Thursday, 1 November 2012

Sleep School aka 'Go the F*ck to Sleep'

My first born son was the centre of our combined family’s universe. The first grandchild on both sides. The first nephew. The golden child. He was a happy, smiley, easy-going baby who was a ‘good sleeper’.

My second born son came when my first born had just turned two. He entered a household that already travelled to the beat of the first born’s drum. He came to a mum who naively believed that he would simply fall into step and give me no trouble – like his brother. Instead, he had some health issues including failure to thrive which resulted in him being a terrible sleeper. No, not terrible. That’s far too polite. I created a fucking monster. And it is, unquestionably, my fault. I did ALL the wrong things. I let him fall asleep on the boob. EVERY TIME. I rocked him to sleep. I made him fall into step with a toddler’s routine instead of listening to the needs of a baby. And I should feel terrible about it except I don’t and I don’t because I paid the price. Well and truly. Oh yes, he made me pay. By 11 months he was on the boob every two hours around the clock. On a good day. On a fussy day that could be every hour. How much sleep do you think I was getting?

I was a basket case. Really. No, really. I ended up at a Child and Youth Health appointment during which it was assessed that I required immediate intervention and so my stay at Torrens House was booked.

My four days at Torrens House saved my [and my kids] life.

I was scared to go there. I don’t believe in ‘controlled crying’. My opinion is that it contradicts a mother’s fundamental need to attend to her child’s needs. It does not make sense to me, on any level, to give your child the perception that they are being abandoned. I have not researched this with any authority and I know of many mothers who have successfully used this technique and their children seem unaffected by it. But I am resolute in my opinion nonetheless.  So, I was scared that they were going to make me use this technique with my baby. It turns out though, that my opinion is supported by the staff at Torrens House. Their technique teaches babies to self settle in a totally supported way, with mum by their side at all times. It’s exactly what I wanted and it worked on the VERY FIRST TIME. I have shared this technique with other mums who found themselves in the same nightmare as I did and it worked for them too.

DISCLAIMER. I am not a trained health professional or child/baby specialist. I am a mum who has found this technique to be very successful. You should not try this without first being sure that your child is not suffering from any other medical conditions which may be causing their unsettled behavior.

Step 1
Routine, routine, routine...

There are suggested routines for babies of all ages which you could research and apply or you may have a good idea of your own. I don’t think it really matters but it needs to be consistent. Most babies respond extremely well to regular and expected behaviours. Basically you need to head into this knowing approximately when each day your baby should be sleeping [and how many times] and when bed-time is at night. This applies to meals [including breast feeding or bottle feeding] too.

Step 2
Location, location, location...

When first teaching your baby to self-settle, it is best for it to be in the same place every time. That may be a cot/bassinet in your room or they may already be in their own nursery. If they are sharing a room with another sibling, I would recommend moving them out for a little while. It could get a bit disruptive in there.

Step 3
That’s a wrap!

A key success factor of this technique is WRAPPING YOUR BABY. I was explained that most babies have a strong startle reflex [you know, when they jerk with their hands out to the side]. This can happen even when they seem to be sleeping soundly and it wakes them up. If they are not able to self settle, this is when they’ll call out for their dummy or YOU. If you have tried wrapping and your baby is getting out of that wrap then you either haven’t wrapped them properly OR the wrap is too small. I have found that larger babies need something like a cotton cot sheet for this to work. I helped a mum with a one year old boy [that was a challenge!] and we used a single bed sheet for him.

So, in line with your routine and AFTER you have fed them you will need to wrap them. I like to strip them down to nappy and singlet, depending on the weather/temperature in the room, and gently sing “time for sleep” while I’m doing this. I learned that this is a good ‘sleep trigger’ but it’s not essential.  Do not let one arm out because ‘they like it’ or keep it loose because ‘they don’t like being constricted’ or this will not work. The wrap needs to be firm. They will be able to move their arms within the wrap but they must be kept close to their body or the startle reflex will wake them up.

Step 4
Hush little baby, don’t you cry

Put your lovely, wrapped baby into their cot/bassinet awake. They may already be crying because this is all new to them and you’re upsetting their apple cart. It’s ok. With bigger babies, you can secure them in place [sounds worse than it is] by tucking another sheet across them and firmly under the mattress. This just helps the whole process. Quietly talk to them while you’re getting them settled. You could sing or just quietly and calmly explain what you’re doing. Eg “Shhh… it’s ok. It’s time for sleep now and Mummy[or Daddy!]is  going to help. I’ll be right here baby.” My very firm suggestion at this stage is DO NOT apologise to them in words, tone or actions. Eg “Mummy’s sorry I have to do this” You are doing your job as their parent to help them sleep. Don’t apologise for that. Once you are comfortable that they are in place, we can move on to the next step.

