Learning To Mother Intuitively
Mothering with intuition and intention...that is the ultimate goal as mamas. But how can we tap into that gut instinct? How can we drown out the noise of the world and learn to listen to our true mama instinct? I think this is a forever journey for us mamas, and it's on my heart to tell you a little bit about my journey just in case someone out there needs to hear this.
As I'm rocking Maya to sleep today for her afternoon nap, she took a long time to relax and sleep, was fussier than usual, and didn't fall asleep nursing like she typically does. Today I listened to what she needed, changed our routine, and followed her cues. Today we snuggled, and rocked, and sang to sleep.
I want to share a little back story about our sleep and nap routine up until this point. Maya (my second baby) is 6 months. Seriously, where does the time go?! The first 4-5 months with Maya I have been trying so hard to help "teach" her to fall asleep on her own, avoiding nursing her to sleep, trying not to feed her when she cries at night, and making myself crazy rocking and rocking and rocking her to sleep (all while she cried and protested). At almost 5 months old, I told my husband It was all just TOO MUCH. I reached kind of a breaking point with my anxiety and stress levels. I felt like a failure because she was all of the sudden waking so much more in the night, struggling to sleep in her crib, and needing me for longer at bedtime. I reached a point where all of the crying and protesting how she was falling asleep was just seriously TOO MUCH. I took a breath, and tried to ask myself "what does she really need, what is she trying to tell me with her cries?". She shouldn't be crying this much. Bedtime shouldn't be this much of a struggle. I should be enjoying and loving my time with my baby. What does she need that I'm not giving her?”
A deep dive in "baby sleep training" on the internet was making me crazy, all of the mom blogs and "sleep specialists" telling me I'm creating a sleep problem with my baby, I have to teach her to sleep on her own, to self soothe, etc. It was literally making me CRAZY.
I'm just going to pause here and say... I'm pretty sure this is a universal feeling mamas. You too? And if it's not sleep, then it's something else... how you're feeding your baby, where they are sleeping, what their daily routines are, how many naps they're taking, when you start solid foods, baby led weaning or purees, and on and on and on... Sometimes, it's just TOO MUCH.
I felt this huge relief when I read something online that just spoke to my soul... it read: "Is everyone telling you you shouldn't nurse your baby to sleep? Nursing your baby to sleep and nap is BIOLOGICALLY NORMAL and expected for your baby"
I just felt this weight off of my shoulders when I read this. And I found this amazing resource based out of Canada regarding normal infant sleep and how to encourage our babies and toddlers to sleep without "Sleep Training". The resource is Isla Grace Sleep, and I think it has been super helpful - if it sounds like something you might be interested in I highly recommend checking it out for an alternative to "Sleep Training".
I realized I had been so caught up in what I am "supposed to be doing" as a mother. Everyone asks how my babies sleep. EVERYONE. The grocery store clerk, distant relatives, my mother and mother in law (although they all mean well). It is the most common question we get about our babies as mothers, and it is pretty specific to western culture. Other countries don't live in a "sleep training culture" like we do. Many other countries are still following their instincts as mothers, are being shown examples of how to mother from their extended families, cousins, mothers and grandmothers. Many other countries have tighter family units, live in villages, and are being modeled and passed on their mothering techniques. But what we lack in a village in our country, we make up in the online community, in books and techniques taught to us by the world. And it's just... a lot! We're not being shown one way to do things, we're being shown a thousand ways. But there is always an underlying nudge from each side of the spectrum telling us "this is the only way to do things". And it creates this cycle of mom guilt and shame, and I'm just... so tired of it.
I am a type A perfectionist, and I respond well to just being "told" how to do things. But I've learned that there is so much more to mothering than just listening to what our pediatrician says, or our neighbor tells us, or one mom blog tells us to do. We have to listen to our gut, follow our instinct, and tap into our intuition. Because I want to tell you something mamas... you always know what's best for your baby and your family, no matter what. You have that power. I promise you that.
I'm just going to say this. The culture of sleep training that we live in in America is LOUD, and tells us that our babies and toddlers should sleep 12 hours through the night, every single night, no matter what, in their own room, without ever having a bad night or rough season of sleep. And I just want to tell you, this expectation is unrealistic and too much to put on our babies and as their mothers. It is not our job to "train" our babies to sleep. They will learn to sleep mamas, I promise you that. As they learn to trust the world and trust that their caregivers are safe and respond to their needs, they will learn to vulnerably relax and sleep. But it may take more time than your average "sleep trained" baby who learned to sleep by being forced to cry it out in a night or two. Regardless of how we get our babies to sleep, they should still be allowed bad nights or difficult seasons. If you sleep train your babies and it works for you and your baby, keep doing what works for you! Trust that you know your little one best, and you know if sleep training is right for you and your family. I "sleep trained" my first baby at 6 months old, and made him completely cry it out for two nights. And it worked... until his next regression when we moved homes and the change through him off. And I told myself after that first time that I would never sleep train my babies every again, because to me it didn't feel right. My pediatrician encouraged me to sleep train my first baby at 6 months, and my baby was in the 3rd percentile for his weight... the 3rd percentile! When he cried out for me at night, he was HUNGRY. And looking back now, I can see that my instinct was telling me to feed him. But I hadn't learned to fully trust that instinct yet.
I wasn't intending to knock "sleep training" in this post, and I know a lot of friends that are really passionate about sleep training their littles and that is what works for them. Motherhood is a wild journey that we're on, and I'm learning that what might have worked for me and my family with my first baby doesn't always continue to work for us, or serve our family well. I'm also very aware of how important sleep and rest is for mothers, as it contributes so much to postpartum depression/anxiety/rage. I experienced ALL of of that during this postpartum period, and I discovered that what helped my depression and anxiety I was feeling was taking the pressure of perfection off of myself as a mother to accomplish the goal of baby sleep. And I wanted to write this post because all of us mothers are going to run into something while we mother our little ones, something that doesn't feel right to us but that might be the cultural norm. I want to challenge you to trust your gut, and be courageous to step outside of what everyone else is doing for their babies around you. If you feel like early bedtimes and consistent nap routines work for you and your family, do that! If you feel like flexible routines, naps outside and on the go, or later bedtimes work better for your baby than do that. If bottle feeding works best for you and your baby, bottle feed your baby confidently mama. If baby led weaning is better for you than making purees, you should go with baby led weaning! (Although do we really have to choose? I did both with my babies and I think they both work together). Listen to what your heart and soul are telling you to do for your babies, and you will always be doing the right thing for them.
So today when Maya threw me off by needing something that was out of our normal routine, I just trusted that today she was feeling different and had a different need. And the other night when she had just learned to sit up on her own, she woke up multiple times at night stuck in a sitting up position, crying out for me. And all I could do was laugh, and snuggle her, and remind myself that this too shall pass. I'm such a routine person that when our day is a little off or my babies need something totally outside of what they have been needing, I struggle to be flexible and just let them be little people with needs and bad days. But I'm working on it, because I think this is so important for my journey as a mother throughout each stage of my their childhood. I want to let my babies be human. And I want to be their strong, stable, support through it all.
Happy New Year mamas. Heres to getting more sleep some day, when our babies leave the nest.