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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Oh look, a Flying Pig! Whoops, it's "Female Entitlement Mentality"

Image source
... because in my opinion, those two things are equally as plausible: A sense of entitlement so common in women that it can be given a reference to a kind of collective mindset, and flying pigs.

Misogyny doesn't surprise me much anymore. Sadden and enrage, absolutely. But surprise? Not so much. Sadly, it's far too common. All you have to do is wake up in the morning and you'll find it. So when I read this recent opinion piece from the Sunday Telegraph, I laughed so hard with a kind of demented hysteria that I had to retrieve my eyebrows from up on the equator.

I can't help but wonder if this journalist was writing about an alternate reality. Or, perhaps she was making some kind of satirical, utopian aspiration.  

Miranda Devine writes: "The hostility was symptomatic of a female entitlement mentality (FEM), which means always getting what you want, when you want it, even in defiance of reality and other people's wishes.
Increasingly in our narcissistic age we see this deluded self-belief and inflated sense of importance, from baby boomers to 13-year-old princesses.
FEM is the end product of a culture that places self-esteem and empowerment above fairness and common sense."
I have highlighted those last few words, because I think they are particularly poignant in their inaccuracy, to say the least.

I'd love to live in a culture that placed the importance of self-esteem and empowerment so highly! 

I could talk about the oppression, rape, assault, degradation, objectification and slaughter of women all over the world, happening right now as you read these words. I could talk about honour killings, about death by stoning, about female genital mutilation and infanticide of female babies. 

I could mention the fact that, not even 100 years ago, women did not even have the right to vote, let alone sit for parliament.

I could say that our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard - the first women in the job after 27 male Prime Ministers – along with her roles of governing a country, must also face criticism about her clothing, her marital status, and the fact that she is childless, as though those things are relevant to women in power, but not men.

I could tell you that of the top 20 richest people in the world, only 3 of them are women

That of the 20 most powerful people in the world, only 2 of them are women.

But let's consider some far more insidious examples of a worldwide lack of female power:
  • When we marry, it is assumed that the woman will automatically take the man's name. This is a continuation of the practice of a girl child 'belonging' to her father, until she is married into her husbands home and thusly 'belongs' to him.
  • Children are assumed to have their father's surname, regardless of the fact that their mother carried them in her womb, gestated and birthed them, and provides the majority of the biological nurturing.
  • An uninhibited, sexually confident man is labelled a stud. An uninhibited, sexually confident women is labelled a slut.
  • Outspoken men are generally successful in business, academia or government. Outspoken women are labelled as man-haters, assumed to be lesbians (as though that's an insult), or both.
  • It is expected that women will shave/wax/pluck/dye all the hair on their bodies. That women will alter their appearance, skin colour, body shape and size, clothing, and even their smell in order to appear 'appealing'. Those who choose not to apply this cultural assumption are labelled man-haters, assumed to be lesbians, or both.
  • Men embracing their bodily strength and power partake in sports of national following such as football, cricket and motorsports. The TV is covered with it, advertisers fight each other for naming rights, sponsors dish out millions of dollars to place their logos on the collars and helmets and t-shirts of these men. However, a woman embracing her bodily strength and power is labelled a man-hater, assumed to be a lesbian, or both. 
  • Advertisements for household cleaning products always feature tired, frumpy housewives who become suddenly orgasmic and completely fulfilled when their toilet is shinier.
  • Being a mother is considered lowly, whereas paid career work is valuable.
  • A woman who responds to her baby's needs for her is labelled 'weak', warned that she is neglecting her marriage or husband, and encouraged to ignore her instincts.
  • Breastfeeding is viewed by many as offensive, obscene and something to be censored. Yet somehow, a model wearing a napkin is perfectly acceptable – even mundane.
  • Women in the bible are categorised according to their sexual status: virgins or adulterous, sinning whores. 
  • Santa Clause has a first name: Santa. What is Mrs Clause's first name?
I could go on, and on, and on...
Miranda Devine writes: "Take the case of the woman suing Geelong Grammar because she did not get a high enough mark to get into the course of her choice. Most people might accept the disappointment as bad luck, a sign of their own limitations or a spur to work harder. But not Rose Ashton-Weir, 18. She felt entitled to a place at the University of Sydney law school."
What has the fact that the student is a woman got to do with this story? If she were a man would she be publicly vilified by ignorant journalists as being "entitled"? I would like to suggest that, if she were a man, Rose Ashton-Weir would likely be heralded as a genius – what better way to attract the attention of a prospective law school than to sue your previous school!
Miranda Devine writes: "Or the case of the Australian woman who divorced her Italian husband and took their four Italian-born daughters back to Australia, where she now wants to live.
She defied a Family Court order that the girls ... should return to Italy ...
The father says he loves his daughters and wants them home and the full bench of the court agrees. But the mother wants what she wants, so she's sent the children into hiding."
Recently, a very close friend of mine fled her abusive marriage, taking her two very young children interstate with her to find solace with her family. Almost instantly, she was served with court action to retrieve the children - and force her to return to her husband – due to his claims that "he loved them." Almost $50,000 in court fees that she was forced to pay later, my friend, struggling on a single-parenting payment, is still unable parent her children free of fear of control, threats of court action and manipulation, bullying and lies from her ex-husband. All because he believes he is "entitled" to his children. Everywhere in the world – yes, even in Australia – there are women living in situations of horrendous, covert domestic violence. Too scared to speak out for fear of condemnation, disbelief and public scrutiny. I can only imagine the story of this Australian woman who fled Italy with her children. 
She writes: "Then there are those women who insist on having home births, even in high-risk pregnancies, ignoring medical advice that the baby could die."
Ahh, that old chestnut! Approximately 300,000 babies are born in Australia each year. Of those, less than 1% are born at home. Right now in Australia, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a woman to exercise her basic human right to chose her caregiver and place of birth. A woman who choses to birth at home does so against immense cultural fear and pressure, ignorance, public shame and insult. She does so because it is the right choice for her.

