Podcasts Liz Thomas, founder of It Tastes Like Love, on her journey with her 3 little ones while juggling work and her charity organisation Listen/ Watch links: SUMMARY- Liz shares her journey with her three little ones, from her first premature arrival, and how that shaped her as a mother, to her third little one, born during the height of the pandemic. Liz shares what it looked like for her when she returned to work, how she navigated feeding, and how things are now with a 7, 4 and one-year-old. You can find Liz's page, It Tastes Like Love, here and the Instagram page can be found here. Enjoy the podcast? Donate now to help us keep it going Full Episode Transcript: Carly:The Beyond Sleep Training Podcast, a podcast dedicated to sharing real tales of how people have managed sleep in their family outside of sleep training culture because sleep looks different with a baby in the house, and because every family is different there is no one size fits all approach to take. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this podcast is being recorded, the Kalkadoon people. I pay my respects to the elders of this nation and the many other nations, our guests reside in from the past, present and emerging. We honour the rich knowledge, wisdom and practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the birthing and nurturing of children and their unique cultural and spiritual relationships to the land, water and seas. Carly:Welcome back to the Beyond Sleep Training Podcast. I’m your host Carly Grubb and with me today is Liz Thomas. Liz is someone I’ve been wanting on the show for quite some time because I admire her Instagram page so very much and I just knew that I needed to have her on to hear her story. So she runs the It Tastes Like Love Campaign which is based out of Hong Kong to normalise breastfeeding, which Liz sees as a women’s rights campaign because it really shouldn’t be something that people are feeling they need to hide away or justify or even fight for the right to be able to do what our bodies were designed to do when nurturing our babies. Liz is a journalist with over 20 years’ experience and she also has three little people. So welcome to the show Liz. Liz:Hi Carly, thanks so much for having me. I’m very excited to be on. I’m a big fan of this page and all the work you do, so really happy to be here. Carly:Brilliant. And I’ll be dropping all of the links to It Tastes Like Love into the show notes as well, so if you’re looking for a beautiful addition to your Instagram feed I can highly recommend, and also the website’s full of goodies as well. Now to get us started on the actual episode Liz, do you mind letting us know who’s who in your little crew? Liz:Sure. I have three smalls. There’s Alex who’s 7, William who’s just turned 4 and baby Isobel who is not really a baby anymore, now 14 months, and the house is total chaos obviously. My husband and I work full-time and, as some of you probably know, Hong Kong is on a sort of semi-lockdown still, so there are so many things going on all at once, but we are getting there, we are surviving it. Carly:So with a 14-month-old you would have pretty much done that whole baby stage right through the pandemic then Liz. Liz:Yes, she is very much a pandemic baby. A surprise, but yes, she was born at sort of the tail end of 2020 a little bit early and, yeah, we have navigated the very strange times of COVID with her. But she is still super social so I am pleased about that because I know that for some kids it’s been sort of lockdown and hidden away kind of thing. So yes, she’s still a very lively child and happy to sort of chat to strangers and wander around. Carly:Wonderful. Well, I’m looking forward to hearing a bit more about how things panned out with that third baby, but before we get to that part of your story can we just rewind you right back to before you had that first baby? How did you think you were going to handle sleep with your family? Liz:Well, you know I came to motherhood a little bit later than most maybe, and so most of my friends had had their kids sort of three or four years earlier or had started their families three or four years earlier, and they were all sort of, you know, schedules, sleep training, this is how we do it, so I just assumed that there was no other way. That that was just, you know, particularly if you have to go back to work, and I don’t know if your listeners know but in Hong Kong maternity leave when I had my first was set at ten weeks, which was just eight weeks, you know, you have to take two before you have your baby and then eight weeks after, which is very, very short. So I just assumed that that was what everybody had to do, you know, to manage everything. It didn’t occur to me that there were sort of other ways of handling things and it came as a bit of a shock after when I realised that actually I didn’t really want to sleep train and I didn’t have many resources to look to to find an alternative [5:00]. Carly:Particularly, so you said your oldest guy, he’s 7, so seven years ago trying to navigate at that time would have been really tricky because that definitely pre-dates any of our work and I know when I had my 8-year-old that was right around the time when I was feeling really lost. There was voices out there but