Letting Go

Lottie4It might be obvious by reading this blog that I am quite a controlling person. I like to call it ‘organised’, but I understand that behind my back people would definitely describe me as controlling. I live a busy life. I’ve always preferred to be busy as I get bored easily; even as a child I had extra-curricular activities almost every night after school and I’m still one of those people who volunteers for everything. I belong to clubs, I dedicate myself to causes and my mind is always racing thinking about what’s next, how can I make the most use of today, what can I do to keep myself busy. A friend once observed that I don’t just seem to think fast and talk fast, but I also walk fast. She is right; dawdling is a waste of time. For this reason, my career has always found me in jobs that keep me full-time-crazy-busy and as a result being ultra-organised/controlling suited this life; I was always organised for the day ahead knowing exactly what needed to be done, what meetings I had, what phone calls I had to make and emails I had to return, what time I would have to be where and basically in 15 minute slots knew exactly what I would be doing from the start of the day to the end. I could make my day successful and I could be good at my job just by being organised, busy and making quick decisions. That’s what I was used to. And this worked well for me. Until Lottie arrived.

I’m not saying that I regret being controlling. Being organised is really helpful with a newborn; doing the washing when you’ve got a spare moment, making sure you have nappies, expressing milk so there’s stock in the freezer, keeping doctors’ appointments, remembering to eat lunch. I’m also finding being decisive is important too, because looking after a baby is continuous decision making: deciding you’ve seen a tired sign and putting baby down to sleep; deciding the difference between a whinge and an emotional cry that needs attending to; deciding whether to go into the supermarket while baby is awake, or driving around until she is asleep and then hoping to keep her asleep while shopping; deciding if baby has fed for long enough or if she’s popped off the boob early and will be hungry again in 10 minutes. The decisions you make are endless and by the end of the day this is the part of motherhood I find most exhausting. For me, there is also constant analysis of the decisions I’ve made, and analysing what I might do differently next time. I agree with this article about why 30-something career women overanalyse motherhood, and even ‘intellectualise’ everything, trying to find a better way of doing things by relying on seeking advice, doing research and reading books. And in my case writing this blog. I’m trying to get this baby stuff sorted just like my life was sorted before Lottie. Understandable really.

My controlling-like approach to motherhood isn’t going to change as this is my personality. Obviously if I was more inherently likely to go with the flow, I would have a different approach to motherhood and wouldn’t worry so much about each and every little thing. Maybe that would make things easier, maybe it wouldn’t. That’s by the by. I can’t change my personality. Motherhood can’t change my personality. But what I do need to do, and what I can do, is let go of the idea that by being organised, analytical and decisive, I can make Lottie as predictable as my life used to be. Because there is nothing predictable about babies.

Before Lottie, I could make my day successful by working hard and being organised and knowing exactly what I needed to do to make my day successful and so I did that and everything mostly turned out well. But with Lottie, I can do my absolute best to be organised, to make good decisions and to learn from past mistakes and analyse what went wrong to do it differently next time and everything can still go wrong. Three nights ago, Lottie woke every two hours after her dream feed and I have no idea why. The next night she was back on her usual one night feed after dream feed routine and I have no idea why. Today I left a gathering of mums lunching because Lottie slept for 10 minutes in the carrier and wouldn’t go back to sleep and was cracking it. I have no idea why. Tomorrow I could do the exact same thing and get a totally different result. For someone like me this can be maddening. And that’s why I need to let go. I need to do my best and understand sometimes I will be late, sometimes I will leave early, and something I will not turn up at all and that’s just the way things are with a small baby. Sometimes Lottie’s morning sleep will be one sleep cycle of 45 minutes, sometimes an hour, sometimes two and sometimes it won’t happen at all. Things can feel chaotic, and the dishes don’t get done, and the cats don’t get fed and you’re crazily jigging a baby who won’t sleep in your arms begging her to shut her eyes. And then the next day things can feel completely calm, and you have five hours of amazing day sleeps up your sleeve to finish the second draft of your Honours thesis. There is no rhyme or reason. Lottie just is. And I love her to bits so I’m happy to let go. And I’m happy to come to the conclusion that I’m ok with letting go in the only way I know how; where I will keep being organised, decisive and analytical while trying to control my world, whilst also knowing that Lottie will be unpredictable despite my best efforts. And that’s ok.

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Excuse Me Pinky…

IMG_6072In my last post I wrote about my defensiveness I feel about the sleep-training I have been doing with my 9 week old daughter. The reason for this defensiveness is the attitude out there in the land of baby wars about letting your child cry while they are learning to fall asleep without your help. You can read about my experiences of sleep training here. My sister has also contributed her experiences which are useful for anyone considering this method for themselves.

The thing is, I don’t feel guilty about leaving Lottie crying alone in her cot while she works out how to shut her eyes and go to sleep without motion, without a boob in her mouth, without being rocked in my arms. I don’t feel guilty that my baby is slowly but surely working out how to sleep without my help, a skill which is invaluable for her gaining more sleep, something that is incredibly important for my child’s development and the health and wellbeing of my family. The crying is hard but it gets less and less as she gets better at it, and it’s not emotional crying. It’s actually just whinging.

But according to those who don’t share my philosophies about parent-led sleep-training methods and routines, I should feel guilty. And not just guilty. According to many mother-experts on online forums who sit on the attachment parenting side of the continuum, and even some apparent sleep experts, I am lazy and selfish for wanting a baby to fit into my life instead of giving up my life for my baby. In fact, according to a famous rant by well-known lactation consultant, and not a doctor or a scientist, blogger Pinky McKay, I am a ‘baby tamer’ whose sleep-training methods will fill my child with ‘stress hormones that will fry his tiny brain and screw him up for life!’. After reading this rant, I felt like a good rant myself. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t mind a rant. So here goes.

