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Accepting the Reality of Infant and Toddler Sleep

Imagine if we, as a society accepted normal infant and toddler sleep. 

I mean really accepted it, in all its glory. 

Every part of society, from every generation, every family, every profession, every community, every culture, every religion.

What if we knew and accepted it as expected and respected elements of a child’s development? 
What if everybody knew well before having their own children that their child would need night time parenting for the first few years of life? 
If everybody knew that waking frequently to nurse was the biologically normal way for an infant/ toddler human to sleep? 
If everybody knew that we are in fact ‘carry mammals’ and that our young require near constant contact with a caregiver for the first few months to continue their growth and development outside of the womb? 
If everybody knew that a baby’s and toddler’s sleep can fluctuate a lot  over the first couple of years as they grow and develop at a phenomenal rate? 
If everybody recognised that a baby’s and toddler’s need for comfort, closeness and nurturing at night is just as valid and important as their need for these things during the day? 
What if nobody doubted the value of night time parenting and wouldn’t even for a moment consider that they could trade it off so they could be a ‘better’ parent by day? 

We, as a society, would come at infant and toddler sleep from a whole other place than we do right now.

There’d be no sleep training and therefore no sleep training industry.

There would be less focus on the baby and their behaviour and more focus on the dyad as a dynamic pair and nurturing the nurturer.

There would be focus on all levels from family right through to the political sphere on the kinds of support families need to navigate this time in their lives.

Antenatal classes and Mums and Bubs groups would be all about helping mothers to build their support network and discovering options that will allow them to meet their baby’s needs while also meeting their own.

For mothers who are struggling with intense high needs babies, the support would recognise the extra level of challenge these mother face as they run the Ultra Marathon of her life and help put the supports in place that mother needs and deserves.

Mothers with mental health concerns would be nurtured and treated in ways that respect her child’s legitimate needs day and night.

Families making decisions about paid employment would do so with the full knowledge that their baby will still require night time parenting.

Wouldn’t the world look so different to the way it does right now.?


The stress, strain, struggle and sacrifices made all because so few people know and recognise what has always been and always will be the way our tiniest most vulnerable humans find sleep normally.

I was told that new and expecting mothers don’t want to know that babies continue waking for a couple of years. I was told I was scaring them unnecessarily and that it was the equivalent of telling horror birth stories to a pregnant mama as she prepared to birth.

I strongly disagree.

Knowing and accepting what IS likely to happen as your baby grows and develops is not a horror story. No one knows how your baby will find sleep in this world but one thing is for sure, they will need you and that is not something you need to fear. Instead of fear, it gives room to mentally, physically and practically prepare. It takes away the element of surprise. It removes the angst of ‘shouldn’t they be sleeping better yet?’, ‘why does my baby still wake?’

A birthing mother doesn’t need to hear every horrific tale of every horrific thing that may or may not happen to her. That does nothing to help her towards her own journey. But it equally does not help to tell her that it will be easy, straight forward and you practically just sneeze and the baby falls out without pain/ discomfort.

A pregnant or new mother does not need to hear every detail of every form of sleep torture she may or may not face in the years ahead with her child. But she equally doesn’t need to sprint to some arbitrary finish line that someone has told her and think that her child’s night-time needs will magically cease and her sleep will return to that of pre-baby.

Let’s be real. Let’s be honest and let’s give new parents the very best chance to set themselves up with realistic expectations for the early time in their child’s life where they will be needed just as much at night as they are by day.

I know this may seem like a pipe dream right now, but all it takes is for voices to rise. Mothers and babies of the future deserve better than what is offered up in mainstream society today.

When we know better, we can do better and so, for all of those in the know, it’s our turn to share our voice, speak our knowledge and share with all we can the truths of normal infant and toddler sleep.

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

My stressors fell into four categories-

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

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

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

We desperately wanted to get this right.

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

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

The information we received was damning.

We WERE doing it all wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we did it.

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

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

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

I am hard work on myself.

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

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

I was a shell.

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

I needed help and support.

I trusted their judgement ahead of my own.

