How Can I Be A Possums Mum If I Love Routine?
When my fourth baby was born, my eldest child was nine.
Nine years. I can’t believe how much changed in that time.
Tight swaddles were out, and special sleeping bags were in. It turned out the other ones were bad for baby’s hips.
Baby photoshoots were much more sophisticated. Staged baby pictures in front of a studio backdrop were replaced by families frolicking on the beach at sunset.
Prams were much cooler. Breast pumps were better. Nappy bag designs had improved.
One thing was the same.
Contradicting advice, especially about sleep.
I guess that one will never change.
When I had my first baby, I struggled a lot. He cried all the time. His sleep was terrible. He was healthy and gaining weight, but getting through each day was a massive challenge.
The Possums Program didn’t exist then. In fact, I can’t remember coming across any sleep advice like it. I read many, many books and spent hours trawling parenting forums for advice. In the end, we spent a week at sleep school.
I took a deep dive into sleep training. Feed, play, sleep. Wake windows. Breaking sleep associations.
I spent the next few months planning our lives around nap times. I had a blackout curtain for the portacot and would bring this with us everywhere. Days went by doing double pats and shushing in the dark.
We both survived, but those were some of the hardest months of my life.
Fast forward nine years, and I had a newborn again. This was baby number four, so I felt better prepared. The difference was that as years had passed, I had done more training in lactation and sleep. I was studying NDC accreditation. I had completed GP training.
This time, I was determined things were going to be different. And they were.
As we muddled through those early days, I worked on fit and hold with more confidence. We spent hours doing skin to skin and contact naps. I wasn’t worried about ‘setting up bad habits’ or ‘creating sleep associations’. I pulled my beloved woven wraps out of storage and relished the newborn snuggles.
Having three older siblings, it was so liberating not worrying about rigid nap times. We had school and kinder drop offs. Groceries had to be bought. Gardening needed to be done. This baby was coming along for the ride.
I am going to make a confession now. As much as I loved this new way of parenting, there is something I really struggled with.
I missed having a routine.
There, I said it. Please don’t kick me out of the Possums sisterhood.
The truth is, I missed having predictable nap times to structure my day. I missed having the pattern of feed-play-sleep to let me know what was coming next.
My baby was fine. This was about me. I realised that for my mental health, I actually need some structure and routine. It’s an important part of my self-care. That’s just how I am wired.
Every morning, I like to have white almond-milk tea in the same mug, and gluten-free vegemite toast on the same plate. I like routine. It makes me happy.
So, how on earth was I going to be a Possums mum when I secretly loved routine?
How was I going to follow my parenting values and meet my own mental health needs?
I have written before about the importance of applying flexibility and workability with the Possums program. This is so important. Possums is not about rigid rules. There is no single correct way to do this.
Remember, Possums focusses on mental and emotional health for both mum and baby. There is no need to sacrifice one to benefit the other.
So, how did I do this? Well, in desperation I did try some of the old techniques for a little while. This wasn’t the answer. It just didn’t feel right anymore.
After that, I stopped using the term routine. For me, routine meant strict wake windows and set nap times. This wasn’t a good fit for us anymore. This was firstly because I didn’t want to risk our breastfeeding relationship, and secondly because I wanted to tune in to my baby’s individual sleep needs.
Instead, I worked on developing what I thought of as a rhythm to our days. We woke at approximately the same time each day and were immediately thrown into the chaos of getting the older kids off to school and kinder. There would be a car ride for drop off, then we would come home and try to get beds made and dishes done.
As the days passed, I could see that there were times in the day when my baby’s sleep pressure was getting high. Although I didn’t enforce strict wake windows like before, I think I did subconsciously keep this in mind as I got to know his personality and his cues. At these times, he would fall asleep pretty easily with a cuddle and feed. If he didn't then, we moved on with the day and I would try again later.
As he got bigger, we experimented and found that after a feed I could then transfer him to his cot. As this didn’t impact on his night sleep, we decided to go with it.
Remember – every baby is different. If in doubt, experiment and see what works.
It felt strange letting go of strict feed-play-sleep, but as I was studying for my IBCLC exam I could see how unnatural this approach is for breastfed babies. I noticed we did seem to fall into a rough cycle of feed-play-feed-sleep through the day, but I was now able to offer as many comfort feeds as my baby needed without worrying that I was creating bad habits. Most days it was more like feed, play, feed, nappy, feed, walk, feed, sleep.
In the late afternoon and evening, when everyone was getting quite dialled up, I found that taking him for a walk outside in the carrier was the best way to get through this time. Sometimes he would nap, sometimes he would happily look around, and sometimes he would complain the whole way. This was fine. It kept us both dialled down and got us through the hardest part of the day.
We would finish with dinner, bath and a long feed in a darkened room. This was one of my favourite times of day, and I would happily watch a movie on mute whilst my baby slept at the breast. We usually got a few hours sleep after this.
As the months passed, he needed less day sleep. The rhythm would change. Teeth came in. He got sick. Experience and Possums made these days okay. Instead of feeling anxious when things didn’t go as expected, I knew that it was just a phase. It would pass.
Now my baby nearly three years old. He is amazing. He has been the cuddliest out of my children, but the most resistant to toilet training. He sleeps through most nights now, but he still likes Mum or Dad to lie down next to him and hold his hand whilst he goes to sleep. So yes, I guess I did create sleep associations.
There is no single way to be a Possums mum. Tune into your baby, cherish them, and do your best to meet their sensory needs. Follow your instincts.
Find a rhythm that works for you both and brings you joy.