HOW SLEEP TRAINING CHANGED MY LIFE
Updated: Sep 21, 2019
Sleepless nights are part of motherhood. Babies wake and it's our job to get them settled back to sleep again. It's part of the package and we are conditioned to accept it as such. Most of us won't even consider sleep training because we expect that things will just improve by themselves, but for some babies it just doesn't happen.
After about a year with minimum sleep, I have come to learn that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. People who knew how bad it was, were complimenting me for coping so well without sleep. They told me how they would never be able to cope.
Actually I wasn't doing well at all. I was forgetful and clumsy, I was overwhelmed and frustrated. I was making mistakes at work. I got impatient at home. I even became anxious over minor things, which is completely out of character for me.
Perhaps the worst part is that it was unfair towards my other two children. I let a lot of things slide, simply because I didn't have the energy to discipline them. I propped them in front of the TV and hoped that they wouldn't need anything while I tried to settle a fussy baby and run the house.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP
It's obvious that sleep is important, but especially so for little people with growing bodies. Sleep affects weight gain, concentration, mood, immunity and growth. It even reduces risk of injury!
Most nights Baby Bear would only fall asleep once the older two were in their beds. There was just too much happening before that. Three children under five makes for a fair share of chaos.
I would bottle feed him to sleep in the living room with the television on and the rest of the family there with us. On a "normal night" he would then wake up 2-3 times before midnight and sometimes every 30 minutes thereafter. Each time he would settle quickly after a few sips of milk.
For the first couple of months I would get out of bed to fetch him each time he woke. As the winter months approached it was easier to just keep him in bed with us after his first waking. It didn't however improve his sleeping. (I have nothing against co-sleeping, by the way. We all do what works for us.)
During the day he would fight sleep and we'd have to either push him in the stroller or keep feeding him milk in the hope that he'd settle. He would then only sleep for a short while and wake up tired. It felt like we were trying to make him sleep all. day. long!
By late afternoon he would be exhausted and miserable. He wouldn't want to be put down, but he wasn't content being held either. One of us needed to hold him while the other baths the older children or dishes up dinner.
I was exhausted and overwhelmed. My three year old and five year old needed my attention as well, but most of the time I was just trying to settle the little one and get things done.
WHY I THOUGHT SLEEP TRAINING WASN'T FOR US
Baby Bear was almost always sick. By his first birthday he had been in hospital three times, had seventeen doctors visits and we were constantly fighting some kind of respiratory infection or ear pain. He had seen two paediatricians, a peadiatric pulmonologist/allergy specialist, three different ear, nose and throat specialists, a cardiologist and some GP's.
Because of being in hospital so many times, he had severe separation anxiety. I had to literally carry him with me while preparing dinner or packing the dishwasher. He would cry when I had to put him down to go to the bathroom.
I thought that sleep training would be difficult and I simply didn't have the energy to see it through.
The timing was never right. We always had a hectic week ahead or someone was sick and needed more attention.
My other two children slept through the night at 3 months and 5 months of age. They were in bed every night at 20:00. I thought that I knew what I was doing and that Baby Bear would catch on any moment.
There was no way that I was leaving my baby to cry himself to sleep.
It cost money. Why pay for something that you can Google for free, right?
ADMITTING I COULDN'T CARRY ON LIKE THIS
I got to a stage where I realised that I didn't know what I was doing. The herbal remedies that I had tried didn't work. Praying, begging, and feeding him didn't keep him asleep. I needed help.
At first I contacted a few friends for advice and read a lot on the internet. I also scanned through a sleep training book. Nothing I tried seemed to work.
I was desperate enough to get the help of an expert. I read about Goodnight Baby on Facebook, so I asked on some of the mommy groups whether they had a good experience. Their testimonies were overwhelmingly positive.
JUST HAVING A PLAN
When you're that tired and vulnerable, just having a plan gives you hope. I knew that things were about to change for the better. I was taking control again!
THINGS GOT BETTER
I was surprised at how quickly things improved. On the first night, Baby Bear was asleep without milk, in his cot, within 20 minutes. He was awake three times during the night, but settled within 5-10 minutes each time.
On the second night, he was asleep within 30 minutes and woke four times. On the third night he was asleep within 10 minutes and awake three times during the night. On the fourth night he was asleep within 15 minutes and only woke at 5:15 for the first time.
Each day was a bit better and easier. By the third night, I messaged the sleep coach to tell her that I had been able to tidy my kitchen and spend time with the older children before bedtime.
