The Great Sleep Obsession (The Problem of Modern Day Life versus the Primitive Infant)

Sleep 

No other word can generate such an emotive response in so many parents of young children. The ‘baby sleep industry’ is worth millions of pounds, a myriad of products from pharmaceutical to musical, mechanical and material adorn the shelves of the high street luring in tired new parents with the promise of peaceful nights. Thousands of professionals earn a living from exploiting the vulnerabilities and exhaustion of sleep deprived parents around the world, training babies and toddlers to ‘sleep through the night’. To add to this the media regularly report on surveys showing how the sleepless nights of baby and toddlerdom lead to breakdowns in relationships and now television producers want a slice of the pie with new programmes, like the shockingly awful Bedtime Live, springing up and with no doubt more to come.

Sleep is a big issue in our modern day society and an enticing money-maker. Yet, is our species so flawed that we must forever be destined to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the first three years of our offspring’s life? Or does our infant sleep obsession show a more concerning need for a greater understanding of the norms of our evolutionary biology? If parents were truly educated about the sleep behaviours of normal babies and children and the illusion of the perfect ‘contented little baby’ sleeping 12 hours at night by as many weeks was shattered and replaced with realistic, evidence based information then everything would change. It would change how we are with our babies and children, it would change the value of motherhood and it would change the support we give to young families, I do not think I am being over-dramatic to say that in turn it may then just change the world.

Currently, as a society we are not supportive of young families. Only a century ago it was acceptable to be a mother, it was rightly seen as the important job it is. Now we parent miles away from our own families, no longer embraced by a support network. We are under pressure to “have it all” to be a ‘yummy mummy’, with a perfect figure, a perfect house, perfect clothes and a perfect job. It is however, just not possible to live up to this ideal whilst also responding to the normal and natural needs of our infants. Something has to give and sadly, very often, it is the needs of our children. We sleep train our children in order that they fit into our modern lives more easily, we fool ourselves into believing that it is our offspring that have ‘sleep problems’ rather than opening our eyes to the real problem – that is the disharmony between the primal needs of our young and the expectations of the modern world. Who really has the problem?

baby toddler asleep with teddy bear
Babies and toddlers don’t sleep like adults, they wake – lots – and this is perfectly normal.

When a baby is in utero he borrows the circadian rhythms (body clock) of his mother as melatonin is passed to him via the placenta, after birth however, he’s on his own and it takes his body a while to be able to do what his mother’s did. In fact it takes him until at least 4 months to get anywhere close and even longer – until he begins school to really get the same effect. That’s not all though, not only do they lack the hormonal regulators of sleep of an adult, a baby’s sleep cycle is hugely different at about half the length of an adult sleep state. Now this makes perfect biological sense, it keeps our tender young offspring more alert should a predator threaten their life – but what predator will come and gobble them up in their nursery I hear you ask? Nature might be clever, but not quite clever enough to evolve us that quickly, so – for now – we still possess the same innate responses that kept our hunter gatherer predecessors safe. Imagine then that a baby goes through a sleep cycle twice as quickly as an adult, that means they wake at least twice as much as us during the night, in fact they move into a light sleep state around once every 25 minutes. That means the likelihood of waking fully every 25minutes if something alerts them.

In addition to this babies and toddlers have a hugely underdeveloped neocortex in comparison to an adult’s brain, this frontal section of the brain, responsible for rational and analytical thought as well as the regulation of emotional responses, means that they do not yet possess the skill of emotional self-regulation, or as the sleep trainers like to call it the skill of “self-soothing”. The ‘self-soothing’ referred to in mainstream books is anything but that, it is a myth – a myth perpetuated to make parents feel better about ignoring their baby’s needs. The real key to boost emotional self-regulation in an infant is to be responsive to him when he needs it, so that in time, when the brain connectivity matures it will hardwire the pathways necessary for true ‘self-soothing’.

Modern day science supports the notion that our sleep expectations are anything but realistic, with recent research suggesting that at least a third of 15 month olds still wake regularly and the concept of ‘sleeping through the night’ not being a reality for most children until they are over 2 years of age. If sleepless nights are still so common in toddlerdom why do we consider it a problem if our babies and toddlers do not sleep all night? Why do so many enquire about our baby and toddler’s sleeping habits and suggest methods that do not meet the needs of our children in an attempt to ‘fix’ their sleeping problems? Indeed even the NHS website recommends controlled crying. Contradicting themselves with the sentence “By the time your child is six months old, it’s reasonable to expect them to sleep through most nights. However, up to half of all children under five go through periods of night waking.” Surely if as many as half of all children under five go through periods of night waking then night waking in children must be normal and not really a “common sleep problem” at all?

Sadly we have such incorrect expectations of normal infant behaviour in society, we try to fix babies, we sleep train them, we wean them early, we give them ‘hungry baby’ formula to make them sleep for longer and we follow routines of baby experts to train them to ‘sleep through’. However it isn’t our babies who have ‘sleep problems’. They are sleeping normally; quite simply they “sleep like a baby”.