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

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

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

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

He tried so damn hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We own our experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GUEST BLOG- one father’s attempt to understand why sleep training holds so much power

By Philip Hoad (Originally posted on The Beyond Sleep Training Project group page)

A first-time posting dad writes (long-windedly)…

This post is not a request for support, more a sharing of philosophy; it might be repetitious but hopefully not against the grain for the group. It’s really my attempt to work out why the hell it is that so many people seem to get sucked into the sleep training vortex… 

Brief backstory: my amazing, gentle, tenacious, selfless, sleep-starved, bloody-minded, boob machine wife and I are 12 months into the journey with our second son. Our first was a wakeful infant and was around 10-12 months before he slept through without needing some comfort. He seemed to take longer to ‘get it’ than other babies but we just blundered along as first time parents do, sending my wife into a really tough place along the way. Our second is a whole other level of difficult… 12 months in and the longest single sleep he’s had must be 3.5 hours, with an average night including about 5/6 awakenings, punctuating stretches that are usually 1-2 hours long. Some nights are much worse.

We have read a lot. We have learned much about infant sleep, developmental milestones, the wondrous wonders of breastfeeding, and the remarkable human body. We now know there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with our little sleep-thief, which makes it all the harder to just keep going until he doesn’t need us quite so much. But we do and we will, because we love the little bugger and can’t bear the thought of not helping him when he needs us most. 

We have agonised over what to do. We have spent many nights in different beds so at least one of us (me, the one without milky boobs) gets some sleep, so as to be useful to the other. 
And all the while, we have had the same first questions every parent seems to get: “is he a good baby?”, “is he sleeping through yet?”, followed swiftly by “have you tried sleep school?”.

We never, ever liked the idea of letting babies cry; it was intuitively wrong to us, right from day 1. But it was everywhere and we couldn’t understand why. And so, to my point:

We have come to feel that the sleep training movement is closely analogous to fundamentalist religious zealotry. The fervour with which its supporters espouse its virtues, the vehemence with which they defend their stance, their attacks on those who believe (or experience) differently, and the willingness to surrender reason and sensitivity in favour of someone else’s persuasive words, all sound far too familiar.

I am not saying that religious belief and gentle parenting are incompatible, far from it. I do however see parallels between the sleep training / gentle parenting divide and the fundamentalist religious doctrine / secular humanist standoff. Being an atheist, data-driven, science-loving type, I’ve had the odd debate with people who value belief above all else, and who are willing to accept as true, things which I tend to react to with “that doesn’t sound right, where can I see some published, peer-reviewed, controlled experiment based research to back it up?”. I have very similar conversations with people who advocate sleep training, and I almost always end up backing away from the discussion mumbling something about it “not being right for us”, rather than attacking it head on as something that I see as selfish, dangerous, and cruel. I do so because I know I’m likely to end up in a dead end debate where I bang my head against a brick wall. I have seen numerous examples of others being lambasted by sleep training advocates, conjuring up images of a Monty Python-esque stoning of a blasphemer. 

I think there is something deeply engrained in the human psyche for many people which allows them to take on a belief if it supports their existing worldview, and which defends those beliefs in the face of reason, (alternative!) facts, or their own instinct. Sadly, the propaganda machine for sleep training advocates has wormed its way into our collective psyche to the point where many accept its legitimacy without question. This makes the journey for those of us who would ordinarily trust ourselves much harder.

But there is hope! 
I think the hope comes from groups such as this, where like-minded folks can share their thoughts, doubts, experiences, wins, and setbacks; it comes from talking about what we see and feel and it comes from trusting our own eyes, ears, guts, and boobs. It comes from gaining the courage to question the accepted wisdom. It won’t happen overnight, but I think the movement is gaining ground and I’m proud to stand alongside all the other bleary-eyed parents who advocate listening to their babies and themselves. 

Rambling over, I’m going to get back to trying to support my hero-wife through the toughest (but finite!) months of our lives. 
Power to you, mums and dads. We’ll get there! 

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Calling all dads – why the mother of your child deserves your support with the decision not to sleep train

I generally write for the mamas of the world, but for this particular article, I need to reach out to the other essential person in the parenting equation- the dad.      

