#EndMommyWars

Lottie has a coldI’ve started writing this post three times today and was interrupted each time by Lottie crying. She woke up this morning with a runny nose and is very whingey so I’m guessing she has her first cold. She is extra needy today, so I cancelled all plans and have accommodated her three 45 minute naps, which all ended in coughing and crying, and then she had her first ‘at home sleep on the boob’ in weeks. Now she’s back in her cot for her record breaking fifth sleep of the day. I’m hoping she stays asleep long enough for me to get through this post.

The hot topic in the world of mothers on the internet this week is this new documentary/advertisement by formula company Similac: End Mommy Wars. The ‘cynical me’ would say this is a very clever marketing ploy to promote the formula product category and Similac brand by creating a clip of social commentary that entices viral sharing. I have read a couple of interesting critiques of the ad, such as this one which makes the valid point about the missing fathers and women who are more than happy to go back to work. And this one that argues ‘‘mommy wars’ are the patriarchy’s latest attempt to control women’ and that making judgements and sharing opinions is a perfectly natural way for mothers to behave. But the ‘trying not to be so cynical me’ can acknowledge that watching the video is a worthwhile way to spend seven minutes of your life and makes some good points about the destructive and unnecessary ‘judging’ of some mothers towards others.

I have written about baby wars before, including sleep and feeding battles. I have no doubt that most advice given by one mother to the next is well meaning and if it does have all the hallmarks of negative judgement it is, mostly, unintentional. But I think unnecessary judgmental comments can be avoided if we are mindful of what we are saying and how we express our advice and opinions. I will put my hand up now and admit I am a judgemental person, extremely opinionated and stubborn in my beliefs. But there is a big difference between silent, locked away inside my head judgement which I do my best not to communication in my facial expressions, body language and words, as compared with harsh, unhelpful judgement provided to anyone and everyone who will listen or read it on internet parenthood sites. To put it simply, if we are all going to take Similac’s advice and #EndMommyWars, here are some things ‘mommies’ need to stop doing.

Don’t criticise other parent’s decisions while justifying your own

An example of the underhanded way some people put down other parents while explaining (in other words, justifying) their own ideas and methods is this typical statement by a co-sleeper:

I co-sleep because my child loves being with me and as a result my child has great self-esteem, is a very loving person and has a deep attachment to me.

Such statements imply parents who don’t co-sleep are raising children who have low self-esteem, are hateful and aren’t secure in their attachment to their parents. This is offensive and also ridiculous. All children adore their parents if they are brought up with love and care and where a child sleeps has absolutely zero impact on their personality. Why not just say:

I co-sleep because it works best for my family. And leave it at that.

Don’t assume your experience is the same as everyone else’s

No two mothers will have the exact same experience of raising their child. Some mothers will leave their jobs to have children and will make the decision to work part-time or to not go back at all, preferring to become full time stay at home mothers. Other mums will miss their careers and will go back to work as soon as they can. Every mother experiences motherhood differently and so it’s important not to assume everyone feels the same way as you do about all the myriad of decisions parents have to make in raising their babies.

It is equally important to remember that where you may see choices as just that – choices – other people’s experiences might lead them to be forced into a particular outcome which they then have to do their best to deal with. Feeding a child formula rather than breast feeding is one example. So is the decision to go back to work, and a long list of other scenarios where one woman’s experience and situation might be completely different from your own.

Agree to disagree and mind your own business

The subject of sleep-training is one where I feel mothers should do their best to agree to disagree and avoid forming camps of ‘against’ or ‘for’ particular sleep methods. I have written many times about my experience sleep-training Lottie and the benefits my family have gained from this approach. It’s not been easy but I am content in my choice. If another mother would prefer not to sleep train her child, then that’s completely her family’s decision and nothing to do with me. Whether it is choosing to use dummies or not, feeding with formula or breastfeeding, when to introduce solids, crying it out or attachment parenting, everyone needs to remember that the only decision they have any influence over is their own and that literally everything else is none of their business. Some mothers seem to go on what I would call crusades of persuasion, trying to convince other mothers to emulate their own decisions in raising their children. But really, unless it affects your own child, such as the risk of your child catching deadly diseases off children who haven’t been immunised, or your child being hurt in some way by the behaviour of other children, everything else really is none of your business. Full stop.