there just wasn’t a space to kind of like pull it all together. That’s how I felt anyway. Liz:Yeah, absolutely. Carly:Yeah, when it came along how did it actually go for you then? How did you find your feet? Liz:Well, Alex was premature and it was a real shock. He came very fast. He came exactly how it happens in the movies where my waters broke and he was out within, you know, a few hours and we just about made it to the hospital. So we were separated early on because he was premature. He had to go into the special care unit, I needed emergency surgery, so we had a very difficult and a sort of heartbreaking start because, you know, I couldn’t be with him. I had to sort of wheel myself up to special care unit, handle the issues around trying to sort of express milk to get sort of syringes of milk into him because he was so tiny. And then we’d brought him home and he was still, you know, supposed to be in my tummy. I think when we brought him home he was still 37 weeks gestation, or 36 so, you know, he still should have been in my tummy and I had sort of very unhelpful neighbours or people I know just saying, ‘Oh well, you know, you’ve got to get him into a routine’, and I was thinking but he literally should be in my womb, why do I have to get him in a routine? Carly:He should be all bundled up and warm and snugged. Liz:Right. And then some family came to visit sort of a few weeks later, I think still a week before my due date, and I was sort of carrying him around sort of doing kangaroo care. You know, I’d sort of fallen in love with baby-wearing because he was so tiny and he needed to be upright a lot because of reflux. And again someone said to me, ‘Oh, you know you’re going to really spoil this baby’, and I kept thinking this baby should be in my womb. Like how can I be spoiling him by carrying him? He literally isn’t really to be out in the world yet. And that sort of started the kind of thinking that, hang on, this sort of idea that babies get spoilt, that they shouldn’t be carried around too much, that you have to sort of teach them their independence at this tiny, tiny age when they’ve just spend sort of, you know, for me seven and a half months but for most people nine months having every need met, to suddenly now they’re out kind of go, ‘Well you know, got to crack on by yourself.’ I sort of found it really alien. And as you say, at that time there really wasn’t that much around, or at least it wasn’t so accessible as it is now. You know, obviously, if I’d seen your work at that time I would have felt must less alone, much less like I was paddling against the current, because I really felt sort of almost innately that I did not want to let him cry, I did not want, if he needed to be carried I wanted to pick him up. And you know, it isn’t easy because obviously you’re often on your own. You know, my partner had three days paternity leave, and it isn’t easy to do it but I felt very strongly that I didn’t want to ignore his cries or teach him something. I wanted him to know that I was there if he needed me. And that may have been a little bit to do with how he was born and our separation, but it felt very innate to me. I felt it very strongly inside. And I didn’t know who else to discuss it with because most people were sort of like, ‘Yeah. No, routine now. You’ve got to get him ready because you’re back at work soon and it’s going to be a nightmare.’ And I’m not saying it was easy, but I just never had anyone say, ‘You know what? Hold your baby. Carry him. You know, it’s fine.’ And I would have loved to have heard it to be honest. Carly:It’s amazing how strong that pull was inside you though, and that you were very in tune with that messaging coming from within even though you had all of this noise around you because I imagine, especially being a first-time parent, it would have been quite… having the conflicting noise and knowing that you needed to go back to work. What did you actually do to make that marry up I guess? Liz:I sort of, I mean we did, I had an excellent lactation consultant and I do feel very privileged to have been able. My children were born in the public system in Hong Kong so it was a very inexpensive birth and I put any money that we had saved towards having a lactation consultant come to the house to help me because, [10:00] in part because we were syringe feeding at the beginning and it was not very easy. I was sort of pumping and, you know, sort of I don’t remember sleeping hardly at all. But I found her very sort of, I mean she didn’t say ‘Just hold your baby’, but she did say, you know, ‘We have a sleep trainer. You can have her come and talk to you about how you want to do this.’ And around the time that I had to go back to work she did come in and she did say, which I’m very grateful for, she said, you know, ‘This baby is very tiny. I don’t think, I wouldn’t recommend any kind of sleep training until much older.’ You know, four or five months is when that, when people who follow that philosophy feel that they can do it. But I said to her, I remember saying to her, ‘Is there a way of doing, of sleep training without him crying?’ And she was very honest. She said no. I mean the thing that we’re doing is not necessarily, you know, how we’ve evolved to, I mean how babies have evolved to be. It’s just that our social lives, our working lives, the way that we have no major support around us, that has evolved differently to the way that babies have evolved to need us. You know? Our sort of evolutionary biology puts us and baby together, but the sort of modern world with working parents and no extended family around, very little help for very tired parents means that, you know, sometimes that’s the choice you have to make. And for me when she said that I sort of knew that I had to find another way, and my solution, in the end, was co-sleeping, you know, to sort of manage the sleep whilst working full-time. And again I must stress, it wasn’t an easy ride, I was exhausted a lot, but for me I felt I couldn’t justify it, I couldn’t justify know that actually the baby didn’t need to be trained, it was just that our lives, the demands of my lives were different. I felt that I didn’t want to… I wanted to find a way, a solution that would allow him to still have his needs met and sort of juggle along with what we needed to do with our lives. Carly:I actually really like the way that the lactation consultant frankly described that for you, because it does actually place the issue in the reality, if that makes sense. Because you can see why sleep training has become so popular when you place it into that lens, but it also didn’t then minimise the fact that babies still actually do, from an evolutionary perspective and a human perspective, grow depending on that contact with their mother. So it was kind of, I guess I appreciate that honesty. I can see why that would still head some people down the sleep training path, but I can imaging for someone like you it also opened you up to then looking for other options that might perhaps be a different way to approach that problem. So that’s pretty cool. Liz:Yep. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Yeah, I mean I don’t know if… the lady that came to my house, she had worked in a sleep clinic so I think she was very upfront. And I don’t know if necessarily because she could see my reluctance she just wanted to sort of lay all the cards on the table. And I did specifically ask, ‘Is there a way to do this without him crying?’ and I guess you have to sort of answer, ‘No, the reality is that to sleep train some kind of upset has to happen.’ And yeah, I was grateful for the honestly because it did sort of make it clearer for me, but it was a tiring time. I’m not going to pretend that, you know, it was easy. There were times when I guess I just thought, ‘Oh my God Liz, how am I going to do this?’ But yeah, but I felt at the very core of it I needed him to know that I would respond to his needs day or night. Carly:And I think that’s actually just the reality of parenting a small baby, whether you’re working full-time on top of that caring duties, it is an exhausting time and it can be extremely challenging and hard. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable or worth your while in the long run for you and your baby, so I love that you kind of came up with your own solution for that, and you’re also honest that it was a real struggle because we do have a lot of families who are navigating that return to paid work outside of the home and they do find actually co-sleeping is one that they can actually get the most sleep for everybody in their family and it gives them that time for reconnection with their baby, and it’s also great for your milk supply if you are a breastfeeding parent. Did you find that helped you, Liz? Liz:Absolutely. I’m going to be upfront. My pumping output has always been terrible [15:00] and I would always look at the milk and think I can’t believe I spent half an hour trying to get this out. So one of the great things about co-sleeping, and I sort of meticulously follow the Safe Sleep 7 to sort of make sure that we’re doing it the right way, it was that the baby could reverse cycle at night. So if Alex or, you know, with my other two, they didn’t get the milk they needed in the day they were able to make up for it in the night-time just basically because they slept next to me. You know, I sleep with my boobs out and they get what they need, so it sort of helped me feel a bit more confident about the fact that over 24 hours they were getting the milk that they needed even if my actual milk supply, you know, from the pump was not wonderful. Carly:Absolutely. And because some people, like you say, don’t actually respond well to pumps and that isn’t always indicative of the actual supply that you have for when baby is actually at the breast. So it can be a great tool. If you are someone who doesn’t respond to the pump then keeping baby nice and close at night and frequent night nursing can be the thing that actually keeps your breastfeeding relationship going right though those periods of separation. Liz:Sorry, I never had, you know, like their weight gain was always strong when we did the checks and stuff, so I knew that that dynamic was working. And also I would say that both my boys were bottle refusers, so they had to be sort of cup-fed, sippy cup-fed. You know, like we had to use various different tools to feed them, so again on top of the poor milk supply I wasn’t always sure that in the day that they were getting like a measurable amount that I could be sort of going, ‘Yes, that’s enough that they need.’ So at the night-time they sort of recouped anything that was not going in because they, you know, they were little divas about the bottle. Carly:Well, it also relieves that bit of anxiety and pressure you feel about having to have them take a certain amount of milk during the day if you know that that’s balancing out at night-time. So during the day what was the care situation? How did you actually navigate that side of things for your babies? Liz:Well, in Hong Kong and parts of Asia we have a very sort of I guess unusual system where you have paid childcare that can live with you or can live near you, and so we had that. We had someone who sort of lived near us who came from the moment I left the house till I got back, and she was also able to bring the boys to the newsroom. I was very… well, as you know I’m an advocate for breastfeeding, so I was very adamant that, you know, I wasn’t going to be sort of pumping in a toilet and if the boys needed to come in because they were not taking the bottle that day they were going to come into the newsroom and, you know, we just sort of managed to find a way to keep them sort of like close to me in some ways by being able to come to the office at key points, but also have, you know, a dedicated person looking after them. Carly:And how did you actually navigate sleep like, you know, the team that you developed with your care person, were you very clear about how you wanted sleep to be handled while you weren’t at home? Or did they find their groove in their own way? Or how did that look? Liz:I was very honest even when sort of interviewing carers that I didn’t want to sleep train, that if the kids cried they were to be picked up, there was no sort of… that was the priority. You know, whatever else was being done, if they needed attention and they were calling or crying for help then they were picked up, and in that time that actually meant sort of patting and rocking. And again I admit it wouldn’t have been easy for the carers because the boys, and Isobel too, were used to feeding to sleep, but I spent some time also holding and rocking them so they knew that there was other ways to go to sleep. And yeah, we muddled through in the beginning. It’s not easy to sort of switch gear from, you know, cosily nursing to sleep to just being rocked, but I was clear really, really from the beginning so they knew, you know, that was the expectation, that the babies would be held and rocked or patted or read stories to. You know, whatever they needed to help them sort of wind down and go to sleep their way. Carly:Yeah, and that’s the thing, isn’t it? Babies can be quite flexible and resilient in that way where they can adapt to new ways of going to sleep when they’re with somebody different, while still nursing to sleep when they’re back with you. Did you find that they, that being able to handle the different ways of going to sleep was ever a big issue? Or was is [20:00] something that just kind of became quite smooth over time? Liz:It wasn’t a big issue. I think maybe the biggest challenge was that it was still unusual. I mean even our lovely carer, she adapted very easily, but you know, she was surprised when I said, you know, we don’t sleep train, there is no letting them cry in the cot. You know? She wasn’t used to it. But I think the kids themselves adapted relatively quickly. You know, they understand that mummy puts them to sleep one way, daddy does it another way, but every way they’re still, you know, close to someone. There is no sort of… they never felt that they were on their own I think, and that probably helped in the adjustment. Whichever way they were put to sleep it was usually in someone’s arms or on their lap or, you know, held. Carly:Beautiful. And I think that’s for people listening along, if you are starting to try and picture how your return to work’s going to go, we’ve got a lot of members in the group who found that having really honest conversations with the potential carers for your child is a great way to figure out how that nurturing can look as you navigate that return, and we do know from many, many, many accounts that even in large childcare centres now we’re seeing a real shift in the fact that many of the carers are more than willing to support your baby in arms off to sleep, in carriers and various other things depending on what they’re allowed to do in their setting. So feel confident in being able to speak to the carers about what you would like to see being done to help support your baby off to sleep while you’re apart. So I’m really, that’s a really important conversation I think Liz, especially because your babies, you had to go back to work with very young babies. Liz:Yeah. Carly:How did it actually, you know, so across… like how did you sleep journey turn out as your children got older? How did the transition from tiny, preemie baby go to where you are now with your 7-year-old for example? Liz:So, I feel that it obviously for the first sort of year or two the babies mostly sleep in our room, and then we kind of have a very open policy where if there’s a nightmare, if there’s anything that bothers them in the night the door is open. There’s never a kind of ‘You don’t come in to see