Excuse me Pinky, I am amazed that someone who sells ‘gentle, no cry, guilt-free’ methods for putting a baby to sleep can be so the opposite of gentle in this poisonous expletive-laden rant that is full of statements and accusations aimed at making new mothers feel guilty and upset because of your nastiness and judgemental attitude. I’m not concerned about expletives, as I often use them myself while ranting about politics. Tony Abbott deserves expletives. But do mothers of new babies deserve to be sworn at? No, your rant was not tongue in cheek Pinky. I very much doubt you have the intelligence to even understand what tongue in cheek actually is, but your rant, I can assure you was not that.

I personally found the post about ‘most frequently asked stupid questions’ highly offensive, and as a new mother who doesn’t have post-natal depression, since it brought me close to tears I can only imagine it might push a more vulnerable and desperate mother over the edge. I wonder if you considered this. In fact, I have never read anything so offensive about parenting methods, apart from your faux-apology for writing this highly offensive post. Do you know what a faux apology is? It’s a thing that is offered in place of an apology which is in fact worse, as it’s basically the act of justifying the original offense whilst failing to actually apologise.

The absolute corker of a statement in your faux-apology, which I must admit made my blood-boil with rage, was the desperately sad tale of the death of your brother’s baby, which you say was a factor in pushing you over the edge and forcing you to write your rant. You say that when this death happened, you questioned ‘why do such amazing parents who have never ever left their baby to cry, who would do anything for their baby without complaining about the ‘inconvenience’ have to go through this?’ Read that to yourself a couple of times and think about what you’ve just said. You’ve said parents who sleep-train their babies, who, in your words ‘let their baby cry’, are more deserving of a dead baby than parents who don’t let their babies cry. This is grossly, outrageously, nastily offensive. If you can’t see this, I really don’t think you should be anywhere near vulnerable parents, let alone newborn babies.

There are many other things that I found offensive in both your articles, but rather than narrow in on all of them, let me just talk about your attitude towards sleep-training as a whole. Firstly, parents who sleep-train their children are doing it out of love, not out of selfishness or convenience. Although I won’t deny convenience is a bonus side effect. The fact is, sleep-training is difficult so lazy people wouldn’t attempt it. But I know that my baby is happier and healthier when she has had her daily sleep requirements and I am happier and healthier when I have not been up all night helping my baby to get back to sleep again and again and again. I should not, as a new mother, be made to feel bad about myself for wanting to get as much sleep as I possibly can for my child and for my family.

I am so sick and tired of the martyr-attitude of many people like you all over the internet who claim that any mother who tries to work out ways to manage their child’s sleeps in a way that doesn’t leave them with a two year old who needs to be rocked to sleep, or who has a child stuck in their bed, or who can’t leave their child with a babysitter or go back to work as their boob is the only thing that puts their baby to sleep, is not as ‘loving’ as a martyr ‘cuddler’ who is against sleep-training.

I am so sick of the attitude that crying is harmful and that anyone who ‘lets their child cry’, even for a moment, is damaging their child, destining them to have unstable emotional attachments as adults, who you imply will abandoned, perhaps even kicked out of home as teenagers, by their selfish parents who never wanted them in the first place. I love my child Pinky, and your suggestion that me wanting my child to have healthy sleeping habits is akin to child abuse is downright disgusting. I am so sick of these ‘no-cry’ methods being touted as the ‘guilt free’ way to get your child to sleep when really no parent should ever be made to feel guilty about working really hard to raise happy, healthy, children, of which good sleeping habits are an important ingredient.

I have no idea what your book actually specifically advises people to do because I haven’t read it. But I do find it ironic that, from what I have seen from the advice you give people on your blog, when parents come to you looking for solutions to wean from night feeding or want to stop rocking or feeding their child to sleep, you suggest putting the baby down awake. The only difference between your ‘put down awake’ and my ‘put down awake’ is you suggest then picking baby up every time they cry and starting over. This actually is sleep-training Pinky. That thing you hate – you’re actually advocating. Your sleep-training method would, in my experience, just take much longer than my sleep-training method as every time the child lets out an exasperated whinge saying ‘why, oh why oh why can’t I sleep when I’m so tired, I just want go to sleep’, you suggest the baby should be picked up and the whole process started over next time. So the result is that the baby has not been allowed to go to sleep and is now in mother’s or father’s arms where she doesn’t want to be, she doesn’t want a cuddle, she just wants to go to sleep, which is what she desperately needs when she is tired. But also the parents are told they should feel guilty if they don’t respond to every peep and once they have responded, they have to start over and this could go on and on and on and on and meanwhile no one is getting any sleep and the problem is not solved. Again, I must admit I haven’t read your methods, but from what I’ve seen it all sounds very frustratingly ineffectual.

My baby is still feeding during the night (one dream feed and one other feed) but I expect her to be sleeping all the way from 7pm to 7am by the time she is about 6 to 7 months old. You no doubt think this makes me lazy, and as you say, you can’t believe I conceived her in the first place since I’m apparently so lazy. Offensive. I notice when you complain about parents like me who would like to eventually stop feeding their child during the night, you claim they should never expect this of their child as not even adults expect to go for three hours a time without food and drink. Sorry to break this to you Pinky, but your adult-baby analogy here makes no sense at all, because most adults I know, including me, have three square meals a day and don’t get up during the night to eat and drink. That is my ideal and there’s no reason my child can’t achieve this when she is old enough. Now I think of it, the only time I don’t have three large meals a day which tide me over for an entire night’s sleep is when something like cake is offered to me, perhaps for morning or afternoon tea, or even dessert. When people put cake under my nose, I must admit I find it hard to resist. A bit like when a boob is shoved in a baby’s face and they find this snack, at 3:00am, when they’ve woken up and cried out asking their parents to rock/cuddle/pat/feed back to sleep, hard to resist. What if the baby doesn’t actually need their parents at 3:00am, nor a boob in the face? What if they could go back to sleep on their own and so there is no crying in the middle of the night and therefore less crying overall in a 24 hour period, and low and behold, a happy and healthy family who doesn’t need to be made to feel guilty about anything?