If women are so arrogant and egotistical, waltzing around under their over-inflated heads, why are 1 in 7 women suffering postnatal depression? If women are choosing empowerment and self-esteem over common sense, why are 1 in 3 women experiencing birth trauma, with almost 1 in 20 women suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from their child's birth? 

This study on the prevalence of post-childbirth PTSD shows: 
"among the identified risk factors were a history of psychological problems, trait anxiety, obstetric procedures, negative aspects in staff–mother contact, feelings of loss of control over the situation, and lack of partner support.
All participants stated that during their labour they had experienced intense feelings of not being in control. The belief that the baby would be harmed, pain and ineffective pain relief, previous traumatic experiences, unsupportive staff and expectations towards childbirth that were not met were factors that were supposed to have contributed to feelings of lack of control."
I'm not seeing the narcissism or entitlement there, are you?
Miranda Devine ends with: "Veteran match-maker Yvonne Allen, after connecting professional singles for 37 years, is at her wits' end finding partners for women with inflated self-esteem."I'm so concerned about what I see happening with relationships, men are feeling deballed," she said.
One typical client, a businesswoman in her late 30s, complained about three men the agency had introduced her to.
"They weren't suitable in her mind because none of them called her back. It was our fault," she said."
In other words: Women should not consider themselves worthy of a telephone call – actually women shouldn't consider themselves worthy at all - because a woman who considers herself worthy is castrating men all over the country. Poor blokes!

Every single day, women are blasted with how they should look, act, dress, eat, exercise, work, bathe, clean, keep-house, cook... the list goes on. No matter what we do, we face criticism. 

For thousands of years, women have been oppressed simply because we are born with a vagina. And it's still happening - right now. All over the world.

So even if it was happening – which it isn't –  what would be so wrong with women embracing themselves for a change?

Imagine if we were brought up to be confident and comfortable within our female bodies. Imagine if the products of self-hatred such as eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia didn't exist. Imagine if women weren't killing themselves just for being women.

Imagine if a good female self-esteem and empowerment was valued and encouraged.

"Female Entitlement Mentality" in a patriarchy? We should be so lucky!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Trust Yourself: An open letter to parents considering 'The Gift of Sleep'

I've just finished reading The Gift of Sleep by Elizabeth Sloane. Now, I knew I would probably disagree with the majority of her words, but what I wasn't expecting was this reaction: I actually feel sick. My stomach is in a knot and I feel kind of trembly. And not in a good way.

You see, as a baby, I was left to cry myself to sleep until I 'learned' to. So I actually found the advocation of this advice quite triggering and stressful. I'm writing this post mostly as catharsis, as I don't want to carry this with me anymore.

Although the author takes great pains to stress that the book does not advocate "crying it out", I believe there is really no way of getting around the fact that that is exactly what the program is. This is just my opinion – you can make up your own mind.

I'll show you what led me to this conclusion.

Just to be clear: I believe The Gift of Sleep is nothing other than an innocuously-painted version of cry-it-out/controlled crying.

Obviously, due to copyright issues I cannot quote directly from the book without the author's permission. So please bear with me whilst I paraphrase. I will however directly quote some single words.

Ok, are you ready? Deep breath. You might need it. (You might like to know that a similar sentence is written before the program instructions in the book.)

The theme of the book is based on a 3-night regime that promises to get a currently wakeful baby sleeping independently. The authors assert that most "sleep problems" are based on using aids or props to encourage a baby to sleep, i.e. rocking, breastfeeding/bottle-feeding, dummies (pacifiers), etc. The aim of the program therefore, is to remove the infant's reliance on these "props". Although the author claims that the program won't guarantee the child sleeps continuously through the night, she does claim that her program will "teach" the child to self-settle if they do wake – namely, to fall asleep independently, without any parental involvement when they are first put to bed in the evening, and whenever they wake subsequently throughout the night.

The book is aimed at parents of babies 6 months or older.

While she says that she can often "crack it" in 3 nights, sometimes "stronger" babies may take a little longer.

So what exactly does this program entail? Well, to sum up, it's essentially putting the baby into their cot (or bed) – awake – tucking them in in a specific manner, saying goodnight, and then walking out.

Parents are then given arbitrary but somewhat confusing instructions on how to approach the subsequent crying, or "protesting." They are told to wait X amount of minutes outside the door, and if the baby is still crying, to knock on the door or make a loud "shhh" noise.

