Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Mr T's big, fat 'F' for Sleep School

There I was, another day full of tears. My eyes felt gritty, I was too embarrassed to leave the house because of the circles under my eyes and I found it difficult to be bubbly and smiley with my little man. The house was a mess and I couldn’t even bring myself to nap during the day for fear that I would just melt into this existence where the real world did not exist. I had reached a point – we had tried everything. From naturopaths to paediatricians, rocking to sleep to laying down sleepy but awake. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING was working.

I trawled Google for the millionth time and began to stumble upon Sleep Schools. I decided it was our final shot, our last hope. We had Private Health so why not go for the best? So we did. I cried over the phone to the admissions nurse when she asked if I was ‘depressed’. Within 2 days we were driving 3 hours away to stay for four days in hope that we would come home with a happy baby that slept.

When we arrived my husband and I were both a mess. We were beyond tired. They asked me a series of questions and determined that I didn’t have Post Natal Depression but I scored pretty high on the anxiety scale. Big fat Surprise. Not. My anxiety levels probably peaked when I walked down the hall and saw that my baby was going to be way down there, in a tiny room in the dark for his sleeps and I was going to be all by myself in another room with no baby monitor.

The nurses seemed nice and the first day was a gentle approach. However there was talk of things like the fact that they thought Mr T was weaning himself off the breast completely as he wasn’t feeding well during the day. He was 9 months old at the time. Then there was the fact that I was not to breastfeed him at all from the hours of 10pm to 7am. This was not going to be easy. Did they know my kid? He breastfed overnight like it was going out of style.

As the days went on things went from bad to worse. The first night Mr T woke hourly. They tried to comfort him and came and got me when they couldn’t. They tried to pat him to sleep and had some radio in the room that was meant to calm him. No picking up of baby allowed. He was scared and knew this was not his home.

Then there was a time during our stay, I forget what day, where I came across an amazing nurse. As the day progressed she got to know Mr T. She said he had ‘spunk’ and was not going to back down easily. We tried gentle techniques and it worked. It was amazing. He was going down awake and falling asleep in his cot. No more putting him down only for him to wake 10 minutes later. And best of all minimal crying was involved. I urged her to watch him breastfeed and she gave me some tips. No talk about him weaning himself. Excellent.

With the night though brought the night nurses and there was nothing but tears from him and I. I paced the halls and they told me to go and do stupid things like “get a cup of a tea” or “how about I get you some ear plugs?” They didn’t want me to go in there. They said this is what had to be done. The next morning my beautiful angel looked so tired. I had never seen him look so exhausted.
My perfect nurse came around again and I told her what happened. I put my foot down and said this was my last night and I wanted to be doing the comforting and I wanted a monitor in my room. It was done and much to the night nurses’ dismay I went in there 2 hourly and comforted him by patting and I didn’t once let him cry.

The next day the paediatrician came to see me. It was determined that while progress was made it really wasn’t enough. He should be sleeping without me in the room and perhaps I should stay another night. “No thanks” I said and we walked out the door and I will never forget that breeze that hit my face. I felt free.

When we got home, I kept doing what my perfect nurse had taught me. It was working and Mr.T started sleeping 3-4 hour stretches. My husband and I decided in a week or two we would start to gently stop the patting etc. But here is what happened: Mr T got a cold, then he got mobile. He was rolling all over the place. Everything we learnt went to crap and before I knew it we were back where we started.

Months have now passed and Mr T is crawling, standing and has popped 4 new teeth. He still does NOT sleep but he has some good days. Yesterday I was ridiculously lucky to speak to Pinky McKay. For the first time ever, I was made to feel no guilt by a professional. She was amazing to talk to.

This morning I breastfed in the rocking chair until Mr T was sleepy. He gave me a little bite so I popped him up over my shoulder and I smelt his hair. Then when his breathing was heavy I popped him down and blew him a kiss. And I did not feel guilty, not once.

I’ll be putting Pinky’s suggestions in place after going shopping this weekend and I can’t wait. I’m excited by a fresh perspective that hasn’t come from a book (although her books are great). It’s come from someone who over the phone got to know my baby. Someone who listened, understood and sympathised. She offered ideas and things to research which I hadn’t looked into before. I’ll keep you posted on our efforts and the effect it has on my spunky little guy’s sleep.

Have you been to a sleep school? Was it a pass or fail?


  1. I've not been to a sleep school but I have heard mixed reviews. I think it's like a lot of things where nurses and doctors are involved, everyone has a different idea of what will and won't work and doesn't like to be proven wrong and as such they make you feel like you're the one who is wrong. I hope you find something that works soon, baby sleep is such a hard thing to work out and there is so much information out there which in some ways only makes it harder. But I will cross everything that I have for you that you find what works best for you and bubs sooner rather than later.

