Becoming a Mum
My first baby was born in 2007, my birth experience could have been better: a very long labour with a midwife that didn’t much want to be there, ending with a dramatic finish in Theatre. It was however, love at first sight and our little boy was perfect. I was very lucky that our birth experience didn’t effect my bonding with our baby and once we were home we really enjoyed him.
He was what i now refer to as a ‘textbook baby’ or what my colleague refers to as a blob baby! He appeared to be a pre-programmed Gina Ford baby. I now realise through years of supporting parents he was a rarity! I had read the Gina Ford, Contented Baby book whilst pregnant (as many mums do) but in the end didn’t have to put much of it into practise as he very naturally adopted a very similar routine. I was told often *how good* he was and how lucky I was. I beamed with pride at these comments (but secretly questioned whether this was luck, or if I was in fact just a marvellous mummy!)
Unfortunately due to a mixture of self-doubt and well-meaning but horribly wrong advice, our breast-feeding journey didn’t end up working out, I was quickly reassured that it was OK to stop breast-feeding if it was stressful. Like many new mums I didn’t know that it was important for my supply to demand feed, or that it was normal for babies to fuss at the breast, and cluster feed in the evenings during those early weeks! and so with me completely submitting to the myths that my milk wasn’t enough and it was running out in the evenings, I stopped breast-feeding and turned to formula when my baby was about 6wks old. I remember the agonising decision and the guilt I felt when I stopped, but eventually felt able to focus on the positives of having my body back in a less functional capacity and not struggling with a low level stress about whether my baby was hungry as I could see what was going in.
Oh to be able to turn back time and have someone give me some faith in my own ability to trust that my baby would tell me if he was hungry, how to identify those hunger cues (there are 9 of them!) and to dispel some of those massive myths about breast-feeding.
Developmental Leaps/Growth Spurts
My baby was not one of those babies that made it clear when he was going through a developmental leap, nor did I really know what a growth spurt meant. I just thought that my baby was growing/gaining weight suddenly at those points, I naively didn’t consider brain development was involved in those growth spurts, despite the fact I could clearly see my baby changing before my eyes. Still we rarely had any disruption to our sleep from about 12wks onwards and when we did it was easily overcome with a dummy, a muslin and a back pat or stroke.
I remember my sister having my niece a few months later. I now realise how difficult it must have been for her. Her baby needed a lot more reassurance than mine and was only really happy at the breast or being held. I have since discovered this is much more normal baby behaviour!
Baby Number 2
When our 2nd little boy arrived we started to notice very quickly that Gina Ford wasnt going to work for us. I remember the pressure (self-applied) to get him into a routine that allowed us to have our evenings back. Our older son went to bed at 7pm without much fuss and so it felt important to have our younger son in a similar routine once he was around 12weeks old, which was when our first son started to sleep through – as per the promises of many of the baby handbooks!
Our 2nd son was not going to follow the same agenda. I was a little more knowledgeable about breast-feeding this time and our little chap was still very much cluster feeding in the evenings at this stage. We had many evenings where we were tag-teaming and taking it in turns to eat our dinner whilst the other one tried to console him, blaming colic, comparing him to our eldest (but often in a negative way) – I was completely unprepared for this and was not enjoying parenting him any-where near as much as I had my first son.
It probably didn’t help that after he was born I suddenly decided I didn’t want to be defined as ‘just a mum’. I decided to sign-up to Boot Camp sessions to try and get back into shape when our baby was just over 12 wks old and I really loved them. So it seemed perfectly logical to set up my own buggy-fit classes and start studying for my gym instructor fitness qualification when our baby was little over 20wks old. Our older son was at pre-school and our little one could easily fit in around studying. My mind was completely elsewhere throughout most of his early months and everything was just a huge tired juggling act. We were still having very unsettled nights . More often than not he would end up shock horror – sleeping in our bed!
People would ask me if he was a good baby, which basically translates to ‘does he sleep well’? I used to respond differently each time. Does it reflect badly on my parenting to admit that No, he hardly ever sleeps for longer stints!
We went through phases that were better than others. We went through spells where our baby was frequently waking at night. Those were the nights he would end up in bed with us. I had a rule that if it was before 5am then I should try and settle him back in his cot. Thinking somehow our baby might know the difference?! Inevitably I would break my rule just because I was so exhausted. My partner and I didn’t always agree about whether the baby should join us in bed. In the end, if co-sleeping meant I got sleep, that was the deciding factor.
Whenever I did admit that sleeping wasn’t working or complained about how tired I was I would be offered the usual advice from well-meaning friends and family. ‘A week of controlled crying and it will be done and dusted’, ‘You just have to be strong’, ‘Don’t get into bad habits’, ‘Don’t make a rod for your own back’, ‘If he is in your bed it will be a difficult habit to break’ and the widely used ‘We did Controlled Crying and it didn’t do our baby any harm’ (how do you know what *harm* has occurred if you don’t know the pro’s and cons to methods like Controlled Crying!). We knew from the Gina Ford book what we were *supposed to be doing*. So we set about putting it into action, except it was awful, he was so upset, I was upset and I remember thinking surely this isn’t the only way. I couldn’t do it. We tried half-heartedly a few times after others told us we needed to be strong, we could do that surely if it was going to help *him sleep*.