She explains that this is so that the baby (somehow) knows the parent is there. Although goodness knows how, considering that object permanence (the ability to know that something exists even if you can't see it) isn't fully developed in a child until they are closer to 2 years of age.

Would you feel comforted by a knock on the door and a loud "shhhhh" if you were upset? I wouldn't.

It goes on. If, after these X minutes the baby is doing a certain level of cry (parents are to rate the baby's cry based on how it sounds), parents are allowed to go in to the child and "re-settle." I think it's important to note something here - the re-settle isn't advocated if the child is still crying at all - it's only advocated if they are doing what the parent rates to be a cry based on the author's description of how a cry sounds. It goes without saying - how on earth can written text convey how a unique human baby's cry should sound? 

Okay, phew, I hear you say. They can now attend to their crying baby.

Nope, think again. The "re-settle" involves not talking to, picking up or giving eye-contact to the baby. Instead, parents are to pop the sheets back around the baby, making the "shhhh" noise a few times, and then leave again. Then the whole listening-outside-the-door-and-knocking/shhhhing timings are listed.

That's it. Eventually, she says, the crying gets less, and the baby will put themselves to sleep. Or in some cases, through "exhaustion".

I found the entire tone of the writing condescending, authoritative and bordering on patronising. There's lots of DO NOT (yes, in caps), and several warnings against "cave ins" or "cracks". There's lots of words like "distressing", "guilt", and "hard work".

Does this sound like the fostering of a positive self-esteem and feelings of worth in a developing human being? It doesn't to me.

I need to say that the author does make a point of insisting, early on in the book, that the program won't appeal to or suit every family. She recommends that if a baby is waking up during the night and that doesn't bother the parents, then there is no problem. Her program is recommended if the parents feel it is right for them. The author also stresses that the baby should be well, and the program is not recommended around the time of immunisations or other distractions such as a holiday, etc.

However, what I feel is important to note, is that any concerns that a parent would rightfully have about leaving the child to cry, are several times through the book soothed with reference only to a single study completed by Murdoch Children's Reasearch Institute that found:
"...techniques including 'controlled crying' - which helps babies learn to put themselves to sleep by letting them cry for set periods of time - and positive bedtime routines, had no adverse affects on the emotional and behavioural development of children or their relationship with parents when compared to children who as babies had sleep problems but received no sleep intervention."
This particular study was part of a longitudinal study of 225 6-year-old children who had received some form of "behavioural intervention" on their sleep as infants. 

Personally, I have a couple of problems with this study:
1) It's my understanding that the original paper has not been published – just presented at a conference.
2) It's also my understanding that the study was undertaken on a questionnaire basis: i.e. parents were asked to complete a questionnaire based on their child's behaviour. 
3) One study alone, of questionable validity when the original research is unavailable, does not make sufficient evidence given the contrasting knowledge that is now available about how the human brain develops.

This is the only research the author uses to backup her claims of the safety of her program. 

However, the research that speaks against leaving an infant to cry alone for any period of time, or that encourages maternal/paternal responsiveness is insurmountably more convincing. A non-exhaustive list follows, if you're interested:
  • Bell SM & Ainsworth MD (1972). Infant crying and maternal responsiveness. Child Development 43, 1171-1190.
  • Bowlby J (1973). Attachment and loss: 2. Separation. Harmondswroth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Dolby R (1996). Overview of Attachment Theory and Consequences for Emotional Development. In: Seminar 15. Attachment: Children's Emotional Development and the Link with Care and Protection Issues. Sydney: Child Protection Council.
  • Hope MJ (1986). Selected Paper No. 43: Understanding Crying in Infancy. Kensington, NSW: Foundation for Child & Youth Studies.
  • Keller H et al. (1996). Psychobiological aspects of infant crying. Early Development and Parenting 5, 1-13.
  • Lamport Commons M. & Miller PM. Emotional learning in infants: Across-cultural examination.
  • Leach P (1994). Children First: What we must do, and are not doing - for our children today. London: Penguin.
  • McKenna J & Gartner L (2000). Sleep Location and Suffocation: How Good Is The Evidence? Pediatrics 105, 917-919.
  • McKenna J (2000). Cultural Influences on Infant Sleep (abbreviatedchapter) Zero To Three 20, 9-18.
  • Mitchell EA & Thompson JMD (1995). Co-sleeping increases therisk of SIDS, but sleeping in the parental bedroom lowers it. In: Rogum TO (Ed). Sudden infant death syndrome: new trends in thenineties. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.
  • Odent M (1986). Primal health: A blue print for our survival. London: Century Hutchinson.
  • Perry BD. Memories of Fear: How the Brain Stores and Retrieves Physiologic States, Feelings, Behaviors and Thoughts from Traumatic Events.
  • Perry BD & Pollard R (1998). Homeostasis, stress, trauma, and adaptation: a neurodevelopmental view of childhood trauma. Childand Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 7, 33-51.
  • Trevathan W & McKenna J (1994). Evolutionary environments of human birth and infancy: Insights to apply to contemporary life. Children's Environments 11, 88-104.
You see, a baby is born with 100 billion brain nerve cells (neurons) in place. However, these neurons are relatively 'unconnected' - the pathways that govern action, thought, emotions etc. are not yet formed. This is why newborns are so developmentally immature. Over the first 2 years of a child's life, a staggeringly large amount of neural connections are made. The more a pathway is used (for example, lifting their hand to their mouth is a connection that gets used frequently), the stronger that pathway becomes. (1)