I’ve read many of the comments on your post from happy parents who are so relieved to be told that they don’t have to make the very hard decision to listen to their baby cry in order for their child to have healthy sleeping habits. The overall tone of these comments is one of relief; relief that it’s ok to help get your child to sleep if that’s what you want to do, and good on these people I say if they’re willing to invest hours day and night to this martyrdom quest not to let their babies cry. I just hope Pinky that your anger, your nastiness, your aggression towards parents who sleep train their children isn’t caused by a niggling, insecure idea that floats in the back of your mind where you banish it as desperately as you can; what if you hate what you call baby-tamers because you know our methods work? What if those relieved parents who are told by you that you’ve got a better solution, don’t find this solution works for them in the long run when they’re exhausted and desperate and looking for help to make a change to their situation? What if what they find in you is not the help they need, but instead is an aggressive, judgemental, ideological nastiness which ends up making them feel terrible in their sleep-deprived misery as you tell them the one thing which can actually help them, letting their baby cry, is child abuse? No wonder you’re so angry. I’m angry with you too.

Yours Sincerely

Victoria Rollison

PS: You might be interested to know my 8 week old is currently asleep happily in her ‘‘fancy pants’ safety standards approved’ cot, where I put her down at 7:00pm and she self-settled without any help from me. I know she’s happy because she has a smile on her face which I can see with my infrared video monitor. Her being asleep right now is, coincidentally, very convenient, leaving me the whole evening free to write this post and still have time to, how did you put it, ‘check everybody else’s train-wreck lives on facebook!’ My life isn’t one of the train-wrecks though because I’m getting plenty of sleep. Sorry to sound smug Pinky, I couldn’t help myself.

Sleep-Training Progress

A much happier baby than last week...
A much happier baby than last week…

Lottie has come out the other side of her 6 – 8 week cluster-feeding-clingathon and has had a fruitful week of sleep training. She’s has settled herself to sleep in her cot for the past four days, which she’s struggled to do previously, and has also had some other day sleep wins, self-settling with only short bursts of protest crying before going soundly to sleep. She has also had day sleeps happily in her pram, in the car, the carrier and even once in the swing so all in all I feel like sleep-training progress is progressing.

In the evening, Lottie has still been doing her strange version of self-settling where she will lie awake putting herself to sleep without a sound for what seems like a surprisingly long time for a baby to be lying awake; her longest stint is 90 minutes so far. Nevertheless, eventually she gets there and goes happily to sleep. I’ve been watching her on the video monitor while she wriggles around getting comfortable, sucks her hands, and sometimes lets out some yelps as her eyelids start to close, pop open again, and then slowly shut as she settles herself off to sleep. I’m sure she’ll get quicker at this as time goes on; I’ve already seen improvement in just a few days. And thankfully, she’s still self-settling without a peep after her night feeds, and the dream feed is still working a treat. So happy days (and nights) for the whole family.

I don’t, however, want to paint a picture of sleep training being easy peasy. In fact, while we’ve been focussing on it all week, I’ve hardly left the house as I’ve dedicated much of my time to getting Lottie into bed as soon as I see tired signs, doing my best to avoid overtiredness blowouts which make it impossible for her to self-settle. This sleep-training stuff needs constant vigilance, even when you’re out and about trying to manage sleeps out of the cot. There have, of course, been quite a few times when Lottie hasn’t gone to sleep without a peep and her protest cries have escalated to what I call ‘tears’; this is a different cry from whinging, it’s more of an insistent screaming – more emotional and ear piercing accompanied by tears and is horrible to listen to for even a moment. But even this type of crying, incidentally, isn’t, in my opinion, bad for my child. No need to panic. I just sort of what Lottie needs and the hysterics stop. This ‘tears’ cry is clearly completely different from the stop-start whinging cry prior to going to sleep, which I am quite happy to listen to as I know Lottie is just frustrated that she’s not asleep yet. The only thing that stops this whinging cry is sleep, blessed sleep.

As pointed out by my sister in her post about her experiences training her son to self-settle, sleep training is not just for Lottie; I am learning as well. So I am learning not only which cries need attention and which don’t, but also what action to take if ‘tears’ crying does happen; usually a top-up feed, maybe a burp or a nappy change. And the key point is I have learned that I should not go in to attend to Lottie unless the cry is insistent, or if the protest yelps have reached a point where Lottie is overtired and needs help to go to sleep (a limit of 20 – 30 minutes for day sleeps and 60 minutes in the evening). That’s the hardest part of the training. Not going in when Lottie is clearly frustrated and whinging. But I keep reminding myself of a very simple and obvious fact which is the entire basis behind the idea of self-settling: just because Lottie is crying, doesn’t mean she needs me or my husband. This has become my mantra as I sit and listen and watch on the monitor and wait for Lottie to find sleep: whingy, protesting crying is not Lottie calling out for mum and dad; I am not ignoring my child when she is in need. What Lottie needs, and desperately wants when she is whinging in frustration, exhausted, swaddled and snug as a bug in her cot, is to go to sleep.

