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.
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?
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.