Graduating from sleep school

In some areas you can access hands-on practical advice about baby feeding, settling and sleeping by being referred to one of the existing private or public day-stay or residential mother-baby programs. These programs help you work on solutions to your baby-care problems.

l Day-stay programs: You and your baby spend the day with other mums and a team of health-care professionals who offer education about baby care, individualised practical help, and advice and strategies on how to deal with the particular difficulties you're experiencing.

l Residential mother-baby programs: If your baby is really unsettled, suffers from colic or reflux and cries a lot and you're at the end of your tether, you can be admitted to a residential mother-baby program for a few days. These programs give you a chance to rest and get on top of your problems with the baby.

An experienced multidisciplinary team of health-care professionals including specialist nurses, a lactation consultant, clinical psychologist and paediatrician assess your health and needs and those of your baby and put together an individualised management plan for your family. During your stay you participate in group sessions where you learn how to manage feeding, settling and sleeping difficulties and you also receive supported individualised care.

To help parents work as a team, most programs also offer sessions for dads to get skilled up on parenting and settling techniques.

Your maternal and child health nurse or your family doctor can tell you what programs are available in your area and arrange a referral for you to attend.

In our study about mothering after IVF we discovered that many IVF mums use mother-baby programs — by three months, 40 per cent had used one program or another; most attended day-stay programs but 8 per cent were admitted to a residential program. And by 18 months 17 per cent had been admitted to residential mother-baby programs, compared with a rate of 5 per cent for new mums in general in Victoria, where we conducted our study.

Some of the many reasons why IVF mums may struggle with baby care and face the kind of difficulties that mother-baby programs can help with include

1 IVF mums are older and are more likely to be first-time mums, have a caesarean section and a multiple birth.

1 IVF babies are born slightly earlier and generally weigh less so can be a bit trickier to care for at first.

1 Your infertility and IVF experiences can dint your maternal confidence and this can cause you to

• Feel intense anxiety about your baby's welfare

• Fret whether you have enough breast milk for your baby

• Worry about how you're going to be able to keep your baby alive

1 Your concern about whether your baby is okay may mean that you check on her a lot and pick her up as soon as she makes a noise. She may then get used to being carried around in your arms and have trouble self-settling and sleeping on her own.

1 The idealised mental picture of motherhood and your baby you developed during your long wait for your baby can leave you unprepared for the tough reality of baby care — especially if your baby is difficult to soothe and settle, which is true of many babies.

1 You (and others around you) may expect that, now you have the baby you've always wanted, you'll find looking after her a breeze and enjoy every moment of it. With such expectations asking for help can be difficult, so sometimes IVF mums get less support than other mums, although they need it just as much.

If you're wondering whether what you're doing for your baby is good enough, rest assured — no one could care for your baby better than you do. But being a new parent is emotionally and physically exhausting, so don't hesitate to ask for help and support — you need it just as much as other parents.

Sleeping like a log

Here's how one IVF mum explains the positive influence her stint in a residential mother-baby program had on her family:

'We were totally sleep deprived for eight months. I felt I had no control over my life and was quite depressed and teary on my own. Johnny rarely slept during the day and constantly wanted to be held, making my days very long and tiring with no relief at night.

through some heartbreak letting him cry himself to sleep, but also learning all the sleep signs in him that we had missed and following a feed-play-sleep routine so that he didn't need to be fed to go to sleep.

'Johnny took to sleep like a duck to water, doing three day sleeps of 1.5-2 hours and 14 hours overnight. It changed all our lives for the better.'

'After waiting six weeks for an appointment I went to a settling program. There we went

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