Sleep training carries a stigma. For many parents, mothers especially, the idea of crying is enough to put them off. This was certainly the case for me.
Like so many mothers, the sound of my daughter crying triggered something in me. The moment she cried, I went into ‘panic mode’ and in my mind I was sent right back to her earliest days, where I had been literally watching my newborn slowly starve. I can look back on the crying trigger now and recognise that this is where our sleep problems originated.
Feeding was the first challenge for me as a mother, like so many others. I am lucky to say Amelia and I have been breastfeeding for two years now but the first nine months of this journey was stressful and challenging. Her first two or three weeks were nothing short of traumatic. But that is a story or another day.
Needless to say, our earliest days together left their mark on me. I feel that this contributed towards our sleep challenges. I had tried to find gentle sleep solutions for Amelia myself before I found Sleep Nanny but I was unable to make anything stick. Her sleep was unpredictable, fragile, broken and utterly dependent on me helping her to fall asleep. Every. Single. Time.
At eighteen months, she was feeding through the night and taking upwards of two hours to fall asleep at nap and bedtime. Some days, I’d spend hours trying to get her to sleep. But then she’d wake after only thirty minutes and I would just want to cry… and very often did. It was incredibly disheartening. I felt unable to break away from the habits we’d established. As unhelpful as these habits were, leaving Amelia to cry was too emotive and at the time just wasn’t an option. She’s an incredibly fiery character (I will write about her temperament in another blog) and so I just did whatever worked to get her to stop crying. This is typical of parents with super alert children, I have learnt.
Eventually, the inevitable time came to return to work and the sleep deprivation got to another level of awful. It was around this time, during yet another long stint in the chair next to the cot, that I stumbled across The Sleep Nanny. The words “gentle sleep solutions” shone up at me in the dark and I held my breath. Many rave reviews showed me that this was legit and it got results. My interest peaked. A quick glance at the Facebook page led me to my coach’s website, where I found her blog. Once I’d read what she wrote about “firework children”, I knew that this lady had the answer. “She gets it,” I told my fiance, “She has basically described Amelia in her blog. She understands the challenges we’re facing and she has the answer.” That evening, I got in touch and the journey began.
Three days into sleep training, Amelia slept through the night. It was unbelievable! I couldn’t believe that our fiery daughter had slept through the night after only three days! Progress continued in an upward trajectory over our two weeks with our Sleep Nanny. We ended the process being able to say a quick “Night, night”, close the door and allow Amelia to drift off to sleep on her own and remain in bed asleep until the next morning. To say it was life-changing is not an exaggeration. It was liberating. But for me the journey didn’t end there.
All the way through the sleeping training, I worked closely with our Sleep Nanny coach. She was able to advise me how to approach different challenges and always knew what to do if we had a setback. She was also able to be there for me emotionally as a mother. I found this the most valuable element of our sleep training. It was so comforting to have someone on hand to ask any question. It meant I didn’t have to keep fruitlessly googling. She understood the pressure I put on myself. She knew I took every setback to heart. I just wanted to get it right for Amelia’s sake and, as a mother herself, she completely got that. She was able to support me through all of this and I came out of the process feeling like a better parent. Amelia was sleeping. I was sleeping. I felt confident in myself as a mother. I will always be grateful to her for what she did to help my family.
She also taught me that there is no such thing as a ‘tear-free’ childhood. Amelia did cry during our sleep training but with my coach’s help, I understood what the crying meant. It was communication; not pain, hunger or fear. Sleep training is a behavioural intervention. So there were plenty of protests from Amelia, as strong-willed and stubborn as she is. She resisted. She complained. But she adjusted very quickly. My fiance and I supported Amelia through this adjustment, with our Sleep Nanny’s guidance, always knowing that we were being loving, gentle and responsive.
No child was harmed during this sleep training!
I was surprised to learn that the sleep training actually reinforced and nurtured Amelia’s attachment with us. It didn’t harm it like I’d originally thought.
As a teacher, I’d learnt a lot about attachment theory. I had thought that not immediately responding to a crying child would teach them no one will come and ultimately would damage their attachments. My Sleep Nanny explained that as a teacher, I had learnt about crying in the most extreme contexts as part of safeguarding training. While crying can harm a child, this sort of crying is specific. It is prolonged and regular. A child’s needs are regularly not met. Over a period of time, a child will eventually stop asking for help by crying. This is neglectful child abuse. To cause this sort of harm to a child is not unintentional.
My Sleep Nanny taught me that as long as a child’s needs are met and they are responded to in a consistent and appropriate way, they will not be harmed. Being predictable for the child actually nurtures their attachment with their parents as they know that the parents are there, when they will respond and how. It establishes reciprocal trust and understanding. The methods we applied were consistent with this and we could see that Amelia knew we were always there, even when she couldn’t see us. My fears vanished. It transpired that providing Amelia with some space on her own with very little stimulation is precisely what she had been missing! It made a huge difference for her and the progress we saw as a result was quick and overwhelmingly positive.
After our sleep training was over, I knew I wanted to help other mothers just as our Sleep Nanny had helped me. That is what led me to train as a sleep consultant. I had learnt so much about the science of sleep but I wanted to know more. I feel such empathy and compassion for families, particularly mothers, who are struggling as I have struggled. I wanted to be able to support them to reclaim their sleep and their lives just like our coach had helped us. So here I am!
Parents only want the best they can provide for their children. Sometimes though, they can get in their own way, as I did with Amelia. Crying triggers feelings in mothers, especially those who have had tough experiences with their babies. They need support and guidance to get through these feelings to secure the best they can for their little ones. If this is you, then get in touch and let’s address your sleep challenges together.
Becky Sleep Nanny x