mummy and daddy because it’s night-time’. So once we transitioned them to their own beds, so roughly around 2-ish, but you know, the bedtime process was always still lots of cuddles, reading, laying next to them until they felt ready to sort of drift off to sleep. And then the doors to our room are open and so if they needed to sort of run through they could, if they needed to get into bed they could. You know, we purposely bought a bigger bed so that there is space for kids to jump in if they needed to. The boys now are 7 and 4 and we still, you know, do bedtime stories and lie next to them for a little bit, talk about the day. And then because they’re together they often sort of drift off to sleep just, you know, they’re next to each other so they sort of chat and talk, but they have that sort of social feeling, you know, that it’s not just them on their own. They kind of like chat, they fall asleep, they drift off. And if they need us in the night then they know that they can come running. There’s never been any kind of rule that it’s night-time and they stay in their bed or anything. Like if my 7-year-old, you know, developmentally it’s normal but at the moment he’s having a lot of nightmares around death, dying, and if he needs to come and talk to me at 4 in the morning I’m going to be tired but I’m still going to sort of answer those needs because I believe that just because he’s getting older he still might have, you know, other sleep needs that I need to meet. And one of the things that I sort of feel very – perhaps having three children of these ages, it’s useful to see is that I can see that, you know, we have good runs of fantastic sleep where nobody needs me at night for, you know, a few months, a year maybe, and then there’s a developmental leap. They need me a bit more for a few months, and then it pans down again and then, you know, somebody else needs me because they’ve just transitioned from nursery to reception. You know? Like these sort of childhood changes, they all impact sleep a little bit, but they get better and I sort of think that it is kind of useful to see the three of them and realise that, you know, there’s no sort of like, bam, you just sort of sleep train them and they’ll sleep well forever because there’s a new stage, you know? There’s a new stage that needs new parenting skills and you have to adapt to that [25:00], in my view. Carly:Absolutely, and I think for our listeners it’s a really important perspective because it takes that pressure off to try and get to this elusive point where your child doesn’t need you at night anymore and it becomes a much more flexible version of how parenting at night looks, because I’ve certainly found the same. I’ve got an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, and it really does go in waves, but I’m getting plenty of sleep. It’s quite a different pressure I guess that goes on you as you navigate these waves, but it’s not a matter of my kids not needing me at night anymore for me to be able to sleep well. I can sleep well and still be there for them and have them know that I will be there for them at night should they ever need me, just like you’ve described. It’s a really valuable part of the relationship I feel. So I’m just looking at our time. We haven’t got that long to go, but can I hear, just with your two subsequent kids, so you had your first guy and then when second guy and then third little lady came along have you noticed really different sleep patterns with them, or have they followed fairly similar paths when it comes to sleep? Liz:Well, baby number two was also another dramatic arrival. I had to deliver him myself in our bathroom, then I needed emergency surgery and he also needed special care just because it was a very… He was out within sort of half an hour of my waters breaking. It was a very sort of emergency situation and obviously, it happened at home so he needed extra help and, yeah, I lost a lot of blood. So we were again thrust into a very difficult beginning. You know, we were not together for the beginning bit. And I think perhaps the sleep patterns for him were trickier because of the difficult start, but I was more confident this time that we would find our way through, and because I had continued to feed my oldest into toddlerhood I had a very solid milk supply so I didn’t have to syringe feed or anything like that the second time around and we were able to sort of co-sleep very quickly as soon as he was home. Once we’d navigated the sort of very dramatic, traumatic first bit we were able to sort of settle into a rhythm. And with my third, she was a surprise but I had the experience of being able to say, look, this is generally what happens in my labours; the babies come early, I lose a lot of blood, I need emergency surgery, we’re separated and then it’s sort of a bit of a shitshow to get us back to kind of, you know, what I would say is like the kind of solid dyad where we can kind of be together and in each other’s arms. You know, I don’t necessarily get that sort of magical golden hour or first few days where you’re just with your baby. It’s sort of normally lots of incubators and stuff. So with my third, I was able to sort of discuss with the doctors exactly how we were going to manage all of this in order