Baby Bear woke up happy and didn't need to be carried around all. the. time.
Sleep training changed my life! I felt different. I was happier and I had more capacity... I could conquer the world again.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
Baby Bear had always been a very picky eater. Because he was always sick, he was underweight. I would give him Pediasure at night to try and fill his tummy (so he would sleep better - haha!) and hoped he would gain a bit of weight.
The sleep coach challenged me to be more intentional about what he eats. She recommended that I make time to encourage him to eat food instead of drinking formula. She suggested that I push him a bit to try new tastes and textures.
Since he is no longer drinking formula during the night, his appetite has drastically improved and he has been trying new things. He is doing well with textures. He is gaining weight!
I suspect his "separation anxiety" was closely linked to the fact that he was overtired and needed comforting all the time. This has also improved.
We had to make a couple of changes to our evening routine and my other children took to it brilliantly. I expected that they would object to the television being switched off at 17:00, but they didn't. In fact, it seems like they don't miss it at all.
The general well-being of our entire little family has improved in the process.
THERE WERE SETBACKS
After booking my consultation with the sleep coach, Baby Bear got bronchiolitis and was admitted to hospital. We had to postpone.
Halfway into sleep training, he got an ear infection in both ears. We had to pause.
I was very close to giving up, but took a step backwards while he was ill and pressed forwards when he got better. It was worth it!
THE HARDEST PART
The hardest part for me was most definitely the daytime naps. It is harder to get them to settle when the sun is shining and siblings are playing and laughing. It's harder, but still doable.
IT WAS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
I was desperate, determined and prepared for war. It wasn't that at all. It was a very gentle approach and Baby Bear took to the programme easily. Although he did cry a bit, it was more a moan than a traumatic cry - I never left him alone to cry himself to sleep. Each time it got easier, I gained more confidence to keep doing it.
WHEN CONSIDERING SLEEP TRAINING, KEEP THE FOLLOWING IN MIND:
You are going to have to be determined. You need to do what it takes, no matter what. Sleep training will be your main mission for about two weeks.
Get a bit of extra help if there are older siblings who still need the assistance of an adult while you're busy with the little one.
You are going to have to be consistent. You need to do the exact same thing every time.
You are going to have to stay calm. It can be frustrating, but if you get impatient your baby will pick up on it and the process will be more difficult.
You are going to have to stick to the plan. Do whatever the sleep coach suggests, no matter what.
You are going to have to celebrate small victories. If you stick to the plan, there will be something worth celebrating every day.
It is a million times harder to sleep train a sick baby. We did this and it took longer than it was supposed to, but it still worked.
WHAT GOODNIGHT BABY OFFERED
Now if you Google "sleep training techniques" you should be able to find effective ways to sleep train your child. I did, in case you're wondering. Read more HERE.
What we got was so much more!
A 90 minute consultation with a sleep coach.
2 weeks of daily support, where I could WhatsApp her anytime to ask questions. I made use of this quite a bit. I asked when I was unsure and she motivated me to continue when I wanted to give up during the time that Baby was sick.
Accountability! I had to report back after each sleep so that we were able to track progress and make minor tweaks where necessary. I knew that the sleep coach would ask, so I made sure that I stuck to the plan.
A sleep strategy for day and night, specifically customised to Baby Bear and our family's needs.
Suggestions surrounding his evening and bedtime routine.
An evaluation of his sleep space with recommendations.
Recommendations regarding his milk and nutrition that promotes sleep.
Information regarding how to make brain chemicals and hormones work for us instead of against us when trying to get Baby to sleep.
THIS IS NOT A SPONSORED POST
Just in case you were wondering... I wasn't paid a cent to write this post. To the contrary, we paid full price for the services of a sleep coach and I don't regret it for one moment.
I am merely sharing something that worked for us.
YOUR CUSTOM SLEEP SOLUTION
Obviously it would be unethical to share our sleep programme with you. I would like to recommend that you contact Good Night Baby for your own custom solution.
Whilst doing research about sleep, I wrote this post. You're most welcome to take a look for some additional tips.
Dear Mama, if you have had countless sleepless nights and if you feel like you're at your wit's end, please consider sleep training! There are gently approaches that don't involve crying it out. It is totally doable and will change your life for the good. You will teach your child how to sleep, which is a valuable life skill. And you will get sleep, which will help you be a happier, healthier and more engaged mom.