Babies mean less sleep. Although some babies are great sleepers from the start (and I hope you are one of those lucky winners, but as you are reading this, you probably are not). Other babies are not so keen on sleeping much in their first year. And my baby belonged to the group of NOT sleeping very well.
Sleep deprivation was at it’s worse stage by the time my baby boy was ten weeks old. I was not able to think clearly anymore. Like a robot, getting up every night because he did not sleep longer than one or two hours at night – even during the day his naps were short. Barely time to rest because even if he slept, it was mainly in my or my husband’s arm, or on our shoulder. Each day was a struggle and felt like a month. And the sleepless nights felt even longer.
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you also wonder – Will I ever get proper sleep again?
Eventually, it will happen, but you want it rather sooner than later, I guess?! For us, it did not come naturally in those first months. To get help, I started to read books, browsed the internet and Pinterest for articles about all kind of different styles of getting the baby to sleep. So, we tried self-settling strategies and also tried the Cry-It-Out method. For a day, I also had a sleep consulting over at my house but even this did only show little success. Nothing worked to get my baby to sleep for more than an hour.
Have you tried it all and still, it is not getting better? Is your body only functioning because it is in “Survival Mode”?
This is how I felt. Only when my son Luca was three months old, it changed, because we got the opportunity to go to a private Mother Baby Unit (MBU), a baby sleep school. The five-night stay was emotionally one of the hardest in my life but absolutely worth it. The outcome was not only a more confident mum, but a happy baby who actually enjoys sleeping and from there on it was finally going uphill again.
Have you heard about sleep school before or researched it online?
If yes, the stories may have been positive or negative, especially if you have browsed in online forums. I started to become sceptical, as some parents talked about their negative experiences and in no way was I am able to let my baby cry himself to sleep one more time (after I tried the Cry-It-Out-Method for a day). It felt like I would break his little soul.
But, there were many other parent stories with very positive and amazing results. One was my friend, whose baby was also the kind of baby which was waking up every hour (yes, every hour) but now is a happy sleeper.
For me, it was already at it’s worst stage with Luca’s sleep anyway. Therefore, I just had to give it a go and went to my GP, who issued the referral. Well, this got us on the ten-week waiting list first for this particular MBU and I was just hoping that we will survive and I will not lose my mind until then.
But luck came to us after all. Due to a cancellation, we got a spot after only three weeks.
SO, HOW IS IT REALLY AT SLEEP SCHOOL?
TOUGHEST PART – NURSES SETTLING BABY AND PARENTS STAY OUTSIDE
At around 11 am we arrived excited but anxious at the MBU. After an hour drive, Luca was tired and grumpy. To calm him down, I was breastfeeding him during the introductory talk by one of the nurses. With a friendly smile she said to me: “Oh, this will change. No more breastfeeding before sleep time”. I instantly got worried, as this was my only effective weapon for getting Luca to settle.
Although there are some shared rooms at the MBU, I was lucky and had a room for myself. It was nice and did not feel like a typical hospital room but rather like a standard hotel room with a comfortable bed. Luca had his own room, next to mine, which had a little bassinet in it (and a cot in case the baby is older). On the wall was a little loudspeaker which played calming classical music. You were able to regulate the volume or switch it off completely. There was only a small window from the corridor, through which only a little bit of light got into his room. During the stay, food was provided. How amazing, no cooking or cleaning for a couple of days!!!
Then the hard part began – Luca’s first sleep
I needed to stay outside of his room. As explained to the nurses in the introduction in the morning, Luca was used to sleeping in my arms, so at the start, the nurse on duty wanted to give him the same feeling BUT in the bassinet. My T-Shirt was used as the fitted bassinet sheet, a calming factor due to him being able to still smell me. He was fully swaddled and a blanket put tight around his body. The nurse was leaning over the bassinet and wrapped her arms around his sides. The bassinet, which had wheels, was rhythmically rocked back and forth.
As expected, Luca was crying and so was I. He couldn’t be fooled that easily. I was worried so much but eventually, they got him to sleep for around 35 minutes (one sleep cycle). They tried to resettle him but with no success. He was crying too hard.
So much to his day sleep. After dinner, the even tougher part began – the first night sleep. It took them hours to get him to settle in the bassinet. Even with me holding him in between and trying to calm him down did not help much. At around ten pm Luca was finally sleeping. Throughout the night he slept for 35 minutes to three hours. Every time he woke up, one of the nurses resettled him by shushing, rocking the bassinet and me feeding him in between. Yes, Luca cried a lot this night. No catch up on sleep for me.
