OPINION: Most new parents are familiar with the delirium that comes with loving a newborn. Senses are heightened and you exist in a state where survival, for you and the baby, is all that matters. Waking every few hours to fill a tiny tummy time after time after time is trying, even as it comes with moments of complete peace and happiness.
The artist in me enjoyed this altered state. The mum in me loved the quiet nights where my only concern was feeding my child and holding him close. During those late-night feedings, I often felt like my baby and I were the only two people awake in the universe.
But the more practical side of me knew that the sleep deprivation was not sustainable. When my third child was about 11 months old, I reached a state of desperation. I hadn't slept for more than a few hours in a row for so long that I didn't have the patience to parent my other young children. I regularly did things like lock myself out of the car, or place my sunglasses in the freezer. My caffeine consumption reached new and concerning heights, but it barely made a difference.
My first child was a great sleeper and at 4 months old moved seamlessly from her bedside co-sleeper to a crib, where she slept through the night after just a few pats and shushes the first week. My second child was more challenging, but slept for longer stretches earlier than his little sister ever seemed to.
I had no plan, so I muddled through each day, dragging my children to the playground, where I preferred to sit on a bench with the baby and watch. Then another mum struck up a conversation with me at the playground. She was like me in many ways, but lacked the dark circles under her eyes and the haggard look that I now wore regularly.
It turned out that mum, Jessica Dodson, was a sleep coach and founder of Starlight Sleep Coaching. I had no idea that sleep coaches existed, much less what they did. I favoured attachment parenting and was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of using a sleep coach at first, but I was also convinced that a few good nights of sleep would transform my outlook on life and make me a better mother. So I gave Dodson's gentle sleep training a try.
To start, she talked me through how she planned to teach me to train my child to sleep through the night. She taught me how to ensure my daughter felt comforted and knew that I was nearby.
We went slowly, first getting my daughter used to a new room and her crib and a new lovey before trying to get her to sleep through the night. Dodson came up with a written plan, answered my questions, and reassured me that I would still have lots of time to snuggle with my daughter - during the day. She checked in every morning to see how things went, and we took things day by day in terms of deciding to stick with the plan or make changes. Being accountable to Dodson helped as well. I felt as though we were a team.
The first couple of nights were tough. My daughter cried and my shushes and pats did little to calm her. But the tears subsided, and in about a week we were both sleeping through the night. I was a new person and a much better mother, with more patience and energy. I was happier being able to go out at night with my husband or friends, and more productive than I had been in a long time. My daughter, who was also getting better sleep, was happier, too. And best of all, my daughter's good sleep habits stuck.
Since then, I have had another child, another terrible sleeper, and Dodson and I are working on a plan.
- The Washington Post