If you’ve ever experienced the unrelenting horror of a baby who barely sleeps, you’ll understand only too well why so many desperate parents turn to sleep schools for help.
I was one of them – nine months of sleep deprivation with our second daughter, born just 18 months after our first, saw my poor, sleep-deprived husband and I worriedly searching for answers – anything we could find to help ease our pain.
Our first baby slept through the night like an angel from eight weeks, and when our second didn’t follow suit, we were shell-shocked to say the least. What the hell was going on? And, after reading what felt like 10,000 baby books and that still barely helping, our local child health nurse suggested a local Medicare-funded sleep school located within a hospital. A tiny glimmer of hope sprang forth in my heart.
You can attend these “family centres” as a family unit, but I chose to go it alone with our little problem sleeper so that my husband could care for our toddler without disrupting her routine.
Now, there are many different sleep schools out there – mine was a four to seven day residential centre which catered for parents and their children aged up to three. It aimed to teach the following: nutrition and feeding, sleep and settling techniques, relaxation and stress management and more.
I will say from the outset that there are positives to be gained from attending such a centre, and I’m sure they help many people, but this one just wasn’t for me. For me, it felt a lot like a prison and I bristled every time a midwife gave unwanted, snarky and contradictory advice about everything from what my baby was wearing (too hot/too cold!) to the rare occasion when she was sucking on a dummy (dummies are the Antichrist!).
My nine-month-old baby and I were there to learn better sleep-settling techniques in a calm, supportive environment – or so I’d hoped. Instead, on our first night there, I was shocked and bewildered when a giant, matronly midwife started smacking my baby on the bum, with considerable force, as a sleep-settling technique!? My daughter was just as upset as I was, if not more so, poor little lamb.
I already had an effective sleep-settling routine down pat, pardon the pun, it’s just that my little one went easily to sleep, but wouldn’t ever stay there, waking every second hour or less, no matter what we tried. How was smacking her hard, to the point of shock/tears, going to help? I felt undermined and misunderstood.
And while they didn’t openly advocate “controlled crying” – the centre had another nicer name for it – they certainly were far too military tough with infants, in my opinion.
But perhaps the biggest fail about this particular centre was that it wasn’t sound-proof – each small room backed on to another and unfortunately for my daughter and I, we actually got less sleep than normal (which I’d never dreamt was possible) because our room was oh-so-inconveniently located next door to a three-year-old toddler (and his mum) whose ear-splitting howling 24/7 made me truly despair.
I lasted two nights of this incessant, God-awful noise right next to my ear before stomping out in the middle of the night to the nurses’ station to see what, if anything, was being done to help the poor mother, only to find a group of midwives on their coffee break, oblivious and uncaring to any distress, mine or otherwise.
And, as to the reasons as to why my little one still wasn’t sleeping well through the night at that stage – I’ll never know – for as soon as she hit 10 months, mere weeks after our prison, sorry sleep-school experience, she started blissfully doing it all on her own.
Since then, a GP has told me many babies simply aren’t developmentally ready to sleep through the night until nine, ten months, maybe even longer, nor should we naively expect them to be, given they’re all little individuals, with different personalities. Wish I’d gotten this advice sooner!?
For us, my daughter’s sudden, improved sleep habits were nothing short of life-changing but, looking back, if I’d just had a bit more patience, we need not have endured the sleep school – I could have, should have, just waited it out a bit longer. Ah, the beauty of hindsight.
Now, some positives from the experience, just to round things out: it was free; I attended some interesting (did I mention free?) seminars; and I got to meet many other suffering parents, with whom I swapped war stories over coffee and biscuits in the common room. Many of us heartily bitched about the prison warden-like midwives in solidarity, too.
My advice? Try it, you might like it. This particular sleep school wasn’t for me, but it might work well for you. But go in prepared and stick to your guns – there’s no rulebook on parenting, follow what your heart and gut instincts are telling you. And all babies sleep through the night eventually – don’t lose hope, sister.
What do you think? Have you attended a sleep school?
Main image via ecoroa.eu, secondary image via presschoolmummy.com; final image via theelfsdeviantart.com