Baby sleep school? Surely such a magical place doesn't exist. Actually, it does, and it's where desperate parents go to learn how to help their babies or toddlers sleep in Australia. Not surprisingly, it's not cheap. They probably know sleep-deprived parents would remortgage their houses for the help, but thankfully our health insurance covered most of the cost.
For us, there was a long wait list (of course there is; there are exhausted mothers everywhere itching for admittance), but we were lucky enough to get in within a month. I think they could smell my desperation.
This is my diary from my week at Baby Sleep School.
Here we are, around 25 sleep-deprived mamas, moving into sleep school together for five nights — it's just like The Bachelor, except instead of stunning women sitting around drinking wine, frolicking by the pool, and hoping they'll fall in love, it's a bunch of disheveled mamas with bags under their eyes downing coffee and hoping for some shut-eye!
Getting my head around the fact that I even need to be in a place like this is hard. It's not what any mother hopes for, to have one of "those" babies who won't sleep. I have no idea what to expect, and this makes me anxious, but I soon find out. It was straight into it — a strict routine would be in place for my twins (I'm grateful that only one is a problem sleeper, but the other one is along for the ride). I feel even more anxious now, as all three of us are going to be completely out of our comfort zone and I know there will be tears . . . mostly my own, probably.
Possibly the most wonderful thing I find out at this point, though, is that for the first two nights, the nurses will care for both of my kids. I can SLEEP. Holy moly . . . this place is now heaven in my eyes.
Each mom has moved half their home (seriously, how much stuff do kids need?!) into a studio room, with our children in their own rooms nearby. Picture a hotel-like set-up, but the decor and room service ain't that great. There are no dads staying on the ward, although they are able to visit as often and for as long as they like, but no sleepovers (a whole bed to myself; I'm not complaining).
I gradually meet the other moms and feel comforted knowing there are women who appreciate how I feel. I've been putting on a brave face for so long, trying to pretend that I'm coping when, in fact, I'm dog-tired and a mess. Finally, I don't feel so alone. This is an unexpected benefit of sleep school: it's not only about sleep, but also about meeting a community of women who can understand and support one another.
The trained nurses are by our side around the clock, and at this point they are doing all the sleep-training with our children. They are still getting to know them and learning their habits before starting to teach us the techniques to settle them ourselves.
We have a session in which we are shown the sleep-settling techniques that we will be using ourselves starting tomorrow. We are all taught the exact same sleep-soothing techniques and routines for our children, which varies based on their ages (there are babies as young as a few months old through toddlers up to two years old). At sleep school, the assumption is that these techniques and routines, which are based on research, work for all babies. There are some skeptics in our group, and of course many questioning if we're strong enough to do this. I remind myself that if I don't, I may not get a full night's sleep for the next five years — I'll give it a go.
It's down to business. From now on, every time my twins go to sleep (day and night) and need to be settled — whether it's at the beginning or in the middle of a sleep — I'm the boss. I must use the techniques I've been taught to settle my kids to sleep, and I have to stick to the routine — sleep times, awake times, and feed times. It must be quite a sight: a bunch of stressed-out moms sitting on stools outside their kids' rooms, watching the clock and hoping like hell that by some miracle their child has learned to sleep in the first two days and that they'll never have to worry about sleep ever again. I wish.
There is a dads' night, when it's required for all the fathers to attend and learn the same routines and techniques we are learning. They are not exempt from this. Parenting is a team effort, and my hubby is just as keen on learning how to improve our sleep situation as I am.
I'm slowly learning how to understand my babies' cues so that I don't go running to them every time they make a sound. My twins have slept in their crib since birth, but there are lots of parents who are in situations in which they co-slept or their babies would only sleep on them, and there are others whose babies would only sleep when being breastfed. Sleep school is teaching these mamas how to settle their babies to sleep in their cribs all the time. This is a significant change for some parents and can make the process a bit harder to take.
Before attending, I'd read that sleep school was all about controlled crying, or "crying it out," and that made me nervous. After spending four days here, I can see that was a misunderstanding. I am now learning the difference between a baby who is upset and crying and one who is just grizzling to get mama's attention.
Thank goodness for the trained nurses who are here 24/7 to help me stay strong, to answer my never-ending list of questions, and to continue helping me learn.
I wish I could take one of them home with me.
I should mention we're not on lockdown. When the kids aren't in bed, we're allowed to take them out and about. Clearly, my number one priority is finding good coffee nearby.
There have been a few group sessions with all the moms during the week. Importantly, there is a strong focus on our mental well-being as well as our babies' sleep behaviors. Many of us were anxious and stressed due to our lack of sleep, and talking through this is incredibly helpful.
But now worry is setting in about going home. Today is my last day to get this all right in my head. We will have a follow-up call four weeks after we leave, during which I can talk about how we're doing and seek further feedback, but aside from that we are on our own. Yes, I've seen improvements, but what if this doesn't continue when I'm on my own, or what if she never quite "gets it" like the other babies and we forever have a bad sleeper on our hands?
Check-out day. I reassess how far we've come since we arrived. From a personal perspective, I've come a long way. In terms of my baby girl's sleep, there have definitely been improvements. Before, she was the catnapper from hell, and while I haven't quite witnessed the miracle I hoped for, she is getting better. The nurses reassure me this is normal and that it will take some time for her to learn the techniques and understand it's time to sleep. On the plus side, she has slept through the night every single night (before we arrived, we would have phases of waking for hours at a time), which is amazing.
So did it work? Absolutely. I am walking out more confident, and I've learned so much. There's no doubt that my experience of motherhood has been far more enjoyable since we've all been getting more sleep, and I have sleep school to thank for that.