Accidentally, in love – why advice to ignore your baby does your head in

Photography: Bloom and Blossom Studio

By Pinky McKay

You may have heard the term ‘accidental parenting’ which implies that you, the parents, have inadvertently caused (or will cause) your baby to have sleeping difficulties if you encourage ‘bad habits’ such as letting your baby fall asleep  in your arms or not following a strict feeding and sleep routine. 

The truth is, there is no accident about how you feel when your baby calms and dozes in your arms, opening heavy eyelids to meet your gaze then perhaps giving a tiny smile before his eyes flutter shut again with delicate lashes resting against little pink cheeks, his warm body snuggled next to your own. Nor is it a sign of weakness or indulgence on your part that you can’t resist your baby’s cries to be soothed to sleep. Rather, it is due to what scientists call the ‘chemistry of attachment’.

This is a massive hormonal upheaval that begins during pregnancy, ensuring that you and your baby are chemically primed to fall in love when you meet each other face-to-face or rather, skin-to-skin, at birth. It is nature’s insurance that your baby will signal for exactly the care she needs to grow and thrive and that your strong connection with her will help you understand and meet these needs as she adapts to the world outside the womb.

During the last trimester of pregnancy your body brews a cocktail of hormones, and your pituitary gland – which produces this ‘mummy margarita’ – doubles in size and remains enlarged for up to six months postpartum. This means that for as long as six months after your baby is born, your emotional mindset will be irresistibly affected by shifting levels of hormones.

This powerful hormonal hangover has such universally intense effects on mothers’ inner lives that it is documented by researchers under a variety of labels including ‘maternal pre-occupation’ and ‘motherhood mindset’. This more intuitive mindset can be quite at odds with our modern lifestyles and often comes as a shock to women who have previously been in a more goal-oriented and solution-focused space prior to having a baby.

Now, it seems that control is out the window and logic has left the building, as the skills that used to keep things neat and tidy (literally) are no longer relevant. This is why the baby instruction manual that advised an efficient program of sleep management seemed so sensible while you were pregnant, but now makes you feel like a failure as neither your baby nor you seem able to slot neatly into the prescribed timetable.

If you can appreciate this new, responsive state as nature’s preparation for creating a synchrony between you and the instinctual world of your newborn, you will understand why there is such a struggle between the ‘logic’ of sleep training advice and your urge to respond to your baby.

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