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The baby who never slept...

Shauna and Jasper when he was 8 months

Sleep is something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

I’ve never been comfortable with taking all those hours “off”. I always feel like I’m missing something somewhere if I succumb to the night.

It was a steadfast diet of caffeine that got me through my twenties and early thirties.

And then I had a baby.

Sleep for me took on a greater importance.

As did caffeine.

My tiny breech baby was born at 36 weeks.

A little early. A little small. But infinitesimal perfect. He got his dark hair from his father, his eyes from his grandfather, and his nose and insomnia from me.

 “Babies + sleep + week one”.

My first-time Mother first Google search.

 “Babies + sleep + awake all day”

My first-time Mother Google search.

My first-born son broke the criteria for baby sleep from day dot. Not only did he not sleep during the night, he didn’t sleep during the day.

He didn’t catnap and wake up -that was my third born.

He didn’t scream the house down and writhe in pain -that was my second born.

He just didn’t sleep.

At all.

Ever.

(Well it felt like ever.)

Need to get your baby to sleep?

From the first day home from hospital he just started at me, with his big inky-navy eyes and his olive jaundiced skin. He just stared. Minutes went past, they turned into hours, and hours and hours. Seven hour stretches without sleep.

From Google searches, to baby books, to early childhood nurses, to chiropractors to pediatricians. I looked for answers.

The biggest problem was that it actually wasn’t a problem.

He wasn’t crying.

He wasn’t demanding attention.

He wasn’t sick.

He was just awake.

And being a first time Mum I felt like I couldn’t just leave him awake.

Firstly there was the fact that he was meant to sleep, wasn’t he? And secondly there was the guilt. What was he thinking? Wasn’t he bored? Was it my fault he was awake? (I mean I did drink a lot of coffee when I was pregnant) I felt like I had to entertain him.

So we went out A LOT. We did baby story time and gymbaroo and swimming lessons and playgroups and music time and baby art classes (who actually thinks up these things? Baby art classes for a six-month old. What was I thinking?)

He was over scheduled and over stimulated and I was getting over it.

We had long nights together of watching Kim and Khloe Kardashian. We walked, we swayed, we cuddled, we fed. But he still never slept more than a few hours at night without waking up, and during the day he simply didn’t nap.

Life was pretty good for me. I was one of the lucky ones. I had suffered a long-term eating disorder during my twenties, with years of exercise induced anorexia fueling my obsessive career building.

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When I found out I was pregnant I think everyone who knew me was on edge thinking that I could be in store for postnatal depression.

But, what’s that saying – there but for the grace of God – somehow I escaped it.

Instead of turning inwards the lack of sleep made me almost manic with action. Everyday the floors were mopped, the dishwasher was unpacked, and the house was cleaned sometime between midnight and 5am.

Leaving me a whole day to entertain my wide-eyed boy.

But the older he got the less he slept.

Christmas came and I started baking.

Me, who had never actually turned the oven on in the little blue house I had lived in for four years. It was shortbread to be precise. Christmas stars. Decorated with red piping. Batches and batches and batches of them. There was a lot of time to kill in entertaining my buzzing boy.

Something had to give.

Mia Freedman with Gift of Sleep authors Elizabeth Sloane and Rebecca Sparrow

I decided it was time to take action. I hadn’t seen Mia since the Today Show days where she was one of our on air personalities and I was the Chief of Staff. I remembered clearly Mia’s appearances talking about the ‘sleep guru’ who saved her sanity. I sent her an email (I fitted it in somewhere between cleaning and baking) and got the number for Elizabeth Sloane.

A week later Elizabeth arrived.

My first task was to tuck my little bloke in tightly wrapped in a sheet, kiss him good night and walk out.

Sounds easy huh?

It was one of the hardest things I have done. Ten minutes into it I was a wreck. In the back yard, a glass of wine and a whole heap of tears.

You all know how these three-night programs work so I won’t go into the details. Let’s just say it was hard, it was tough, but it was worth it.

For me it wasn’t a magic cure. My little guy took a lot longer than three nights, and I wasn’t the most committed to consistency and following through, which obviously is pretty damn important.

But he started sleeping longer and longer and I stopped baking.

Jasper is 6 now and *sometimes* sleeps

Our days became easier, our nights became soothing rather than stressful.

He’s six now and he has his good nights, but still he has his bad ones, and the two of us will rise at 4am. Me to write and he will skit around trying not to wake the rest of the house.

So it was with interest I read a study that came out this year from the journal Pediatrics. It found that it didn’t matter if parents used the cry-it-out method, co-sleeping or another sleep method with their babies at night, because genetics, not parenting habits were responsible for a great deal of variability in how long babies and young children slept without waking up during the night.

I look back now and imagine just how bad things might have gotten if I hadn’t turned to Mia’s ‘sleep whisperer’.

She calls it the ‘gift of sleep’. Of course every family is different, and some things work for some and not for others. But for us, this gift taught my little boy the one thing that should come naturally, but for him never did.

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