 Being a dad can be amazing. Being a dad can be special. Being a dad can be a monumental and life-changing shift.

Being a dad can also be frustrating, exhausting and confusing.

Having a baby puts all kinds of pressure and strain on even the strongest of relationships, and for many of us, it can be the first time we find that our points of difference with our significant other REALLY matter.


All new skills need to come into play in the relationship, and this can be hard when everyone is tired, uncertain and finding their feet in this new world with a baby. It can be even messier for the mother; it is not only the baby she is learning about and getting to know but also her post-partum body. The hormones, the recovery, the breastmilk and so many other things that come and go and evolve and take over in those immediate days, weeks and months post-partum.

If you and your partner are finding this time challenging, please know you aren’t alone! We all feel this, and it is HARD! Undeniably hard. This is, however, not the time to throw in the towel and it’s certainly not the time to go in on yourself. Your little family needs you and the way to make it through this is to dig deep. You will need to find your stores of empathy, patience and love and if you don’t have any of these things, well, it’s time for you to go out and FIND them. If you need help doing this, then seek help, this is important.

One of the very first and by far one of the most challenging points of difference you may have to overcome is the very real mismatch between how society and so many ‘experts’ including family and friends paint infant sleep and the reality of how it looks and feels for a mother following her baby and her instincts.

Society likes to sell the sleepy ideal of the ‘good baby’.

It’s all about your baby sleeping in a cot and limiting contact and comfort. 
It’s about timelines for when nursing is ‘necessary‘.  
It’s all about good sleep habits and bad sleep habits (the bad ones, being all the things a mother instinctually goes to).  
It’s all about convenience, ease and limiting any disruption to an adult’s preferred lifestyle and sleep choices.  
It’s all about forcing independence on your baby from as early an age as you can stomach.  
It’s about giving you reasons why it is okay to let your baby cry and dictating if or when it is ‘right’ and necessary to comfort them.  
It’s all about cheering mothers on as they train their baby to give up on them, reassuring her that this thing that makes her feel sick to her stomach NEEDs to be done for own and her baby’s benefit.  
It’s all about making her doubt herself and why HER baby still wakes at night while everyone else’s baby at mother’s group ‘sleeps through‘.  
   
When I say society, I mean everywhere … from virtually every angle in a mother’s life she will face pressure, advice and instruction on how to raise her baby and how to rid her life of these unnecessary ‘sleep problems’ that she has brought on herself because she has continued to meet her baby at their point of need and not withdrawn her comfort.

Nursing, cuddling, rocking, letting a baby sleep on your chest, in a carrier, in your bed– all natural methods to settle a baby that a mother instinctively goes to … society says are BAD. All are negative sleep associations, sleep crutches and things you must break the ‘habit’ of if you ever want your child to sleep. Ever. Forever. That’s right, if you comfort your baby while they are helpless infants, you are screwing them up for life. They’ll NEVER learn to ‘self-soothe‘, they’ll be needing boobie til they’re 50 and your bed? Oh, well they may leave that one day when their spouse moves in.

The scaremongering is intense, and honestly, it is utterly ridiculous and yet the relentlessness of it, the fact that it is EVERYWHERE and coming from every angle … well, it starts to seep in.


The mother who has the strength, the knowledge, the bravery and belief to stick with her instincts and her infant are in fact an incredibly rare breed. I am not one. I come to this no sleep training path after going through a living hell trying and failing to sleep train, my first baby.

If the mother of your baby is unwilling to sleep train, I can guarantee you, she has not made this decision lightly, and it has to be one of the most unselfish decisions of her life. I didn’t sleep train because I was selfish. Wanting to sleep train is a complicated choice for many and for me, it was borne of genuine concern for my baby’s development and the wellbeing of my family BUT above all, the decision to move beyond sleep training with my first and to not sleep train my second child has required a tremendous amount of strength, stamina, faith and belief. It has been character building and challenging and worth every moment and every sacrifice.

