Finding yourself struggling with sleep deprivation can sometimes be a lonely and vulnerable place. Very often families feel like they are the only ones to experience the debilitating and frustrating effects of trying to help your baby and yourself to sleep more. Most of the sleep challenges that you may experience in the early few months are attributed to typical infant sleep behaviours and not a problem that requires intervention. Although new parents may find this incredibly challenging when they have an otherwise healthy and typically developing child, your child’s sleep tendencies are not something that is a problem per se, but actually representative of how young children sleep in the beginning-and sometimes for much longer than the first few months too.
The point is not how to change your baby’s sleep practises, but how to address some of your own, so that during this tricky, unpredictable time in your parenting career, you have coping strategies that enable you to parent yourself and in turn optimise your own health and emotional wellbeing.
- Acceptance and Understanding
Accept that this is entirely normal and work to reframe your thinking. Understanding that your new baby will not really “sleep like a baby” despite the glossy images and external pressures that we are exposed to. Although their need for sleep is high-their ability to go to sleep with ease and sleep for long tracts of time is low-and knowing this can be helpful, leaning into this is more helpful again. Work on meeting your baby’s needs and where they are at; both developmentally and emotionally-knowing that they have been held in-utero for 9 months and deserve the same this side, as their whole system is immature.
Acknowledge that this is the journey and at this early part of the it, they are entirely dependent on you-so if you are worried about creating what others may call “bad habits”- sideline those critics and embrace this time knowing that actually it will pass and think of it as creating a loving-trust bond instead.
Some Mums say that they find it helpful to just know that they are not the only ones and you really are not-this is a unique period of adjustment-for some it is short-lived and for others can go on for much longer, but knowing that it is normal and that whatever you are experiencing is not a reflection of anything that you have done wrong-there is not right or wrong way anyway-but as this can often be the default emotional setting of new parents where you feel like you are doing everything wrong, when in fact being present, mindful, responsive and loving is enough
- Asking for support and talking about your struggles
It can be hard to ask for help but this is one time when you really need to support yourselves with the help of others-be that family or friends. In modern times this can be more challenging as we may be living far away from our support networks but whatever you can do now to engage with help around you is critical to the wellbeing of the new family unit. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to make that call-your strength is in knowing your limitations and from acknowledging that you cannot pour from the empty cup.
Many parents find that just talking to other non-judgemental parents is another good outlet and an excellent form of support. Knowing that you are not alone in sleep and parenting challenges that you experience together with discussing your feelings is a form of release. Mostly parents benefit from reassurance that they are on the right track and not the only one that is finding this hard. Despite the many negative aspects of social media, there is also a wonderful network of people online, willing to discuss and help each other with suggestions and support, so finding your online tribe may also be a good way of helping you not just survive but thrive also.
- Getting out and about
Although when you have had a hard night the last thing we can feel like is to go out, but it is a wonderful remedy. Mums find that ensuring that they get out for a walk either alone or with baby is a key part of recovery. Some even will return to fitness and workouts to help them cope. Whatever your preference –do some level of activity and get fresh air and exposure to bright and natural light. I use walking to help me process lots of what I experience as a parent and I go through stages of wanting to listen to music or a podcast or just to be left in silence with my thoughts to keep me company. Some parents have still to find their preference so start with low level exercise and build on that as appropriate.
One mum told me that she used to hate walking but now it is great resource for her to re-calibrate and cope.
- Go to bed early.
This is not forever, but as you navigate through this time frame, however long it will last, going to bed early is one way of capturing some much needed hours of sleep. It is hard to embrace this concept as it may mean that you don’t spend much time as a couple or you feel you have no down time-but sleep time may take priority just for now. If your baby is staying up later than you, then you could prepare an expressed feed (when appropriate) so that you could get a good chunk of sleep before the next night feed time comes about.
- Lower your expectations.
Prepare for night time activity. Understand that this is typical behaviour and also, it will pass and this is just the journey. Instead of praying for a “good” night; prepare to meet your baby overnight-wanting to be close to you, fed by you, connected to you. View “night time parenting” as an opportunity for connection, not as a problem. It will reduce and diminish in time and those precious engagements will be a memory that you actually will cherish (it doesn’t feel like it in the moment but when you look back, it really is a magical parenting time).
- Ignore the non-essential
Even if that means the house is more untidy and the washing is piling up. Although that doesn’t sound practical it may be necessary so that when you do have a moment that maybe you just relax on the couch-many parents report a long hot shower or bath is another way of them coping so this may be done instead of chores-that although will ultimately need to be addressed, but perhaps they can be outsourced or shared between the parents and caught up on when things have improved
This will pass, it is just a season-some season’s lasts longer than others, but slowly you can not only cope but also begin to make subtle changes to your child’s day time routine and bedtime that can start to “grow” a longer sleep tendency when your baby is developmentally able. I am also reliably informed that a ongoing supply of chocolate, biscuits and coffee can also be helpful-but all in moderation and as part of a healthy diet!
Lucy Wolfe is a Sleep Consultant, Author of the bestselling book The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of the award winning brand “Sleep Through”, a natural bed and body sleep spray and relaxing rub and mum of four. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise, and valuable support to families across the country.