Rather than fixing our babies and toddlers isn’t it time we looked to fix ourselves?

bcsleepIf we have realistic expectations we realise that what we really need is not to train our babies and toddlers, but build a network of support once again for parents, a ‘village’ as some say. The issue really is a problem belonging to adults and society, what really needs fixing? We need to respect what a huge job parenting is and we need to support mothers as much as possible so that they can concentrate on the most important thing they will ever do – raising their babies. How do we return respect to motherhood and provide that most needed support and value that I’m sure we must once have had? How do we get our leaders and policy makers to understand that what families really need is support to be just that – a family. We need to firstly begin with a change in expectations; here we are lucky that science is on our side, someday soon it will be impossible to ignore the research any longer. As mothers we also have the opportunity to gently re-educate from a grass roots level, I call it ‘The Maternal Revolution’, the revolution of giving back power to mothers, when the mothers of the world reclaim their power I believe they can do anything. Will you join the revolution?

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!
sleepbook-1

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

What is ‘Gentle Parenting’ and how is it different to ‘Mainstream Parenting’?

I use the term ‘gentle parenting’ a lot when I write and a lot of people ask me what exactly I mean by it. “What is gentle parenting?” they say…… Often they confuse the ‘gentle parenting’ terminology with the idea of Attachment Parenting (or AP is it is commonly known), which isn’t strictly true. Although often attachment parenting and gentle parenting can be and are complimentary, attachment parenting is a style of parenting following specific principles (FYI click HERE for the principles of Attachment Parenting), whereas I see ‘gentle parenting’ as just a way of being that has no bearing on making specific choices to be in-line with a certain style.

So, with this in mind I’ve tried to come up with my idea of the definition of gentle parenting, ultimately I think it can be summed up with three words:

  1. understanding,
  2. empathy
  3. respect

The table below elaborates a little more. I don’t mean to be scathing or judgemental of what I’ve called ‘mainstream parenting’ (if there *is* any judgement it’s directed at the mainstream ‘parenting experts’ and societal myths NOT the individual parents!) and I’m sure I’ve been overly stereotypical, but it’s a start. You might find it easier to read the table contents if you zoom in.                                                                                                                                                                    

COPYRIGHT NOTE: I am *very* happy for you to share this blog post and spread awareness of gentle parenting,  but PLEASE DO NOT COPY the table and use it outside of this blog post without my permission.

gentle parenting, attachment parenting, mainstream parenting, respectful parenting, parenting methods, parenting styles, punish children, reward children, empathy for children

If you’re new to Gentle Parenting and would like to learn more about the specifics, then my Gentle Parenting Book is a good place to start. It covers 0-7yrs.

gpb

 

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

 

Help – My 4-5 Month Old Is Sleeping Like a Newborn Again (AKA ‘The 4-5 month old babies from hell’)

If you asked me what point of parenting I found the hardest (excluding tweenhood, because that’s a WHOLE other ball game, whoah have you got fun to come!) it would have to be 4 and 5 months. I’ve always found the newborn period pretty easy, I think in part to the hideous morning sickness, PGP and insomnia I experience during pregnancy meaning that even 3hrs of broken sleep at night is an improvement on my pregnancy sleep, plus you get lots of lovely warm squishy cuddles and an immobile baby who’s content with his or her world revolving around your chest not needing anything else. I enjoy toddlerdom too I love that willful curiosity and the real emergence of personality (despite the sudocrem smeared on the sofas, unrolling of toilet roll and emptying of baby wipe packets that occurs on an almost daily basis), but oh 4-5 months that is a period I **HATE** with a passion (yes I did say that, me the supposed ‘baby expert’, I willingly confess to hating being a mother to a 4 or 5 month old baby!). It is, without a doubt, the hardest stage of parenting a baby or toddler and I have struggled with each of my four children.

mum

So what happens at 4 and 5 months? You’ve just settled into a routine, both day and night. Your little one may be sleeping stretches of 4 or 5 hours at night (or if you’re lucky, even longer!), you’ve got some semblance of normality back in the daytime too. Your house may be resurfacing from the bomb site it became during the newborn days when you didn’t have the time or energy to even plug the hoover in (unless it was used as white noise to get the baby to sleep!), you’ve started to eat better, maybe exercise a little too, heck you may even have started to brush your hair and put on lipstick, yep – you’ve got this parenting thing sorted, you’re emerging from the fog of the fourth trimester and you’re feeling good (particularly when it comes to your little one’s sleep!) ………and then it happens…………..your baby doesn’t sleep, that smile that you’ve come to love, it doesn’t happen very often now, your baby is always grouchy and unsettled, they cry to be picked up constantly (much more than they did as a newborn) but when you pick them up they’re not happy and squirm around on your lap. What the hell went wrong?! To add to this their dribble is akin to Niagara falls and they ram everything they touch into their mouth, teething? Surely not (the answer is probably not by the way!).

