Why I’m glad my baby failed ‘Sleep School’

If you have a baby who: sleeps during the day, has the occasional cry but is generally settled, can be taken out without fear of having to spend the entire time apologising to everyone within earshot… then you don’t need to read this! lol

This story is for all the parents out there who have what is often labeled as an ‘unsettled’ baby who cries, refuses to sleep and is basically making you doubt your natural abilities as a parent and sane person!

baby crying screaming unsettled newborn sleep school baby settlingI had a crier. My first baby was a dream for the first few days. I had had a very calm pregnancy and birth; however he started crying a lot when he was tired and just would not settle during the day. Sometimes he would fall asleep in my arms (more out of sheer exhaustion, I am sure) and then as soon as I placed him in his bassinet his little eyes would open, the bottom lip would tremble and off we went again!

I took him to the child health nurses. They gave me brochures outlining ‘settling techniques’.

Feed, play, sleep or play, feed, sleep – either way – they didn’t work.

I was breastfeeding. A midwife encouraged me to start supplementing his feeds with formula whilst expressing to build up my milk production. I wasn’t happy with this, but I took the advice because I was afraid that I could be starving my baby. It was very stressful; but I would do anything to help settle my little darling. It broke my heart to see him so upset.

It didn’t work.

My family and friends gave me advice. “He may be allergic to something that you’re eating and it is going through to the breast milk”, “Try a dummy”,“Have you tried rocking him in the pram as you bump over a thong”, even “Add a bit of brandy to his bottle!” I tried everything else but drew the line on introducing alcohol to his diet!

Nothing worked.

I invested in ‘sleep training books’. I read and read and read and tried several of the techniques. I am not an ignorant person. I knew all about the importance of sleep, routine, not forming bad habits…it’s just that – as great as it all sounded – it didn’t work for my baby.

I sold the books.

I remember my aunt visiting, to meet our baby for the first time. When she arrived at the door, I was at my wits end – he had been crying for about two hours and there was nothing that I could do to placate him. I just handed him to my aunt and said “Please – just hold him for a while”.

My aunt worked in the pharmaceutical industry – so after holding him for a while she told me that she was going to go to the local chemist and sort this out. She came back with every dummy brand and shape that existed; she also had homeopathic colic drops and some other fancy props.

None of it worked. He literally spat the dummies!

The Pediatrician checked him over at his 6 week appointment and declared that he was a very healthy baby in every way. I told him about my concerns so he referred me to a ‘Baby Sleep School’ at the hospital.

By this stage, I was surprised that I wasn’t suffering post-natal depression. It was however affecting my self-confidence, my enjoyment of motherhood and my relationship with my husband. I was exhausted and frustrated.

So I took my baby to ‘Sleep School’.

I spent 3 days in the children’s ward of a hospital whilst a team of very experienced nurses who were ‘sleep trainers’ did everything in their power to get my baby to settle and sleep more during the day. I was subjected to sitting outside his room as he absolutely screamed his lungs out for 20-40 minutes at a time. He was crying –  I was crying. It was horrible.

Whilst I was there, I met other mothers who had brought their sick children into the ward. A one week old baby had a severe flu and was on oxygen. A 4 year old girl was brought in after swallowing a small battery and they needed to operate to remove it. But the mother I will never forget is the one who brought her little child in on a very regular basis. Her child had a serious illness and was not expected to live past the age of 10. It certainly provided me with some perspective.

At the end of the 3rd day, the nurse in charge handed my baby to me and apologised profusely. She said that this had never happened to her in 20 years of sleep training. She couldn’t help us. She told me to go home and to do whatever I could to stay sane.

My 9 week old baby had just failed ‘Sleep School’.

Now at this point, the story could go one of two ways… but you may be surprised to hear what happened next.

I went home with the confidence that I had lacked at the beginning my journey as a mother. I now knew that it wasn’t me. I wasn’t failing as a mother. I had already tried all of the same techniques that the experts had suggested using. I was a loving mother and an intelligent woman, who had done everything in my power to help my baby.

A smile began to spread across my face. I rubbed noses with my little darling as we walked out of the hospital doors and said to him – “You’re a determined little fella. This will serve you well through life!”

The words of my mother rang in my ears. “You are the mother. No-one else on this earth knows this baby like you do. Always trust your instincts. You know him.”

I suddenly felt relieved. I felt justified. I felt that, even though this was my first time ’round as a mother, I might actually know a bit about mothering after all!

I took my baby home; and my husband and I started doing what worked. We rocked him to sleep in our arms as we paced up and down the room patting his little bottom as we went. I know all of the books tell you not to do this – but it worked.

Our baby would often drift off to sleep using this method, and then we would either gently place him in his bassinet (which was close to us) or he would just fall asleep next to us in bed. He was happy and we were able to stay sane.

We started baby-wearing. In my extensive travels, I had seen the mothers in African, South/Central American and Asian countries wrap their babies close to them. They always had their baby attached to them and they seemed so content! So we took a leaf out of their book.

Peace began to descend over the home. Our baby was more settled because he was getting more sleep. It still wasn’t as much sleep as other babies his age seemed to need (it was lucky if he slept once through the day – and on the very odd occasion, twice). However, we just figured that he slept well at night, so perhaps he didn’t need as much sleep as other babies.

We seem to accept that all adults are different – but then we expect all babies to have the same needs and follow the same routine. Perhaps one size doesn’t fit all!

Another thing; everyone told us that we should be able to make noise around our baby and that they should be able to sleep through it. However, I would cringe when people came to visit us just when we got him to sleep because I knew that the loud talking and sharp noises within our little timber floored house, would wake him up! People told me to loosen up – they said that experience would teach me. They said that you should be able to vacuum under a baby’s bassinet and the baby will sleep through.

Well, that didn’t work for our baby.

So – I trusted my intuition. I told people not to visit at certain times, and if they did I would keep them up at the other end of the house. People still couldn’t help but give me ‘advice’ about this – and I really got my mother-in-law offside, but now I had a new level of confidence. I just politely smiled and said that I knew my baby.

Then at 12 weeks, our baby really settled (or was it that we settled) – let’s just say we ALL settled! He still had his off days … but 90 – 95% of the time, things were actually quite calm. We went travelling for 3 months and took him on bush walks as he enjoyed the view from the carrier on his dad’s chest. Often he would just fall asleep as we carried him. Instead of putting him down, we just let him sleep close to us. It worked.

So, that’s my story.

Since then we have gone on to have three children. I have followed my instincts throughout and in the process probably broken nearly every rule from those ‘sleep training’ books that I eBayed! I have rocked my babies to sleep, breastfed them to sleep, wrapped them close to me and became a great advocate for baby-wearing, co-slept with them and still, to this day, normally have at least one child in the bed with us!

Our first son taught us a great lesson – the power of trusting our own innate parenting wisdom.

So the only advice I would ever give to new parents is to ‘trust your instincts’. You’re the parent. No-body knows your baby better than you do.

And that is why I am glad that my son failed sleep school!


Melissa Spilsted


p.s. Our first born is now 11. He is very healthy, loving, intelligent and full of beans; but even to this day, he just doesn’t need as much sleep as other children his age! Everyone is different… and that includes babies.

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