by Sara Kelly
for Writers' Block: A contribution from our AWA Writers' Group members
I love being pregnant. I am 37 weeks along with my second child. Feeling a new life squirm, kick, and hiccup inside of me is wonderful. But I cannot forget the intense stress I experienced, which I blame on the sleep training industry, when my son was born two years ago.
With my first, I dreamed of a relaxed maternity—frequenting cafes, sipping lattes, and strolling through Singapore’s lush green parks, just me and my boy. During prenatal classes, the midwife cautioned that newborns feed every two-three hours. That’s when I started freaking out.
“Does being a mother mean you have extra energy?” I asked, hoping some special hormones would make the daunting task of around-the-clock feeding possible. Sleeping has always been my superpower; I can sleep anywhere, anytime, and nothing will wake me.
The midwife snapped, “If your baby sleeps longer than three hours, wake them and feed them!”
Our first night at home, I carefully laid Oscar in the crib, while fretting about oversleeping and starving him to death. Diligently setting my alarm, I instructed my husband to do the same, and I implored my mum, in Australia, to call me the next morning to check we were all awake (and alive!).
As it happened, my bundle of joy was perfectly capable of waking up on his own—and waking me up, too. Maybe my question to the midwife wasn’t so stupid. Being a mum doesn’t give you extra energy, but it does give you special waking-up powers.
Oscar never slept more than an hour at a time. What a rude awakening to the realities of motherhood! Instead of café-hopping, my maternity leave was a blur of sleep deprivation and anxiety. Between Googling sleep tips and willing Oscar to fall asleep and stay asleep, I fantasized about falling into a coma, just for a reprieve.
Sleep Training Culture
A big part of my struggle was connected to sleep training culture. Family and friends checked in on me daily. Is Oscar sleeping through the night yet? Supermums on Instagram and YouTube promised my baby would “sleep through” if I only taught him to “self soothe.” All these suggestions made me obsess about Oscar’s sleep and question my own capabilities.
Most people associate sleep training with the “cry it out” method, but there is a whole host of rules designed to promote independent sleep, such as:
● Don’t nurse or rock your child to sleep (that is a sleep prop)
● Implement a sleep schedule (babies find comfort in routine)
● Put your child to sleep drowsy but awake (so they learn to fall asleep independently)
I worked myself into a tizz trying to force Oscar into a schedule. Hours went by with white noise blaring and black-out curtains drawn. Hundreds of dollars were spent on swaddles, baby lounges, gripe water, and sleep consultants. Nothing worked. What was I doing wrong?
Sleep at Last
When Oscar was four months old, we moved house. What a day! The movers were late, the cat ran away, and at 10 pm we were still surrounded by unopened boxes. Exhausted, we all fell asleep on a mattress on the floor. O-M-G. Best slumber ever. Each time Oscar awoke, I simply flung out a boob and went back to sleep. We never used the crib again.
After that, I questioned the so-called rules. I gave up the sleep schedule, I ignored wake windows, and I let Oscar nurse to sleep. He didn’t self-destruct. He slept better, and I relaxed more.
Sleep training is a new phenomenon primarily practiced in Western societies that expect babies to conform to schedules and expect mothers to return to work weeks after childbirth.
But, for the majority of the world, there is no pressure for babies to follow schedules because… well… they’re babies!
Baby #2 is Nearly Here
As our family prepares to welcome our second child, I am preparing for some sleepless nights. Caring for a new-born, and the sleep deprivation that accompanies it, is exhausting. But now I know it’s normal. There are no shortcuts. Babies wake frequently and should be comforted when they cry.
This time, I will enjoy my maternity leave. I’ll ignore the well-meaning advice and follow my instincts instead.
Co-sleeping was a game changer. It improved our quality of sleep and deepened our family’s bond. My two-year-old son still sleeps with us, and I look forward to safely co-sleeping* with our next child as well.
*We follow La Leche League: The Safe Sleep Seven.
Sara Patricia Kelly is a creative storyteller, nonfiction writer, and poet. Based in Singapore, she authors flossiebossy.com - a ‘sticky poppy poetry’ site for kids, and was recently published in the 2023 anthology, Incredible Women on How to Embrace Equity. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from LASALLE College of the Arts.
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