….and you know what’s worse? You’re not special anymore. The interest in your baby has waned now they’re not a newborn anymore, the congratulations cards have long since been taken down, the petals on the flowers relegated to the compost heap, the visitors have stopped coming which is a good job really as they only comment about teething and “you really should be giving her proper food by now, you need to wean, that’s why she’s not sleeping”. The midwives have long since discharged you from their care and you only see the health visitor (who tells you that you’re making a rod for your own back and that you need to sleep train using controlled crying/CIO and *never* let your baby fall asleep in your arms) if you go to baby clinic. No, mothers of 4 or 5 month old babies are not special, they are ‘old hands’ and expected to get on with it without the help that was offered in the newborn period.

So, why are 4 and 5 month old babies such hard work? Developmentally so much is happening. I always used to look at my babies at that age and feel so sorry for them, they were so much more alert, understanding so much of the world now, but their bodies were still effectively pretty useless, they couldn’t sit unaided, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t stand – “the mind is willing but the body is weak” was a phrase that came to mind, imagine the sheer frustration! It may be hard parenting a 4 or 5 month old, but imagine how hard it is to BE a 4 or 5 month old?!

Baby crying, mother in background

So much happens developmentally at 4 or 5 months, physically babies become so much stronger and more able to do things such as grasp and move their body with purpose and their hand-eye coordination really picks up a gear. The world takes on a whole new sensory quality as their vision and sensory processing matures. One of the most sensory areas of a baby’s body is their mouth – which is why *everything* gets put in there and why many mistakenly think their baby is ready for weaning and/or teething, babies put keys in their mouth, does it mean they want to eat them? The ‘putting everything in their mouth’ stage is a normal developmental one. I’m not saying your baby isn’t teething, they may well be, but the constant putting things in their mouth isn’t a sign, neither is it necessarily a sign of readiness for weaning. At this stage babies become so much more aware of their surroundings and that includes recognising people (and the opposite! ever wondered why your newborn was happy to be passed around to complete strangers as a baby, but now isn’t happy with anyone apart from you?). Language acquisition really kicks in too with the emergence of babbling. All this in just a few short weeks, imagine how exhausting and confusing that must be for your baby.

cry

I always liken the 4-5mth experience for a baby as akin to you emigrating to Africa. Imagine moving somewhere with an entirely different climate, a different language and different food – in fact *everything* is different. It would freak you out wouldn’t it? All this change, all at once. How might it affect you? Well you might want to cling to those you love or those things that remind you of home, you’d probably be pretty cranky in this new overwhelming world of change and your sleep is probably most likely to be seriously affected – with all these thoughts running through your mind it would be mighty hard to switch off, especially when you do finally get to sleep and then wake up in strange surroundings only two hours later. Just for 5 minutes try to imagine how your baby is feeling with all of these changes, imagine how overwhelmed he is – now – should you listen to your mother in law or health visitor and start weaning him, introducing yet something else new into his life? Or should you start sleep training? Leaving him to cry by himself when what he really needs is you to help comfort him and be his ‘constant’. The key really is to CHANGE NOTHING. This too will pass.

The secret to surviving the 4 to 5 month old babies from hell? Well that secret is you. It’s what *you* do during these long 8 weeks, what support will you have? Who will you ask to help you? Who will you ask to support you whilst you are busy being there for your baby? How will you put as much of your life on hold for the next few short weeks whilst you help your baby to navigate this critical period of their development? What steps will you take to help you to cope with the transient sleepless nights?

This stage WILL pass, I promise, six month old babies are a dream, the fun of weaning, the babbling, the real emergence of personality, the ability to sit upright unaided and amuse themselves for more than 10 seconds and SLEEP…….sweet, sweet sleep…(I’m not talking ‘sleeping through the night’ here by the way, that’s pretty unusual for any child under 2 years old…I’m talking no more waking every 2hourly!). THIS TOO WILL PASS.

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!
sleepbook-1

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

Taming Toddler Tantrums? It’s Common SENSE!

I do love an acronym and this one came to me in my (almost) sleep last night, as do most of my writing ideas (frustratingly!). So I’d like to introduce you to my super easy to use common SENSE (© Ockwell-Smith 2013!) acronym for coping with toddler tantrums, whatever their cause, wherever you are.  I hope it helps.

Image

Safety

If your toddler has a tantrum, hits, bites or throws the most important thing to think about is safety – their own safety, your own and those around you. Before you do anything else make sure that your toddler is not in immediate danger (away from a busy road etc..) and is not likely to hurt anybody around them (this could mean moving away from others/objects).

Empathy

Once you have dealt with the immediate safety issues it’s time to empathise with your toddler. WHY are they having these big emotions that they can’t control? What has triggered them? How are they feeling? (usually pretty awful, scared and out of control) – try to understand what is upsetting your toddler and let them know that you are hearing them. Remember they are not acting this way to give you are hard time, they are having a hard time!