Once I had learned more about what normal infant sleep looked like, once I knew about the concept of breastsleeping, once I knew why it felt so very right to answer my baby’s every cry and to respond with nurturing comfort, once I knew that our babies and toddlers really do only need us this intensely for such a short while in the grand scheme of life. Once I knew there were so many benefits to my child as they grow and develop by simply meeting them right where they were at with no need for ‘tough love’ or to shove them towards independence (which doesn’t require any force), well this mothering business just FELT so much more natural to me. So much stress, strain and anxiety I had felt trying to do it all ‘right’ just disappeared. It freed me to be the mother I needed to be for my unique baby.

I no longer felt like I was fighting against my heart or my child. Suddenly, we were on the same side. There was no ‘us and them’ and no battle to be had or to win.


There are good reasons why a baby’s cry brings physical and mental anguish. A baby has no other way to communicate their needs. I’m very sure that if you ever found yourself in a state that rendered you completely helpless to the whim of your caregiver, you’d hope to have your limited ability to express your needs honoured promptly and each and every time. I’m sure it would make no sense to you that your cries be ignored in favour of what some textbook or relative had to say about when, how and why your cries are worthy of answering, and the same applies to your infant.

A baby and even toddlers lack the brain development to manipulate so if this is another fear you have thanks to old Aunt Gladys sharing her pearls of wisdom, then you can alleviate it right now. It’s impossible. If your baby is crying, they need you or their mum. Every time.

I know you are probably exhausted and worried about your family, but after all, is said and done, the mother of your baby does not need yet another voice telling her she is wrong, her instincts are wrong and that she cannot trust her (your) baby. She just doesn’t.

She DOES need your support.

This may not be how you pictured this parenting gig. Newsflash, it’s probably not how she pictured it either. But this is it for now. Please know that there is no harm in surrendering to now with your child. NOTHING lasts forever with babies. Things will evolve and change many times in the next few years, and it will all be so much more enjoyable if it happens as a team. Indeed, even while this feels so right for this mother on the inside, she will be battling through so much doubt, frustration and exhaustion at times, that she will need you there to see her through. Appreciate the stamina, passion and belief she puts in day in night out. It’s no mean feat when society loves to tell you you’ve got it all wrong.


This is a marathon worth running.

Once you commit to this alongside the mother of your child, you can then think as a team to make it work in your situation. She cannot and should not be doing this on her own. Talk it through, work it through. Be the adults together.

Thank you for caring enough, to have read this far. I have linked articles throughout this piece to help you gain a deeper understanding of this time from your baby’s perspective and also the mother’s.

Your child deserves this, and so does the mother of that child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Would I have been happier if I’d just sleep trained like my friends?

Would I have been happier if I’d just sleep trained like my friends?

This question appeared in my feed.

The answer best comes in the shape of another question, is the grass always greener on the other side?

Sleep training is not the miracle cure all that it is often portrayed as and although it is proclaimed to have worked ‘wonders’ for many, it is the source of much stress, anxiety, repetition and struggle for the parents who often find they train, retrain, retrain and you guessed it retrain again. I have MANY friends and acquaintances who have sleep trained and all in all, while it may seem like they are living the high life full of solitary sleep, easy naps and non-needy babies, in actual real life, they seem to struggle just as much, if not more than I do with my nontrained, nonconforming, wakeful little bedsharers.

Life with little kids is tough and stressful and poses many challenges regardless as to whether you managed to hit the supposed pinnacle of successful parenting and achieved the all night cot sleeping, self settling, predictable nap ‘good’ baby.

So yes, you may still be picturing yourself as somehow a happier, more well rested version if you’d gone the sleep training route but this then begs the question, how and why did you take this alternate route?

For me, it was because I ‘failed’ at sleep training and so was forced to rethink my way of approaching infant sleep and through that experience, I came to recognise just how wrong sleep training felt to me on a visceral level. My motherly instinct screamed at me that my baby needed me so but for a long time I didn’t trust this instinct to know what was best for my child.

My instinct was right.