Ok, so Lottie is now awake and so I will finish this post here. Here’s to a better mothers-getting-along-supporting-each-other world.

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Days Sleeps at Mothers’ Group

This is Lottie not sleeping on the beach. She ended up going to sleep on the boob. Not ideal!
This is Lottie not sleeping on the beach. She ended up going to sleep on the boob. Not ideal!

Last week I had my first official ‘Mothers’ Group’, organised by my local CaFHS office. I must admit, I was unsure at first whether there would be any point going to this group. I’ve been catching up with mothers with similar aged babies to Lottie since she was a few weeks old through friends I met doing aqua aerobics while I was pregnant. I also have a few close friends and two sisters who have babies and so I felt my bases were covered when it came to mother-advice-forums. However, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find I very much enjoyed my first official Mothers’ Group. There were ten mums from the local area, with twelve babies (yes, two sets of twins!), and all the babies were aged between 4 and 7 months. The structure was quite informal, and we had plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves. At the same time, the structure was also useful because the convenor of the group gave us the flexibility to choose which topics we wanted to discuss and unlike our informal get together with friends, we stick to those topics rather than gossip instead. For week two we all chose to discuss sleep and settling. On the topic of sleep and settling, I’m not really sure how Mothers’ Group is meant to work with sleep and settling so that would be the one problem I have with Mothers’ Group.

Mothers’ Group starts at 1:30 and ends at 3:30pm-ish. Before I was a mum, I would see this as a very convenient time to meet with a group of women with babies. There would be time to do some things in the morning, then I could have lunch beforehand and be home in plenty of time to organise dinner. The old me would probably expect to organise my day so my baby arrived at Mothers’ Group well rested and fed, ready to be happy-awake throughout the session and not crying for a feed or whinging for a sleep. But as I have had to come to terms with, this 1:30 – 3:30pm appointment is not so easy after all. It’s not that there would be a better two hour window in the day to take Lottie to Mothers’ Group. It’s just that, thanks to the way I have decided to manage Lottie’s ‘eat, play, sleep’ routine, there is absolutely no easy way to ensure all the ducks line up to make Mothers’ Group an easily achievable outing.

There are a few reasons why, which all have to do with sleep and settling. The first is that the length of Lottie’s day sleeps are completely unpredictable. And the speed at which she goes to sleep is also varied. Day sleeps in the cot are anywhere from 45 minutes long to 3 hours. I have no idea why. Sometimes Lottie whinges for a couple of minutes before going out like a light, but other times she chats to herself for half an hour before going to sleep, pushing out the entire ‘nap time’ to longer than expected. And then other times she is completely silent while she is going to sleep and I assume she’s asleep when she’s not, undoing my keeping-track-of-her-day-sleeps routine and not knowing how long she has in fact been asleep, unless I’m watching her cot-cam like a hawk which of course I am not because when she is asleep I’m busily doing things that need doing.

