need you to step in with whatever form of ‘soothing’ or ‘comforting’ each particular sleep trainer feels is appropriate.  
I have two problems with this one.

  1. Not all babies have a ‘protest cry’ despite what the cookie cutter baby sleep books say.
  2. All crying is communication not manipulation and therefore I’d rather not waste my time listening for the type of cry and simply accept that my tiny, helpless human is unhappy and is asking for help and go and help them in the way I know they want me to help them.

To elaborate a little, I freely admit I am scarred from my horrendous sleep school  experience. The first 24 hours are the lowest point in my life to date. I was told repeatedly in those 24 hours that my baby was ‘just protesting’ as he fired warning shot after warning shot and drifted further and further from the sleep they seemed to think he was heading towards while he ‘protested’. I knew this. I knew my baby. I knew he didn’t protest, he was simply warning that he was building and building and without intervention he would blow his top into hysteria. I told nurse after nurse and they denied this. They ignored me. The one person in the building who actually knew this child and they blew me off. Why? Because the sleep training model they followed said they were right and I was wrong. You know what happened though? Each time he built and built and they held me at the door assuring me he was doing just fine and then he blew. He hit hysteria. 0-100 in 2 seconds flat just as he had done every time I’d experimented with anything similar at home.

There are many babies like mine. The 0-100 babies who are ALL emotion. No protest. They NEED help and they are not backwards in demanding it comes forward. Despite seeing it with their own eyes, these nurses maintained that ‘he will learn’ and wanted me to persist with this cruel routine that saw them rocking my sweating, hysterical baby off to sleep as all their techniques failed to calm the storm I told them was brewing.

If your sitting their thinking, you’re the mother, if you knew you were so right, why didn’t you do something?

You’re right. It still guts me to my core that I didn’t take my baby and run. But it gives you just some idea of the shell of a mother I became. Full of doubt, lacking confidence, I put my trust into this sleep school program thinking that clearly my way wasn’t working and they were experts who dealt with this stuff every week.

Sleep training and mainstream society’s bullshit expectations of infant sleep did this to me. They made me question everything I’d done before to settle my child. They made me doubt I had any motherly instinct at all. They made me feel as though I couldn’t trust my own baby. I felt I couldn’t listen to him as he clearly didn’t know what was good for him.

If YOUR baby does genuinely have a wee little grizzle before popping off peacefully to sleep, then there’s every chance you’re thinking I’m overhyping this and that sleep training was the best thing you ever did and not even remotely traumatic for you or your baby. To you, I say I am happy for you and may you never witness or experience this process with a baby who does not have a protest cry but if you do, please have the strength that I didn’t to pull out of the process that is clearly an inappropriate match for the needs of that baby.

My second problem  with this ‘learn your baby’s cries’ bollocks is, a baby’s cry is their only form of communication. They’ve got nothing else. They also don’t cry just for shits and giggles. I try to respect this by honouring my baby’s cries as promptly as is humanly possible with two small people. If my baby is grizzling or warning as I like to look at it, I’d prefer to help answer his need while he’s still quite calm rather than wait til he’s all worked up and emotional. I try to put it in my adult perspective, if I need something or have something that’s bothering me, I’d prefer to talk with my husband and solve the issue rather than have him ignore my calm pleas and then wait and hop to it when I start howling. Or even as a model for my children, if something needs to be discussed I can address it with them calmly rather than have them only listen to me once I’ve blown my top.

This applies to sleep. If my baby cries for help, no matter the strength or emotion, I will help and in the way I know is required for my unique baby not the way the book says. I don’t need to work out the difference in my baby’s cries as the answer always involves the same thing- responding and comforting through contact and cuddles. 


So Baby Sleep Whisperers can protest cry all they want. I’ll stick to following my babies and my heart by answering their cries no matter what.

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‘Why can’t my baby be like that?’ Jealousy, envy, disappointment and despair…

‘Why can’t my baby be like that?’ Jealousy, envy, disappointment and despair…

Hands up who has ever felt like this?
Pick me! Pick me! I was an extreme serial offender with my first who while being the most superb human ever made was an extraordinarily high needs baby who had me at my very wits end.

I went into motherhood with what I felt like were fairly realistic expectations around feeding and sleep. Unfortunately, what I thought was realistic was really restricted to babies who are actually super relaxed, super flexible and ‘textbook’ in that they progress in a straight line (gradually drop feeds and gradually add sleep time without waking). I didn’t realise and western society did not allow the possibility that our little humans are far more complex than that and progress is actually much more cyclical and irregular. Just when you’re sure your baby only ‘needs’ two feeds a night they’ll change it up and feed hourly for a fortnight and then give you one ‘Good’ night before waking every 20-40 mins the next. Day sleeps are just as unpredictable.