to ensure that I could skin to skin, the kind of bonding period, and then basically even in the hospital with the sort of complications that came with my birth I was still able to co-sleep with her even then, and I felt that sort of the knowledge that came from each child meant that the third journey, this last journey, has probably made it the easiest. You know, she has her challenges to sleep. You know, there’s teething, there’s all of that, but I feel much more sort of like I can deal with anything that comes my way because I was able to say from the start this is how I want to handle the sleep and breastfeeding situation, so everybody was onboard and there wasn’t as much separation as perhaps there had been previously because I had been able to advocate for myself what I wanted from my family and that, both for my mental health and my physical health has made a big difference. And I guess the other thing I wanted to say, I get asked a lot by people, you know, is that the thing about having a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old for sleep is that they are able to articulate their needs to me. You know, they can say, ‘Mummy, I’ve had a nightmare. Mummy, I’m thirsty. Mummy, I need the toilet. Mummy, I’ve wet the bed.’ Whatever it is they can tell me what the problem is at night-time. My 1-year-old, she can’t. She can’t. She speaks a few words but she’s not able to say exactly what she needs. So the only thing that she can do is cry or fuss, and then I can sort of work out that she might need milk or she might need a cuddle, whatever it is. But you know, that difference, that seeing that they’re able to say, ‘Mummy, this is what I need’, [30:00] it sort of underlines for me why it’s important for me to respond to the baby’s needs because, you know, you just won’t know what it is that they’re after if you don’t respond to the crying or the unsettledness. They might be saying I’m too cold. They might be saying I need more milk, I feel scared, I’m lonely. But you have to respond to that. You know, you have to meet that need, and the only way to do so is to hold them or to cuddle them or to pat them, you know, in my view. Carly:I’m absolutely with you. Just because they don’t have the words doesn’t mean that we don’t need to respect and honour those cries, so I’m 100%. And I think that is something that sleep training culture tries to minimise, is the lack of voice that’s given to the infant and the minimising of what those cries could possibly mean is very dehumanising. And like you say, when you can hear from the words of your 4 and 7-year-old what’s actually bothering them, that doesn’t give extra weight to their experience than to when they were a baby and couldn’t say it, so I love what you’ve said there and I think it’s something our listeners will really appreciate. Now we’re coming up to the 30 minutes for the episode Liz, and it’s been an absolute honour having you on. I’m just wondering if you have a tip that you’d like to share with the listeners that you wish you’d heard right back at the very beginning? Liz:Yeah, I think, actually maybe not a tip, but just a thought. I have never once regretted holding my kids. Like you know, I’ve never once regretted going to them at night, cuddling them, in the seven years that I’ve been a mama. Like you know, there have been very, very tiring times, but I don’t look back and think I wish I’d cuddled them less. I absolutely feel that very strongly. There’s not one part of me that thinks I should have done this differently. You know? I am so glad because now at 7 he doesn’t need as many cuddles. I can see that, you know, that things are changing already so, yeah, I would say that I don’t regret it. There are no regrets in cuddling your children. Carly:And you know what? That is actually a recurring theme in the stories as we’re hearing on the Beyond Sleep Training Podcast from guest after guest after guest. It’s just not something you can ever regret. I feel like the opposite could be true though, where you actually regret not holding your child when they were asking you and showing you that they needed that, so I think it’s a really important message to be sending out to our listeners, to know that this is not something you will regret ever in your entire life. So thank you so much Liz, and it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show and hearing a bit about your journey, particularly for our parents who are starting to look at having to return to work, it can be such a tricky transition, and to know that you can have conversations and options and thinking outside the box to make sure that you and your babes and your whole family unit are able to get through that transition as smoothly as possible. So thanks so much Liz. Liz:Oh, you’re welcome. Very, very happy to be here. Thanks for having me. Carly:No worries. And I’ll be sure to drop It Tastes Like Love links all through the show notes for our people listening along, and make sure you jump on the Instagram and check out that feed because it’s sensational work that you’ve got going on there, Liz. So thank you again for being on the show. Liz:See you guys, thanks. Carly:Thank you. Wanting help to begin your own journey beyond sleep training? 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