'You can and will get through this': Natalia Cooper's heartfelt advice for sleep deprived new parents

Photos: Instagram/Natalia Cooper
Photos: Instagram/Natalia Cooper 

When I read the headline, it all made sense. It was along the lines of "Struggle to remember the details of your days? Sleep is the secret to a good memory."

I used to have a razor-sharp, elephant like memory but after more than a year of no sleep, when someone asked me something as simple as what I did on the weekend, my brain went blank. I would try to search through it like it was one of those old teledexes but I'd struggle to come up with much at all.

To all the mamas and papas out there who are right now in the depths of intense sleep deprivation, I feel you. I know what it's like and it's tough. I wrote this article hoping it would give other parents some comfort that they're not alone.

It all started out quite well. Ezra was a pretty calm and chilled newborn. He quickly settled into a pattern of waking twice a night for a feed. His stretches got longer and one night when he was about five months old, he slept for seven and a half hours straight. My husband and I were feeling smug.

And then … it literally never happened again.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lovely, lazy lunch with my beautiful boys and @tiffg and @roach_house @tottisbondi 🍷🍝☀️👌🏽

A post shared by Natalia Cooper (@nataliacooper_) on

We're not exactly sure what went wrong. Teething, his first illness, a few trips away and suddenly two wakes up a night became four or five. We didn't get more than maybe two or three hours sleep in a row for more than a year.

It feels like you've only just closed your eyes when you hear that next cry. Adrenaline courses through your veins and you shuffle to their room. You feed them, try to settle them, sometimes it takes a long time. Every fibre in your being is begging to crawl back into bed. Night, after night.

You're not sleeping plus working and parenting. Somehow, you're managing it but you're not sure how. (Coffee?)

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Sometimes, you're so tired you feel nauseous. You almost fall asleep standing up next their cot. It makes you emotional, you cry, things that normally wouldn't upset you, really start to bother you.

It's like a rollercoaster you can't get off.

You hear that other people's babies are sleeping through the night. You're happy for them but inside you just want to burst into tears.

My husband and I kept going, in the hope that we could get him back to two wake ups. People tell you that they'll eventually drop to one night feed then none. Maybe it'll happen at nine months, perhaps at 12. Then the next thing you know they're 19 months. Somewhere along the line, those night feeds that they needed when they were younger have become entrenched patterns. You haven't learnt to settle them any other way and they don't know how to settle without a feed. It's not their fault. It's also not yours, you are just doing your best.

I spent hours and hours researching how to drop night feeds, I had so many tabs open on my phone. I was also given lots of great advice by friends about what worked for them. But we felt paralysed.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Afternoon naps by the poolside 💤 Holiday dress is from @illahie_lifestyle 🌴

A post shared by Natalia Cooper (@nataliacooper_) on

You're so tired, you just keep doing what you've been doing. You fall back on what you know. You can't imagine getting even less sleep while trying to make changes.

Then one day, I was talking to a colleague whose bubba had a similar sleep issue. She recommended a sleep consultant named Melissa Campbell from Pitter Patter. We had decided that controlled crying/cry it out wasn't for us, but Melissa offered a gentle sleep training method. She also wasn't exorbitantly expensive like some other consultants. Although, I can completely understand why sleep deprived parents pay the big bucks!

Melissa offered us tried and true methods. She said it would take at least two weeks, so we'd need to be committed and patient.

We decided to go with a sleep consultant because we really needed someone to tell us what to do. We needed instructions written down in black and white. We wanted someone to hold our hand and guide us through. Give us a plan to follow when our eyes were half open.

Melissa is based in Melbourne, so we did everything over the phone, text and email. We felt really supported and like she very much cared and wanted us to get results.

I won't go into all the details because that's Melissa's domain and the plan was personalised for us.

As I said, it was a gentle method which involved dropping the feeds over time, learning new settling techniques, slowly being less hands on and then ever so slowly making our way out of the room over a number of days. The whole process was about teaching him how to self settle.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ol’ blue eyes on his beautiful new baby blanket from @busatti_perth. Alliteration to the max. 💙

A post shared by Natalia Cooper (@nataliacooper_) on

Before we started, I made sure I told Ezra what was happening. I truly believe that little ones understand everything we say.

And then we began. I'll be honest, it wasn't easy, there were tears and some really hard nights but some good ones too. It's not a straight line. We all stuck at it and we were amazed with what he was able to do and what we were able to do.

Through it all we felt assured that he was comforted and that he knew we were there, just a bit further away.

Then, slowly he did it! We did it! Melissa did it! Our little man was sleeping through the night. I have to do an OMG here because it was a momentous occasion.

Initially, he was going down at 7pm and waking up at 4.30am. (Argh! Help!)

But we persisted with the techniques we'd been taught and we've now managed to stretch him out to 5am, 5.30 or even 6 sometimes!! (He goes to bed at 6.30pm) Yes, he'll probably always be an early bird. We don't care one bit. Because we are so stoked that he sleeps for at least 10 hours straight! Hoorah!

Now, at bedtime, we shut the door and walk away and he falls asleep all on his own. Clever boy.

I have to say it's been awesome, he's great, he's happy. We're slowly catching up on sleep and learning to go to bed earlier ourselves.

All in all, we're thrilled with how it's gone. Sometimes we think, why we didn't do this sooner? But this was just our path and the way it was meant to be.

For now, we're enjoying the sleep while it lasts because I'm sure there'll be times in the future when it goes a bit topsy turvy. Like when he moves to a proper bed, has his first nightmares and down the track, we'll probably have some sleepless nights again when he's a teenager and we're waiting up for him to come home.

If you're going through sleep deprivation now, remember you can and will get through this. Human beings are incredible. It will get better, it's not going to be forever.

Also remember, there is help out there if you think it might be for you. For us, having a sleep consultant was worth it. If you choose to make changes, stick at it, you can do it.

Another thing, nap whenever you can. Nap when your baby or toddler naps. Take turns with your partner having a quick nap in the morning before your day of parenting or work begins. (Both are full time jobs!)

Also, lean on your partner. Share the load. My husband has been such a legend, he's always helped with night feeds, right from the start. I would breastfeed and my husband would do another with a bottle. (Expressed milk in the early days and formula later on.)

Finally, I want to put it out there that I think babies are born the way they are. Some are just better sleepers than others, it's pot luck, you get what you get. Some babies sleep through at a few months old without much effort at all, others take much, much longer.

Just do what you think is best for your baby. You know best. You've got this. You're doing a great job and you'll get there.