These neural pathways, in the first few years, operate on a 'use it or loose it' basis. Those neural connections that don't get used, get 'pruned'. Parental behaviour is the most important  influence on how an infant's brain pathways develop: which connections will be strengthened, and which will wither away. In this sense, the brain is literally moulded and shaped by how a caregiver reacts and responds to the baby: the smiles, cuddles, and loving touch. (2) The brain pathways that get used the most are the ones that become the strongest. Just like a path worn through the bush - used once, it has little impact. But used every single day, the path becomes well defined.  A baby is too immature to handle and manage their own emotions; they rely on their parents to help them learn how to do this. If a parent consistently, lovingly, shows them comfort and reassurance when they are upset, then these loving, emotionally stable neural pathways will form to help them deal calmly with stress and upset throughout their life. (3)

And this is why I believe that so many of us are so prone to depression and anxiety. Myself included. Because it is so common to leave babies alone, repeatedly, with their grief - for however many minutes that may be. What is happening is this: baby's brains are getting the message: upset = grief  = abandonment. I'm not worth it. I'm not always loved.

Sad, huh?

I want to acknowledge that sleep deprivation can be so, so tough to deal with. It can make life incredibly difficult for a family, a partnership. It can be a real catalyst for depression. However, I am incredibly concerned that the answer to these issues is so often advocated to be simply ignoring the infant. After all, they are the least mature being in the entire house. If the adults are suffering, I believe it is our problem to address - not the infant's!

But my concern doesn't only extend to sleep. I believe that encouraging and enabling parents to ignore their infant during times of inconvenience sets up a mindset that disconnect is okay, and takes the power to parent away from the parents. Parents must continue to pay for advice. In essence, parents lose confidence that they actually know what to do with their baby.

If sleep deprivation is negatively affecting our life, what can we do about it? What can we simplify for a few months until it passes? What help or support can we reach out for from others around us? What reassurances about normal infant behaviour can we find? 
And, if the situation is really dire, what other gentle methods could we try instead, that don't "break" the infant into shutdown and learned helplessness?

Finally, I want to address another pivotal point: how does The Gift of Sleep feel about criticism?

Defensive much?
While I was grabbing some screen shots from The Gift of Sleep's Facebook page, I came across the above. Obviously, as the book's publicity grows, it is inevitable that so too will it's criticism. While I can imagine that internet trolling is quite frustrating, the comments that I did see (before they were deleted), certainly weren't "bullying" or "arrogant" - they were simply asking for clarification of concerns based on emerging neuroscience and the importance of secure attachment. After all, if the program is so innocuous - why so defensive?

And I have read the book, and no matter how the author's paint it: the method – in my opinion – is the same thing as crying it out – because it offers exceptionally little reassurance to a crying infant.

I can't speak for the "attachment parenting fanatics," but I would assume that other adults who are concerned about this sleep training advice, are concerned because they are compassionate human beings who care about the emotional wellbeing of others - both babies and their parents. 

Yes, Elizabeth Sloane has a business to run. I understand that criticism is frustrating. But I believe she also has an ethical and moral responsibility, as she is charging people for this advice – to ensure transparency and honesty with parents. And, based on what I have read: I don't believe she is. 

After all, we're talking about the emotional development of our children

This particular book isn't the first to spout this kind of advice; but I can only hope that as science sheds more light on healthy emotional development, this kind of advice will become an embarrassing memory – like the days when doctors used to endorse brands of cigarettes.

So, for parents considering The Gift of Sleep I offer this: read everything, read both sides of the spectrum. Ask yourself - does this feel right? Can I do this feeling confident and 100% happy that I am making the right decision? If not, I encourage you to follow your instincts, trust your gut, and hold your baby.

Because I'll continue to say over and over: a world with more unconditional love expressed in it, has got to be a better world.

Peace and love to you. xo

(1, 2, 3) Gethin, A. & Macgregor, B. 2007. Helping Your Baby To Sleep. Finch Publishing, Sydney.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Breastfeeding to Sleep: Peaceful and Natural… and How It Does Pass

This article was published in the Australian Breastfeeding Association's Essence Magazine, May 2011. An update on sleep in our house appears at the end of the article. 

Breastfeeding. The best sleep prop. Ever.

I think almost every new (or even not-so-new) breastfeeding mother has been given the well-meaning advice of “don’t feed him to sleep!” at one time or another. Tales of ‘bad habits’ or ‘spoiling’ are quite common in our society regarding infant sleep, with a trend of encouraging baby to fall asleep independently and alone.