I’m not going to discuss ‘rods for own backs’ and ‘crutches’ and ‘bad habits which are hard to break’ because I know it’s up to each mother to decide how she wants to manage her child’s sleep. All I will say is that I have faith that Lottie’s sleep training will pay dividends for her sleeping habits well into childhood. If I was to give in and intervene in the self-settling process, giving in to the whinging and picking her up every time she peeps, all I would have achieved is interrupting Lottie’s process of drifting off to sleep and she would have to start over with the self-settling process which means more crying overall. That’s not helpful to Lottie. It’s also not helpful to Lottie to have her needing me to help her go to sleep; which means waking in the night and finding they can’t get back to sleep without help, forcing them to cry out for assistance. And it’s also not helpful to me to have a baby waking all night crying out for my help either. I am a better mother when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

I am, even writing this post, quite defensive about my decision to sleep-train my child because of the controversy around ‘letting your baby cry’ and the accusations flung around about damage to babies which is no doubt aimed to make sleep-training parents feel guilty. I don’t, however, feel guilty. Not one bit. I believe healthy sleeping habits are just as important to Lottie’s development as good feeding habits. The more sleep Lottie gets, the happier, and healthier, a baby she is. And therefore I am confident that a small amount of crying as part of the process of training Lottie to go to sleep on her own is absolutely worth it for the long term benefits of Lottie being able to go to sleep on her own. No guilt. Full stop.

6 to 8 Weeks Day Sleep Hell

Lottie Eyes Wont Shut
Eyes won’t shut!
Lottie is 8 weeks and 1 day old. The reason I’m being so specific about her age is because, apparently, the first 6 to 8 weeks are the hardest weeks in the first three months of a baby’s life. I don’t know how reliable this advice is; I don’t know if this is the case for most parents, all parents or just some parents who happen to notice their child turning into a monster during this two week period and go on the internet to seek help; in fact, let’s face it, I don’t know much at all because everything to do with babies seems to be a grey area. That is why we rely on very grey advice and just do our best.

Those who have been following this blog so far will know that I’ve been trying to sleep train my daughter so she can go to sleep independently without my help. The good news is, I’m still having success with this training at night; Lottie has been having a dream feed and one other feed (which started off at 2am, creeped up to 3am, then 4am and last night was 5am) and has been thankfully settling herself to sleep so I can go straight back to sleep myself. Admittedly, I’m basically feeding-her-to-drowsy for these night feeds and I’m really lucky that Lottie has always recognised that night-time is not playtime so she’s been self-settling from a ‘sleepy-awake’ state at night. However, over the last two weeks, from 6 weeks to the day, to 8 weeks to the day, Lottie’s daytime behaviour has no longer been a happy-go-lucky eat-play-sleep routine. It has been chaos.

It is possibly worth pointing out that since Lottie was born two and a half weeks early, her first ‘Wonder Week’ occurred during this period, as Wonder Weeks are based on gestational age (her due date instead of birthday). So the first ‘4.5 to 5.5’ week ‘developmental leap’ fell in the 6 to 8 week crazy period, a leap which apparently results in lots of crying for no reason, wanting much more physical contact and lots more feeding. I don’t know if Wonder Weeks really exist or not, but if they do, Lottie definitely had one! Apparently there is a major growth spurt at around 6 weeks so I find it very confusing to know whether Lottie’s developmental behaviours are based on her gestational age or actual age, or a mixture of both. Either way, everything really went nuts in the last two weeks.

You might recall that I was having issues with finding I had to often rely on motion to get Lottie to sleep while the sun is up. During her first 6 weeks, sometimes Lottie would self-settle in her cot (which is my ideal when I’m at home), and sometimes she would protest in her cot for so long that I’d give in and give her the motion-like-in-the-womb she needed to fall asleep. I like to think of sleep training as similar to teaching your child to ride a bike; you take the training wheels off, with these training wheels being parent intervention such as rocking, patting, motion of any kind, carrying, co-sleeping etc., and see if the child can wobble their way to riding (putting themselves to sleep) without training wheels. If they don’t make it and fall off their bike (if the protesting goes on and on and on and doesn’t result in sleep), you put the training wheels back on and try again another day. That’s basically what I have been doing with Lottie for day sleeps at home; setting a limit of approximately 20 – 30 minutes of protest crying before we give in to motion. To complicate this situation, Lottie has a peculiar habit of failing to go to sleep after protesting for a while, but not letting me know she’s awake; that is she doesn’t always cry if I leave her in her cot to self-settle. Sometimes she lies awake so when I go into the nursery to check she’s asleep, hoping like crazy that she is in fact asleep, she very often isn’t and looks up at me with wide eyes as if to say ‘can I have a cuddle now please?’. It’s exasperatingly disappointing when this happens.

Even though the regular fall-back on motion seemed like a really big problem when I wrote about it, I’ve learned that bigger problems can always appear and make your other problems look like no problem at all. This is definitely the most frustrating part of motherhood so far. Basically during the last two weeks, shit got real. Lottie no longer just wanted motion to fall asleep; she wanted me. All the time. We went from some day sleeps being manufactured in the pram, the car, the carrier, her car capsule being rocked and a couple of times nursed to sleep in my arms, to long stretches of all of these methods failing and eventually giving in to jigging Lottie to sleep in my arms. Often while attached to my boob. All day. It was like Lottie’s eyes were glued open, flittering around, looking everywhere except at the back of her eyelids as her eyelids literally wouldn’t close, no matter what I would do. I did consider glue.