NURSES SETTLING BABY – PARENTS WATCH AND LEARN
Luca woke up at around 6 am. Oh, I was exhausted, tired and confused from the previous night. Did I do the right thing to come here? I would give it one more night.
And then…. finally the morning nap was a success – sleeping for two hours, in his own bassinet. No resettling, no crying involved and when he woke up, he was even smiling. What a relieve. He must have been exhausted from the previous restless night but this was the start of his improving sleeping journey. Yes, it was the right decision to come here.
As usual, I started to become anxious when the late afternoon began. Here we go, another tough night. I mentally prepared myself. But also for this night sleep, it didn’t take as long as usual, to get him to sleep and certainly faster than the night before. It took on and off around twenty minutes. He slept around three hours until he woke up for a feed and after I was able to get him back to his bassinet to sleep with just a couple of minutes of grizzling. I was so proud of him and myself.
This was the first night (since my baby was born) in which I was able to get some hours of uninterrupted sleep – HEAVEN!
On day two I also got introduced to a rough daily schedule for Luca. It was not a strict schedule like I heard are at some other sleep schools, but was rather used as a guide. The most important factor was my baby’s own feeding cues and tired signs. The purpose was to get him into his own rhythm to get a routine which works naturally for him.
The schedule followed an EAT-PLAY-SLEEP routine:
- 3 months old: feed every 3-4 hours
- effective feeding – no longer than 45 minutes including nappy change and winding
Luca used to breastfeed up to one hour at this stage and this every two hours, so we needed improvement. One of the nurses watched me closely while I was breastfeeding and the outcome was – I was not paying enough attention to Luca because I was on my phone instead. Therefore, I was not able to see if he is latched on correctly and drinking or just sucking for comfort or falling asleep. So, no more phone while nursing and concentrating on my baby instead.
- playing includes tummy time, cuddles, going out for a walk in the carrier, pram or a drive in the car, bath time, winding down time before bed
- Look for tired signs: rubbing eyes, redness around eyes, being unhappy, grizzling or crying, starring, frowning, yawning, clenched fists, jerky movements
- 3 months old: Total wake time (Eat & Play) 1h 15mins, max. 1.5 hrs
If we stuck to 45 minutes feeding, we had around 45 minutes left for playing, cuddling, tummy time, etc. Previously my baby boy was awake for up to two hours. I learnt that he was overtired and that is one of the reasons why it used to took longer to get him to sleep. Same happens if he is put to bed too early and he is not yet tired enough.
- Settle for sleep after 2 tired signs or max. 1.5 hrs
- winding down prior to settling: lower voice, dim lights, soft music, rocking, patting, wrapping or sleep sack and dummy (if preferred)
- aim for 1 – 1.5 hours total sleep – otherwise, try to resettle
- wait for full cry (not grizzling), rocking, patting, shhhing, dummy (if preferred), pick up briefly to comfort and relax
Identifying my baby’s tired signs was a challenge at first. It took around two days until I was able to identify them correctly. My baby’s tired signs were yawning, starring, rubbing eyes, redness around eyes and general unhappiness. If put to bed at the right time, he was falling asleep fairly quick. But it was a struggle to resettle him.
Here you can find the FREE PRINTABLE SCHEDULE.
PARENTS SETTLE BABY THEMSELVES – NURSES ASSIST
Finally, I was able to really try the new settling strategies myself. I was so nervous. By day three, Luca was getting used to sleeping in his bassinet, instead of in my arms. Therefore, he was no longer fully swaddled but one arm left out, so he was able to self-sooth by sucking on his fingers.
After the last feed and some low-key play, I wrapped him up, cuddled and put him in his bassinet (under the supervision of the nurse on duty). I told him good night, gave him a kiss on the forehead and left the room. And there it was, he started to cry. Usually, I would have picked him up straight away but now the nurse asked me to wait, before going back. If it is a grizzling cry, wait around five minutes. If it is a real, emotional cry, wait a minute or two.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GRIZZLE AND A CRY?
If my boy is GRIZZLING, his voice varies between loud and low cries and little breaks of silence in between. He moves his head and hands around and seems restless. If I leave him for some minutes he sometimes just falls asleep by himself but sometimes he just needs a bit of help from me. Not much, just a shhhh or a little pat. Just to reassure him that mum is there.
Then there is his REAL EMOTIONAL CRY when he really needs me to comfort him, which is a totally different story. His cry is constantly loud and much more dramatic. The only break in between is if he needs to take a big breath to start again. He is tense, his face turns red, sometimes tears running down his little cheeks.
