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.
"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.