I had to laugh so I wouldn’t cry last week when I found myself sitting with her on my boob in the nursery with a dark blanket over both of us, like a creepy home-made tent, blocking out the light, humming lullabies and manically jigging her in my arms, trying to fool Lottie into thinking it was night time. Or perhaps making her think she was back in the womb. (This eventually put her to sleep if you’re desperate for soothing strategies. I recommend bringing your iPhone so you’ve got something to distract your mind from going mad with the ridiculousness of the eyelids still being open after an hour of jigging). Because of the long time it took getting Lottie to sleep during these eyelids-won’t-close periods, she was getting overtired every day – sometimes it took me 2, 3, 4 and even 5 hours to get her to sleep; way too long for her to be awake.

As the two weeks wore on, I started to realise that part of the problem was that Lottie was cluster feeding and therefore wouldn’t go to sleep as she kept asking for the boob. It’s funny to look back at this time with a new clarity; there were feeding and sleeping issues going on which were obviously both related. But as I’ve noted previously, I have been so obsessed with sleep, I think I took my eye off the feeding ball, assuming I had all of this sorted, when really the cluster feeding was possibly partly to blame for the crazy-long-awake times, along with the overstimulation that caused overtiredness, making it hard for Lottie to sleep even though she desperately wanted to. Cluster feeding could well be caused by the aforementioned growth spurt.

Things got increasingly desperate when my old guaranteed-to-get-Lottie-to-sleep fall-back methods stopped working; the car, otherwise previously known as the sleep machine, failed miserably, even after a 90 minute drive to the beach without stopping. The carrier stopped working at one stage, including when my husband took Lottie for a walk, which used to work wonders. I even bought a second hand motorised swing on Gumtree, convinced this was a better option than rocking her by hand in the capsule. But even this didn’t work; Lottie just cried and wanted to be picked up. The minute I took her out of the swing, she stopped crying immediately, like a switch being turned off. This is perfect evidence that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with her; she wasn’t sick, hungry, upset by a dirty nappy or gassy. She just wanted a cuddle. For two weeks. So there was lots of sleeping in my arms, making me not just confined to the house, but confined to the nursing chair or sofa; which drove me up the wall. I also recommend not getting stuck in this position without a phone charger nearby or the remote control out of reach. A few times I did manage the arms-to-cot transfer, but even then usually Lottie woke crying out for a cuddle or another feed after not even a 45 minute sleep cycle. It was enough to bring me to tears numerous times!

But the good news is, while I type this, on the day after Lottie’s 8 week birthday (which may just be a massive coincidence and she possibly won’t sleep for the rest of the day and night just to prove that you never can tell what’s around the corner), Lottie is asleep in her cot. She self-settled herself there after a short sleep in the pram this morning. So she can go to sleep without me during the day after all! HOORAY!

I’m hoping, praying, wishing, asking-gods-I-don’t-believe-in-for-mercy that the 6-8 week phase really is a thing and Lottie really is past it. The only recommendation I have to anyone reading this who thinks their baby is also behaving strangely at around the same age is to hang in there and know that it will eventually pass.

Even though I was determined to keep sleep training through this crazy period, it does appear that through these fussy phases, you have to do whatever it takes to get your baby to sleep. However, I would recommend doing your best to keep the self-settling training going, and just giving in when it fails and putting the training wheels back on. If I hadn’t persevered, and had assumed Lottie needed my help to sleep during the day forever, I wouldn’t have put her in her cot this morning to see if she would self-settle, and I wouldn’t have discovered that blessedly, she is back in her cot during the day. In the back of my head was also the fear that Lottie would want help getting to sleep at night if I always went straight to training wheels during the day, as she would come to rely on motion rather than riding the bike in the dark of night. But thankfully this didn’t happen. I can’t imagine how hard the last two weeks would have been if I wasn’t getting a good night’s sleep as well. And of course I’m not naïve enough to think the great nights will continue forever. In the meantime, I am grateful for every hour of sleep I get and I guess if Lottie does become a cluster-feeding-night-time-playing-middle-of-the-night monster, I will try to cope the best I can and that’s all I can hope for.

Baby wars: breastfeeding versus formula

BreastfeedingThe latest update on Lottie’s sleep will come in a subsequent post. This is partly because I’m really hoping the phase of her only wanting to sleep during the day in my arms or on my front in a carrier is a phase; I’m planning to write about it once it has passed. I may be delusionally optimistic about how quickly she will stop being ‘out of sorts’ but where there’s optimism there is hope! Instead, this post is about breastfeeding.

I was compelled to write about breastfeeding after reading this article by Mia Freedman about why she felt guilty about giving up breastfeeding after a nightmare seven months of mastitis. Mia’s story struck a chord with me as I have noticed that breastfeeding advocates, whether they be nurses, midwives, lactation consultants, mother experts on online forums, or even well-meaning friends and family who decide your babies feeding habits are their greatest concern, can come across as quite militantly insistent that ‘breast is best’. We’ve all heard this slogan many times, along with an array of reasons why breast is best. I get it, there are certainly many good reasons to breastfeed, however I will not leave this sentence there as I will add – if you can. Because I am certain that the vast majority of women who feed their babies formula turn to formula because breastfeeding hasn’t for some reason worked out for them. They have mostly tried to breastfeed, and have decided, usually in consultation with their doctors, that formula is the better option for them to keep their baby healthy and thriving. So why would people make them feel guilty about this outcome?

There are many medical reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t work for some new mothers. I’ve already had mastitis once and it wasn’t pleasant. So I can empathize with Mia about why after seven months of illness she fed her daughter formula. Good on her for calling out the bullies who have made her feel bad for doing something to save her health and sanity and in turn the health of her child.

