Before our first baby, my husband worked as a paramedic in South Africa where he was privy to many births. Often native women wouldn’t make it to the hospital and would ask for the vehicle to pull over to the side of the road where they would squat and “get on with it”. He shared many stories of how stoic these women are and how natural birth can be with no intervention. He was inspired by how natural it looked and how natural birthing for them is a cultural thing.
When we fell pregnant with our first child, we were inspired by these African women as well as his late grandfather; an obstetrician who loved natural deliveries. As wellness centre owners with a paediatric chiropractic practice, we see the damaging effects intervention can sometimes have during a birthing process, so if it was safe to do so, we were determined to have a natural birth. Luckily we did.
We were blessed with a very wakeful baby. It was viewed as a problem and this left me feeling confused and emotional. Some lactation specialists like bestselling author of Sleep Like a Baby Pinky McKay would call him a ‘high interest baby’.
A ‘high interest baby’ is a great term to describe my baby Beaudy, because he was interested in everything around him and was so aware. I wanted to encourage and nurture that and I understood his perception of the world he was taking in on a daily basis. From the time he was born, I knew he knew exactly what was going on around him. He would be sleeping next to his Daddy at two weeks of age, hands behind his head, and I’d lean in to take a picture of them both but Beaudy would open his eyes open at the exact time I took the picture! He stared at the camera and knew what I was doing. You couldn’t put anything past him.
In the paediatric chiropractic centre, I see that most other babies know exactly what is going on too. Aren’t they just little people? Many mothers would say about their baby, “Oh he’s been here before”, or “He’s an old soul”. These phrases are common because these little people we have made are just that — people. They aren’t blobs that we have to train, mould and transform, but rather little souls with their own thoughts, feelings, emotions and agendas that are valid, real and lovable. Half the fun is getting to know these little people and following their lead so we can try to understand their language and give them what they need and want.
As a new mum I experienced more criticism and judgement than I ever would have thought. Surely, advice was a given and it would come my way; I was prepared for that, but I was not prepared for the extent of it.
The advice, albeit overwhelming, did come from a good place. It was given in a bid to help me get some more sleep. My own mother wasn’t able to breastfeed. Her milk “dried up”. She was given advice from experts who had little knowledge on breastfeeding itself and didn’t know things have changed and that there is actually good breastfeeding support now. Other mums told me of their sleepless nights and hermit home life. I discovered there is a whole community and world of people constantly looking for ways to help their baby sleep longer or sleep through the night. I also discovered a multi-billion dollar industry producing books and information on controlled crying and letting babies ‘cry it out’.
Controlled crying (CC) or cry it out (CIO) methods are being marketed in other ways so mothers don’t think it’s a cruel method that goes against their instincts. However, a cry is still a cry, no matter what type and how long. It is tempting to go ahead with strict baby training routines when you are feeling tired and desperate, and don’t have support. I read about the damaging psychological ramifications for both baby and mother. There had to be another way and other answers.
Telling a baby when to eat, sleep or drink never made sense to me. It would be like someone telling me when to do the same. I found that when my son was placed in my arms, I knew exactly how to listen for his cues and was intuitively responsive, but something kept getting in the way: other people’s voices.
Lactation specialist and bestselling author Pinky McKay was one of several positive role models and mentors who educated me about the damaging psychological effects of any type of prolonged crying. Pinky invited me to a teleseminar called the Con of Controlled Crying. Beforehand, I had questions: Ok, it might work, but for how long? Are they really sleeping, or just lying there, given up on hope to call out for you because they’ve learnt that nobody will come? And in those moments, what are they thinking or feeling and what are the long term effects of training your baby not to ask for you, or learn that the caregiver won’t come? When he starts teething or goes through a development phase will I have to retrain him all over again? Why does it break my heart to see him cry?
It breaks my heart to see anyone cry no matter what age. I have a deep empathy for others. It wasn’t like babies just cry — End. Of. Story. Babies cry because it’s their means of communication and their last, not first, call for help. I learnt we are biologically and hormonally designed to respond to our crying babies. They don’t actually need to cry if you listen to their signs and signals.
I’ve met very few mothers who say they don’t have a problem hearing their babies cry. However, most tell me it breaks their hearts and want to find a better way; a gentler way of parenting. I will not judge those mums who choose to do it. You do what you have to do for you and your family. Although, I’ve observed that women who choose this path quite often lack support. And oh, the places we’d be if we had more of that and less feelings of competition in new mothers’ groups!
It’s all too common to feel inadequate at child health and maternal nurse routine check-ups and weigh-ins, mothers’ groups and even amongst family. The feelings of inadequacy come from weighing, measuring and comparing to ‘averages’ and other children, instead of celebrating the uniqueness of each child.
With unwanted criticism from family, friends and other mums you wouldn’t know how to handle at the best of times, imagine trying to deal with it while you’re sleep deprived and hormonal, trying to recover from the experience of birth and get to know your bundle of joy! Who knew that in the most tiring time of your life you would be tested and bombarded with everyone’s ideas and opinions about how to raise your child? Couldn’t these people wait until you got some sleep or at least give you the space to bond and gain some confidence?
I was tired and confused with the bombardment of information. Most of it was opinions. That is where my search began. I am interested in living ‘naturally’ so was eager to research natural approaches to parenting. Also, because my husband works with children’s nervous systems as a paediatric chiropractor, we were curious to look to see if there was relevant research that could help us with our ‘wakeful’ baby. It was the research that spoke louder than any words we heard.
My very sleep-deprived journey and the challenges I faced gave me the material and drive to research and write this book. I’m so glad I can now pay it forward. I have been privy to a network of people like Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellors, lactation experts, midwives, calm birth practitioners, chiropractors, doctors, mums, grandmas and authors. They generously shared knowledge that I am compelled to share with you.
This book is for the new mum who is confused and drowning in a sea of others’ opinions. The mum who wants to do what her mother did because “it must have worked because I turned out ok”, but struggles in her heart because it doesn’t feel right. It’s for all the mums that pass each other on the street pushing prams wondering if those other mums feel like she does; the mum that hates going to play groups because she doesn’t want to have to lie or hear the others talk of their baby ‘sleeping through’. It’s for the new mamas who had a hard birth or breastfeeding challenges and feel inadequate. It’s for all the mothers who cry before putting baby down to sleep feeling anxious because she wonders how long she has to sleep and when her baby will wake next. It’s for the mama who has a baby or toddler waking 5-6 times a night so she wonders what she has done ‘wrong’. The answer is actually “nothing”, especially if you have had your baby checked by a doctor and chiropractor and you have ruled out pathology or vertebral subluxation. Your baby and you are just right.
This mother was me. You may feel relieved to know there are answers that not only make sense, but will help you feel supported in following your heart. You are not alone. There’s a whole world of mothers out there connecting and supporting each other online.
You’ll feel relieved and empowered. You’ll be able to reclaim your inner maternal instincts from this book. You need to be mothered a little after birth so you feel like you can do some mothering. You’ll get some great tips and find peace— like we did— when some of the myths surrounding babies and sleep are dispelled.
Every baby is unique. We need to approach parenting techniques with this in mind — gently, making them work for your modern day family and doing what’s right for you.
As long as you have the research, science and facts about your baby’s brain and how it works, you’ll be able to parent naturally, make an informed choice and hopefully feel a little less isolated along the way.
We are excited to share with you our story and some amazing research that will help you make sense of it all and hopefully get some ‘golden’ sleep!