Making sleep work

My sleepless hell had brought me to the very edge of sanity and I realised that I needed to sort the problem out.

At first I did everything possible to get Eva to sleep on her own and during this period visited many paediatricians and experts. I read, bought, begged and borrowed various books. I even tried alternate treatments and spoke to other women.

I realised that I was not alone. Not enough credit is given to just how insidious and destructive not sleeping can be. A friend of mine likened this period in her life to “being stuck down a coal shaft.” Well, I was determined to climb out.

The first thing I did was ask my husband to share the burden of getting up at night, which he willingly did. I already felt better. I no longer had to resent him for not helping. All along, he had assumed I was okay, when actually I was sinking into a pit of despair.

My wonderful old-school paediatrician, Jack Kussel, suggested giving Eva Rose the attention she needed during the night, not being a proponent of sleep training. Yet, four months later and I couldn’t cope anymore. 

I read Ann Richardson and Megan Faure’s Sleep Sense cover to cover and practiced all the bedtime information religiously. I tried to implement the sleep training suggested in the book, but I still wasn’t committed to it.

One night when Alex was away on business, I was so exhausted that I let her cry for 3 ½ hours solid as in the ‘cry it out’ technique. (Please note that this is not sleep training as recommended by Sleep Sense) It was devastating and I do not recommend this method.

Eva Rose was treated by the amazing Joanne Enslin with Craniosacral therapy; she imbibed flower essences from Brigitte Rosholt as well as receiving homeopathic remedies from Dr Helen Didcott.

I consulted sleep expert and co-author of Sleep Sense Anne Richardson who suggested that I alter her diet and to follow the suggestions in the book.  Yet still, I wanted to try every possible avenue before resorting to the sleep training. 

I’d given it a half-hearted bash, but had caved in when the crying became too much. Co-sleeping hadn’t worked either; she still awoke all the time needing either me or Alex to hold her back to sleep.

Desperation forced me to ask paediatrician Dr Renee Heitner to prescribe Vallergan Forte (which has an extremely strong sedative effect) which he promised is effective in 90% of cases in ‘teaching’ the child how to sleep in about two weeks by training the brain to switch off.

Every instinct told me it wasn’t the way for us. The first night, I reluctantly dosed her to find that it had absolutely no effect! In fact, Eva Rose woke that night even more frequently (if possible!) then usual.

Dr Heitner recommended upping the dosage and I decided not to pursue it. I still believe that a child needs to learn the crucial skill of self-soothing without medication. I knew that now there was no option but to sleep train.

Sleeping at last

Eva Rose is now 16 months and sleeps, well, like a baby. From about 7:30pm for at least ten hours or more without waking up. She might grumble a bit, but simply falls back asleep on her own (unless she is teething, ill or cold). 

How on earth did I get to this glorious point?

I cannot guarantee that these methods will work for you and your child. Each child and parent is different and, every situation is unique. You need to choose what works best for you.

Together with the method described in Sleep Sense, the suggestions of a child psychologist and Dr Aletha Solter’s book The Aware Baby, I devised my own sleep training method.

For me, the trauma that sleep training might possibly have caused (for all of us!) seemed less potent than parenting as an irritable, depressed and desperate mother.

I learned that for success I had to 
  • commit to the sleep training completely
  • have an unambiguous and very specific bedtime routine
  • work as a team with your husband/partner
  • be consistent - don’t cave! 
  • Vomiting is normal during crying and crying may increase after entering or exiting the room. 
  • Self-soothing is a skill that will serve your baby and you throughout your lives. 
  • You are not abandoning your child - the method ensures continuous reassurance. 
  • You will be pushed to the limit and it is exceptionally difficult but you will get through it.
  • It took about 2 weeks for Eva Rose to sleep through. You may need to do a refresher training every now and then.

So this what worked for me and with much perseverance and self-discipline, I now have a happy and rested baby. Plus, I can get my sleep too!

Want to know more? Try these.
Into the sleepless abyss
Sleep training 101

What worked for you when it came to getting your baby to sleep through the night?
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