Yes, I Sent My Baby To 'Sleep School' —And It Changed Everything

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lessons to learn about babies and sleep

Here are the lessons I learned.

By Jess Wheller

My baby girl wasn't a good sleeper. That's putting it politely; the truth is she was a pain in my ass and had me wondering what I was thinking when I decided to have children. Sleep deprivation had turned my whole world upside down. 

Why did nobody warn me that babies don't come programmed to sleep? I knew there would be sleep-interrupted nights for feeds and dirty diapers, but my unknowing, premotherhood self believed sleep is something that comes naturally. Apparently not.

I drove myself crazy reading baby books to try to get my girl to sleep, but she resisted. Every day we faced off — me kneeling by the bed, patting and shushing and willing her to sleep, then commando crawling my way out of the room so as not to wake her, only to hear her cry as soon as I closed the door. 

And she was a serial "catnapper," determined not to sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time during the day. This went on and on until I was on the verge of a mama meltdown. A friend recommended I try "baby sleep school." I had no idea what this place was about, but if it could help me, then I was in.

Behold: Nine important things I learned while I was there.

1. Every baby is different — even when it comes to sleep.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on Feb 16, 2017 at 12:34am PST

One of the things I've loved most about becoming a mom is seeing each of my twins' personalities shining through from such a young age. What I hadn't grasped before heading to sleep school was how a child's temperament directly relates to their sleep behavior. 

Since birth, my little girl has been brave, strong-willed, and tenacious, so it came as no surprise that she was a little pig-headed when it came to sleeping. I was putting so much pressure on her to be like other babies, so accepting this was a bit of an "aha" moment for me.

2. Routine is everything.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on Aug 14, 2017 at 2:37am PDT

Without a routine, we're all just stumbling through the day without a clear idea of what the hell we're doing or what to expect, and that's not good for any mama — or her baby. At sleep school, I learned about the appropriate awake times for my baby girl and how these change as she gets older, and to focus on this instead of getting caught up in or losing my mind over how many naps she was having and for how long. 

Put simply: if she wasn't awake for long enough, then she wouldn't be tired enough to have a decent sleep.

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3. Sleep promotes sleep.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on May 29, 2017 at 2:26am PDT

Possibly the most annoying statement any mother ever heard, yet true. A good sleep overnight often leads to good naps, and vice versa. I quickly realized that if I could teach my baby girl how to sleep and self-soothe, then she would stop with the dreaded catnaps during the day, and this would lead to better sleep overall. #momwin

4. The old "feed, play, sleep" routine.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:21am PDT

Many mamas are all over this one already. Often, the simplest advice works, and in this case that rings true. Feed the baby, play with the baby, put the baby to sleep: repeat. 

Although, if that last step were as simple as it sounds, sleep school wouldn't exist (feeding isn't all that simple either, but that's a story for another day).

5. Soothing is all about the technique.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on Aug 15, 2017 at 3:22pm PDT

Unfortunately for mamas, sleep is something that's learned, which can take some time. While my little one was learning to sleep, I was learning how to settle her to sleep. Before sleep school, I would pat, pat, pat my little heart out, but there's a lot more to it than that. 

The exact techniques are best learned from the experts, and I'm sure there are varied approaches. But I believe the key is finding what works for your babe, and then being consistent about it — pick a technique and stick with it. This could include music, the sounds or words you use, your tone of voice, or even the lighting in the room. After a while, my baby girl knew when I walked in the room and got started, I meant business.

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6. There's a difference in their cries.

This was the most stressful part of sleep school for me. I have always felt very anxious listening to my babies cry, and while the idea of controlled crying wasn't new to me, I wasn't sure how much of it I could take. But sleep school doesn't promote controlled crying. It's about learning the difference between crying vs. whining. 

The key takeaway for me was to listen for pauses. A pause is a sign my baby girl is listening for me to come in and see her, not that she is actually upset. A nonstop cry is a sign she needs me to go to her, to reassure her I'm there for her, and to try to settle her with the techniques I was taught. Babies are far smarter than we think; understanding their cues is the key.

7. A mama's intuition is often right.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on May 14, 2017 at 3:10pm PDT

This isn't something sleep school taught me, but I did learn how to listen to my baby girl's cries and understand when she needs me and when she doesn't. Mamas have a sixth sense for this sort of thing — when I feel like something is wrong, it usually is. I say, when in doubt, go with your gut. 

8. Sleep training works.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on May 24, 2017 at 2:43am PDT

There were times when I thought, "This isn't going to work" and "I can't do this." I was completely out of my comfort zone and full of doubts, and it was difficult at times. But . . . it worked. It worked because it's based on proven research, but also because I trusted in the people and the process and persisted when we came home.

9. Sleep is everything.

A post shared by Jess Wheller (@thattwinmama) on Mar 29, 2017 at 1:27am PDT

Being a mama is damn hard. It's not perfect, and there are days when I've wondered what I've gotten myself into. Sleep deprivation is a big contributor to those feelings of despair. I'm not going to lie and say my little girl is now the perfect sleeper — she's not. But she is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was . . . and SHE SLEEPS. 

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It's not for everyone, but my experience of motherhood has been far more enjoyable since my baby girl's sleep improved, and I have sleep school to thank for that.

This article was originally published at PopSugar. Reprinted with permission from the author.