Neuroprotective Developmental Care - NDC
If you are a new parent, or soon to be parent you will know the huge amount of information that is out there on anything related to infant sleep and feeding. Unfortunately, almost all of it is contradictory, it is definitely NOT evidence based, and more often than not ends in parents feeling like they are failing, or that there must be something wrong with their baby. This is because babies are not machines, and they all have varying degrees of needs and temperaments. But when a G.P is telling you one thing, the midwife another, and the community family health nurse something different again, it’s no wonder new parents report mental health struggles in the first few years.
I started my parenting journey as someone who had worked in childcare, as a live in nanny, a governess and at the time a registered nurse in a neonatal unit and a student midwife. So, it’s fair to say I had an idea of what I was getting into, but what I was not at all prepared for the extent of sleep deprivation I would endure. My first daughter, who is now four and still sleeps with one of us every night (which we now love and are in no hurry to change) was a low sleep needs baby. She also refused a baby carrier, the pram or the car, screaming uncontrollably the minute she was put in, and we didn't hit more than three hour sleep stints overnight consistently until she was almost two. She very nearly broke me, and I ended up becoming hyper focused on sleep, and developing postpartum anxiety.
I was living in the city away from any kind of support base and unable to leave the house without both of us crying the entire way, be it five minutes or three hours. We moved back to my home town when she was nine months old and I was at the peak of my postpartum anxiety, at which time we purchased and started gutting whilst living in a 1920’s home. Do not recommend! By this point my daughter was sleeping in our bed, which started around five months of age but we were still not getting decent stints of sleep. It was at this time we were constantly faced with the ‘is she sleeping all night?’ or ‘is she in her own bed yet?’, to which we always glossed over the answer or lied to make it seem like she was.
The seasoned mama I am now, that trusts her instincts, happily tells people we still bed share with both our daughters. But back then due to months of sleep deprivation, and the parenting styles we had seen modelled by family members being vastly different to what we did, I felt like I was failing as a mother. Gosh I couldn’t even get my baby to stay asleep when she’s next to me….So I hid the fact that we shared a bed every night, fed to sleep until close to two years, and yes I was beyond exhausted but It felt ‘right’ and I loved it. But I was desperate for someone to support my wellbeing through supporting my way of parenting, I was a shell of a person.
I finally turned to online for support, recognition, anything that would empower me in the choices we were making with her sleep, and to help me understand her excessive night wakings. I found nothing, all that would come up was sleep coaches or sleep professionals wanting our money to tell us to leave our baby in another room and let her work out sleep for herself. Even the ‘gentle’ approaches involved schedules, and periods of leaving your baby. We tried none of them because it just didn’t sit right. To me leaving a baby in a dark room went against every fibre of my being.
Eventually we learnt to embrace our situation, and everything improved once she hit two and we both started getting more rest. I also built a strong support base of old friends who were now all mamas too, and ALL bed shared! What I wish I had found earlier was the Possums Program, and I‘m not sure how I never did but I know my journey would have been so different. As a nurse, I like evidenced based information and believe that as humans we have an innate maternal instinct to protect and keep our babies close. This is all that NDC is, providing evidence in areas that have none, and bringing parenting back to the basic human role that it is and supporting parents in how they want to parent and giving them the evidence to empower their journey.
SO WHAT IS NDC?
Neuroprotective developmental care or the ‘Possums Program’ is an Australian evidence-based approach that’s aim is to protect the rapidly developing brain of our babies in their first twelve months of life and beyond. NDC offers a complete paradigm shift on the advice and information parents are given when it comes to infant sleep and breastfeeding. NDC encompasses breastfeeding, cry-fuss problems, infant sleep, as well as parent mental health, and takes a cued care approach rather than any sort of schedule or ‘cry it out’ method. The program is built on more than fifteen years of quality research including neuroscience, lactation science, evolutionary biology, sleep science, attachment psychology and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
NDC encourages parents to understand their values as parents and know what they need to thrive as a family unit. For example, what are your values surrounding infant sleep? Do you believe babies should self settle? Or is bed sharing your jam? Either way as an NDC practitioner I will work with you, offering support and guidance to suit your needs. There is no ‘it needs to be done like this’, rules on when baby is to sleep, where they sleep, or how they get to sleep.
MY ROLE AS AN NDC PRACTITIONER
As a qualified NDC Practitioner I offer strategies for infant sleep and feeding that align with your parenting values for protection of your baby's secure neurodevelopment, psychological attachment, gut and immune health. I don’t assess any sleep or feeding ‘problem’ in isolation, I recognise that your baby, you, and your family need to be considered holistically as one. I aim to empower you as parents to understand your values as parents and guiding you on how to stay aligned with them.
Sleep - Alongside parents I do a deep dive into unlearning all they have been told about infant sleep and focus on empowering them with tools supported by biology, and evidence to optimise their baby’s individual sleep needs, improving sleep for everyone. As an NDC practitioner I do not sleep train, encourage cry it out, self settling, or believe in sleep wake windows, instead I teach the importance of sleep pressure and the circadian clock.
Feeding - I work with mothers to help optimise their feeding journey, bottle or breast, using the Gestalt breastfeeding technique which focuses on mum and babies finding their perfect fit and hold for efficient, pain free milk transfer. If you are bottle feeding we discuss the importance of paced bottle feeding, and how you are still building that magical bond between you and your baby.
Maternal mental health - I offer ongoing support or one off sessions with new or seasoned mamas who are having difficulty navigating a certain issue, or are just looking for someone to talk to about their experiences in motherhood. I have a postgraduate degree in mental health nursing, and work with a psychology based approach known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help you navigate any big feelings that have come up in this huge time in your life.