The slippery slope of mummy self-doubt

“I feel like such a failure.”

I hear this every single day from mothers. The saddest thing is that every time I hear these words, the mother is doing a wonderful job: she  is intelligent and responsive with a beautiful connection to her baby. Her baby is proof that she can’t be a failure – alert, animated and engaging. So why is her confidence so shot to pieces?

There is a range of reasons for new mums sliding down the slippery slope of self- doubt, from struggling against popular advice that doesn’t feel right, to being blamed for having a baby who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter template of ‘normal’, whatever that is according to what book she  has read, who is advising her or what everyone else’s babies are doing. Or, at least what they say their babies are doing, especially around feeding and sleeping. There is a conspiracy of silence that isolates mothers and because they don’t want to face criticism, they perpetuate this very conspiracy that divides and holds them hostage.

Recently, over a two week period, I did home visits to three mothers who lived within a block of each other. Each of these mothers was feeling as  though they must be doing ‘everything wrong’ because their babies weren’t in routines, sleeping ‘all night’ or feeding well. Their babies were similar ages  and they attended the same baby health centre so there was a very good chance the women were in the same mothers’ group. Because of client confidentiality, I couldn’t ask these women if they knew each other but when I asked, have you talked about this in your mum’s group?, each woman told me, “Oh no, I can’t –they are all so together.”

Another time, when I asked a group of mums how their babies slept, then asked for their individual definitions of ‘sleeping all night’, those who said their babies slept all night and those who said their babies didn’t, weren’t all that different: The mums who said their babies slept from 7
til 7 (incidentally, in infant sleep studies, all night is defined as five hours), actually did things like giving a dream feed, popped the dummy in a few times or patted their babies to resettle. One mum co-slept and breastfed during the night but because this baby didn’t actually wake fully and the mum’s feet didn’t hit the floor, she was happy enough that she and her baby slept ‘all night’. On the other hand, mums who did these same things considered that because they had to attend to their babies overnight, they hadn’t slept ‘all night’.  In fact out of eight mums, only
one baby actually slept ‘all night’ without needing ‘help’. He was breastfed, bonny and slept in his parents’ room where they would have heard any whimper he made but this was definitely an exception, rather than the rule. Interestingly, this mother contacted me when she had her second baby because he was a classic ‘high needs’ baby who had shattered her self- image as ‘competent mummy’.

Whatever your baby does, this has nothing to do with you being a ‘failure’, nor have you caused difficult behaviour or bad habits through ‘accidental parenting’ (whatever that may be).  You are just responding to the baby you have –some babies are extra sensitive and find too much stimulation overwhelming, especially in the early weeks; others are sensitive to foods (if you are breastfeeding, you may find some changes to your diet alleviates your baby’s discomfort); some babies are what I like to call ‘high interest’ babies: these babies are alert and find it more difficult to ‘switch off’ so they need more help to get to sleep; others simply don’t need as much sleep as the charts say (remember any chart shows ‘averages’ so there will be babies either side of average and more active parents often seem to have more active babies); Some
babies have challenges with feeding and little people come in all shapes and sizes. Babies all develop at different rates and things can go ‘pear shaped’ as they reach milestones no matter how consistent you are, because to the baby the way he experiences his world is changing.

Some babies are ‘easier’ than others, some mothers have better support networks and some mums have more honest friends – who admit that
being a mum is tough gig, that babies don’t fit conveniently into their organised lives and that they too feel ‘out of control’  at least, some days.

Next time you are feeling like a ‘failure’ sit for a moment and gaze at your unique child, nuzzle his soft downy head and breathe in his
sweet baby smell. Accept that if things are tough right now, it’s not your fault and it is ok to reach out for help. Let go of your image of perfect mummy (whoever she is). Know that you can’t have a baby this beautiful, this bright and this perfect unless you are doing a damn good job – you ARE a great mother!




  1. Emma Says Reply

    Thankyou!!! I needed to read this so badly today.

  2. Rebecca Says Reply

    Thank you Pinky! My baby is certainly not sleeping through the night, nor is she sleeping well through the day but when she is awake she is generally a very happy, confident and ‘busy’ baby. In my sleep deprived state I’ve been feeling very much like my parenting style is to blame for how poorly my baby sleeps. I needed to read this and to be reminded that I’m not doing anything wrong!

  3. Peita Says Reply

    Oh thank you Pinky! I so needed this lift me up. It is a hard gig and now with my second child nearly 6 months old I have been doubting myself a lot lately with both my kids. I have been experiencing doubt with my baby boy as I have breast fed him for way longer than I did with my daughter and found I’m not in the “routine” she was in and feeling a bit out of control but have realized that he is different and breastfeeding is totally different to bottle and to just go with the flow. He is a happy boy and has been a bad sleeper day and night but it will get better.

  4. Lisa Says Reply

    Thank you! How on Earth did you know that’s how I’ve been feeling? My beautiful 20 month old son is always on the go and needs lots of help sleeping and I’m so sick of hearing “he needs more sleep than that, you must make him sleep”. I don’t even have a mum’s group so I feel very alone some days.
    Its good to know that I’m not a hopeless mother (especially with number 2 due any day now!)

  5. Shelley Says Reply

    Thank you Pinky … I have had many moments of feeling like a complete failure when all the Mums in my mothers group tell me their babies are sleeping through and are great at sleeping through the day. My bub is doing his best, he is a VERY busy little boy but also such a happy little boy. Nice to get reassurance that I am doing things the right way … for him 🙂

  6. Tanya Says Reply

    Raging hormonal changes and exhaustion don’t help either!

