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Rewilding sleep - how modern baby, toddler and teen sleep advice is affecting our mental health

I have never thought about, talked about or longed for sleep more than I do these days. Other than a brief period of calorie deficiency (eating disorder) induced insomnia in my late teens I've always been out like a light and slept like a log and needed 10-plus hours to feel good. Josh used to clean his teeth with an electric toothbrush that timed 2 minutes... I never heard the end of that timer. Then Dolores came along and my whole world and sleep have been turned upside down. 

Forget pregnancy, birth or toddler tantrums for me sleep deprivation is without doubt the absolute hardest thing about having a baby and continues to be in toddlerhood. 

The way we approach sleep in modern parenting is absolutely wild. 

I knew nothing about baby sleep before having one myself and this was a huge error. I prepared for birth like I was taking a degree. I hired support, read books, took meditations, listened to podcasts on physiological birth, learned about the hormone cascades, set my boundaries, and worked on my body and my mindset. I had the most beautiful, magical birth. So I'm glad I did this. But I also should have spent a little bit (ideally a lot bit) of time thinking about what happens next!! I had taken a cursory glance at some breastfeeding videos and been scared shitless with some information on SIDs. That was NOT enough.

I very suddenly had a tiny little creature on my chest and little to no idea what she needed or wanted. 

In the months prior we had driven to Kent to collect a sidecar crib from one of my best friends. She'd said to us at the time that she'd never used it but that didn't go in. I was too busy thinking about birth and trying to survive the endless nausea of pregnancy. 

We didn't sleep a wink that night and I just held her skin to skin from birth until the morning. When I finally emerged from my trance and thought about putting some clothes on her (it was only when she did her first black tarry poo on us that we thought about this haha!), we encountered our first hurdle... she didn't fit in any clothes at all. Not a single one. She was very tiny with big feet and long legs (still her vibe at 2). So when I was trying to lay her in her little crib in her skimpy pirate onesie with the feet cut off I was worried she was cold, I was worried a blanket would suffocate her and she was much too small for a sleep sack. 

Cue days and days of us trying (and failing) to get her to sleep in the little cot and struggling to breastfeed. I was too worried to sleep, it felt so, so, so wrong to sleep without being able to see, hear or feel her properly and she just wasn't happy being apart from us. Neither one of us had slept for days so neither of us felt safe to hold her whilst the other slept. We met a roadblock and I ended up having a panic attack (I didn't know it was a panic attack at the time, I genuinely thought I was dying) and being taken to the hospital twice in those first 5 days because I just wasn't coping.

I gave birth on the Monday and on the Saturday we finally called in the support of our birth keepers and they came and held Dolores for us whilst we slept. I was SO anxious from lack of sleep and having a tiny little baby that I couldn't let anyone but a trained professional hold her which is so silly in hindsight. I will most certainly lean on her incredible and very capable grandma if I have a future baby!! But such are the lessons you learn along the way. I slept for 2 hours and literally felt like a brand-new person. 

Things got easier from there but instead of bringing her into the bed  - the entirely natural, normal, safe, sensible option which has been the way we've slept for the entire of human history - we did shifts and completely exhausted ourselves! Not to mention putting her in much more dangerous situations than our bed by unintentionally falling asleep with her on the sofa. No one tells you how drugged you'll feel when you breastfeed. It's nature's magic. Not only is your baby lulled to sleep on milk but so are you. It's almost impossible to stay awake at 3am on the sofa feeding your baby. It was kind of fun to watch Strictly Come Dancing at 3am drinking tea but it was NOT sustainable and we quickly burned out. 

At 3 weeks we (funded by the grandparents!) bought a hard mattress, a bedrail (not recommended but it worked for our setup and we made it as safe as we could), took away our pillows and brought her into the bed. And then we SLEPT. Glorious, wonderful, beautiful, healing, miracle-making sleep. I was still waking up constantly but I was sleeping during and between feeds and it just made sense. I still left her with Josh to chest sleep in the living room from 5-10/11pm most nights (so much respect for the bladder holding that man endured to give me good sleep) and got some blissful solo sleep but then she was with me until morning when I would send her out with Josh again and get some more sleep. I got SO MUCH sleep in the newborn days. I had no idea that would be as good as it got for 2 years and more. 

Imagine how different things could have been for me and SO many other modern mothers if we were educated not only on physiological birth and postnatal recovery but also on natural baby sleep. 

My first foray into understanding baby sleep was...

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Carly x

Wild Woman Club: Wild & Cyclical yoga for women of all ages, life stages & cycle phases.

Reconnecting to nature . Reclaiming our cyclical wildness . Restoring the village

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