On my way to the polling booth two weekends ago, I bumped into a friend whose baby is now six months old. She carried the little bundle in her Ergo, a broad-brimmed hat shaded her smiling face and her baby’s delicate head.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, we reached the sleep issue. And if you have ever had a six month old baby, or a twelve month old baby or any baby for that matter, it is likely that, when bumping into a friend who also has a baby, you will veer towards the topic of sleep eventually.

She told me how she had been to the Tresillian Family Care Centre to resolve all her sleeping issues, and stood by, dis-empowered and appalled as a well-intentioned support person rocked her baby furiously to nursery rhymes, that blared from a TV in the room. Her baby screamed, tears rolling down its red cheeks. The well-intentioned support person continued to rock with vigour. Sleep was not achieved.

She put her exhausted baby in the Ergo, and walked away.

I have been there too. The same centre. The same experience. Like my friend, I was desperately seeking a solution for getting my baby to sleep. I had read in books that babies need to nap constantly, and stay asleep for two hours minimum to develop properly. My baby slept 20 minutes; 40 minutes tops. I had visions of her little brain disintegrating with lack of proper sleep. Her howls confirmed my irrational belief. My baby couldn’t sleep, and was damaging herself. I had to take control of the situation and change it.

My husband kindly supported my decisions; he reserved his own judgement and feelings because he trusted my role as mother. But when I left the Tresillian centre, defeated, fearful, he reassured me. Don’t worry about it. We’ll just carry her. She sleeps that way.

And so we tucked her away in the sling, and she happily slept. 20 minutes; 40 minutes tops. I talked to other people, and was constantly reassured that this was normal. Some babies can do a marathon. Others sleep in sprints. We had a sprinter.

On accepting the Way Things Were, I relaxed into my role as a mother, and life became easier. At night, I would rock our darling for what seemed like hours, her head resting in the crook of my elbow, singing Hallelujah for the sixteenth time in a row. During the day, I marched the hills of Lismore in the summer heat, wearing the sling. I didn’t dread it. It just was what it was.

The day sleeps continued as such until recently – with my ever-growing mound, I had to at last abandon the sling, and Elka happily decided never to day-sleep again.

At night, I went from rocking to breastfeeding at night. The distant echo of Tizzy Hall and other such sleep gurus rang in my ears – You are making it harder for your baby to sleep because you are giving her a sleep aid. She will never be able to learn to sleep on her own if you continue. Babies need to be taught how to sleep unaided. But in my laziness, I continued. Breastfeeding to sleep was easy. More than that, it was enjoyable. I was relaxed, because of happy oxytocin hormones, and Elka was happy, because of my magic breast milk.

When I gave up breastfeeding after 15 months, I worried about how to get Elka to sleep, unaided. After all, she is a very strong-willed character, and doesn’t accept ‘no’ easily. But, it was easy. I just lay with her, whispering stories about rainbows and cloud fairies. She fell asleep, her hand on my face. The first night she woke a couple of times. The next she woke once, and fell straight back asleep. The third she slept right through. She has done so ever since.

Recently, a research article was published in the APP’s journal Pediatrics, which presented findings that no long-term damage was found following sleep training. The article was picked up and circulated widely, validating the popular sleep training methods that are used and advocated by many parents and professionals.

However, the findings of the research are not conclusive. Author Sarah Ockwell-Smith lists serious methodology issues, and questions that haven’t been answered by the study. For instance, sleep problems were parent reported, and the sleep problems were undefined. How do you quantify a sleep problem? What is a problem for one person, may not be a problem for the next. The research sample was selected by the researchers. Also, the sample who were in the sleep training group had to be OK with sleep training techniques being used – this fact alone may reflect other parenting choices, and would have impacted parents’ responses when self-reporting on the results of the training. Sarah also questions why cortisol levels were tested when the child was six, and not at the time of sleep training.

People are talking about sleep training, and it’s an important topic.

My view and experience is that although sleep training methods are popular, and widely used, they do not suit every baby and every parent. When she was an infant, we couldn’t close the door on our child when she cried out for us. We wanted her to know we were there, and that her cries were heard. We didn’t want her to give up. To feel defeated. We wanted her to know that she could trust us, and trust the world.

The sleep issue was so hard at times, especially as the responsibility fell mainly on my shoulders. Some nights I lay there with my daughter, crying on the inside. Why me? Why so long? Why can’t she just Go To Sleep?

But like all things in life, her sleep patterns changed. Now, as a toddler, she is a dream. At seven, she goes to bed. I lie with her for about five minutes, and she is fast asleep. I creep away. She sleeps all night long, and wakes up beside us the next morning with scruffy hair and a big smile.

At the time, it seemed like forever, but really it went by so fast.

By allowing my daughter to find her own sleep niche without training has given me the gift of patience, a toddler who sleeps beautifully and long, relaxing cuddles in the dark. I cherish the time I spend with her, as we lie together. And I am grateful that although she wasn’t a dream sleeper as a baby, I was able to open up my heart and allow her to change me, rather than the other way around.

Babies don’t necessarily sleep easily. But I don’t think they should be forced to. I don’t accept the common belief that babies need to be taught how to sleep. I think they will learn in their own time. By adjusting our own expectations, relinquishing control, and with patience, sleep will, at last be achieved.

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{linking with Grace for Flog Your Blog Friday.}

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