Isn’t it just so typical that there is a comment on this article from a lactation consultant who perhaps inadvertently layers on the guilt by congratulating Mia for breastfeeding two of her children, and expressing great sorrow for Mia that she couldn’t find the help she needed to keep breastfeeding her third child:

‘This is so sad! As a Lactation Consultant it makes me so cross that you were not helped. If you breastfeed one baby without issue then get mastitis with the second – there’s a reason why that can most likely be fixed. Probably a structural issue. It doesn’t sound like you saw an IBCLC – just phoned the ABA and read books and saw a GP? Most GPs have very little breastfeeding knowledge – it’s a women’s health issue that isn’t taken seriously… Breastfeeding is normal for babies and for women… It’s great that your breastfed two babies as long as you wished to, and I’m very sorry that you were not helped to find out the cause of your mastitis with your second. Just treating the symptoms like it’s something random and uncontrollable is negligent. You deserved better care.’

This comment implies that Mia didn’t try hard enough to keep breastfeeding, reinforcing the attitude that Mia’s decision to feed her child formula was a failure on Mia’s part. Because Mia didn’t try hard enough. I would even say this comment is ironic given this is exactly the type of attitude that Mia is criticising. The problem is, this type of comment is so common and makes women who can’t breastfeed feel terrible. It has to stop!

In my opinion it is surely much more caring and supportive of new mothers and the experts who supposably support us if we all agree that it’s definitely worth trying to breastfeed, but if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason no one should be made to feel guilty. This is yet another baby war battleground where people need to get down off their high horse, show some empathy and acknowledge that the mental health of a new mother will not be improved by telling them they’ve failed their child when judging their decision to use formula instead of breastfeeding.

Now I’ve had my rant I thought it might be useful to list some of the pros and cons of breastfeeding and formula so we can have a mature discussion about the practicalities of both feeding methods. Even though I’ve pointed out that this isn’t a ‘choice’ for most people, I think it’s still handy to have this information.

Breastfeeding pros

  • You always have your breasts with you and you can therefore within reason breastfeed anywhere.
  • It’s free.
  • It’s good for your baby (note the nutritional benefits last only to the age of one).
  • Breastfeeding is a good way to soothe a cranky baby.

Breastfeeding cons

  • You have to wear something every day which is easy to pop a breast out of.
  • Your boobs often leak which is icky and you have to wear breast pads if you don’t want to walk around with leak patches.
  • You often worry about your supply, particularly in the evenings when your baby sometimes doesn’t seem to be able to get enough to fill their belly.
  • If you want to leave your baby with someone and go out or go back to work you have to spend hours expressing milk and going through the rigmarole of sterilizing the pump and bottle and storing in expensive sterilized bags.
  • I am finding I am always sweaty and stinky because of breastfeeding and I’m permanently thirsty.
  • Your nipples hurt. A lot.

Formula pros

  • You know exactly how much volume of milk you have given your baby so you can be confident they have fed enough.
  • Formula is designed by scientists with babies’ nutrition in mind.
  • Formula is digested slower so generally this means more time between feeds and therefore your newborn baby should sleep for longer stretches than breast-fed babies – major plus at night!
  • You can drink alcohol as much as you like.
  • You can wear whatever you like.
  • Generally feeding with a bottle is quicker than breastfeeding, leaving you more awake time with your baby to play and interact.
  • Other people can feed your baby as often as you like without having to worry about your supply being lessened and needing to pump and dump to keep your supply up and to stop your breasts from being engorged.

Formula cons

  • You have to prepare the formula bottles which can make it hard to feed anywhere and everywhere unless you are very organised beforehand.
  • Formula is expensive.
  • If you prepare a bottle of milk and your baby decides they’re not hungry but actually just wanted a cuddle, you’ve wasted the bottle/effort to prepare the bottle.

Overall, as you can see there is a fair list of pros and cons for both methods and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t thought of. But the point is, there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about choosing one option over the other. Let’s face it, when you look at a group of five-year-olds, no one can tell which were breastfed and which weren’t. Here is a funny take on this idea. For the record, my mum breastfed me and my twin sister for as long as she could but when it became clear she just couldn’t produce enough milk for the both of us, she switched to formula. I’m glad she did this as I clearly didn’t starve and turned out to be a pretty decent human being. But seriously, my sister and I are very rarely sick and when we were at school, never had sick days. In fact I think my first sick day was in year 11 when I had glandular fever, which wasn’t caused by me being fed formula as a baby, but came from kissing a boy. So let’s all just calm down and stop the guilt trips laden in the slogan ‘breast is best’. Seriously, if I hear one more person quote the World Health Organisation’s policy of encouraging exclusive breastfeeding until babies are six months old I will scream. The World Health Organisation isn’t concerned with first-world-Australian mums sticking with the breastfeeding. WHO’s recommendations are targeted at women in third-world countries who don’t have access to clean water for formula, nor the funds to pay for formula and therefore breastfeeding really is best in these circumstances. But in Australia, where we do have access to clean water and funds to buy formula when it is necessary to use it, we should use it and thank our lucky stars that our babies’ health isn’t compromised by breastfeeding problems.

In summary, I definitely believe there are enough benefits of breastfeeding that it’s worth trying to breastfeed when you have a baby. But if you can’t breastfeed and it’s causing health problems for you and/or your baby, you should be able to feed your baby formula without being made to feel guilty. As one helpful commenter on Mia’s article suggested, why don’t we change the slogan from ‘breast is best’ to ‘breast: do your best’. Sounds good to me!