Name

Help your toddler to understand what they are feeling by naming their emotions, this will help with the empathy point above and will also help your toddler to learn to understand their emotions and hopefully progress towards verbally communicating their needs as they develop a little more. “I can see you are very angry that the little boy took your toy from you”, “You are sad that it is time for us to leave the park and go home”, “You were scared when the girl ran over and grabbed your hand” and so on.

Support

Your toddler is not yet capable of emotional self regulation, they generate lots of big feelings, yet their brain is not yet sufficiently mature enough to diffuse them, they need your help for that! Most mainstream toddler taming methods, such as the naughty step and time out, mistakenly believe that a toddler has the brain development necessary for emotional self regulation and reflection – they don’t. At best these methods work as a form of conditioning and ‘learned helplessness’ (i.e: the behaviour is eventually – usually temporarily – extinguished because the toddler learns that there is no point in crying, all that will happen is they are left on the step alone, without their needs met).

Drawing on the empathy point above it is your job as a adult, to step in and offer your more mature capabilities of emotional regulation and soothing to help your toddler to calm down. Think of a toddler having a tantrum like a pot of water boiling over with nobody available to turn the gas off. Your role here is too turn the gas off and mop up the ‘mess’ (the tears and stress)  when the water stops boiling over.

Some toddlers will appreciate a big hug, others need their space initially – but offer your help “I can see you are having lots of big feeling, I’m here for you when you need me, please let me know if you’d like a hug”. Be ready to support with listening ears and open arms (and forgiving heart) when your toddler is ready.

Exchange

Exchanging is all about offering alternatives that are more acceptable to you (and society). Offer your toddler a more acceptable choice, exchanging the unacceptable for the acceptable “I can see you want to play with water, we can in the sink instead of pouring water on the floor”, “I know you’re hungry, we can’t eat food in the supermarket before we’ve paid for it, so I can’t let you eat the bread, but I have a banana in my bag for you”. “We don’t bite people, it hurts, but you can bite this teething toy instead”, “We don’t hit people, it hurts, but you can hit your special angry cushion” and so on.

I can’t promise these 5 simple tips will work *instant* magic, but they will have a positive effect in the long term, you will find tantrums easier to deal with and in time they will lessen too.

 

If you enjoyed this article you can read more discipline tips in my Gentle Discipline book, available HERE in the UK, HERE in the USA, HERE in Canada and HERE rest of the world.

gdbgentlediscipline

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

 

Why Telling a Positive Birth Story Makes you a ‘Smug Mummy’.

Almost 11 years ago I gave birth to my firstborn. I had planned a home waterbirth, however after 2 days of latent labour and 16 hours of active labour at home I transferred into hospital for an epidural and augmentation of labour (syntocinon drip), I know now why this happened – a combination of lack of support for my husband and I, a less than ideal birth environment even though I was at home and the effect of the constant fussing over my ‘lack of progress’ from the midwives including an artificial rupture of membranes. My story was made all the more dramatic by my walking out into the road stark naked to get into the ambulance – so desperate was I for pain relief – wailing that I needed my sandals (clothes apparently weren’t top of my list of priorities but I *had* to have my shoes!) and the fact that we ‘clipped’ a motorcyclist when approaching a roundabout in the ambulance and for a while it looked like I would have an extra passenger in the back of the ambulance with me.

Image
After my first traumatic birth experience.

Ambulance transfers in labour aren’t fun, being told to lay still on the little stretcher bed and being politely asked if you could perhaps not scream quite so loudly as they are worried that the driver will be distracted in his driving (in part I fear I am partly responsible for the resulting accident with the biker!) is demoralising and doing it all with a midwife you barely know whilst your husband is told to drive in his own car is pretty scary.

On arrival at the hospital I was hooked up to a drip and then oh the blessed relief when I had my epidural, I told the anaesthetist I loved him, as had thousands of labouring women before I should imagine. Five hours later, finally fully dilated I was told to “PUSH” and in the worst possible position I shoved with all my might (well I think I did anyway, I had begged them for an epidural top up and felt nothing at this point) and pushed my huge headed 10lb baby into the world causing myself some pretty dramatic perineal damage in the process. I pushed so hard that I burst a blood vessel in my eye as well as many in my face and lets not talk about the haemorrhoids………

My first birth was painful, scary, traumatic and dramatic. I could guarantee to make people wince and sharply draw breath when I told it and people loved to hear it – in all the gory details. How many stitches did I have? How much did it hurt when his head was born, it must have been like giving birth to a toddler? What was it like to be ‘blues and two’d’ in an ambulance? Yes, people were only too happy to hear my story.

My second birth was as dramatic and traumatic as my first, I suddenly became very poorly with pre-eclampsia at the end of my pregnancy and had to be admitted to hospital, after a quick and brutal induction which saw me labouring in the corridor due to the lack of availability of a labour room and another epidural I gave birth to a screaming little boy covered in meconium in a room full of medics waiting to whisk my baby away from me. Again my traumatic story was retold to rapt audiences who love to listen to dramatic recounts.

