In response to The Project’s story on Sleep Schools

In response to The Project’s story on Sleep Schools

I feel deflated. I’m not sure what I expected but I guess I’d hoped that maybe the status quo may have been at least questioned. Instead, a sleep school ‘success’ story to further support the absolute essential service being provided by these facilities.  
This sits so poorly with me.

Firstly, the mother they interviewed could easily have been me had my baby responded differently to the techniques used but I will be forever grateful for failing as it helped me to see what happens in this ‘sleep training’ boot camp for what it really is. I wasn’t able to just get on with life with my baby now that the ‘sleep problem’ was fixed. No. I was forced to get down to the nitty gritty of what was really going on. This mother in her own words described how hard the stay was with ‘many tears’ from both her and her baby. She commented that a nurse had remarked during the stay that her baby had the ‘loudest cry she had ever heard’. She talked of having to crawl into the room so the baby knew he wouldn’t be picked up.

All of this could have been me.

I know her. She was me.

I know her desperation. I was that desperate.

I know she only went through with this because she thought it was the only way to go. I believed this too.

Our point of difference is, she ‘succeeded’ and therefore life moved on. She can claim that her baby ‘learned’ to sleep because of sleep school. I ‘failed’ and my baby continued to find sleep only happened with my help. I have had to play the mind game of sleep deprivation for many many more months. I have had to reflect on what went wrong and what I could do to make it right. My failure allowed me to see what she hasn’t needed to reflect on- the trauma inflicted on a baby through sleep training.

I am not judging her, because I am her. I inflicted this trauma on my own baby just has she did, with only the very best of intentions for our babies.

I can already hear the shouts, ‘what utter crap, I trained my baby and they were not traumatised!’ Or maybe it’s, ‘but a happy mum who gets sleep is so much more important so she can be a good mum.’ Or ‘crying during sleep training should be limited. If they are just grizzling or protesting, just leave them but if they’re really upset, of course you should comfort them and then put them back down and repeat.’

If you just had these thoughts then you truly don’t understand what goes on when you sleep train a baby such as mine and the mother on the show. Our babies cry and I mean CRY, full blown emotional hysteria because they absolutely NEED the comfort they are trying to communicate. They are not ‘protesting’, they are begging. They are not ‘grizzling’ they are warning that if they don’t get help soon from the person they trust the most in the world then they will lose all semblance of control.


These facilities DO have a place. In a society that is so disjointed, in the absence of solid, ongoing support for mothers of high needs babies, there is and always will be a demand for this service.

The issue lies with the core belief that the one who needs to change in this situation is the baby. They need to bend. They need to break. They need to sleep on their own in chunks of time that allow their mother to get the sleep she ‘needs’ the ways our society dictates.

This does not match the needs of our human infants who want nothing more than the closeness of their mother for comfort and security.

A mother’s needs trump a baby’s needs.

What an unhealthy skew on a relationship that is all about synchronicity.

Dr Pamela Douglas from the University of Queensland along with her Possums Clinic are working tirelessly to offer an alternative to the ‘sleep training’ model followed in sleep school facilities.

She works with mothers and babies to find desirable outcomes for both parties. She acknowledges the mother’s need for rest while honouring the babies need for comfort and security. Her work is grounded in research and offers up an honest summary of the range of normal when it comes to infant sleep.

Her work seeks to not only maintain the Mother/Baby relationship but actually strengthen it.

This is poles apart from the approach taken in sleep schools that focus in on the adult dictating and controlling the baby and the baby being forced to accept the withdrawal of responsiveness and comfort they had grown accustomed to.

At the time I made the decision to go to sleep school, I was a mess. I was vulnerable, I was desperate, I had zero confidence in myself and huge doubts about my baby. Sleep school did nothing but cement all of these feelings. I came out convicted I’d done it all ‘wrong’. I was convinced my baby did not know what he wanted and so I shouldn’t listen to him and carry on implementing the strategies.

This negative attitude is perpetuated constantly in the sleep training industry.

Working with mothers to build their confidence in their mothering is what is truly needed to help them mother their own unique baby. These facilities need an overhaul. They need to look at more than the short term. They need to look at the whole picture, not just maternal health. Babies matter. Techniques that cause trauma are not appropriate no matter how ‘effective’ they may be.

I just cannot let this go. The trauma is real. It is happening every day. There are other options. Our babies need us. It’s that simple.

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3 thoughts on “In response to The Project’s story on Sleep Schools

  1. We failed sleep school too… In fact I was sent early with my 3(!) month old because I refused to let him cry. The only reason we ended up in there is because a MCHN thought he was breastfeeding too often. Every 2-3h a day and 3-4h a night. And cosleeping. She said you might be fine with it now but won’t be able to handle it in a few months time. 😡
    So we went. And failed. And went back to demand feeding and cosleeping. And my son is 3 years and 4 months old and we still do it all and it’s never gotten too much for me to handle! My child needs me, I’m there for him. That’s just the way it is for us. Thank god I have picked up my confidence along the way and also met wonderful fellow mother’s for support. I was one of the lucky ones..

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  2. I just want to say I agree with you. I was very disappointed in the show last night. They didn’t talk about what happenes at sleep school, how cry it out is a form of extinction method and basically teaches the baby no one cares for them, with proven detrimental consequences. Of course it is our society to blam, unreal expectations on mothers and babies and limited support. My 18 month old is only now sleeping for 3-4 hours in a row overnight. My saviour was cosleeping.

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  3. I think the whole point of the story last night and the article that preceded it was that parents are booking into sleep schools before they have even given birth and taking up the spots for parents who actually need the help. It wasn’t about what happens at sleep school and whether you agree with their methods or not.

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