Sleep training for wimps
‘Cry-it-out was never going to work for me,’ says self-confessed softie Andrea Botha.
(Andrea Botha)

I've heard of cross training, weight training, job training and computer training. But the first time I heard about sleep training, I shuddered in horror, imagining a kind of boot camp for babies where someone in a track suit and an angry face (hopefully not the parent) was scowling at crying little babies.

That was before, of course. Before I had a baby with sleep issues. (Are there any children out there without sleep issues? Really, I'd love to know.) Our little one refused to go to sleep unless he was being rocked to sleep or held.

If we tried to put him down, his eyes would fly open, accompanied by the most piercing and agonised of screams, guaranteed to wake him up completely and rule out sleep, sanity and happiness all round for the rest of the day.

My wise friends and fellow parents all said the same thing: ‘You gotta sleep train.’

So I started reading up about sleep training. The more I read, the more nervous I got. I could see the problem, I realised the sleep experts had a point. But I knew that I would be one of those soft, wimpy parents who would be unable to stand outside the door, counting the minutes before I was allowed to go inside to comfort my crying baby. 

Most experts follow a version of the Ferber method, named after Dr Richard Ferber, who believes that parents should not comfort a child immediately once it starts crying, but let them cry for a certain amount of time, apparently to teach them to soothe themselves.

 It didn't help when I came across a study in which an expert said that leaving babies to cry-it-out, (or CIO, as it is so cutely called on parenting sites) could actually damage a child's brain.

So, I carried on holding him for the daytime naps for another few months. This involved me watching the clock and then, just before baby's nap, expertly running to make tea and a sarmie, get my book or the remote before settling down with baby for his nap.

 If I had to pee in the next hour or the phone rang, well, that was just too bad. I was incapacitated for about three hours each day. I got used to it, sort of.

Sleep training, Mom’s way

Until one day. When I realised that there was no reason why I couldn't try my own kind of sleep training. I decided I would follow the basic principles, but I wouldn't let him cry without comforting him. I would put him down when he was tired or sleepy, but still awake.

 If he cried, I would rock him while he was lying down; singing and soothing, stroking him. I was allowed to lean down, to touch him, put my cheek next to his, whatever, but not pick him up. My reasoning was that he only needed to get used to falling asleep while lying down. I never wanted him to get used to me not being there when he needed me.
I waited for a Monday to begin the regiment. I prepared myself mentally. I was ready for the agony. But it took one day. Just one day. And he had it, it worked. Sometimes I'd have to sit there for 5 to 10 minutes, rocking him, not making eye contact, humming some tune. Other times, especially at night, he'd roll over and fall asleep right away. What joy!

Within days, I could put him down while he was still awake, leave the room and he would fall asleep by himself. Suddenly, it felt like I had my life back again.

The best part of it all though, was that I didn't feel like I was abandoning him and he got used to this new way of falling asleep while I was nearby, ready to help if he needed me. Which is where I intend being for the rest of his life.

Are there any babies that never have sleep issues? Did sleep training work for you?

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