My baby desperately needed me just as much at night as he did during the day and one thing that has really helped me quantify the huge value of the comfort I have provided to him from the time I ceased sleep training is the thought of just how many nursing sessions, cuddles, hand holding, comforting words, singing and prompt response my baby would have lost out on had I indeed ‘succeeded’ at silencing him.

His intense needs have been incredibly stifling at times but honestly, the knowledge that he has always had his needs met fills my heart so much.

The thought that I may never have known, recognised or understood his needs saddens me beyond belief. My sensitive, beautiful babe has at times, asked more of me than I ever thought I could give but I kept on showing up. He needed me and I was there.

I feel comfortable and at peace in this knowledge and it something that those who ‘succeeded’ in sleep training will never know. They will never know if their baby had every need met because they were silenced. They were taught not to call out when they needed help through the night.

For that, the grass on my side will always appear greenest to me. I have no doubts of what I have gained in this long weary season and I am grateful also to not have to worry about what may have been lost.

It can be a long and lonely path to take choosing to go against the dominant sleep training culture but for those on it right now, keep faith in yourself and faith in your baby. You will make it through this together and it will all be worthwhile. Hang in there mamas x

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Why following your instincts is even more challenging if your baby has high end needs

Why following your instincts is even more challenging if your baby has high end needs

Honouring your instincts and mothering the way that feels right for you is extremely challenging in today’s society that values styles of parenting that are very ‘textbook’ and focus heavily on setting boundaries, routines and limits on responsiveness right from the very early days of a baby’s life. Anyone who has opted to follow their baby’s lead when it comes to nursing and sleep will tell you it can be a lonely path to take and it is hard not to doubt yourself and your baby as you make your way through this season in life with all the twists, turns and challenges it naturally takes. I’d like shed some light on a subgroup of mothers who face even heavier challenges … the mother of the high end needs baby.  


I was just at the park with my kids and I was standing with a group of mums when one mum asked the other if she was getting any more sleep as she’d looked shattered the previous day. The mum says, ‘oh my gosh, I’m just so exhausted! My little guy (about 6 months) has started waking twice overnight and my big guy woke for a drink and has done for a few nights in a row. The baby seems hungry but oh my god, I’m exhausted!’

Now I’m not claiming she wasn’t exhausted. In her experience, she most likely is.

But, I swear to god, if I’d heard that same conversation a couple of years ago while I mothered my first high needs baby, I would have-

a. Wanted to slap her across the face
b. Burst into tears and shaken her while I screamed, ‘exhausted? I’ll show you f#%^ing exhausted!’ then run away and gone home with my little sleep thief feeling even more shit and alone because no one else seemed to get it.
c. Or most likely, just walked away with my baby quickly to hide my tears and gone home feeling desperately alone.

Now, I realise that most people who already follow their baby’s sleep lead would know that 2 wake ups a night at 6 months freaking rocks and is absolutely normal BUT for the mother who is following her wakeful little firecracker’s lead, two wake ups can sound like the ultimate luxurious dream as she wakes for the 6+ time that night.

It’s not just that it’s hard for this mother to feel as though she is understood (because let’s face it, she’s largely not), what’s even harder is for this mother to be able to keep any faith in herself and her baby and what they are doing as a pair when everyone around them seems to experience this infant sleep business in such a different way.

Why can’t my baby sleep like that? Why does my baby wake so excessively? Is there something wrong with them? Have I created this mess? Maybe it’s because I breastfeed to sleep? Maybe I do have to teach my baby to self soothe so they can link sleep cycles? Maybe it’s because I’m drinking a coffee a day now? Maybe it’s because I am misunderstanding my baby’s early sleep cues and missing their window? Maybe it’s because I let my baby catnap during the day? Maybe I need to start solids? Maybe a bedtime bottle of formula? Maybe it’s because we bedshare? Maybe I should try the cot again?

I can safely say as a person on the outside who once lived inside this confusing, disheartening, sleep deprived, muddled haze, that provided your baby has been checked out for any underlying health issues that may be exacerbating their normal wakeful behaviour, you have not done a single thing to cause this waking. Your little person just happens to have an intense need for parenting both day and night. It is normal for a baby to wake and nurse back to sleep frequently at night. It is physiologically impossible for an infant or toddler to soothe themselves from a place of distress and therefore, self soothing is not something you can teach your baby.