Then something changed, my third and fourth babies were both born at home in a birth pool. No illness, no ambulance transfers, no motor accidents, no naked wailing in the street, no corridor labouring, no epidurals, no stitches, no emergency, just peaceful, healing natural births. Babies born into my own hands in our dimly lit living room, focussed breathing rather than screaming, no pain relief necessary.

Image
My first empowering birth experience.

I *needed* these births, I needed to know I could ‘do birth’ and needed to heal my demons. My last two births were so very special to me and so important, they were so profound something in me changed. I had to tell the world, I had to tell expectant mothers that birth could be enjoyable, they needn’t go through what I went through first time around, it needn’t be full of drama and trauma. I wanted to tell my story and so I did, my birth stories (with my last two babies) appeared in ‘Love It’ and ‘Take a Break’ magazine, in the Observer newspaper, The Green Parent magazine and even the AIMS journal. With the exception of the latter they were all received negatively (yes, even the Green Parent – the subsequent issue contained 3 letters from readers complaining that my story – and others featured – was unrealistic), just as THIS recent piece I contributed to in the Daily Mail. The comments were all pretty similar to these in response to the Daily Mail piece:

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Why is it acceptable for me to tell me drama filled stories with my first two births, the ones that left lasting psychological and physical damage, yet when I – and others like me – try to share a positive birth story (with the overwhelming hope that it will empower other women reading to experience birth as it can be and not the birth I experienced the first two times around) the response is pretty much always one that involves the words “smug”, “show-off” and “does she want a medal?”.

I am anything but smug, grateful – yes, very. Sad that I didn’t know then what I know now, angry at the way I was treated by the medics who don’t realise the damage their comments of “birth is only one day in your life, a health baby is all that matters” can do, even years after the event and determined to make a difference, to help as many women as possible experience birth as the positive event it can be rather than the traumatic event it so often is. I am anything but smug. Neither are THESE women who have been compelled to share their positive stories too. We just want to make a difference, we want to empower those reading, to awaken them to the fact that birth can be an amazing experience and not one that they have to suffer. Is that so wrong?

Why is it so hard to share a positive birth story in our society?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Bedsharing & SIDS – Why We Have it All Wrong

So today Carpenter et al published a horribly unreliable and flawed analysis of bedsharing. This scaremongering piece of ‘science’ (I use that term loosely) does not add to public understanding of the safety of bedsharing – far from it, it shrouds it in more myth and mystery and, in my opinion, is incredibly dangerous.

Why dangerous you ask? Their bold statement that bedsharing is 5 times more dangerous than a baby sleeping in it’s own sleep space may be incorrect (more later), but worse than being incorrect it is a claim that will doubtless scare thousands of tired and highly vulnerable new parents around the world. Those very parents who through sheer exhaustion are liable to fall asleep on a sofa with their baby, or in bed at night after a long night feed, babe in arms surrounded by fluffy pillows and cushions, perhaps their systems full of the opiate based analgesic they are still taken to recover from their C-Section. Two highly dangerous sleeping arrangements I’m sure you’ll agree? Two highly dangerous sleeping arrangements that COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED if they had known the REAL risks of bedsharing and how to minimise them.

You see the Carpenter research has many flaws, aside from the damaging call to action they propose they have just missed far too many variables for the research to be considered of any use to society. These missing variables are:

Image

Now publishing research, and even worse – public health advice, based on missing variables is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.

Consider this scenario:

LATEST NEWS: RESEARCH SAYS DRIVING CARS IS DANGEROUS – NEVER DO IT!!!

Today, new research just in says that driving cars is so dangerous that you should never do it, so many people are likely to die in car accidents that today’s information strongly suggests that all humans should be told cars are deadly and they should stop sitting in them immediately. We have looked at things that make driving supposedly safer, like making sure your car is in good condition, not drinking and driving and passing your driving test, so we can assure this this information is valid.

drive

Imagine if this ‘research’ forgot a few points, say:

  • The effect of prescription medication that makes you drowsy
  • The effect of driving when you are overly tired
  • The effect of driving for hours on end without a break
  • The effect of driving whilst talking on a mobile phone
  • The effect of driving without your glasses if you wear them
  • The effect of driving well into your pensioner years with failing eyesight and reactions

Now clearly this research into car safety would need to be discounted – there are just too many, vital, safety variables they didn’t include (because previous research didn’t study them). In fact if research like this came out there would be a public outcry “This is STUPID – what on earth are they talking about?”

Get where I’m going? Hey, I don’t want to be rude and call Carpenter et al. stupid, but hmmmmm you’ve gotta wonder what they were thinking when they sent out their press release to the world’s media. I’m only a Psychology undergrad and even *I* can see the mega holes in their research – peer review you say? Hmmmmmmmm

mom

The REAL Way Forward.