But it is becoming more widely-accepted now, with advancements in neuroscience and attachment theory research, that babies actually can’t put themselves to sleep easily when they are tired – it is a developmental skill that they must mature enough to acquire, just like other milestones such as walking or talking. In their book Helping Your Baby to Sleep, Anni Gethin and Beth Macgregor say “contrary to popular opinion, humans are not designed to be able to go to sleep without assistance in early life. Making the transition to sleep is rarely something babies’ immature brains can do without some form of help.” (1)

When it comes to sleep deprivation, I am, like many parents, an expert in that field! My now-three-year-old woke 1-2 hourly from birth, starting to sleep longer only recently. The first few months of her life were a blur of constant breastfeeding, walking and rocking – day and night. I tried learning her ‘tired cues’ but found these all looked the same – Feed me! Hold me! By the time she was about six months old she was more settled, but the only way to put her to sleep was with a breastfeed. She slept alongside me every night from birth, waking and breastfeeding anything up to ten times a night. I worried that I had created a terrible habit. How would she ever learn to fall asleep on her own? Was I going to be feeding her to sleep forever?

Humans have two states of sleep. REM sleep (raipd-eye-movement, or active sleep) and non-REM sleep (quiet, deep sleep). During the night, we move through these different sleep states several times. It is in the transition between REM and non-REM sleep, that a person (ie. baby!) is easily roused. Babies have a high percentage of REM sleep, and it can take several months before they start to sleep more deeply, and for longer stretches. Even then, adult levels of REM and non-REM sleep are not attained until about 2-3 years of age (2). Unlike adults however, babies enter sleep through a REM state, which explains the reason why our babies can need so much help going to sleep, and so frequently.

When a baby breastfeeds, a number of wonderful hormones are at play. Oxytocin, the hormone that causes the mother’s let-down reflex, is released in both the mother and baby, as well as being present in breastmilk itself. Oxytocin is sometimes known as the ‘love hormone’, and is responsible for feelings of warmth, comfort and pleasure. Another hormone released in both mother and baby during breastfeeding is cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK release also happens when the stomach is full – it is what causes that drowsy feeling when you’ve just had a big lunch! In babies, sucking-induced CCK peaks at the end of a feed, often causing them to feel sleepy or drift off to sleep. These lovely hormones, combined with the pleasure of sucking and a cuddle from mum, all form the basis of a perfect infant-sleep-inducing atmosphere. Nature provided us with this clever concoction to use, to help our babies sleep, until they mature enough to do it on their own.

I soon discovered that one of the keys to coping with constant waking was realizing that it was perfectly normal, and accepting that it would pass – eventually! At three months of age, around 80% of babies wake up at night and need a parents help to get back to sleep. At six  months this figure is 75% of babies, at around one year it is 50% of babies, and up to four years old about one third of children still wake and need a parents help to get back to sleep (3). Once I learned this, I spent some time altering my attitude to one of acceptance, and suddenly found life a lot easier. So she was just wakeful. It was nothing I had done wrong – it was biologically normal, completely human, infant behaviour. I made a point of finding and talking with other parents of wakeful babies, which provided support when I needed it (often!) and also helped normalise this behaviour for me.

By the time my little-one was about one year old, we had night-times down to a fine art (well, most nights!). After dinner, my husband would bathe her, whilst I caught up on some quiet time. Then we would lie in bed, breastfeed to sleep, then I would creep back out and enjoy some more time to myself. Usually, within an hour or two, she would wake and I would be back in bed, quickly feeding her to sleep again. Sometimes I would get back up again, but more often than not, this was when I would go to sleep myself. And then anything from about hourly, she would stir and fuss, I would roll over, she would attach and then we were both back to sleep. Our sleep cycles became well synchronized – I would often rouse just before her, so my own sleep felt less interrupted. I would only wake enough to ensure she was attached and comfortable and safe, before drifting back to sleep myself. People often asked me “how many times does she wake up at night?”. I would respond “lots!” but I couldn’t tell them when, or even give them a number, I was never awake long enough or fully enough to actually pay attention!

This state of zen acceptance wasn’t always easy to uphold. There were plenty of hard times, convinced I was the only one going through this. I felt like all the babies around me at her age were now sleeping through the night, often even in their own beds! What had I done so wrong? But these were the times that I found I was not looking after myself adequately during the day.

Coping with a wakeful babe is not possible without looking after yourself. Ensuring that you are well-supported and rested during the day is what makes this exhausting biological norm bearable. For day naps, I would lie down with her and read a book while she breastfed to sleep, getting much-needed rest and relaxation myself. Ensuring that a priority became taking care of me, while this early high-needs phase passed, was what made her very real needs so much easier to meet. In his book, Nighttime Parenting, Dr. William Sears says “sleep problems occur when your child’s night-waking exceeds your ability to cope”. So I conserved energy by keeping extra activities to a minimum, saying ‘no’ if necessary, and just spending as much time resting and enjoying this phase as possible.

When my toddler turned 25-moths old, my menstrual cycle finally returned. She was still waking and attaching very frequently at night, but going longer stretches during the day without a breastfeed. Her feeds at night now were often just a quick comfort suck, rather than a lengthy breastfeed. And sometimes, she would attach for just a few moments before rolling over and going back to sleep. By now she was quite verbal, and I would often remind her “it’s night time now, time for sleep.” A few times I tried offering her just a cuddle – but it was met with vehement and very loud protesting! Clearly, the need for that comfort was still very real.

