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Sleep School Drop-out!

I remember my brother’s wedding vividly. I was enjoying a gorgeous celebration in the South West of WA … but on the inside I was struggling! Miss 2 was 11 months old at the time, and her sleep was at an all-time low. I knew that going to a sleep school would mean sleep training – something that I was vehemently against. But I was struggling and at a loss. Controlled crying, crying it out, responsive settling – they use different terminology but you can’t polish a turd!

As a social worker I prioritised the kind of parenting that would lead to a secure attachment style. I wanted my daughter to grow up with the best chance of enjoying positive self-esteem and healthy relationships. So I always responded to her and provided cued care, and still do. This includes cuddling and breastfeeding her to sleep.

Controlled crying, crying it out, responsive settling – they use different terminology but you can’t polish a turd!'

I was also crippled by sleep deprivation and knew something had to give. So I went against my mama intuition and enrolled in sleep school. I didn’t want to, but was misinformed and didn’t know that there was another way. Guess what … We failed!

When I first got there I was berated for how much she breastfed and how little solids she ate. The nurse advised that as I had struggled with a traumatic birth, poor mental health and a very sick baby I would probably find this process difficult – great, I thought to myself, thanks for the vote of confidence!

What happened you ask? I cried, she cried and none of us got any sleep! I felt an internal rage as the nurses described my baby’s crying as a “protest cry”. They told me I could go into her but that this would just make it worse. I caved. I went in. It’s instinctual; how can you not respond to your baby’s needs? So I cancelled the next day and gave up on sleep school. We rode out the rough patch and things got better.

Miss 2’s sleep still varies and that is normal; she mostly sleeps through the night, but night waking is not uncommon. A large Finnish study that was published in 2020 states

“…inter-individual differences in sleep development are large and result in highly variable sleep quality … sometimes, parents are worried about sleep symptoms that belong to the normative range…” (Paavonen et al., 2020).

In other words, waking during the night even into toddlerhood is completely normal. N-o-r-m-a-l!

A systematic review conducted by Dr Pamela Douglas and Dr Peter Hill found that behavioural interventions for sleep in the first 6 months hasn’t been shown to result in less infant crying or preventing future sleep issues (Douglas et al., 2013). Dr Douglas is an avid researcher and has contributed to many publications which promote a more accurate understanding of biologically normal infant sleep, and how we can better understand it to improve our little one’s sleep (and therefore our sleep).

Seek out evidence based sleep support!

Now that I am out of the trenches, I am committed to providing evidence based advice and support on sleep. This prompted me to study under Dr Pamela Douglas at Possums, and I am currently working towards accreditation in Neuroprotective Developmental Care (NDC) or “the Possums method”.

I will very soon be able to provide one-on-one support sessions as an accredited health professional. In the meantime, if you want evidence based advice and support on getting more sleep whilst still responding to your baby, I highly recommend Andrea Fallon from Wholehearted Family Health, and you can find a complete list of NDC practitioners on the Possums website:

Paavonen, E.J., Saarenpaa-Heikkila, O., Morales-Munoz, I., Virta, M., Hakala, N., Polkki, P., Kylliainen, A., Karlsson, H., Paunio, T., & Karlsson, L. (2020). Normal sleep development in infants: findings from two large birth cohorts. Sleep medicine, 69(5), 145-154.

Douglas, P., Hill, P.S. (2013). Behavioral Sleep Interventions in the First Six Months of Life Do not Improve Outcomes for Mothers or Infants: A Systematic Review. Journal of developmental and behavioral paediatrics 34(7), 497-507. 10.1097/DBP.0b013e31829cafa6

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