  7. Jess Says Reply

    This is perfect timing Pinky. My very active, inquisitive, high interest 11mo son has started fighting me at nap time – it used to be a 15/20 min cuddle and feed and he would doze off to sleep. It has recently become a 45/60 min battle, with him clawing, biting and generally being a ratbag.
    I decided tomorrow I’d start sleep training, but I know deep down it won’t work out for either of us. Ill persist with the cuddle approach and see if the battling settles down.
    Do you have any words or tactics that might help me through?

  8. Gabrielle Says Reply

    I needed to read this. Thank you so much. Everything you write strikes a cord for me. I love reading your blog.

  9. leanne Says Reply

    Thank you Pinky, I was up at 1am feeding last night and had a good cry to myself over what felt like lack if support, my mum visited yesterday and is trying to convince me i need to leave my baby with other people more often, my husband is trying to convince me to let her cry herself to sleep atnight. .. sShe’s only three months old! All I have to do is see her big gummy smile and I know im making the right decisions. If people think its bad that she favorites me, I know its because she knows ill stick up for her!

    • Kirrilly Says Reply

      Hi Leanne,
      Stick with your intuition! They are so small for such a short period of time. Aside from the neurological damage it causes in letting them cry themselves to sleep, it is also damaging to mums hearts. My girl is 5 months and I have never once let her cry herself to sleep and I breast feed her to sleep 95% of the time. I love it, she loves it – it’s a win/win situation. She seems to be a happy and content little girl. Keep feeding your protective motherly instincts! Xo

  10. Katrina Says Reply

    I’ve been feeling like one of those mummys recently. This was just what I needed Pinky…THANK YOU!!!!

  11. Ann Says Reply

    Thank you very much Pinky. i know i’m doing the right thing for my 18 month old 90% of the time, then the doubt creeps in when something doesn’t work!! CUE sleep issues but honestly theres no issue it’s in my head. she sleeps from 7-6 and settles herself , sure her napping during the day is consistently inconsistently. But she sleeps well mostly at night

  12. Rene Says Reply

    Hi, I happen to be a pretty stubborn gal and outspoken, and in the beginning during pregnancy I had unresearched ideas of how my delivery would go down. My first and only real harsh criticism was during a the first few months of vertigo, while meeting husbands family (uncle/his uncles wife) and it was a drunk woman who kept crowding me lecturing me about epidurals and drugs to baby. After that i realized everyone including myself has opinions, and that if i am to do what’s best for OUR baby, i/we would need to do the research ourselves. I hoped for a “natural” birth with no intervention, and after classes and even with our doula there, my laboring at home for a night and day became exhausting back labor and i entered hospital and had an epidural. But i digress. I and with husbands support was determined to breastfeed ( & still going strong at 1.5 yrs) but we noticed the hospital in general were not on track with “breast is best” commenting that she can’t leave without a poo (all miconium came out inside birth canal as she was being born) comments that baby was losing weight and might need supplementation (formula). Now even for me this was starting to wear me down in my fragile recovering state. Thankfully my husband and doula kept my mind on track and i continued thru the “opinions” and knew the initial pain in BF wouldn’t last. Pinky, websites like yours help us new mommies find our voice by being our cheerleaders when the opinions try to wear us down. I have copied links to different articles and mommy questions to other new mommies in hopes that if they need support and are lacking it, you can help them like you have helped me. Hang in there mommas!

  13. Mitchell nevels Says Reply

    You have done it again…you have a way of posting something in an educational way that makes me feel so much better about the mom I am!! Thank you!!! Now please just make the rest of the world understand this. 🙂

  14. Amber Says Reply

    “High interest” baby – love it! I think I’ve finally found a term to describe my LO. He has always been very alert and takes a long time to wind down. I’ve worried that our bedtime and nap routines are too elaborate but he needs that extra quiet time.
    That’s why I’m so freaked out about having to go back to work and sending him to daycare! I’ve made it very clear that there is to be no CIO but he’s not a loud crier and I’m afraid they’ll think he’s just grizzling when he’s not.
    Are there any tips you can give me on settling a high interest baby? And any advice for daycare?
    Thanks 🙂

  15. mel Says Reply

    I have an amazingly happy little boy who has never been sick in the almost 11mths since we brought him home, yet I find that criticism comes from everywhere. At the moment we’re having a bit of trouble with getting him to sleep. On bad days, it’s really easy to listen to the negativity. This post made me feel a lot better about myself as a mother at a moment when I really needed it. Thank you!

  16. Helen Says Reply

    I feel like a failure, on the second night of hospital I was in absolute agony because my bladder went into shock as it was filled with litres & litres of wee. I didn’t get pain relief till 7 hours after the pain started. My husband had to go home as he was beyond stressed and because I was screaming & in so much agony they took my baby girl away. I could hear her crying from my room =( I’m in tears writing this. We have such a beautiful connection now, I love her dearly and she into has eyes for me. But I still feel terrible about that night, what should have been a night of bonding became a night where my new little family was torn apart. I was also told by a female doctor that I wouldn’t know what pain was as I had an epidural for the birth and she also said that I was a mother now and should start acting like it =(

  17. Grateful for: Pinky McKay Says Reply

    […] talks honestly about mummy self-doubt, how overwhelming new motherhood can be, and how parenthood changes relationships with partners, […]

  18. Kate Says Reply

    What a great read. ..I really needed this!

  19. Bernie Says Reply

    Pinky you are amazing!! Whenever I doubt myself I just read one of your articles and it instantly makes me feel better. I really needed this today as I was up 5 times overnight breast feeding my 8 month old baby to sleep. Thank You 😊

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