An older lady recently stopped me to admire my client’s baby and the first thing she asked me is ‘Is he good?’.
I want to explain that this little baby has had a huge hurdle to overcome – he’s had a serious case of silent reflux and because of that has been challenging and unsettled and quite honestly difficult for mum or anyone of us to hold. Having a child who is screaming in pain is horrible. From my own experience as a mum, there’s an emotional link between you and your baby – not being able to calm or settle him is distressing and extremely draining. You feel like a failure – I know as I had a similar experience with one of my own boys.
I’ve worked around this baby for the last five months supporting mum and dad, physically and emotionally and listening and especially a lot of time listening to mum’s birth story and recovery which were both very difficult. It has at times been challenging, holding a screaming baby pacing between rooms but the last couple of months we’ve been having a brilliant time. He’s got over the worst of his reflux symptoms, he still occasionally has issues with his tummy, but they are rarer. He’s put himself into a lovely gentle routine that he developed and we followed. And generally he’s great fun to be around. When I arrive I’m greeted by leg thumping, huge smiles and general excitement.
So when I’m asked – ‘Is he good’ – I say yes, he’s fantastic. He’s great company, he smiles and I enjoy being with him. Then she said but yes does he sleep? So I acknowledge I’m not his mum but I say yes he sleeps and he only gets up once or twice a night so he’s pretty good. She then started to give me tips about how to get the baby to sleep better – he’s not even my baby! First question was “is mum breastfeeding him”!!!!
I politely made my excuses and walked away. I still get irked by this question and also the right people feel they have to comment on how babies are raised. Even in my profession, I try really hard unless asked not to offer suggestions or ‘advice’. I felt like a failure for such a long time because we had so many problems with sleep with one of our twins (the one with the reflux – no one even mentioned this as an issue and it was only on reflection I realised he had had reflux!). Why is the most important question is do our babies sleep through the night? Yes, we need our sleep – I will hold my hand up and acknowledge how rubbish I am with no or unbroken sleep – I am not a good person to be near. I love sleep – I can sleep anywhere/anytime (which has been a godsend as a mum). However, I wish someone had let me know that it is perfectly normal for infants and children to wake and that more than half (68%) still wake between 6 months and a year! That actually I was in the normal category.
Instead of sleep, we should be worried about their health, happiness, will they grow up to be the individuals we want them to be – kind, empathetic, social, good fun to be around? Do we still want to snuggle into them when they are 5/10/15? Do we want to keep that connection with our babies alive?
And of course… ALL babies are good…
As many experts in the area have already written, sleep is a multi-million £ industry – there are thousands of books on the market about sleep – there are sleep trainers who can set you back a few hundred £s at least. There are so many strategies based on sleep. Reading up on sleep is in itself – exhausting. They have brain washed generations into thinking that babies should be sleeping through the night at 12 weeks yet many don’t. Studies looking at breastfed babies, which we should be focussing on as breastfeeding is the biological norm, demonstrate that many babies still wake up way beyond the first year.
Sleep (or lack of) is absolutely an issue and we need to recognise how it can affect our physical and mental health and work out a balance where everyone’s needs are met. Getting support from our partners, our family and our friends as well as using our funds wisely to pay for help can all help. Looking at allowing yourself to do nothing except look after your baby for the first few weeks, co-sleeping, at the use of occasional bottles (expressed or not – bearing in mind we can’t access wet nurses anymore) and increasing day time opportunities to sleep can all help to get blocks of good sleep. And of course sleep can often go through peaks and troughs all the way through the first year, not just the first few weeks so addressing how we look after ourselves in that whole period.
Let’s start focussing on if our babies are ‘happy’, ‘engaging’, ‘smiley’, ‘social’ and generally good fun to be around. We need to shift our thinking to nurturing future generations to flourish improving a number of health outcomes.
If you’re pregnant and would like to learn more about ‘normal’ sleep and supporting your baby to sleep – you can book into Preparing for Parenting or else book a Bump, Birth and Baby package. If you’ve got a new baby, then come along to our Mum and Baby classes.
Much love, Tricia xxx