    1. Yeah, I don't blame them for doing what they did, and many of the babies were starting so sleep. It just wasn't for us and was definitely not for my baby. Thanks! We hope so too. In the meantime we will just keep keepin' on :-)

  2. We went to sleep school when my firstborn was 8mths (3 years ago so their teaching may have changed). Nights weren't an issue for us - more the days as she would only sleep 20 minutes and wanted a lot of attention when she was awake.

    Sleep school helped establish areas that were perhaps posing a problem (ie always breastfeeding to sleep) but overall we scored a big fat F too. The nights didn't concern me - she was having a couple breastfeeds during the night at that stage and happily feeding back to sleep. They made me wake her after a feed so she was going down awake - I think she still settled ok then (they didn't make me hold off feeding her like they did with Mr T). But I remember they also made me wake her every couple hours so she could learn to resettle! How stupid! Why wake a sleeping babe during the night? That frustrated me no end, because then she wouldn't resettle - and I had many arguments/tears in the nights with the nurses over that fact!

    We didn't have any success whatsoever with getting her resettled during the day. She'd feed then go to sleep 3 times a day, but after her 20 minutes she just WOULD NOT go back to sleep, despite all the tricks and ideas of the nurses at sleep school. I think that went up to 40 minutes as she got older, but her best sleeps were literally from the day she turned 2 (suddenly started sleeping 1.5 hours or more at a time!), and then the day after she turned 3 she suddenly stopped her days sleeps (went from 7 day sleeps a week to maybe 1). She was extremely cranky for a few weeks - but eventually she settled down. She probably goes to sleep on the couch one day a week now (3yrs 8mths) but won't sleep in her bed during the day.

    My second child was a totally different story. He's 20 months now and begs to go to bed during the day and at night! He's always been a great sleeper. Never fed to sleep, and has hardly ever gone to sleep being held. Think I avoided feeding him to sleep very early on, but a lot of it is just his personality, I believe.

    My third one... yet to be seen...

    1. They are all so different aren't they. Fingers crossed you get a sleeper 3rd time round! ;-)

  3. Oh Angela! What an experience. Good on you for writing about it. I really feel for you and what you went through - I can't imagine the pain you must have been in, waiting in that room, while people did what they thought was best for your baby. That's why I wrote that post initially - there has been so much talk about sleep training methods, it worries me. Really? Is this the norm? Is this what we want for our babies? Of course we want sleep and normality - I get that, of course I do! But this boot camp for babies seems so intense, especially when they are so little...
    Ahhh...I am so glad Pinky McKay came to your rescue. She really is so great. I can't wait to hear what she suggested for you, and how it worked out. xx

    1. I agree...they do have the best intentions but unfortunately there is no 'one baby solution fits all'. I pretty much cried my little heart out in the room. I couldn't bear to hear him. Then when he finally stopped crying he had those little hiccups and I knew we had gone too far with him. I was heart-broken.

      I'm looking forward to trying Pinky's methods and even just adopting her thoughts and calmness about the whole 'sleep' thing as my own. Thanks for reading Zanni.

  4. Oh gosh I never liked those sleep school things. When ever I read about them they sounds like some horrible training camp. When my eldest was 10mths old she was still being rocked to sleep in my arms. I was 6mths pregnant with the second as well so rocking her plus a big belly not comfortable. I learnt of the crying technique (the name skips my mind) but I did it my way the way I felt comfortable doing. I never let her cry for more then 5 mins I stayed at her door and comforted her for 5 mins after. If she ever sounded in distress or hurt I would go in. It worked in two nights. First night for 1 hr second night 20 mins. She didn't hate me the next day and hadn't lost love for me.

    I'm happy to say I haven't had to do that with the rest of my kids. I learnt my lesson. The 3 kids after my first are awesome sleepers from the time they were born. Put them in their cots and close the door. they were out within minutes. My 15mth old doesn't even like to sleep in our bed she gets uncomfortable and wants to go to her bed.

    1. I can't imagine being pregnant and rocking Mr.T to sleep! He is heavy enough at 12kg! You did well. Every baby is different aren't they. Well done for having good sleepers! I hope my next baby is a sleeper but I wouldn't change Mr T's personality for anything either ;-)

  5. Sometimes things just don't work as 'advertised'. I would be the same as you, I can't let them cry. When I weaned #4 (at 19months old) I curled up in the cot with him, so he knew I was there, but no more milk. He cried alot, but I was right there with him, comforting him. In just a few nights he was sleeping through the night finally.

    I enjoyed reading your experience.

    (from FYBF)

  6. Yeah, each to their own. It just wasn't for us. I think that's beautiful Sophie. I hope when Mr.T is ready to wean it happens like that too. Without the fuss and the heartache! Thanks for reading x

  7. It's so hard isn't it and trying to listen to your own instincts vs professionals and the overwhelming amount of information just makes everything confusing. Good on you for the little bit of progress you have made. I hope it continues. Bree