After coming from my previous life as a teacher where structure, routine and predictability ruled my day, I was left feeling lost in my new world that appeared to have no rhyme nor reason. This feeling of bewilderment was swiftly tainted by feelings of envy and jealousy when I would meet up with a friend or acquaintance who would boast, ‘oh, my little darling is letting me sleep now … 12 hours straight, 7 til 7. Is your baby sleeping through?’

My stinging sleep deprived eyes would well up as I detailed my baby’s wakeful habits and I’d cop the standard lines of, ‘have you tried swaddling’, ‘putting him down drowsy but awake’, ‘bedtime routine’, ‘listen for his protest cry it’s different to his emotional cry’, ‘it’s because you’re still feeding him’, ‘you need to not hold him, you’ve built a rod for your own back’ … I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Initially, I walked away and thought that maybe there was some weight to what they said and I practically tore myself in two trying every technique suggested by every friend, child health nurse, relative and bloody sleep whisperer known to man. With each attempt that failed, a little of my mummy confidence (already fragile as a first time mum and with sleep deprivation) chipped away. With each attempt I caught myself looking at my baby thinking ‘why can’t you just go to sleep like (insert name)? What more do you want from me?’ I became anal about awake time and early tired signs, I tried feeding timelines and resettling timelines too. Things grew more and more intense as I tried harder and harder.

Things really came to a head when I was told by a douche bag child health nurse that my child was ‘chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development’. This was too much. I was extremely sleep deprived myself and struggling but at no point had I thought my baby was actually at risk (he was after all the most beautifully healthy, happy four month old who just hated sleep and was super cuddly and sensitive). This declaration from someone who I considered at the time to be a knowledgeable person sent me in a spin. It was one thing for me to be struggling but not my baby, no this had to stop… I must get this baby to learn to sleep for his own well being! I booked us in to attend a private sleep school for two weeks later, the public wait was over a month and there was no way I could let my poor baby ‘suffer’ that long.

Two weeks later we flew to Brisbane for our 5 day residential stay. I sobbed my heart out at the initial meeting with the head nurse telling her how much of a failure I was and how I never wanted to be this kind of mother – one who had to listen to her sweet baby cry while he ‘learned’ to sleep out of my arms. She reassured me that while he would cry it would only be because he was angry with the change and that the ‘responsive settling’ techniques would still comfort him while allowing him to learn the ‘essential’ skill of self settling. I had my doubts but out of sheer desperation for both of us I decided to commit.

The first 24 hours were horrific. It is testament to how crushed I was within myself that I did not trust the motherly instinct inside me that shrieked from every nerve in my body to take my baby and run. I am ashamed to say I stayed. I sat in the hall and sobbed and rocked in a ball as nurse after nurse tried and failed to implement the hands off settling techniques that were supposedly appropriate for 4 and a half month old. Each one of them ended up rocking my sweating, hysterical, exhausted baby to sleep. Not one of them believed me as we stood at the door shushing my babe that he was firing warning shots (apparently protesting) and that these warning shots were taking him further and further from sleep and that left for longer will lead to hysteria. Each one had to see for themselves. Each one would then comment that ‘we just need to persevere and be consistent and he would learn.’ And so it went for 24 hours. When my mum came to visit the next day she was shocked at how pale my baby looked and commented that he looked sad. I broke down at this and poured my heart out to her. I decided that if no one listened to me that day then we’d leave that evening. That afternoon I started packing our bag. I cried the whole time. What was I to do now? This was meant to work? Where to now? I felt defeated. At this stage a nurse walked in and asked me what I had expected from this stay. She actually listened and told me she’d support me on the next settle and let me go to my baby when I thought was the key point and stroke him. It worked. I felt elated and the success continued for the rest of the stay although babe did start to get harder on the last day. The take home message was to stay consistent and persistent and keep life as routine as possible for the following two weeks and we should be on track.