In the beginning, it was hard for me to differentiate between those two cries, as my boy’s grizzling can be pretty loud as well. The nurses guided me and really got me to listen and watch him and sometimes just wait for a minute more to see if he settles or not. By the end of the stay, I was able to hear and see the difference between those cries.
SETTLE THE BABY – TOUGH JOB
If my baby needed me and I went back to his room, I was always nervous. I felt the anxious energy in his room, with him crying and being unsettled. But my goal was to change this around – which was a hard challenge.
Before going in, the nurse explained to me that I have to try and STAY CALM. Otherwise, I will transfer any nervous and negative energy to my baby and this won’t help him to settle. Take a deep breath, regulate my breathing and breath slowly, so I will transfer calmness to him.
Firstly – easier said than done. If you are nervous and your baby is crying and you can only try to blend it out. Sometimes I mentally transferred myself to my favourite calm beach, which actually helped.
Secondly – it really works. Although I didn’t believe in it at the start.
So, the mood is set. But before picking my baby boy up, I was trying to settle him in the bassinet. I was rocking him, shhhhing and patting. Sometimes this was all he needed, sometimes though this made him cry louder. Even if I picked him up to cuddle and sooth, this was no help. Next step was to put him slowly back into his bassinet. Again say ‘Good Night’, give a kiss and calmly leave the room.
Why did I have to leave the room again? On the one hand, because his cry made me nervous and I in return made him nervous because I was no longer calm. On the other hand, because I distracted him from actually falling asleep. I had to leave the room and sometimes he then settled by himself. If not, I would start the procedure again by waiting some minutes outside and then going back in to settle – CALM.
PARENTS SETTLING BABY – MINIMAL HELP
The morning nap was a success. He slept over an hour and there was no re-settling required.
In the afternoon we went out for a walk in the pram and found a great park nearby to play and relax. The weather was on our side and the sky was clear and the sun shining. After an hour outside, my baby got tired. I was happy that I figured out his tired signs, which were: Rubbing his eyes and getting grumpy.
We were about 20 mins away from the MBU and I also wanted to stay outside for a while longer, so I decided to put him down to sleep in his pram. And he slept – for nearly 2 hours. Wow. I felt amazing and confident.
4 days in – finally I had some control again
This was the first time since my baby was born three months ago.
If I watched my baby and his tired signs, as mentioned on day 2, it was surprisingly easy to get him to sleep. There were still naps where it took longer to settle him and the toughest part was still the resettling.
If he woke up after only one sleep cycle (35 minutes) and did not go back to sleep by himself, it was very hard to help him go back to sleep.
Awesome emotional support from the nurses.
They were always there and helped with advice and encouraging words.
Previous parents wrote “Thank You” cards to the MBU team. Reading those was a big motivator to stay strong. All messages were positive and giving hope and strengths while I felt so weak and guilty of bringing him, especially during the settling phases. One card was especially encouraging. It had written: “At day three I wanted to pack my bags and go back home to co-sleep heaven. But we stayed and now my baby is sleeping and happier than ever.”
GOING BACK TO REAL LIFE
The night was great, he only woke up once to nurse and went to sleep straight after. No crying involved. Last breakfast and at 9 am it was time to leave the MBU. Once again I was nervous to leave a hospital with my baby. It felt similar to have left the hospital my baby was born in. My thoughts were: Will we cope outside? But this time (although I was nervous) I left with confidence. Yes, I learnt so much, we will be able to continue our success at home.
Plus, the weeks following our stay, we were able to call the nurses at the MBU for advice.
WHAT WAS THE SECRET OF THE STAY?
It was no doubt the amazing staff at the MBU. Their experience is phenomenal. The nurses are passionate about their job and I admire their patience with all those unsettled babies and sleep deprived and stressed parents. I couldn’t have asked for more. They have helped us to improve Luca’s feeding and sleeping and I gained my sleep and sanity back after that.
The MBU team thought me so much. I grew more confided, got more relaxed and have learnt to listen to my instincts and watched and learnt my baby cues.
Not only did we have a better structure for our day, but finally, I started to bond with my baby and we became a great team. Same as with playtime, breastfeeding became our special time together which I started to enjoy.
Even though there was crying involved, my boy was a happier baby after the stay and of course so did I. More sleep, more happiness for all.
Also a massive thanks to my Maternal Child & Health Nurse for getting me there.
At now 7 months Luca is sleeping through the night, eleven hours straight. Although I miss him while he is sleeping. But as soon as he wakes up, I am there to give my smiling baby the biggest cuddle and we begin the day happily.
Now, this was my experience. An amazing outcome for us. But has anyone of you been to a sleep school with your little one? How was your stay? I am eager to know!