A few months after she turned two, I became pregnant again. My milk supply dropped considerably by about the end of the first trimester. Although this didn’t really reduce the night waking, it made it difficult for me to fall back to sleep, as I was getting uncomfortable with her on the breast. We talked often about her breastfeeding, and about having  ‘just cuddles’ at night time. Over the space of a few months, the idea was introduced. She would suck until sleepy, but not asleep, then I would gently detach her. If she cried, I would allow her to re-attach. Sometimes she cried, other times she would just fuss a little and then drift back to sleep with a cuddle.

In the last trimester of my pregnancy, when she was almost three, it began to feel like I was actually interrupting her by attaching her when she roused. One particularly tired day, after a conversation with a fellow ABA counselor, I spent all day chatting with her about ‘just cuddles tonight’. It felt right, and she was very open to the idea. So that night, I breastfed her to sleep in the evening, but after that, at each waking I reminded her that we had milk in the daytime, and cuddles now at night. She barely whimpered. She was clearly ready to accept this now, at almost three years old. I felt she had the capacity to understand what I was asking of her, and the ability to go back to sleep without sucking.

If she ever became distressed, I would offer her a “quick 1-2-3 milk”. That three seconds was often enough to offer her the comfort that she needed, without being too much for me. Then she would be happy with a cuddle.

She is only having one breastfeed a day now, at night before sleep. I lie with her and breastfeed for a few minutes, then ask her to detach and we cuddle and I usually sing a song, or read her a story, or draw pictures on her back. That is how she goes to sleep. She sleeps with us, but since the new baby arrived, she decided that she wanted to sleep in the side-car style cot. So now she has her “own bed” next to ours. She still wakes a few times a night, but she is perfectly happy with a cuddle back to sleep.

She often tells us now, after dinner, “I want to go to bed”. If we have guests they usually cannot believe that a three-year-old could not only be so happy about going to bed, but actually initiate it! It seems, sadly, that bedtime and toddler tantrums are the accepted norm in our society. But bedtime and sleep has only ever been a safe, warm and loving space for her to go, and she now recognizes when she needs it.

During those early years of intensely wakeful nights, I just couldn’t imagine how this phase would ever pass. But waiting until she was ready, including her in the process, and doing it gently and patiently, was the best thing we could do to ease the transition from sucking to sleep, to falling asleep without the breast. Peacefully and naturally.

UPDATE May 2012:
I wrote this almost two years ago, when my daughter was just 3-years-old. Almost five now, she is weaned, (well, pretty much. She still asks for "milky" on a rare occasion), and goes to sleep happily every night with a cuddle from myself, her Dad (this is the most common, as I'm usually breastfeeding her 2-year-old brother to sleep), or even her Nan. She loves bedtime, she loves everything about it - the stories, the cuddling. Although she has her 'own' bed - a single bed, next to the king bed in our family bedroom - she usually rolls over next to me at some point during the night. Unless she is sick, she sleeps all night. There is never any 'bedtime battles' that are so common with toddlers. She still tells us when she's tired, when she wants to go to bed. Bedtime, in our house, is truly, truly, blissful. I would never do it any other way.

1. Gethin, Anni & Macgregor, Beth Helping Your Baby To Sleep, pg 11
2. Bodribb, Wendy Breastfeeding Management, pg 100.
3. Gethin, Anni & Macgregor, Beth Helping Your Baby To Sleep, pg 3

The Silence of the Babies: When Sleep Training 'Works' – Who Wins?

When the lambs went quiet for Clarice, it wasn't because they'd contentedly learned to 'self-settle'

Ahh, sleep deprivation. The baby is born, and she doesn't know night from day. You feed, and walk, and feed some more. She cries – sometimes, a lot. Time wears on and you realise you don't even know what day it is anymore. For crying out loud, what you wouldn't do for some SLEEP!

Enter sleep training. It sounds promising, and you're told it's what you need to do. For you, and for your baby. 

You believe them. Why wouldn’t you? Despite the increasing warnings against the practice, the conflicting advice just does your head in. Especially when you can barely keep your eyes open, and the prospect of a full nights sleep appeals like an icy-cold drink in the Sahara. And besides, this particular program promises not to use 'controlled crying'. It says so, right there on the professional-looking, pretty coloured website

Talking about the potential risks of sleep training can often be fraught with emotion. It's such a common practice, that most parents (in western culture at least) have either done it or attempted it at some point. Denial, guilt, anger, resentment - they're confronting emotions to deal with. And those confronting feelings can make it difficult for parents to hear those risks  and not take it personally.

But I see it this way. It's a bit like a drug dealer and the junkie. While they both have a responsibility - who is really to blame? And who is really just the victim? 

So what exactly is sleep training, who's dealing it, and why?

With the pressures of our modern lives, and our nuclear families living in isolation from one another, the biologically normal needs of a human infant can make exhaustion very difficult to cope with. Many of us are inexperienced in the care of infants until we have our own. Thusly, normal newborn behaviour can be incredibly confronting. A baby's intense primate need to he held continually, and fed frequently, topped off with interrupted sleep and recovery from often traumatic childbirth, can all compound and threaten to overwhelm a new parent entirely. It's easy to feel pushed to the brink, and fear that life will forever be this utterly exhausting and relentless. 

