'Is my baby broken?’ A question asked by many exhausted mothers in a world where all sleep professionals should be normalising infant sleep and providing realistic expectations.
Gosh, it’s hard isn’t it? We get prepared for the birth, plan our preferences based on what we have learnt, buy all the necessary bits and then our little cherubs arrive (quite often not in the way we planned!). We then take them home and enjoy our new little family bubble while believing that ‘it’ll all come naturally! Because that’s what we were told.
But there’s some bits missing. Information about breastfeeding, sleep and recovery that we just aren’t provided with. We leave the hospital without necessary tools to get the best start in parenthood.
Now, I’m going to stick in my lane which is sleep, but I will tell you that help IS out there. The information you NEED is out there, it’s just not offered on a plate like it should be.
Infant sleep, no one tells you much right? In all my years working with children and studying up to my BA Degree in Early Years, I never learnt about sleep. Baffling right? So much time spent on a DEGREE and it barely mentions sleep, the main function we need to parent and make sound choices on a daily basis! This is part of the reason why I’m very grateful that my darling son put me through my paces with his sleep, as it led me to where I am today. Today, I know about sleep, I understand the science behind it, I put my knowledge into practice and I use my experience and what I’ve learnt to help others. It’s a wonderful place to be.
But I wasn’t always here, let’s go back to when I struggled. And I mean STRUGGLED. I won’t list the issues we faced with sleep, but I will tell you that it went on from 6 months to 13 months. The worst part was, I wouldn’t ask for help. Why? As a childcare professional you have the whole world telling you it’ll be easy, and it’ll all come naturally. Well, it didn’t! But I couldn’t admit that, I felt embarrassed and ashamed and like I should have known better. And I would have known better if normal infant sleep was spoken about more often.
So I would regularly, no, VERY regularly, ask family, friends, neighbours, mums I met at the park, ‘why is my baby broken?’ Because all these other babies slept well, or through the night, they took bottles and it all sounded a breeze! Why was mine waking 10000 times a night?! I didn’t understand what was going on and all I did was compare my situation to other people. I was unfair to myself but I didn’t know any better.
Because I thought he was broken, I felt like I just had to cope and get on with it. I thought maybe there was no reason behind it and I just had to deal with the exhaustion, or my other option was to sleep train.
I was pretty desperate, exhausted, fed up and so I bought various sleep training guides and advice I found on the internet. I knew I didn't want to do it but I felt like I had no choice. Luckily, my husband was very against it, otherwise we may have gone ahead with it. It was funny though as the moment I bought them and read them, I knew immediately it wouldn't work. It was like an instant waste of money as it just wasn't going to happen.
Not only that, but these guides basically tell you to go against all natural instincts-don't feed to sleep, they need to learn to self settle so you have to leave them, they shouldn't bedshare or they'll always want you there. Basically they speak a world of nonsense that really we just need to learn to ignore. A secure attachment (being responsive) creates an independent child. That's what they should say.
Shortly after this I stumbled across the Holistic approach which sounded SO much more like me. This was something I could work with. I had already taken Felix to see a homeopath and osteopath who all use the same approach of looking at the individual as a whole and treating the root cause. This all tied in together and so I knew this was the next step for me.
Fast forward a few weeks and I had all my answers. No kidding! We discovered the underlying reasons why our little man's sleep was disrupted, found out what we had suspected about his sleep needs, and had a good jiggle of routine that worked for us.
We went from 10000 wakes per night to 1. He was not broken! Not in any sense! We just needed to discover the cause of the disruption and hey presto things were looking so much better!
Now don't get me wrong, the boy still wakes more than once on the odd occasion, but that's what they are meant to do! We all wake! Whether it's an adult or a child, we all need the loo in the night, roll over, get cold, get thirsty, maybe have some discomfort from something we ate. It's NORMAL to wake! And THIS is what new mothers need to know at the start, not find out 13 months down the line when they've been struggling for far too long already.
So, to anyone reading this who can relate to those feelings of exhaustion, desperation and feeling like they just have to cope with it and end up hanging on by a thread. I hear you. I was there. You don't need to struggle.
Unfollow those accounts that don't resonate with you. Find what works for you and your family. Respond to your child in whatever way you want to. And remember that you are doing a wonderful job, motherhood is hard, but you're never alone.
About the author
I'm Emma, mummy to a cheeky little one year old boy, and a childcare professional of 16 years. My aim is to work to ensure that your whole family are getting a better night's sleep. I can create personalised, bespoke sleep plans to meet your needs and set your family up for a future of sleep success.