In our desperate attempts to get him to sleep decided to move him from our room to be in with his big brother. We thought maybe we were disturbing him and if he was with his brother, he might copy him?! Wishful thinking! I remember the night we told our eldest son to just ignore him if he cried so even he was incorporated into the whole thing. He laid with his hands over his ears and it was actually his face mixed with the noise of his younger brothers cry that made me think this isn’t OK. I truly felt we had got to do something to fix this perceived problem, however we gave up the controlled crying quite quickly. I felt like a controlled crying failure. I wasn’t strong enough.
So eventually, instead we began to find our own way and started to sit or lay with our son until he was asleep, we moved him to a bed quite quickly which allowed us to lay with him which was far more comfortable than stroking through the cot bars! We continued our part-time co-sleeping journey where he would join us half-way through the night, this was much easier when he could walk from his bed to ours as it meant I didn’t have to move! and we began to love and embrace co-sleeping. We would even invite our eldest in for occasional sleepovers although he always much preferred his own bed all to himself with a night-light on!
I eventually learned who I could talk to about our sons sleep habits and where he slept. It was easier to deal with, without the perceived judgement from others. I could never quite shake the feeling that I was a weak parent that couldn’t follow through the programme properly and a mild fear that we were likely to have a little one that slept in our bed for the rest of his life!!
It was when I trained to become a Doula (birth support partner) and then followed this with the training to become a BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm Consultant that my perspectives began to change massively. I started to hear conversations about in-built motherly instincts we have when we become mummy’s, particularly the one that makes us want to respond to our babies cries. How we have evolved as humans, and why we would historically never have left our babies crying as it would have drawn far too much attention to predators! There are many reasons why we find our instincts difficult to listen to these days. Often because they clash massively with societies expectations.
I felt upset that I hadn’t had access to any of this information when becoming a mum myself.
I also learned
- about breast-feeding (most of which I hadn’t known as a parent of a baby) and had all of those myths dispelled.
- I learned about developmental leaps (otherwise known as growth spurts) and how these would often lead to unsettled behaviour in babies during the day and night.
- I discovered the wonderful book *the no cry sleep solution by Elizabeth Pantley*.
- I finally had access to some really good, evidence based books about normal infant sleep which lead to me realising it is normal for an infant to night wake and need parental reassurance throughout the early years.
- I learned that our babies need rocking, feeding and comforting to sleep and it is OK to do this. It isn’t habit-forming.
- I learned how an infants brain develops and about the difference in what is physiologically normal vs the impossibility of a baby using advanced higher level brain function to manipulate their parents.
- I learned why people actively choose to co-sleep.
- I learned about informed choices.
- I undertook some massively enlightening research projects.
I also suddenly felt a huge respect for some friends of ours that I had judged massively when they first became parents at a similar time to us. They know who they are as I have since passed on my humble apologies and massive respect! Something I had subconsciously summarised as ‘accidental and inexperienced’ parenting was in fact an ability to totally trust their instincts when their 1st baby had followed a similar pathway to our 2nd! So brave of them that they hadn’t allowed what others thought to get in the way of what felt right.
It felt like all along I’d needed someone to give me permission to listen to my instincts 2nd time around (of course I didn’t actually need permission! But it had felt like I did!).
This new perspective changed so much for my family and our approach to parenting.
My life work is now sharing this information and knowledge I have with new families. I really want all families to be able to access thos information at the beginning of their parenting journeys. It doesn’t come naturally to maby to trust their instincts. We are surrounded by conflicting information and it can be a minefield of advice when we become parents for the first time. It is no wonder we lose our way sometimes.
One of the most important things I have learned as a supporter of parents is the importance of supporting parents to find their own way. Just because co-sleeping works for one family it doesn’t mean it is right for another. But if we share information, have realistic expectations and practical suggestions on how we can work through these early days it can be a whole lot easier.
I have made many parenting mistakes, and probably will continue to do so. I strive to be the best parent I possible can be. As a mum of a now 11 year old and 7yr old, I’m lucky enough to have found my mama matrix, and am surrounded by wise women who frequently offer their listening skills, practical support, wisdom and suggestions. If you haven’t heard the phrase ‘we do the best we can with the information we have at the time’ it’s definitely one you need in your life, as it is so true.
So next time your new mum friend/sister/acquaintance shares that they are being woken lots by their young baby, please consider that they may not want a *solution* – they may benefit far more to have someone listen, empathise, hug and offer practical support ie. Can I help? Would you like me to do some housework, food shopping or have your baby for you for a few hours so you can get some sleep and to be reassured that it is normal to be woken by a young baby in the early years.
Maybe the *problem* isn’t actually a problem that needs to be fixed, but a problem with society in general having completely unrealistic expectations of what *normal infant sleep* actually is.
My list of Must Reads and Useful Links for new mums (All evidence based):-
Infant Sleep Information Source:-
Breast-feeding (and some useful info regarding bottle feeding):-
The 4th Trimester (and a glimpse into what I cover in my BabyCalm Classes and Workshops):-
Fourth Trimester – Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Details of my classes and workshops in East Cambs and Cambourne can be found:-
For a great read for a new mum wanting to feel understood and validated in her role as mother I thoroughly recommend the book:
What Mothers do by Naomi Stadlen