We feel powerless. We feel useless. We have no idea of what is considered normal on the spectrum of normal newborn and infant behaviour. So, when a glossy book or website promises answers, promises "sleep" and "contentment" and "happiness" - oh my, where do I sign up?

As emerging science sheds more and more light on the vast importance of secure attachment in infancy, modern sleep training has attempted to skirt it's growing alarm by taking on a few pseudonyms. 

Known most commonly as controlled crying, cry-it-out or Ferberisation; advocates are instead now using terms like controlled comforting, and spaced soothing. But despite what advocates of these ‘methods’ will tell you – these are all pretty much one and the same thing. 
"I'm not a fan of controlled crying, and for most people that term conjures up horrible upsetting images of screaming babies being left in their room for hours. I call my program 'controlled comforting' ... I think the longest I ever ask parents to stay outside the nursery is maybe 10 minutes." – Elizabeth Sloane
Sleep training goes a little something like this:
  1. Place baby where the parent believes they are supposed to sleep
  2. Ignore their resultant cries until they stop happening.
That's pretty much it. Of course, the baby sleep whisperers/experts/trainers will tell you it’s far more complex.

Knock on the door? Scratch on the carpet? For 1 minute or for 5 minutes? Are you confused? I am.
Usually advocated as an integral part of the sleep training 'method', is a daily routine or schedule. As well as controlling their level of received comfort overnight, a parent must control when the baby eats, sleeps, and plays during the day. 

Put bluntly, the parent must take over control over the timing of all of the baby's physiological needs. Period.

So now, the day progresses at parental convenience and control, and predictability can ensue. Naturally, for a stressed, harried parent, this can feel intensely reassuring. The previous feelings of chaos become manageable, and the parent is told that by following the 'routine' the baby's cries - perhaps previously confusing and upsetting - now become 'recognisable'. 
"When following a baby routine, you will start to recognise your baby's hungry, tired or bored cries. When your baby starts to cry, you will be able to look at the baby routine and see what is due next. If your baby is due a feed, you will start to recognise that cry as a hungry cry. If your baby is due to have a sleep, you will learn that cry as a tired cry."Tizzie Hall
Will the parent actually learn to interpret their babies cries? Or will they just relabel that cry according to what the book says to do next?
"Routines teach you to recognise the difference between hunger and tiredness and how to listen to what your baby is really saying.  They are all about providing your baby with security and comfort, giving him what he wants before he needs to cry and demand it, and the result is a contented little baby who is likely to sleep the longest spell at night at around six to ten weeks." – Gina Ford 
Repeatedly forcing a baby to eat and sleep at prescribed times doesn't provide the child with "security and comfort" - it produces a kind of submissive compliance, a child who has given up bothering to communicate because it is pointless.

You see, the baby doesn’t suddenly think: “oh, I get it. I’m supposed to sleep now. I guess I have been crying too much just to be a pain in the arse. Nighty night. Gosh, I’m so loved.”

Here’s what actually happens:
“He cries and cries; his lungs, new to air, are strained with the desperation in his heart. No one comes. Trusting in the rightness of life, he does the only act he can, which is to cry on. Eventually, he falls asleep exhausted. He awakes in a mindless terror of silence, the motionless. He screams. He is afire from head to foot with want, with desire, with intolerable impatience. He gasps for breath and screams until his head is filled and throbbing with the sound. He screams until his chest aches, until his throat is sore. He can bear the pain no more and his sobs weaken and subside. He listens. He opens and closes his fists. He rolls his head from side to side. Nothing helps. It is unbearable. He begins to cry again, but it is too much for his strained throat; he soon stops. He stops, able to suffer, unable to think, unable to hope. He listens. Then he falls asleep again.” (1) Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept. 
Almost hurts just to read, doesn’t it?

Parenting author, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and mother of five Pinky McKay describes the process of how sleep training 'works' on an infant:
"When controlled crying 'succeeds' in teaching a baby to fall asleep alone, it is due to a process that neurobiologist Bruce Perry calls the 'defeat response'... When infant cries are ignored, this trauma elicits a 'freeze' or 'defeat' response. Babies eventually abandon their crying as the nervous system shuts down the emotional pain and the striving to reach out. ...the baby who is left to cry in order to teach him to sleep will learn a much crueler lesson – that he cannot make a difference, so what is the point of reaching out. This is learned helplessness." – Pinky McKay
When faced repeatedly with a distressing situation over which they have no control, animals will often cease to protest. This is a psychological defence mechanism known as learned helplessness. Rather than legitimately embracing sleep, and drifting off peacefully, the suggestion is that infants 'shut down' in order to conserve energy to survive.

It's not because they've learned a handy skill - it's because they've given up.

Just as humans have a basic need for food, water and oxygen, humans also have a basic need for positive regard. An infant needs unconditional positive regard from a caregiver as significantly as food and water. A caregiver's timely, loving response communicates to the infant that they are worthy of protecting from predators. 

However, sleep training encourages parents to ignore a child's 'protests' for certain amounts of time. Warning of the risks of attending to the child too soon, parents are reminded that although it's hard to listen to their child's cries, they need to "win" and the child will "soon be asleep". (2) Does this send a message to the child that they are always worthy of their parents love and comfort? No. What this does is foster in the child what psychologists call 'conditions of worth' (3) - whereby the child learns that they are only worthy of love if they act or behave or feel in certain ways.

