baby

'I was stressed and spiralling when my baby wouldn't sleep. Then I tried co-sleeping.'

Brisbane mum Emily O’Neill was supposed to be helping homeless people. Instead she found herself on the verge of a breakdown when she had to return to work full-time when her baby was nine-months-old.

The 26-year-old first-time mum, who works as a case manager for a homelessness service, was adamant she wasn’t going to co-sleep and had been putting her baby, Lily, to sleep in a bassinet beside the bed until she outgrew it.

“I had always heard that it wasn’t safe (bed sharing) and there was a massive risk of suffocating the baby and I believed the baby shouldn’t be in the bed. I didn’t have friends who co-slept; they had all sleep trained,” she said.

“Lily was a great sleeper as a baby, only waking once or twice a night at about three-months. I’d just feed her back to sleep,” Emily explained.

But when Emily returned to work, initially three days a week, when Lily was seven months old, she moved her into a cot in her own room.

“She started waking hourly. I was only back at work three days a week, so it was manageable, but then I started back full-time when she was nearly ten months and she was still waking hourly,” she said.

Emily would get up and sit in Lily’s room and feed her back to sleep in the rocking chair. Often, she’d find herself falling asleep and panic about dropping Lily.

It wasn’t long before the lack of sleep caught up with her and her work and health began to suffer.

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was so tired, and I wasn’t driving safely. I’m in the car a lot for work and was having micro-sleeps at the wheel. I was exhausted at work and not meeting my targets. I was so stressed out and thought I had to get a sleep consultant. I was alone as my husband was away working. I was spiralling. I had no idea what to do,” she recalled.

The new mother craves nothing more than sleep, and co-sleeping could be a way to get it. Image: Getty.

"One day I was particularly tired and just burst into tears and could not stop crying. I cried all day and then I ended up having to take a few days off work,” Emily said.

After talking with a friend who had co-slept and seeking advice on how to go about it safely, Emily, whose husband was away, decided to move Lily into her bed when she woke for the first time that night.

“She started sleeping straightaway in five-hour blocks. She never went back to hourly waking. She is at daycare for nine hours a day and this is the only time I get to spend with her, so why not. I have a psychology degree, so I don’t know why it didn’t click in the beginning,” she said.

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Emily has since doubled the amount of sleep she is getting and doing much better at work. Her husband and her start the night in the same bed and then Emily moves into a bed with Lily when she wakes.

Gemma Ryan, 35, from Newcastle, was getting in and out of bed every 45 minutes to tend to her son Mason until she was at breaking point. She'd bring Mason into the bed and sit propped up with pillows.

“I just never thought to move all the pillows away and lie down,” she said.

Gemma had Mason in a bassinet in his own room from when he was just a few weeks old.

“I thought babies just slept and I had the cot all set up in his room. SIDS was the main factor for me not co-sleeping," she said.

"I spent the first 12 months in his room in a rocking chair or I would sit in the loungeroom under the heater with him attached to my breast.

"At 14 months I was virtually anorexic from the constant feeding and stressed to no end. He refused to be put down."

Mums and non-mums answer questions about childbirth. Things get interesting. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

Gemma was working two jobs at this stage and embarrassed by her poor work standards due to tiredness. Eventually it all became too much, and she quit both jobs and told her partner, Alec, she couldn’t do it anymore because she was too sick, too skinny and needed a break.

While off work Gemma opened an online store and decided she needed to give Tresillian Family Care Centre a go. She still refused to let Mason cry it out but persisted with sleep training for a couple of months until she came across the group The Beyond Sleep Training Project and started doing her own research.

This coincided with Gemma opening her Yum Mum Tum maternity store in Newcastle at the beginning of the year and with the sleep training still not working, she realised she needed to sleep.

“I decided f**k this. I am done. This apparent normal feels completely wrong. I felt disgusted with myself that I put Mason through it. I brought him into the bed, even without dad liking it,"  Gemma explained.

"It was a complete change. It was instantaneous as soon as he realised he was in bed with Mum. He would have a suck and then roll over and fall asleep. You could see the relief in his eyes and the stress and tension in his body was gone. My body started putting on weight again too.”

Gemma is now passionate about helping other mums and through Yum Mum Tum runs Mummy 101 classes to help mums with breastfeeding and safe sleeping practices, in the hope of saving them from going through what she went through.

“Every time I am in front of my mums I tell them I don’t want them to go through what I went through,” Gemma said.

Founder of the Beyond Sleep Training Project, Carly Grubb, said every day she gets parents contacting her who are navigating the problems of returning to work and sleep.

“A huge number of these families have found that bed sharing or room sharing with their child or children on a surface nearby has made life so much easier for them and their babes. It’s not just that the proximity helps reduce the fatigue of physically waking, getting up and tending to their child, but also that it is a way to reconnect after a day of separation and for breastfeeding mothers it’s a fabulous way to maintain supply and reduce the pressure to pump a certain amount each day,” Carly said.

For more information on safe sleep guidance see Rednose.com.au or Le Leche League International

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