‘I was irritable, tired, depressed and anxious when sleep school saved my baby and I.’

It’s no secret that the topic of babies and sleep is hotly debated. Everyone seems to have an opinion (whether you have kids of not) about when a baby should sleep, where a baby should sleep, how a baby should sleep and what temperature a baby should sleep in.

But the most controversial conversation seems to be about what to do if a baby doesn’t want to go to sleep or doesn’t stay asleep for very long. Dare I even say it? The widely discussed issue of sleep training. This seems to be a conversation that will never be settled and one that I have my own experience with.

After the birth of my first child in 2012, as is the case with many new mothers, or many mothers of newborns, I was awake most of the time. I breastfed on demand for the first few months and then after advice from midwives, lactation consultants and numerous other people, decided to establish a bit more of a routine.

Despite my best efforts, my daughter wasn’t a fan and due to the impact of sleep deprivation, I questioned my ability to be a good mother. I was irritable, tired, depressed, anxious and was desperate for some assistance. In addition to this, my daughter seemed to display a lot of these emotions herself. She didn’t seem content or happy when she was awake and overall our household was one of misery.

“Everyone seems to have an opinion (whether you have kids of not) about when a baby should sleep and where a baby should sleep.” Image: Supplied.

After an incredible amount of research in baby sleep literature, consultations with ‘sleep specialists’, discussions with other mothers, my Maternal and Child Health Nurse and my GP, I decided that ‘sleep school’ was what was needed for me and my daughter to move toward a more positive existence. So I enrolled in a Melbourne based sleep school for their week stay program.

The facility offered practical training, psychological help, the assistance of medical professionals (where required) for both baby and mother, as well as the support of other mothers going through a similar experience. During my week long stay some women discovered underlying medical issues of their own which were contributing to their fatigue and emotional state and some found out their children had underlying conditions.

Although each mother and child were individual and unique, there was one shared conclusion. We all came to the realisation as to how exhausted we were, mentally and physically and how much this impaired us as people and how it impaired our children too. If we felt this way without sleep, how did our babies feel? And how did this impact them long-term?

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Watch: Questions you have when you don't have kids: Sleep.

My decision to complete the ‘sleep school’ program was one not rushed into by any means. In fact I felt embarrassed, ashamed and guilty for being there. This feeling of shame was one caused by a wider issue in society and pre-existing opinions about babies and sleep, even from those with no experience. It is one further pushed onto us by particular ‘sleep specialists’ of the world.

I found these short-sighted views to be harmful and misleading. They paint those who choose the sleep routine option as selfish, pain inflicting, horrible mothers for even considering ways to try and help our children sleep in their own bed. These people would like to have mothers believe sleep training will make our babies distrust us or make them not feel safe.

I am sorry to say but, as a mother, I don’t find this advice accurate or helpful. In fact, it’s these sorts of views that make mothers feel worse than they already do when suffering the impacts of sleep deprivation.

If the misconceptions about sleep school were reality, maybe we would be horrible mothers. But the reality is - we don’t shut them in darkness and walk away as they lay alone crying themselves into early psychological trauma. There is a heavily researched, practiced, developed technique and methodology put into action but one that is tailored to your specific situation. And if you don’t find the experience helpful, you can leave.

Shona's daughters, Milla and Addi. Image: Supplied.

From my personal experience and of those women who I shared this experience with, not once but twice (as I took my second child too) our experiences were often challenging but overwhelmingly positive and we left with a huge sense of gratitude. Not all of us left with perfectly sleeping babies but we all left with improvement of some sort, whether it was a better sleep routine or the support of other women in a similar experience.

We left with a toolbox filled with suggestions, techniques and advice we could implement on return home. At the very least sleep school was some time to re-group, rest and become human again and with that, we had the ability to look after our children properly once again.

My two daughters have been described as “resilient, caring, happy, content and intelligent.” In no way has sleep training ‘damaged’ them or made them not trust me as a parent. They are in fact well rounded girls that love school, love their friends, love their family and are happy. No traumatic side effects in sight!

Being a mother is hard, being one to a baby or child who is ‘sleep adverse’ is even harder and being a mother while suffering sleep deprivation yourself is impossible. How about we ease up on the judgement of other mothers' choices and support each other instead?

Have you ever used sleep training? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments section below. 

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