If there’s one thing expectant couples hate more than being told their lives are going to change forever (thanks captain obvious), its that they’re never going to sleep again. Nothing really can ever prepare you for the physical and mental exhaustion that a new baby will bring, even if you did work late nights in hospitality and study full time at uni for years….ask me how I know!
In the words of one of my clients (I changed it for the title because I was worried threat of violence might put people off! haha):
“If one more person tells me I’m never going to sleep again, I’m going to punch them in the face! We didn’t choose to have a baby without knowing it was going to affect our sleep!”.
I get it, its frustrating when people make remarks without backing it up with any tips or tricks to actually be helpful. But thats what this blog is about today.
Research has found that a new baby results in typically 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in in the first year…. thats a huge variance, and a lot of lost sleep. Sleep deprivation and motherhood do go hand in hand, despite what we’d like to believe.
You may come across people who will blame your baby’s ‘poor sleep habits’ (aka normal baby sleep patterns) on your poor parenting skills or ‘bad habits’ you have created by doing xyz. The reality is that all babies are born with their own unique personalities, and sleep requirements, their sleep patterns usually have absolutely zero to do with your parenting and EVERYTHING to do with their OWN UNIQUE PERSONALITIES.
I can’t tell you how to get your baby to sleep more, because they’re all different and all have different sleep requirements (as demonstrated above), but I can give you some tips on how to cope with the sleep deprivation you will most probably experience.
1.Know that you are not alone
This is honestly one of the most comforting things to remember when you’ve had weeks of no sleep. There are at this very moment, mothers all around the world cursing in their mind ‘go the f%$# to sleep’ out of sheer exhaustion and desperation. You are not alone. You are right now, one of millions of mothers rocking and bouncing and pacing to get a baby to sleep, take heart that you are part of a group of mothers all round the world doing the exact same thing right now. You are one of many many mothers who is not getting any sleep. It will get better, I can’t tell you when, but it will.
2. Work shifts with your partner
If your partner usually goes to bed at 10 and you usually go to bed then too, have your partner stay up an hour or two later so you can go to bed an hour earlier and have 2-3 solid hours whilst they take care of baby.
Your partner losing an hour or so of sleep may mean they get a better sleep once they get to bed, and will most likely mean that those overnight wakings are less exhausting for you too. You don’t have to do this every night, but on the nights you need.
Babies tend to get a longer stretch of sleep early in the night and wake more frequently in the morning hours so if you can get some bigger chunks of sleep then too, all the better.
3. Get ready for the day even if you’re staying home
Its amazing how much more human you feel once you’re showered and dressed, you might even choose to put on some lipstick and mascara.
My motto after my second baby was ‘fake it til you make it’ and it really changed those utter exhaustion days into more optimistic days. I often joked to my friends that the more dressed up and made up I was, the more exhausted I was, but it helped.
Looking like you’re ready to take on the world even when you’re a complete mess on the inside can really improve your mood and energy levels
4. Eat well
It can be very very easy to slip into bad eating habits when you are exhausted and have no energy to shop or cook. You wont be doing yourself any favours by eating unhealthy food, in fact it will only make your body more tired.
Your body needs healthy, wholesome food when it is under stress (sleep deprivation is stressful for your body) and ensuring you have healthy, nutritious food is vital to your energy levels.
If you’re having trouble getting out of the house to shop or cant get your head in the game to even think about meals, perhaps you could do an online grocery order or organise a hello fresh box to inspire you and take the thinking out of food prep.
If finances won’t allow for hello fresh boxes or other ready-to-eat delivered meals, perhaps you could get together with some friends and organise a big batch cooking day so you can all stock your freezers.
5. Get some exercise
Fresh air and exercise can really improve energy levels and outlook…. if you cant manage leaving the house just yet, perhaps you could just do some stretches in your living room with your baby close by.
If you can get out of the house get your baby in a wrap/carrier or pram and pop on some comfy shoes and go for a little walk, even just around the block. Its amazing how even tiny levels of movement and exercise boost your mood and body.
6. Have a laugh
Laughter and light heartedness will take you a long way in your mindset around sleep. Laughter boosts oxytocin which in turn calms and soothes the nervous system and creates feelings of love and contentedness… which both mum and baby need to sleep.
I remember many times changing my grumpy ‘it's sleep time!’ voice into cookie monster voice (a terrible attempt at it I should say) whilst trying to get my daughter to sleep. In those moments I recognised that I was starting to get so frustrated, I might get angry at her, sleep deprivation can do that to any sane person, and instead I turned it into a laugh. My attempt at cookie monster voice not only snapped me out of my frustration but calmed my body and made both of my kids laugh in hysterics, which in turn made me laugh too. And always, only a few minutes later that little sleepless baby would fall asleep in my arms after laughing her little heart out.
If you have never been able to nap, give it a try! Napping boosts your oxytocin and although it doesn’t really assist in boosting your cognitive function, it does help reset your brain and feel more refreshed and able to take on the challenges at hand once you do wake up.
If you’re like me, and can only think of all the things you SHOULD be doing instead of napping, write a list and deal with it later! The housework and washing can wait.. or you can have a postnatal doula (like me)/family do that for you whilst you nap.
If actually closing your eyes to fall asleep is a struggle, try some relaxation music, or for those of you who’ve done my HypnoBirthing classes, try some of your HypnoBirthing guided imagery tracks. The mental effort it takes to switch off when you’re severely sleep deprived can be significant, and if you’re needing more help with that, get in touch with me, I do have a beautiful guided imagery track that will help you feel as though you’ve had a long nap even when you haven’t been able to close your eyes for an actual sleep.
How do these suggestions feel to you? Do you think you can adopt any of these to help you cope better with the lost sleep?
I truly hope you will find these tips and tricks useful in the first year of your baby’s life. The knowledge that nothing remains as it is for too long with babies might be a great comfort to you. Their sleep patterns and requirements are ever changing, just as your ability to cope with them are. You are doing an amazing job. The most important thing is that you rest as much as possible, housework can wait.