Just in my driving example above – the REAL key is INFORMATION, information, information…..inform people of the risks, the benefits and importantly how to minimise those risks. Just as in the driving example if we’re taking prescription meds the PIL says “do not drive or operate heavy machinery whilst taking this medication” – they need to add “do not share a bed with an infant”. Cigarette packets need to feature information “If you smoke in pregnancy and/or afterwards it is highly dangerous for you sleep with your infant” and so on.

Currently ‘the powers that be’ are not getting this important information out. The fact of the matter is parents will ALWAYS sleep with their babies (indeed research estimates that 60-80% will do so at least once!), this sort of research and message is NOT going to stop that – but (and it’s a big but) what it will do is stop them from understanding how to do so with as little risk to the infant as possible.

In my opinion it is vital that we stop this circular science and instead focus on how to help those parents who still wish to share a bed with their baby and to educate those who may do so accidentally.

THIS is a good starting point.

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!
sleepbook-1

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

How to Heal from a Traumatic Birth & Bond with Your Baby

Bonding issues are so common but so rarely discussed in our society, there is such a stigma attached to a new mother who isn’t head over heels in love with her newborn. Commonly these feelings appear after a traumatic birth experience and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post. The following are a list of things that have helped some of the parents I have worked with, as well as myself – I have no scientific evidence to share here – only anecdote, but I hope it will help:

Talk, talk, talk……and then talk some more

Nobody wanted to listen to me, I was met with so many “but at least he’s here safely, that’s all that matters” – I felt so selfish wanting to yell “no – it’s not all that matters, what about me?”, so I never said it, but I’ve encouraged many to say the same to me. Birth matters. It is not “just one day in your life”, it will shape your personality forever more, if it goes well it can change your life, if it goes bad it can drag you down for months and even years. Find somebody you can talk to – preferably in person such as a birth afterthoughts counsellor, if not over the telephone rather than the internet, though if the internet is the only option go for it! at first it will hurt – a lot, you’ll cry, you’ll feel sad, you’ll feel angry, you may even feel worse for talking about it, but after a while  I promise it will get easier and will really begin to help. It’s also *really* important to talk to your partner about the birth, he may be harbouring feelings preventing him from bonding  too!

 

Write out your birth story

We tend to only write our birth stories if they are positive, but it’s so much more important to write out a negative one, you don’t have to show it to anyone, sometimes it can be hugely cathartic to write it out then tear it up  – even burn it.

 

Re-create your perfect birth (aka re-birthing)

I find this works really well for homebirth transfers and emergency C-Sections. For instance I once helped a couple who had planned a home waterbirth which resulted in an emergency section to create positive memories and enjoy the environment they so wanted. A week after the birth we set up the birthing room again, it was evening, dim light, we turned up the heating so it was snugly warm, got out the birth pool and filled it with warm water. We burned lavender and clary sage oil, we lit candles, we drank wine, we ate fruit, we played soft music. The mother entered the pool – closed her eyes and floated for a while whilst dad undressed the baby. The baby was then gently lowered on the mum’s tummy (head out of the water!) and then we sat back – quiet and a beautiful scene unfolded. The baby breastcrawled up and attached onto mum’s breast (hence why this is a technique often recommended for latching problems after C-Sections) and as she did the mum sobbed and sobbed and sobbed – a week’s worth of tears. They stayed there for an hour before retreating to bed together – skin to skin – for the night. It will never replace the birth she lost and so wanted but now she has good memories too.

 

Skin to skin

This one naturally goes without saying – or does it?

In my BabyCalm classes I always start off with asking the mums to undress their babies, hold them tight and close their eyes – then to feel every last inch of their baby, knowing them through their touch. I remember the most profound effect I witnessed – a mum with a four week old, her second child, who started crying within a minute of doing this. She had been so rushed with her toddler and putting the baby in a sling to get out and about, putting the baby down so the toddler didn’t get jealous and so on she hadn’t had time to get to know her newborn – even though she had a “perfect” homebirth. She said this was the first time she had really touched her. Co-bathing is a great time for skin to skin as is co-sleeping, but don’t just stop there, snuggle up on the sofa topless with a blanket with your baby stripped down to their nappy and cuddle. I think this is really important for bottle feeding mums, breastfeeding naturally affords skin to skin contact many times per day but I don’t know of any bottle feeding mum who undoes her shirt and snuggles her baby skin to skin whilst giving her a bottle, definitely worth trying!

 

Babywearing and Co-Sleeping

Again these go without saying, as much contact as possible with your baby as often as possible. I shall say no more here as it is so obvious!

 

No toiletries

All mammals rely strongly on scent to bond with their offspring, we are the only mammals who strip our young of their natural scent and replace it with artificial smells (even if those smells are natural in origin – such as lavender). Don’t underestimate the importance of your baby’s natural scent – leave the shampoo, baby wash, baby soap, powder, moisturiser and baby wipes and stick to plain water as much as possible – as little as possible, particularly on the head, the place where mothers subconsciously nuzzle and sniff many times per day.

