The Art of New Parenting
In general, I don’t think that you can ever prepare for how tired you may feel in the weeks and months after your baby is born! Even if you have a little person who does what might be considered a relatively good stretch of sleep overnight, caring for a newborn is all consuming and not just physically tiring but emotionally draining too.
It is fair to say that you can be the best read, most informed new parent, but you never know what kind of baby you are going to have and what their needs may be. This can be made so much more challenging if you have baby-with digestive discomfort, colic, reflux, CMPA, tongue tie or feeding difficulties for example. Take heart that it is very usual for a new baby to be unsettled, even without an underlying medical issue, but always speak with your GP if you are unsure.
Other supports that may help include your Health Visitor, an Osteopath and a Lactation Consultant
Meet Your Baby’s Needs
Many babies will seem to need lots of parental input such as holding, cuddling, rocking to help them go to sleep or even just to stop being upset and this is typical. It is very usual in the first few months for parents to report that they baby only sleeps on and off and does not sleep for longer than 1-3 hours at a time day or night despite reports of their sleep need being in the range of 14-17 hours- this is rarely done in long stretches and more often scattered throughout the 24 hour period.
Try not to worry about what you feel or have been told are “bad habits” there is no such thing in the early days. Your task is to ensure that your baby has a felt sense of being loved, safe and secure and that their needs are met lovingly and without delay. Despite some onlookers reporting that you will spoil your baby, the reverse is actually true. These early months are about helping to bond and lay a foundation for an unconditional loving relationship that will be enduring. The less you resist this dynamic, the faster the need to be held all the time evolves into your baby feeling more robust and confident to lie down or sleep without as much input. Using the love to dream swaddle up can help create the womb work felt sense that they crave and may also allow you to place them down as they are feeling secure.
Think Sleep Shaping not Training
Although I absolutely do not recommend that you do any sort of sleep training, I do think that you could start to do some sleep shaping to lay a strong foundation for positive sleep to emerge. This may involve avoiding overtiredness, having a regular wake time, looking for sleep cues and continuing to help your baby feel secure and loved.
Reading the Language for sleep
Learning to read an early sleep cue can be beneficial in achieving sleep easier and ensuring that it is as long as it needs to be. Look for brief eye rubs, moments of quiet and brief yawns too. Don’t wait for more intense signals as they represent overtiredness and can mean that your baby may fight sleep or wake more frequently and sleep fitfully.
Anchor the Start of the Day
Starting the day no later than 730am and always providing a feed first thing can help to regulate the feeding and sleeping pattern to ensure that those rhythms are in sync and run parallel to each other, rather than clashing.
Bedtime is the same at yours
Your new baby’s bedtime is quite late initially, a bit like an adults-maybe 10pm-12am. An earlier bedtime happens slowly over the first few months so that by 4 months a 7-8pm bedtime would be age appropriate for many young children. Don’t force this because they will only do this when ready, but also don’t miss this as if you do a fairly settled baby can become very restless. Follow their lead as best as you can.
More Awake than Asleep
It is a good idea to try to allow your baby to be less asleep when you put them to bed at bedtime specifically. This can mean than when you offer the final feed you may change a nappy and put them down a little bit more aware/slightly awake. This small adjustment helps to allow the baby to learn to cycle through sleep and increases the chances of them maintaining their night sleep for longer intervals. You may report that you baby is not open to this but keep trying as the weeks go by and then when it is becoming established do the same for nap 1 and nap 2 as well.
Fresh Air and Natural Light
Getting out and about regulating, your baby’s body to natural bright light by day and then dimming get lights by evening/night can help in a number of ways. Exposure to light specifically in the mid afternoon is helpful in regulating your child’s sleeping patterns and promotes a deeper, more restful sleep. This can also help baby to distinguish between day and night before the young body starts to make the sleep hormone melatonin. It may also help you feel better as this activity will help enhance your mood and motivation too.
Enable Motion and Contact Naps
Don’t be afraid to use the car, pram, the swing or a sling to enable sleep. Always do so in line with the manufacturers and safe sleep guidelines, but certainly utilise your baby’s desire for motion that can significantly helps them achieve sleep. Although not a long term solution it certainly is great to help you get through what may be a challenging and tiring time.
To be the best parent to your infant then first you need to parent yourself. As well as deepening your relationship with baby, travel inwards to the relationship with yourself too. Meet your needs, put yourself first, take time out, and continue to ask for help and support.
Doing something kind for yourself means your tank of self love is high and then you will have enough to give to another. You cannot give to another, what you do not have for yourself. Time out is not selfish as you may believe. Don’t be hard on yourself. Although we feel the baby must come first, actually parents need to put themselves first in order to be able to be available emotionally as well as physically.
Lucy Wolfe, is a Sleep consultant, Co-creational Parent and Relationship Mentor, Author of The Baby Sleep Solution and All About The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of “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 around the world.