Tizzie Hall versus Brian Symon

Tizzie versus SymonI am obsessed with Lottie’s sleeps. You’ll probably agree with me on this because you will have seen that I’ve been writing about sleep in pretty much every one of my posts on this blog. Those readers who have small babies will agree that sleep does become all-consuming. It’s fair to generalise and say that when you and your baby are getting enough sleep, nothing else matters. And when you’re not getting enough sleep, nothing else matters. Sure, you might say ‘but surely the health of your baby is what is most important’, to which I would say ‘if my baby is sleeping and putting on weight, she is clearly a healthy baby as if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t sleep well’. See why sleep is so important!

As you also would have noticed already on this blog, I have found two books really useful for eating and sleeping routines, following a ‘parent-led’ method of caring for my baby. The books are Tizzie Hall’s Save our Sleep and Brian Symon’s Silent Nights. The following review of these books outlines what I have found useful and not so useful when trying out their respective sleep advice.

Tizzie Hall – Save Our Sleep

Tizzie Hall’s book Save Our Sleep provides set routines, including set schedules, for feeding and sleeping patterns across a range of baby ages.

I will admit right up front that during the day I find Tizzie’s schedules really difficult to follow. This is because it’s not as the book makes it sound to swaddle your six week old and put her down in her cot at 8.15am on the dot and then to have her sleep for two and a half hours like a clockwork baby. Don’t get me wrong; it would be great if I could achieve the recommended schedule and stick to it all day. I’m sure there are parents who achieve this, and good luck to them. However, for the time being, I’m just not one of them.

Mostly the problem I have is getting Lottie to sleep quickly without spending a lot of time either letting her self-settle or resorting to helping her to get to sleep through parent intervention such as motion in the pram, carrier, driving in the car or my new favourite last resort when all else has failed and she’s overtired; feeding her to sleep on the boob (feel free to judge me, but know that I’ve only done this twice). The times that I have spent up to two hours or more trying to get Lottie to sleep in the day, it’s time to feed her again and lo and behold I’ve missed an entire sleep so Tizzie’s schedule is out the window and I’m beside myself wondering if Lottie will ever sleep again.

The other problem I find I have with Tizzie’s advice is that Lottie often doesn’t sleep for as long as the schedule recommends. So if she wakes after one hour, but the schedule says she should be asleep for two and a half hours, there is not much practical advice about what to do in this situation when things don’t go to plan. Tizzie recommends trying to get your baby back to sleep by putting them in the pram and going out for a walk etc. However I find that once Lottie wakes from a day sleep, she’s usually ready for a feed and not remotely interested in going back to sleep. I know this sounds like I’m giving in to a napping and snacking scenario, but to be honest I’ve found there’s not much I can do about this situation for day sleeps except to continue to work on them, which is a daily struggle. So even though Tizzie’s routines with fixed schedules do provide a nice ideal to work towards, so far I’m finding them an unattainable pipe dream. Especially when you take into account how difficult it is to achieve consistent sleep times through self-settling when you’re sleep training. Once the self-settling has failed, say after 30 minutes, your baby gets overtired. So not only is the schedule out, but sometimes the whole day is possibly a mess as getting an overtired baby to sleep, and to stay asleep, is stressful and really time consuming.

This review might make it sound like I’m not appreciative of Tizzie’s advice, so let me make it clear that even though I’m a bit disillusioned about day sleeps, I am incredibly grateful for Tizzie’s schedule/routine advice for night routines. For one thing, I am finding self-settling does work for some day sleeps so it’s clearly a really important skill for Lottie to learn, and I’m dedicated to stick with the training. But the other reason I am grateful for Tizzie’s advice is because, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting up to 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night through Tizzie’s night time advice. This includes the wonderful idea of a dream feed, which, coupled with a 7 o’clock bedtime and 7 o’clock waking time, is working, well, like a dream, for Lottie, and for me and my husband.

Basically the dream feed is mastering the art of feeding your baby while they are still asleep to save them from waking up hungry and demanding a feed. I’m currently doing the dream feed with expressed milk because I find this easier than dream feeding on the boob; she latches fine to one boob but I struggle to get her on the other boob without waking her up. My husband has also been giving Lottie I dream feed bottle regularly which gives me the chance to have even more sleep. Go team! Note that I do have to be careful to express milk right before I go to bed to make sure I don’t reduce my supply, but this is fine as long as I work this into my evening routine. And if I don’t have time to express, I just breastfeed for the dream feed instead.

After the dream feed, Lottie wakes and demands a feed around 2am or 3am. This is the only time I now have to get up overnight as she then mostly sleeps through to morning and either wakes around 7am or is woken up at 7am to start the day at a consistent time, as per Tizzie’s suggestion. I know I I’m really lucky that Lottie has worked out that at night she should be sleeping longer and going straight back to sleep after a feed. I’m feeling great now that I’m not so sleep deprived! I also know this amazing sleeping through the night thing might not last forever and could go haywire at any moment. But for the time being I’m enjoying getting a lot of sleep which leaves me refreshed and ready to deal with the challenges of the day sleeps. Lottie has been bright and happy in the mornings so she’s clearly chuffed with the sleeping overnight too. So like most things with babies, I’m taking the good with the bad and using the parts of Tizzie’s book that work for me, while not getting upset that the daytime sleep schedules aren’t nearly as easy as the book makes them sound. It’s taken a little while for my control-freak personality to reach this acceptance. But I keep reminding myself that as long as Lottie is getting enough sleep (which at her age is recommended to be 15-18 hours a day), and as long as she’s happy and putting on weight, and we’re not getting into too much of a snacking and napping routine, then all is well.

I will also acknowledge that Tizzie’s advice is working wonders in regards to the importance of self-settling by putting Lottie to sleep drowsy but awake in the same place she is going to wake up. Also, Tizzie’s swaddling (love the Save Our Sleep Double Wrap), comforter and blankets and room temperature advice is spot on. Particularly for 7pm bedtime, including the bath routine, Tizzie’s method of getting all your ducks in a row and letting baby self-settle is definitely working for me.