I left feeling empowered and confident with my new skills. I was determined to be consistent and persistent for all of our sakes. I got my husband on board and wasn’t too phased as babe tested us out for the first few days (settling in period). I started to worry as it extended from there and babe got harder and harder to get down. I rang the sleep school for some tips and reassurance but was greeted very unhappily. I would be getting a two week follow up call and they weren’t staffed to field more calls. I cried in desperation and the nurse asked me if I was going to be stronger than my baby or not and that to keep being consistent and persistent and we’d get there. I was crushed but with nothing more I could do I stuck at it. The two week call came and I was a wreck. We were up for 2 hour battles at a time to try and stretch babe to his 4 hour minimum for feeds. My husband was trying to resettle for me to keep babe away from the boobs so he was shattered. My baby was a wreck. The two week call nurse had a little more empathy but no further practical advice other than that god damn catch cry ‘consistent and persistent’.

We continued on for 3 further torturous weeks until I ended up in a ball sobbing in the lounge while my baby screamed in his cot.
I realised I had plunged into PND. I booked into speak with my GP. She spoke to me about my options for treatment and decided that counselling would be the best first step. For some reason just being diagnosed was the start of my recovery … It was the start of my surrender. The first step in letting go and learning to forgive myself and my baby for not being what I’d imagined. On the same day, I had a phone call from my darling midwife at the Women’s Health Queensland Wide who I have spoken to since I found out I was pregnant. She was her usual great self but also really made me stop and think … I had gotten myself so caught up in all the things I SHOULD be doing for my baby to ‘fix’ all the things I had done wrong to have created such poor sleep habits that I had lost my ability to listen and respond to MY baby. All the noise in my head was telling me was that if I rock my baby, feed him to sleep, don’t resettle him YADAYADAYADA had gotten so loud. Especially after having been to sleep school. I thought if I just stuck at it and at it and at it, it would eventually work … Well it didn’t. 5 weeks after sleep school we were no closer to having a better sleeper and my baby was getting more and more frustrated and upset with me and everyone around him not listening to what he was very clearly trying to communicate. As he grew more unsettled, the more I grew frustrated and upset too. Hence the breakdown.

Turns out, my baby isn’t a textbook one (not that any are). From day dot, I chose to go with my baby’s flow, follow his cues, feed on demand etc. He was always good at communicating his wants and needs to me but I had a deliberately stopped listening (as you are told to when sleep training). Lucky for me in many ways, my guy didn’t give up on me. He kept on getting louder and louder until I was forced to pull back and listen. At breaking point, I felt like the only way to get better would be to get more sleep and speak to a professional who could tell me how to deal with my problems. But, my midwife sent me the latest research article on infant sleep. A very interesting read. It proposed the idea that infant sleep is as individual as the baby and sleep training is an inappropriate intervention for something that is only a ‘problem’ due to culture and society. It focussed on the idea that mothers need to be helped to maximise the quality of their own sleep rather than aiming for the ever elusive ‘more’ sleep. Quality over quantity.

At the same time, I had been getting right into Pinky McKay – books, Facebook page, blog. I felt like she spoke to my heart. Her motto, ‘gently and with love’ is how I always wanted to mother. Not this crazy lady who watched the clock and let my baby grizzle, cry and whinge wanting me to help him to sleep in my arms but insisting on breaking this habit as he would never learn to self settle. I also started focusing on putting myself in my baby’s shoes and empathising more. I would hate for my husband or mother or friend to constantly compare my abilities with anothers and remind me regularly I’m lacking and yet that is what we do as we ‘wish’ our baby was something they’re not. I’d be thinking, ‘aren’t I enough?’ ‘Why can’t I do what (name) can do? And my self esteem would slowly chip away. That is not acceptable to me for myself and it is certainly not acceptable for my baby.

As I reflected back on those 6 months I also realised that for all my bitching and moaning about not sleeping enough and being tired … I was fine. I was fit as a fiddle, I was active and had well and truly adjusted to life on little sleep. I caught 20-30 mins each time bub napped/ catnapped in the day and I was fine. . I chose to talk about other things with people when they ask how babe is going. No more wallowing, no more whinging. This too shall pass and it passed a lot less painfully when I stopped dwelling on something that I tried so very hard to fix. My baby didn’t need fixing. He needed his mum to understand that this is where he was at and one day down the track, he wouldn’t need me so much but he will always know that I will be there waiting for him should he ever need me that much again.

So mums and dads here’s our challenge … To accept our perfectly imperfect little person/ people for exactly who they are. Because just as jealousy and envy are toxic in any other relationship, so they are with our precious wee people who deserve nothing but unconditional love from their mum and dad.

Self reflection and growth is such an important part of parenthood. I look back on that time now with kind eyes for both myself and my baby. We were learning to be. And here we are today. So in love and so trusting. Ever growing and learning with each other.