When a human is stressed, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Evidence suggests that excess cortisol levels can be damaging to a developing infant's brain, leaving the child at a higher lifelong risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. (4)

So why is sleep training, in one form or another, so very common in western culture?

With our fast-paced lives, emphasis on early independence, fear-based campaigns surrounding bed-sharing, and the social importance of a ‘marital’ bed, the biological needs of a baby suddenly become almost impossible.

Sleep becomes a fixation. We need sleep to survive. And that is the reason that so many self-proclaimed ‘baby sleep experts/whisperers/trainers’ are cashing in the big bucks – by trying to scare the pants off of us.
"They won’t sleep better if they are weaned or start to crawl, they won’t grow out of it!! They have the wrong sleep associations, they have bad sleep habits and unless you teach them how to fall asleep without these props then they will never learn." Jo Tantum  
 Yikes. Run – don't walk – to the nearest sleep trainer! So by this logic, does holding a child's hand while they learn to walk mean they will never walk alone? Or dressing them mean they will never dress themselves? Or putting them in nappies, cutting up their food, tying their shoelaces...? Not only is this just logically ridiculous, it's a downright lie. Myself included, anecdotally, I know of thousands of children who have been rocked or cuddled or fed to sleep, and have naturally outgrown it when they were ready. Not to mention what pretty much the rest of the world does, and has done, since humans have walked the earth.

Parents are told that the problem lies with their baby, or with their parenting style, and therefore, if they don't sort it out lickety-split, they're in for a lifetime of sleeplessness – them and their child.
"Usually a baby of six months will show the first signs of a self-settling problem by waking at about 5:00am. Then she will begin to wake at 11:00pm, and by the time your baby is one year old she will be waking at 9:00pm, 11:00pm, 1:00am, 3:00am and 5:00am! The sooner you solve the waking problem the better."Tizzie Hall
But I don't think the problem lies with the baby. The problem lies with a culture that is unwilling or unable to meet the biological needs of a newborn.

It seems that the mark of a ‘good’ parent, and a 'good' baby, is a baby who sleeps ‘well.’

No parent wants to believe that their baby is anything other that healthy and normal. So, a baby who doesn’t miraculously sleep around the clock can cause a huge amount of anxiety. What am I doing wrong? What is wrong with my baby? Parents want to be able to say “my baby is a good sleeper,” because for some reason, it validates their success as a parent – and validates the worth of their baby in the eyes of society.

And so, the baby sleep whisperers/experts/trainers with all their lofty promises and fancy marketing empires suddenly gain great appeal – and parents pay through the nose for it.
"Her three-night program is suitable for babies older than six months because she forbids night feeds, dummies, cuddles, toys in  the cot, music and eye contact, but the child is allowed one "sleep friend" for comfort.And you need to be prepared for tears -- your baby's and, most likely, your own.Among Sydney's eastern suburbs set, she's simply called "Elizabeth", charging families $3600 for three nights to teach babies how to self-settle. – Elizabeth Sloane
Parents have a right to raise their own children however they believe is best. Exhaustion and excessive crying (for both the parents and the baby) can be so hard to get though – it takes a huge toll on emotional, mental and physical health, work and relationships – I know, I've been there! But parents also have a right to the correct information, as well as a right to – and an obligation to – protect their child from harm. And in the case of baby sleep whisperers/experts/trainers, I don't believe this is happening. 

A packet of cigarettes now comes with a health warning. Alcohol products, gambling venues, all come with health warnings. Heck, even formula companies slap the obligatory 'breast is best' message on their tins. But do baby trainers adequately convey their risks? I haven't seen it yet. In fact, what I have seen is political spin and skirting of facts to rival the best politicians.

But shouldn't we just butt out and let parents be? To each their own? While I respect a parent's right to parent as they see fit, I think it's important to remember – these infants grow into children. Into adolescents. Into adults. They interact with their peers, they engage in society - they shape the future. Psychologists have presented compelling evidence that insecure attachment can contribute to a range of disruptive and anti-social behaviours in children, and a host of emotional problems (addiction, mood disorder, relationship problems) in adulthood. (5) 

But what do we do instead? I hear you shriek. I cannot take another night like this! There are plenty of gentle ideas, (sharing sleepparenting to sleep,) evidence-based reassurances, that don't compromise a child's secure attachment, nor strip the parent of their power or instincts. On the contrary - uncovering and embracing our biological, instinctive nurturing abilities can feel incredibly liberating and powerful.

Parents deserve to hold, hear and worship their babies. Babies deserve to be held, heard and worshipped. After all, there's no such thing as too much love, right?

(1) Liedloff, Jean. The Continuum Concept. 1977. Perseus
(2) Hall, Tizzie. Save Our Sleep. (p. 186) 2011. Macmillan Australia.
(3) Cervone, D. & Pervin, L. A. Personality: Theory and Research. 2010. John Wiley & Sons. 
(4, 5) Grille, Robin. Parenting For A Peaceful World. 2005. Longueville Media.