The outcome of all this unpredictability around day sleeps is that in order to get Lottie to Mothers’ Group on time (or anywhere on time), I may need to cut short a nap which is something I really hate to do (she gets very grumpy when woken). Or she wakes earlier enough that she is due to go back to sleep as soon as I arrive. Or worse, she could go to sleep in the car on the 10 minute drive there, then wake when I arrive (because she won’t stay asleep through the transfer out of the car anymore) and then she’s had a ridiculously short nap which leaves her whingy-tired until the next proper sleep. In fact by some miracle, Lottie didn’t start screaming at Mothers’ Group even though by the time it finishes she had been awake almost three hours, and just lay on the mat in front of me doing a great impression of almost going to sleep but not quite getting there. As I looked around at other babies happily sleeping on their rugs, including one pair of twins, and other babies contentedly being put down in their (static) prams and sleeping without a peep, I will admit I did get day-time-sleep-envy. From all the sleep training I’ve been doing and the spotting of tired signs, going through the sleep cues and successfully getting 3 or 4 reasonable length sleeps throughout the day, there is one thing Lottie cannot do: she can’t fall asleep when we are out and about without help. She can sleep in the car, she can sleep in a moving pram, she can sleep in the carrier (not for long) and she is an absolute pro at sleeping in her cot, or her portacot. But the only way to get her to sleep out of the house when I am not in a position to whip out the portacot, or if I can’t help her with motion because I’m sitting at a café, visiting a friend, at a birthday party, at Mothers’ Group, or even on the beach as I experienced recently, is to put her to sleep on my boob. This usually results in a 15 minute-max nap on the boob which is usually enough to take the edge off the overtiredness until I can get her home for a proper sleep. And thank goodness that the boob still does work as a last resort when I need it. But the outcome of all of this is that amongst the day sleeps, it’s very hard to do anything which a) needs to be done at a specific time, or b) involves me staying put for an hour or more without having to give in to boob-to-sleep which is far from ideal. Since Lottie only stays awake happily from an hour to two hours max, and since she has to be fed as soon as she wakes up so that eats into her awake time before we go out, whenever I go somewhere I am constantly wondering how on earth I am going to get her to sleep.

I wonder if the sleep and settling session at Mothers’ Group will give me any useful tips to help solve this problem? Or if, more likely, I’m just going to have to live with this reality, which I have chosen by managing sleeps the way I do. Of course if I learn anything useful, I will share it here.

Great sleep expectations

LottieYawningLottie is three and a half months old and is sleeping through the night fairly consistently. She goes to bed around 6 – 7pm depending on the timing and length of her last day sleep. I’m giving her a dream feed at 10pm and then 6 out of 7 nights a week for the past fortnight, she has made it through to 6-7am. As you can imagine, dropping the overnight feed is a very welcome change. The only downside, and I’m saying this totally as a ‘first world problem’ without, I hope, sounding too smug, is that now that I’m getting a full night’s sleep, a good 8 hour stretch is my new normal, just like it was before I had a newborn. So suddenly on the odd occasions Lottie does wake early, say around 4am, and definitely needs a feed, I find it very difficult to wake up, get out of bed and attend to her. In my head I’m screaming ‘come on Lottie! You know how to get all the way through, you should be able to do it every night!’. Quickly my expectation has changed from accepting that night feeds are just a part of life, to expecting night feeds to be no longer. But is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so. Let me explain why.

Last night Lottie woke at 4.50am and was yelling out. This is a nasty time of night and I was deeply asleep before I was woken. I checked on the cot-cam to see whether her yelling was hysterical or calm. Even though I can usually hear the difference between the insistent-not-going-to-stop-until-she’s-fed yelling and benign calling out, I find having a quick peep at her from the comfort of my bed a much more accurate way of deciphering where she is at. The expression on her face is an obvious giveaway – wide mouthed with scrunched up eyes or just staring around. So is her body language – flailing arms and kicking frantically means she’s hungry, but fairly still is a good sign she’ll go back to sleep. Last night I could see all the signs that Lottie was absolutely fine and so I didn’t get out of bed. Her eyes were shut and the calling out lasted only about 30 seconds so I suspect she was either yelling in her sleep, or waking ever-so-slightly between sleep cycles. Once she found her hand and started sucking it, she self-settled and slept through until 7am. Suffice to say I was really glad I didn’t get out of bed and go in there. If I had, I probably would have woken her up completely and then she definitely would have needed to be fed before going back to sleep; my getting up would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. But since my expectation was that she had had enough to eat from the last feed before bed and the dream feed, and that there should be no reason for her to need a feed at 4:50am since she’s proven many times she can make it through to morning, we got through the night again without an overnight feed.