Step 5
Pat a cake, pat a cake...

The next key success factor in this technique is to PAT THE BED. I was taught that once the baby has been laid down, not to touch them to help them sleep. This then becomes another thing they ‘need’. So, maybe pull up a chair and rhythmically pat the bed near their head. You can do this quite firmly as the intention is for them to feel it, almost like a heart-beat. I usually continue with my ‘time for sleep’ mantra punctuated with a few, calming ‘shhh’s’ and ‘Mummy’s here’.  Your baby will probably be crying throughout this whole process. Try to interpret that cry. Is it distress or is it just a protest? “What are you doing mum???? Why aren’t you holding me? Why aren’t you feeding me?” PRESS ON. You may quietly sing to them or talk to them reassuringly [you’re ok baby, mummy’s here] but try not to make eye contact with them. The intention is that they know you’re there but it’s time for sleep and you mean business.

Step 6

If this is overnight and your baby wakes up and YOU KNOW THERE’S NOTHING WRONG ie, they haven’t wet through the bed, or have a fever, or are too cold, or too hot bla bla, then simply pick them up for quick cuddle, rewrap them and start patting that bed! Your intention should be to help your baby make it through to the morning without a feed. For me, that meant bed time at 7.30pm and NO FEEDING before 5am. If he woke any time after 5am, he got a feed… and we were UP FOR THE DAY. [insert coffee here]

These are some things that I have experienced:
  • On the first night of sleep training my son went to sleep using this method within 10 minutes. He SCREAMED but I could tell he was outraged not distressed.
  • After never sleeping longer than 2 hours in a row, he slept 5 hours on that first night.
  • My boobs were going to EXPLODE by the time I fed him in the morning because it was the first time in 11 months that I hadn’t fed him overnight.
  • Once your baby has learned to go to sleep this way, anyone can do it. So this means your partner, your parent, your baby-sitter. It’s extremely liberating!
  • Everything changes when this starts to work. You feel better. Your baby behaves better. It’s a happier life to live when everyone can get some real sleep.
  • My son responded so well that he would bring me his wrap if he was tired to tell me it was time to go to sleep.


This is not for everyone, I understand that. I just wanted to share it because I know it works and I believe in it. Essentially, we all have different thresholds of what we can and can’t handle. In parenting, in sleeping, in disciplining, in eating, in loving, in working, in life. Some parents do not mind one bit being woken multiple times in the night by their baby. Some parents believe in co-sleeping and giving their baby full access to mum’s breasts all night. Some parents want their baby sleeping through the night from as early as weeks old and will let them cry it out. Whatever works for you, is whatever works for you. BUT, if it’s not working for you then here’s something that worked for us.

If you do try it, I’d love to know how it went for you.

Now… get some sleep :)

It gets better... I promise xx


  1. Hey Tania,
    Two of the mummies at my group has been to the sleep school because their babies couldn't sleep and they just cried and won't settle. The sleep school taught them the same thing as your sleep school.
    Jake is sleeping fine, he self settled, but he always wakes up night time, sometime twice or 3 times because he is out from the blanket and he could not go back in there. Once me or Craig put him under the blanket or sometime just give him dummy, he will go back to sleep straight away.
    He sleeps at 7 pm and wakes up at 6.30 am most of the time. He will have 1 1/2 hours nap in the morning and an hour nap in the afternoon.
    That is his routine.
    Any suggestion or idea that I can do so that he will or can sleep through the night?
    Should we try to ignore him when he wakes up night time? ( I tried to ignore him once, I can't do it, he's making an annoying noise. So it's quicker for me to go to his room, tug him in the blanket and go back to sleep :)

    Thanks Tania xx

    Baby Ehrke

  2. Hi Baby,

    it sounds like Jake just needs a sleeping bag. Have you tried the gro-bags? They come in different weights for different seasons and are perfect for wriggly babies. Both my boys had one and they moved all around their cot but stayed warm and covered the whole time. Let me know if you need more info xx

  3. Hey Tania, did hould I get the sleeveless or with sleeves?