‘Is she hungry? Is she teething? Is she eating her teeth? She falls fast asleep on me but as soon as I even think about putting her in the cot she wakes up screaming!’
‘Do you check her limbs are limp?’ He enquired.
‘Yes, Dr bloody Sears, I do. I also wait for the right time in her sleep cycle, listen for steady breathing and slowly put her down in the cot I have checked is warm enough, in the room I have checked is cool enough!’
I had been a mum for several months and still had NO idea how to get my baby to go to sleep or stay asleep.
I had read all the books.
I knew all the stuff. Growth spurts, sleep regression and separation anxiety. I could prevent nappy rash and spot the signs of meningitis.
But knowing all the ‘stuff’ had not made motherhood any easier.
My baby did not do things by the book. Especially when it came to sleep.
Babies should sleep around ten hours per night and have three naps per day, I had read.
Not my daughter. She had laughed in the face of sleep advice and had decided that sixteen hours of sleep per day was not for her.
As a result, I was sleep-deprived, stressed and felt like a failure.
I thought I knew what my baby needed. I knew what I needed – sleep! But somewhere in between What To Expect When You Are Expecting, babyexpertsknowbest.com and countless ‘life-changing’ sleep advice books, I had lost the ability to trust my gut feeling.
I felt my daughter needed to be close to me while she slept. My gut was telling me that she did not yet feel secure enough to sleep alone.
But what the hell did my gut know?
My gut hasn’t got childcare qualifications or written a book. It doesn’t have 68 million followers on Twitter or any ‘research’ to back it up.
I had read it was bad to co-sleep. It could put my baby at risk and I would be ‘making a rod for my own back.’ She would NEVER learn to sleep alone. I had read that it was essential to stick to a bedtime routine NO MATTER WHAT.
I had also forgotten how to use my common sense since becoming a mum.
‘So your baby won’t sleep in her cot but she’ll sleep with you? You only get a couple of hours of broken sleep a night and some nights you get NO sleep at all?
You spend every evening in a dark room for three hours sticking to the Bedtime Routine? Err, skip the routine, let her sleep with you and get some bloody sleep. Problem solved.”
Shut the hell up, Common Sense, I thought. I am just a mum. I will not bugger up my child by ignoring the ‘experts.
So I did everything the ‘right’ way and continued to be severely sleep-deprived, stressed and feel like a failure.
But I kept on ignoring my maternal instincts. Doing things that felt wrong because I thought they were ‘right’ and my baby still wouldn’t sleep.
As time passed, motherhood had taken its toll on my mental health, my physical health and my self-esteem.
‘A good night’s sleep is essential to your baby’s brain development. A baby needs to be taught how to be a good sleeper.’ They claimed.
I had got to the point where I felt guilty for NOT leaving my baby to cry. What kind of mother cuddles her baby when she screams? Was I being cruel by not letting her cry herself to sleep?
In desperation one night, my husband I left our daughter to cry. We had tried all the gentle sleep training methods and nothing had worked so this was our last hope.
It was the worst ten minutes of my life. Just TEN minutes of my baby screaming for comfort was all it took for me to realise that I had been an IDIOT.
I brought her into my bed and held her in my arms. She was so upset it took most of the night to settle her to sleep.
When I looked at her little face drenched with tears and listened to her struggling to get her breath back after crying, I decided there and then to STOP giving a fuck about the expert advice.
From that day forward the only thing I gave a damn about was my baby. I followed her lead and gave her what she needed. I did what I thought was best for my family. I didn’t get much sleep for a while but I dealt with it. We were happy and my baby was OK.
So dear baby sleep ‘experts.’ Write your books, launch your websites, advertise your services, but stop using scare-mongering as a sales technique.
By suggesting that if someone does not follow your method in your book or by paying for your help, he will end up ‘stupid/insecure/a sociopath,’ you are making the parent who’s baby does not respond to this method feel like a failure.
Why not simply say, ‘this is one option – why not see if it works for your family. If not try something else.’
To the parenting gurus with books to sell telling us that sleep training is damaging our offspring – THIS IS NOT ON. To the baby experts with books to sell claiming that co-sleeping is damaging our offspring – THIS IS NOT ON.
You are not only killing our maternal instincts and zapping our confidence but you are belittling the work of all the decent baby sleep consultants out there who genuinely want to help people.
If it feels right, sleep with your babies – follow the safety guidelines and unless you drink, smoke or sleep on a bed of nails, they will turn out just fine.
If it is feels right, gently sleep coach your baby – as long as you are not leaving them to cry in a dark room all night long – they will turn out fine.
Let them have a dummy, feed them, rock them, sing to them, lie down with them. Do what YOU feel your baby needs.
The books can tell us about the ‘stuff’. They can teach us practical things, advise us on safety measures and milestones – but they can’t tell us how to be a mother to our babies.
We are grown up parents and perfectly capable of using our common sense. We need to believe we are not idiots and have the courage of our convictions.
Let’s ‘Mum Up’ and stop giving so many fucks about what the ‘experts’ say.
Oh and for the record, at around two and a half years old my baby started sleeping through the night in her own bed. Not because of a ‘technique’ or because I followed some expert advice but because she JUST did. Now she is a bright, happy toddler and is neither stupid, insecure or a sociopath. I just wish I had stopped giving a damn sooner.
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