Dr Brian Symon – Silent Nights

One thing I should mention is that I’ve realised that when you find a baby advice book which seems to make sense to you and you decide to give its methods a try, it’s a good idea to keep referring back to it. I’ve just done this with Brian Symon’s book as when I first read it, Lottie wasn’t old enough for much of it to be relevant. However on re-reading, I’ve found that there are some gold nuggets which are really helping with my situation now that Lottie is almost seven weeks old.

So recapping where we’re at: Lottie is sleeping well at night with a stretch of 7-8 hours’ sleep, including a dream feed at 10pm. Then she has a shorter stretch of around 4-5 hours to get us through to morning after feeding at around 2 – 3am. However, as good as the night sleep is, the day sleeps are still a problem – including both getting Lottie to sleep in the day and avoiding over tiredness and keeping her asleep for longer than a cat nap.

The advice in Brian’s book is that once night sleeps are under control, the next most difficult sleep to sort out is morning sleeps, followed by afternoon sleeps. This made me feel much better as I felt like I wasn’t alone in the ‘why can’t I sort out day sleeps’ dilemma and that eventually if I persist, they will work themselves out. I might be delusional, but new mums need hope!

The thing I like about Brian’s advice is that he doesn’t make it sound like you can just click your fingers and magically make your baby go to sleep whenever you want them to. For instance, he acknowledges that leaving your baby to self-settle for more than 45 minutes for a day sleep is just not practical, so after this fails, he advises to get your baby up and find another method to get them to sleep, but to try self-settling again next time. I have found this much more practical than just assuming self-settling will work for every sleep. I’ve also found that avoiding over-tiredness is more important than achieving a self-settled sleep so sometimes you have to do whatever you can to get your baby to sleep, even if it does mean letting them go to sleep while breastfeeding or driving around and around and around and around (avoiding main roads with traffic lights so you never have to stop).

Brian also advocates a routine (which is basically eat, play, sleep), but is very flexible in the amount of time between feeds and the length of sleeps. I really like his concept of ‘happy wake time’ which encourages you to keep your baby up between sleeps as long as they are happy, but when you spot any sign that they are tired, to put them down. I am still learning Lottie’s tired signs; some are obvious like yawning but others are easy to mistake for wind, such as grizzling and arching her back. But my sister, who has a 4 month old, tells me that as Lottie gets older, her tired signs will get much more obvious, such as rubbing her eyes and sucking her thumb. Brian also suggests to look out for ‘blended’ behaviours which are signs of tiredness that signal it’s time for a day sleep. This type of behaviour, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, is easy to mistake for something else. It’s basically when your baby is oscillating between happy and smiling or laughing one second, and whinging the next. My sister’s four month old exhibits this blended behaviour pretty much every time he’s tired so we’ve all learned how to recognise when he’s demanding a sleep. This is what I would call Brian Symon’s day time sleep method; sleeping on demand, with the ‘demand’ being the tired signs when your baby reaches the end of ‘happy wake time’. I can vouch for the fact that if you’re able to spot this window of tiredness before it becomes over-tiredness, self-settling is much easier, and quicker and the whole world seems like a happier place.

The main reason I’m much more comfortable with Brian’s more flexible routine methods is because I’m finding that there is no consistency from one day to the next, or even from one sleep to the next, as to how long Lottie sleeps and how long she is able to be awake between sleeps. For instance, in Brian’s book, he says that once your baby is sleeping longer at night (as Lottie is now), her first sleep of the day might come much quicker than you expect. This seems irrational, because you would think after such a good night sleep, the first sleep of the day would be later rather than earlier. But I’m finding this advice is spot on for Lottie – she shows tired signs an hour after she wakes up after a long night time stretch and so I have to feed her, play for a short period and put her back down quickly to avoid over-tiredness in the morning. But by afternoon, she’s happy to be awake a bit longer, and there is no consistency about exactly how long she sleeps – sometimes it’s 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes 2-3 hours. And unlike Tizzie advises, I don’t wake her up when she’s having a day sleep as it’s usually such a struggle to get her to sleep, I find it hard to see a good reason to wake her! I’m assuming it’s a good idea to wake a baby in the day if they’re sleeping for so long that they’re confusing day time for night time. But Lottie isn’t at this point so I see no reason to wake her.

So just to recap, I’m basically using Tizzie’s schedule for night time sleep, as well as her bedding and self-settling advice, as well as using Brian Symon’s ‘what to do when self-settling doesn’t work’ method, and his ‘sleep on demand’ advice for day sleeps. It’s not easy doing sleep on demand when you’re out and about, or when you’re distracted by visitors or need to be at an appointment at a particular time. But it’s a skill that I’m trying to learn to make day sleeps more manageable and I’m really confident that this is the best way to get Lottie’s day sleeps working for us both. Note, I also assume the sleep on demand thing is difficult for babysitters who aren’t used to spotting tired signs and would also be difficult for a child care centre to accommodate once I’m back at work. However, I’m hoping that eventually, and before child care, Lottie’s day time sleeps will become more routine and fit a more obvious pattern or schedule. I might be being optimistic about this, but I will persevere and as usual, I will keep you updated on progress.

Final tip: Out of interest, I dictated most of this post to a notes page on my iPhone while Lottie had a one hour nap on my front this afternoon. Just in case you’re wondering how I fit this baby blog around the management of Lottie’s inconsistent day sleeps, this is one piece of technology I have discovered comes in very handy when you’re trying to multitask with a sleeping baby. Thanks for your help Siri!