As we flew into London* last week, on a bumpy, hot, late flight from Milan my almost-three year old, Ramona, began busting out her catalogue of Terrorist- Siege-of- London songs at maximum volume. “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down!” “London’s Burning, London’s burning, fetch the engine, fetch the engine!” Her voice boomed out across the sweaty heads of all the other flustered passengers… “FIRE, FIRE!”
Sweet little Nursery rhymes, which are, y’know, a bit dark. Sinister. Death, danger and fear flinging gleefully out of the angelic mouths of babes.
I bet there is one single word in German for this kind of thing… I’m going to call it Menacing Benevolence. (Menachinguten.)
Like a gun made out of chocolate. Or a gift wrapped turd.
Or Health Visitors.
Oh yeah. They turn up, all smiles and kindness when you’ve just had your baby. Breastfeeding is going well, and they coo over your bonny bundle so you don’t feel the need to get cross when they slip a Bottle Feeding guide into your sheaf of papers. You see them a couple of times for a weigh-in, they are pretty good at telling you not to worry about the snuffley nose. And then your baby turns six months and you get given a Sleep Programme to stop your baby waking in the night.
The title seems innocuous. Helpful. You didn’t ask for it but then, you DO kinda like sleeping and baby IS still waking up. The doubts creep in. Is my baby getting enough sleep? Am I stopping my baby from developing healthy sleeping patterns? How many other babies sleep through? Is lack of sleep causing my tiny one brain damage?!
You scan it….
(A sheet recently given to the mother of a six month old baby by their Health Visitor)
What the flipping jolly heck?! SICK?!
There must be very, VERY, serious implications for babies that wake in the night because these recommended methods of stopping night wakings are enormously extreme. They are so extreme that you need to warn the family and the neighbours about what is going to happen. Letting them cry alone, repeatedly, for periods of time possibly longer than any period they have cried for yet. Allowing them only a one hour nap in the day. You are told what to do if the child cries so much THEY ARE SICK. Nothing to eat or drink all night despite the simple fact that they could very well be quite hungry. These are some hardcore suggestions for babies that in almost every other species are still inside the womb.
Luckily you have Google; your Health Visitor and that slip of paper isn’t your only source of information.
What ARE the implications of babies waking in the night? Oh… Nothing? Just a little bit of evidence that suggests they are MEANT to? That sleeping lightly is a survival technique? That babies who have all their needs met throughout the day and night are better wired for love and empathy?
We have a sleep complex here in the UK and it is sinister. Not quite in the way that Nursery Rhymes are- I don’t imagine enough people have attempted to blow up London Bridge to impress a young lass to warrant a fear that singing these songs could cause actual damage. But Health Visitors and other NHS propaganda, along with the myriad of “expert” advice around sleep IS actually harmful.
Parents who feel the pressure to employ the techniques in this guide risk losing a real trust and connection with their little one. They risk flooding their baby’s brain with stress hormones released through ignored and continued crying. They risk missing out on valuable nursing time and vital bonding cuddle time. They risk having to move aside their precious baby, the very one they grew in their own body, the one who looks up at them in love, who slips their trusting hand in theirs, this perfect, unique child, they have to move her aside and clean sick from her skin and her bed because she cried so hard she vomited, and they have to do this without a cuddle, without a word, without a glance.
Seriously. I’m just so cross at the people who wrote this and the people who hand it out. I could swear like a Mother right now.
Sleep is an area in which parent’s are so vulnerable. We place so much weight on it when actually there is little we can do. No one can make a baby or a child sleep- we can simply create an environment where they might. The real spectrum of how many hours babies and children sleep is vast, I know babies happy and thriving on each end of it. The last thing parents need is guilt heaped on about something they don’t have too much control over.
What parents really need to hear from Health Visitors is a voice, louder even than my daughter’s singing, booming out a big, fat “Don’t worry!”
This waking at night thing is a tiny window of your life. Breastfeeding and cuddling through to the dawn will be over in a flash. They WILL sleep all by themselves, soundly and without needing you to comfort them. There are loads and loads and loads of parents who don’t worry about schedules or even routines, who just use their child’s cues and communication to plan bed times. And there are whole nations who sleep in the family bed, happily altogether, waking for cuddles.
You are not setting them up to have sleep issues their whole life long- exams and then a mortgage will probably be the cause of those. Soon they will be teenagers who will sleep more than you could ever imagine, corpse like on the bed; their feet with their shoes still on and their hands still gripping the kebab wrapper, and you won’t have to worry about a thing.
(Apart from that they come in too late and they spend all their money on takeaways and they smell a little bit like booze, oh crumbs, and also they are probably trying to bomb London Bridge because you sang them too many nursery rhymes.)
*Yeah I KNOOOW… We are we back in London… Of all the places! We came home after Croatia to pick up a repaired Betty the Campervan, which was meant to arrive 3 weeks ago. We were meant to be here 5 days before getting the ferry to Spain. But Betty is still in Italy! And now we’ll be 3 weeks late to Spain. We have been massively let down by the AA and now Tim is actually flying out there again tomorrow to pick it up while I stay here with Juno and Ramona. *mutter, mutter, throws mug of tea at wall in rage*