This may feel like cold comfort to the mother in the thick of living and loving their high needs person but I can tell you now, the first time I heard this, I felt like an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders …

It was no longer MY fault.

It was no longer my BABY’s fault.

And, it felt almost heavenly to know I was not alone.

And still, the weight would grow heavier and heavier and heavier over time as the relentless waking, the relentless weariness, the relentless need for comfort day after night after day after day after night …

I would cycle through patches of extreme vulnerability so frequently and all of the beauty that a gentler approach to parenting would become tainted by my exhaustion. The questions and doubts would creep on in and heaven forbid I showed it to anyone for I’d be swooped on by pitying faces and sleep training promises and told my baby was manipulating me and all about the good old rod I’d created and how abnormal he was and how unnecessary breastfeeding at night was.

It may be seen as super judgemental for a gentle parent to propose that maybe a mainstream parenting technique like sleep training is inappropriate but my goodness, in my experience it’s a bloody free for all when it comes to advice coming from the other way.

My gentle ways that felt so right even if I was shattered and brought my baby so much comfort were routinely ripped to shreds which in effect, ripped me and my extraordinary efforts to shreds, too. Society held so little value for the huge amount of blood, sweat and tears I poured into that baby of mine. I was treated as though I was a bit crazy, a bit of an alternative hippy and once people learned of my complete distaste for sleep training (even if they knew what we had gone through), they so often gave me that pitiful shrug and head tilt, of ‘oh well, if you aren’t willing to do it then I guess you’ll just have to stay tired.’

So little empathy.

No true understanding.

It was a truly lonely journey.

I had to cling to little things to get me through. I had to tell myself and my baby frequently that we were a team and we’d get through this together. Posts on The Milk Meg that normalised night waking and boobin all night became a lifeline. Pinky McKay’s reassuring articles about breastfeeding and soothing a baby to sleep helped me gain more confidence in why it felt right to help my baby so. The 12 Features of the High Needs Baby by Dr William Sears saw me in tears … for the first time, someone seemed to ‘get’ my baby. Evolutionary Parenting and Sarah Ockwell Smith helped me better understand why sleep training is not something any baby needs but why it is so popular. I found the amazing books Sweet Sleep by La Leche League and The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas and learned so much about normal infant sleep patterns.

I looked, learned and reached out and you know what I found in all of this … I was so far from alone.

My baby was not a freak.

And I most certainly was not the only mother sitting by herself crying over the fact that her friends thought that 2 wake ups at night was something they’d call a ‘bad night’.

To those who have less intense little people, I know how many times you would have experienced doubt and worry on your gentle journey but I ask you to really think of those mothers in both your real and virtual communities who have an extra added layer of ‘hard’ that they are battling through and take time to show them you see them and their incredible efforts and the way they continue on despite the heavy weight of societal pressure telling them they are wrong every chance it gets.

Next time you read a, ‘I never wanted to sleep train but I honestly can’t do this anymore!’ plea, please, I beg you to stop, reflect and then respond. The whole, ‘I could never do that, how could you consider…’ comments are by far the worst.

Talk with this mama. Fill her confidence in mothering with her instincts back up. She needs you to have her back when she’s vulnerable. She needs to know she can do this incredibly hard thing but may need to ask help to keep doing it. She needs your practical help and a little empathy never went astray.

To those mamas with intense little ones, I salute you. You are the unsung heroes of the mothering world and your wee one will forever benefit from the incredible commitment of love, time and patience you have given them. Your efforts are not in vain. You are doing incredibly important work, never doubt it.

 I sincerely hope to see the day where it is normal to nurture your baby and meet them at their point of need regardless of how intense those needs may be. Until then, I will continue to speak of the biological norm and shine a light on the wonderful work being done by gentle mothers the world over that deserves to be revered instead of ridiculed.

I dream of the day we can say we have truly moved beyond the sleep training culture.

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