Sleep School in Australia is not a strange “development “. It is an unspoken tradition for new mums to enroll their babies in sleep school when they are around 3 months old or weigh 12 pounds — which is considered the age when babies tend to get the most sleep at night. Believe it or not, the school is under the jurisdiction of the Public Health System and mothers can get a prescription from a doctor that endorses a baby’s need to see a sleep specialist.
At sleep school, you can check-in for a 5–7-night stay for you and your baby (My “Australian mum” friends seem to have a special liking for this particular arrangement), or you can enroll for an intensive two-day visit where you don’t stay overnight. Instead, you check-in at 8 am and leave by 6 pm for two consecutive days.
My 8-week-old son, Archie and I, attended a sleep school called “The Masada Mother Baby Unit”, which is a section of a private hospital in Melbourne. A sleep specialist headed the unit and each baby was assigned a specially trained nurse. I checked into the school with six other mums and their babies. We were all placed on the same schedule and the sleep specialist gave us lectures while our babies were at the peak of their naps. Hilariously, my nurse, Anna became my shadow for two days — barely leaving my side or my baby’s.
The school believes that sleep is a habit that must be learned. While it is intuitive for most babies, some others need a push from their parents who are encouraged to set up conditions that promote this blissful gift of nature in their babies. And it all begins with our babies learning how to transcend into the sleep realm without the supportive “rocking” arms of their parents.
Adults have multiple sleep cycles throughout the night and wake up about every hour — which mostly translates to us rolling right back into sleep (apparently, our parents taught us well). While we enjoy natural yet practiced sleep in multiple cycles, babies have to make do with 45-minute sleep cycles. Hence, they not only have to learn how to “fall into sleep” but maintain the blissful act throughout their cycles and during napa.
At 8 weeks, I was told that Archie needed two solid 90 minute naps during the day (making two cycles for each nap) and one 45-minute “cat nap” towards the end of the day. When I was told that Archie’s prior 45-minute naps weren’t actual naps but “cat naps” which amount to little, I was stunned!
Sleep begets sleep so we needed to cultivate the daytime naps so Archie can have a good night’s sleep. And here’s the zinger; all naps (or at least the first two naps) should be at home and in a crib — no strollers or car seats. Of course, most mums pointed out that it wasn’t realistic and the sleep specialist said to do the best we could until we established a healthy napping schedule (and then, we can cut a few corners).
Confidently, Anna told me that Archie will be sleeping from 7 pm to 7 am in no time at all. Archie’s first nap was scheduled for no later than 9 am (1 to 2 hours after he first woke up). Anna explained that the first nap of the day is always the easiest because he’s the most well-rested at that time— the crankier the baby, the harder the whole self-soothing thing. So, it was also important to put him down before he got exhausted. Plus, we needed to scour for “napping” cues – rubbing eyes is typical. At the first, sign, Anna showed me how to swaddle him with gusto, I said “night night” and walked out.
Surprisingly, Anna was right. Archie fell asleep easily that first morning – I don’t think I had ever put him down for such an early nap. He slept for the next 45 minutes and then like clockwork, he woke up. Anna held onto me for a second and explained that we should wait two minutes before going into his room to see if he could “settle himself” back into another sleep cycle — No such luck. After 2 minutes, we walked back in and she showed me some settling strategies. It consisted of a lot of “shhing noise”, rhythmic “pat-pat” patting, and absolutely no talking or eye contact. And under no circumstances could I pick him up because that equated to l telling him that if he cried, I would pick him up — when what I needed to communicate with my shhing and patting is ‘you are in your crib, and it is time to sleep.’ As Anna put it, we were attempting to bore Archie back to sleep.
Once he was quiet, we snuck out of the room. If he cried again, we would let him go for 2 minutes, and then go back in with more “boring” settling strategies, sneak out, wait 2 minutes, and “rinse and repeat”. There are a lot of parallels with Ferber but it just seems easier when you have Anna confidently directing every single move. And it worked after a while — we got him into his second sleep cycle which was guaranteed to get us our required 90-minute nap. Anna explained that we needed to use this “settling” approach before all naps — at bedtime and when Archie woke up in the night.
Another trick was the rollover feed at night which involved putting Archie to bed at 7 pm and then sneaking in at 11 pm to give him an extra feed — again no talking, eye contact, or lights – just pick him up, give him a feed, swaddle, and put him down again. He slept his way through feeding and settling him at that time was fine. With the roll-over feed, the idea was that if he woke up at 2.30 am, I knew he had a full tummy. So apparently, I could simply apply my settling strategies without worrying that he was hungry. Shhh, shhh, shh, pat, pat, pat, no picking up — was always the mantra!
I have to admit that our two-day sleep school experience paid off. Once we mastered the daytime naps, put the rollover feed in place, and did a lot of mind-numbing shhhing and patting over a few weeks — Archie got the hang of it and we slept like babies.
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Photo Erik Ekroth
POSTED IN: BABY · TAGGED: BABY SLEEP, PARENTING ADVICE, PARENTING TIPS, SLEEPING BABIES