When I was pregnant, one of the most common warnings from some friends and colleagues who were already parents was that I should prepare myself for the most painful part of motherhood: sleep deprivation. There’s no doubt sleep deprivation is tough and leaves you feeling muddy in the head, a bit sick, headachey and in my case, close to tears or hysterical laughter or both. There is also scientific evidence that mothers whose children have sleep issues are more prone to post-natal depression, so the impacts are very serious for some families. This is why I really believe we, as a society, should do new parents a favour and stop setting the expectation that sleep deprivation is a normal part of parenthood that lasts until children become toddlers, or even older. As I’ve seen proven in my own family and amongst many of my friends who also sleep-trained their children to self-settle, there is absolutely no reason why night feeds and spending time getting babies back to sleep should be keeping parents up at night past the 3-4 month mark. If my baby can be taught to self-settle and can get enough food into her belly to sustain her for an 8-9 hour sleep, there is absolutely no reason why, barring illness, another baby of a similar age can’t do the exact same thing. I understand there will be times in the future where Lottie won’t sleep all the way through the night; she might get sick, she’ll go through growth spurts and be extra hungry, solids might mess things around a bit, teething is a difficult period and when she is big enough, she might jump out of her cot in the night for a range of reasons. But overall, once a baby can self-settle and the expectation is set that they can, and should, sleep through the night, there is no good reason to make parents think anything else is considered ‘normal’. Why suffer from sleep deprivation if you don’t have to? The only thing I ever feel like doing between the hours of midnight and 6am is sleeping, and I’m setting the expectation that my child should feel the same way.

Whereas this post is based on my experiences as a new mother with one child, so a very small sample, I found it interesting to read this paper from the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health called ‘Sleeping like a baby? Infant sleep: Impact on caregivers and current controversies’. As I’ve written about previously on this blog, there are two schools of thought when it comes to baby sleep management: attachment and behavioural management. These are two ends of a continuum with most parents sitting on one side but not at the extreme ends. The paper is discussing the controversies around care-givers advice to new parents about baby sleep, where care-givers I assume are midwives, general practitioners and paediatricians.

The authors explain that attachment parenting is the method where babies are ‘parented to sleep’ with intervention such as rocking or being worn in a sling and where ‘waking overnight is regarded as adaptive and not to be discouraged’. They say evidence supporting this method ‘is predominantly personal and clinical experiences, informed by theories about parent–infant relationships and reports of care-giving practices in traditional societies. There is limited systematic evidence’. This is a polite way for scientists to say there is no credible, peer reviewed research to back up this method of sleep management.

Conversely, behaviour management methods are described as, ‘after excluding health-related explanations… parents [use] active strategies to respond to infant sleep problems’ and that this method ‘argues that infant behaviour can be shaped or modified by the caregiving milieu’. In other words, sleep training, which includes ‘parent education about infant development and capacities, providing the baby with a separate safe sleep space, and a predictable environment with regular routines of care and ways of responding to the baby’s crying and settling that ultimately encourage the baby to self-settle to sleep’. The benefits, or successful results, of the behavioural management approach, unlike attachment parenting, are proven ‘from research published in peer-reviewed journals but is also informed by clinical experience’. Don’t you love it when science backs up your pre-conceived notions! I think one of the key words in this quote is infant ‘capacities’; the capacity for the infant to sleep through the night should be something caregivers advise parents about, rather than setting the expectation that many months and possibly years of sleep deprivation is just part of life. The conclusion of the paper states that ‘Infant sleep problems are common, impact adversely on maternal and paternal mental health, and are amenable to behavioural management strategies. Future research needs to determine if there are long-term harms or sustained benefits of these interventions using rigorous, objective measures. Robust research delineating the benefits and harms of [attachment] approaches is also needed. In the meantime, clinicians should ask about infant sleep and maternal and paternal well-being, educate parents about normal sleep patterns and, if appropriate, offer behavioural management strategies to parents to implement (or not) as they see fit’.

So put simply, the authors found that more research is needed into the benefits and harms of both methods, but there is enough research already, and enough proof of detrimental impacts on families from lack of sleep, that caregivers should, ethically, at the very least make parents aware of what ‘normal’ sleep patterns are (that is, set the expectations of when a baby should be sleeping through the night’, and when appropriate, provide information about behavioural management strategies that parents can try if they choose to improve their child’s capacity to sleep. Amen to that!