 

NLP/ Hypnosis/Visualisation/ Affirmations

Techniques which can be used to great effect to help encourage bonding and recovery from a difficult birth. I particularly favour an NLP technique called “The Swish”:

http://www.nlp-now.co.uk/nlp_swish.htm

but something so simple as visualising feelings of love, happiness  and confidence building when with your baby or repeating statements such as “each day I feel my confidence growing and my love for my baby building” (yes you do feel stupid at first!) can have profound effects. You can visit a hypnotherapist or for a fraction of the cost you can download an audio MP3 such as this one:

http://www.hypnoticworld.com/downloads/baby_bonding.php

 

Time

They say time is the greatest healer, don’t rush yourself, it will only make you feel more guilty – you’ve proved what a great mum you are by recognising the issue and wanting to change and  a change will happen,  but it might not be instant, particularly if you are  first having to go through a grief process.

Sarah

Preparing for Birth – 8 Tips for an Easier Labour.

With my first baby I was determined to do everything right and have the ‘perfect’ birth. I went to NCT classes, read the monthly pregnancy magazines and watched every birth programme I could on TV.  I wrote a three page long birth plan, that at best was hoping for miracles, and my bag was packed following an impersonal list in a pregnancy book (who has ever actually used a natural sponge in labour?). Really though I was incredibly ill prepared for what I was about to experience, unfortunately I didn’t realise this until afterwards. My birth was long, difficult and painful. I had every intervention I said I didn’t want in my plan. I learnt a little from this experience and when I was pregnant with my 2nd I had a much better birth plan and a more useful bag packed, fate intervened though and I ended up with an unexpected emergency induction for pre-eclampsia.

Image

Pregnant with my third baby I wondered if the phrase ‘third time lucky’ was really true. With more than a little bit of trepidation I started to plan for the birth at around 6 months pregnant. I listened to a hypnobirthing CD nightly and read lots of Ina May Gaskin. By now I’d honed my birth plan down to one A4 page that really clearly expressed my wishes in a realistic fashion. I gathered bits for my ‘birth kit’, things that never appear in the sample lists you read in books and magazines – soft socks for my feet (they get chilly in labour!), my favourite aromatherapy oils (lavender and geranium) and a battery operated aromafan so that I could scent any room to make it smell like home, battery operated candles, so I could create a calm ambience wherever I was, photographs of a favourite holiday spot for me to focus on, bendy straws, a big hairband, rehydration salts and lots of food! This time my preparation meant I was looking forward to birth. Ideally I would have loved a doula with me too but sadly at the time there were none working locally, a very different story now though, doulas are hugely popular and available in most areas.

My labour began two weeks after Christmas and with my battery candles casting a warm glow over the room, aromatherapy oils scenting the air and relaxing music playing I laboured for 5 hours, enjoying every minute of it. My 11lb 3.5oz son was born into my own hands underwater, I didn’t need any help or pain relief. After his birth I felt elated and couldn’t wait to do it all again, it wasn’t just the birth that was easier though, my emotional state, postnatal healing and breastfeeding were so much much easier too, birth is about so much more than ‘just one day’. I repeated the experience two years later when my 11lb 1oz daughter was again born into my own hands in water, this time after a labour lasting for only 30 minutes. Both births were at home.

Image

Had I just discovered the secrets to an easier birth? Was it really all in the preparation? Both in the physical and mental sense. My last two births were so strikingly different to the long, tortuous, painful experiences I had endured with my first two children. The only difference was the preparation I had done, the researching my rights, understanding normal birth physiology, having faith I could do it, having a husband who knew my wishes, a decent plan that the midwives could follow easily and a few little items to make the environment more birth friendly.

Based on this my top tips for an easier birth would be:

  1. Choose good antenatal preparation classes you want classes that answer your questions and leave you feeling empowered and confident in your abilities to birth, in whatever manner you choose.
  2. Consider a doula or extra birth partner to support you, research shows births with doulas are faster, less painful and less likely to result in a C-Section.
  3. Understand your rights, question everything! (The acronym BRAINS is useful here: B = What are the Benefits, R = What are the Risks, A = What are the alternatives, I = What are your instincts telling you? N = What happens if we do nothing?, S= Remember to smile!)
  4. Write a good birth plan, keep it short, one page of A4 maximum, bullet points are good, start with a list of what you really do want and what you really don’t want, keep it realistic, keep open minded and don’t state the obvious (e.g.: ‘I’d rather not have a C-Section’), lastly make sure it’s read and print at least 3 copies, one for your partner to keep, one for the midwife and one for spare!
  5. Pack a good birth kit; think about the environment, battery candles for dimmed lighting, sunglasses to keep the light out, a battery aromafan to scent the room with smells you love rather than antiseptic! A photo of somebody or somewhere you love to concentrate on, an IPod with your favourite relaxing music, some magazines, some food.
  6. Turn off One Born Every Minute and immerse yourself in positive birth stories, the Positive Birth Movement is a Great Start: http://www.positivebirthmovement.org/
  7. Be open minded, in HypnoBirthing they say to be “prepared to meet whatever turn your birthing may take”, remember there is no such thing as a perfect birth, just a birth that’s perfect for you – however and wherever you may be.
  8. Believe – trust in yourself, you CAN do this!

Happy Birthing!

Sarah

Top Ten Babymoon Tips – AKA How to Enjoy the Time after Your Baby is born.

I always thought the term babymoon sounded a little bit odd, the sort of thing only hippies would do, locking themselves away from the rest of the world with their babies for days after the birth. I wanted to show my baby off to the world, I wanted to get back to normal and most importantly after the birth of my firstborn I wanted to hit the sales, you see he was born in July the day before most of the summer sales started! So, with my two day old baby in tow we trudged around the high street so I could fill the car with baby bargains. By the time he was seven days old I was hosting a coffee morning for my antenatal group, complete with home baked cake and quiche, a full face of make up and an immaculate house.

sale

I look back now with dismay at what I did. Why? Because those first few days and weeks after your baby is born are precious, you know that old saying “they grow so quickly”? It is irritatingly true. Newborns change literally every day and I missed some of that in my socialising and shopping filled days. More than that though, although my birth was a normal delivery I had still needed stitches and my body needed time to recover. What I really needed was to spend a week or two curled up in bed, a magazine in hand, a baby by my side and good food made for me.

There will be plenty of time for socialising, those first few days are precious and they are also vital for bonding with your baby and getting the hang of breastfeeding. I did things very different with my subsequent babies and these are my top babymoon tips:

Image

  1. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to visitors. Tell them you are tired and need to sleep and ask if they could perhaps come next week instead.
  2. If visitors do come ask them to bring food with them for you or perhaps prepare food for you at your home, under no circumstances should you play the host!
  3. Consider limiting the amount of people holding your baby, as I mentioned above physical contact as much as possible with your baby is one of the best ways to bond, recover from the birth and help breastfeeding, not only that when your baby is passed around like a game of pass the parcel it must be scary and over stimulating for them, all of the different smells, touches and noises. Consider holding your baby in a sling when you have visitors, this way your baby can’t be passed around and held by everybody!
  4. If you are tired when you have visitors tell them! Don’t be embarrassed to ask them to leave.
  5. Go easy on yourself, even if your birth was natural and straightforward your body has still been through an awful lot and you need time to recover.
  6. Try to sleep whenever you can, not just at night
  7. Try to eat well balance, nourishing food. Batch cooking and stocking your freezer beforehand is a great idea.
  8. Forget the housework, it can wait. So can the washing and supermarket home delivery service is your friend!
  9. Don’t worry about your hair or make-up. For a midwife it is more alarming seeing a mum in full make-up the day after giving birth than it is one with none on, in fact they positively expect to see you bare faced in your pyjamas.
  10. Enjoy every single minute!

Image

Sarah 

Do Fathers need to Bottlefeed to Bond with their Babies?

“I want the baby to take a bottle so his dad can feed him and start to bond.”

This is SUCH a strongly perpetuated myth, so many mothers express or give a bottle of formula so that their partners “can feed the baby and bond a bit”, but really, it is totally unecessary, there are so many wonderful ways for partners to bond, including:

Image

BabyWearing

Nothing is more amazing for a father to hold their baby close to their chest, facing inwards naturally, nuzzling their head and talking softly to their infant as the hold them, arms free to carry on with their day. This is bonding at its best!

dad babywearing baby bonding
Image copyright Moby Wrap

Skin to Skin

Naked cuddles are amazing, they generate the release of Oxytocin (the love hormone) in both father and child who get to know each other through touch and smell as well as sight.

dad skin to skin bonding baby

Co-Bathing

Sharing a bath with a baby is such a special experience, it is skin to skin and then some! holding your baby in warm water, chest to chest and watching how much your baby enjoys the experience is one of the best parts of being a new parent.

dad baby massage bonding

Baby Massage

Massage is wonderful for relaxing babies and parents alike, again it stimulates the release of oxytocin and reduces stress hormones, it’s a great way to get to know your baby by touch and also helps with sleep too.

Reading

Reading to babies is an amazing thing to do, it helps to build a real connection and a love of books for life, as well as forming a vital part of a good bedtime ritual.

dad reading to baby bonding

Practical Care

Changing nappies, winding, getting dressed, these may seem boring, mundane tasks, but they all provide wonderful opportunities to bond with babies, talking or singing as you dress or wipe little bottoms definitely brings you closer to them.

dad nappy changing bonding

So many wonderful ways to bond and not a bottle in sight!

How does your partner bond with your baby?

Sarah