One of the biggest worries for first-time parents is the idea of coping with very little sleep once your bundle of joy arrives. It is a well-known and popular source of conversation among most parents about how well your baby is sleeping; with a full night’s unbroken sleep being the holy grail of modern-day successful parenting.
So I write this blog (next to a baby who has woken 8x in the last 4 hours!!) with complete sympathy for any parent out there who is struggling with sleep deprivation and uncertain how they will get through the next day. These are not tips on how to get your baby to sleep… unfortunately, I am two children in and have not cracked that yet! But I have survived and so pass on some wisdom on how to be a sleep-deprived parent and still win at life!
Understanding your Baby!
First of all, babies are designed to wake every 2-3 hours at LEAST in the first few months of life; they have incredibly tiny tummies and are growing at a ridiculously fast rate. The average breastfed baby will double their weight by 4-5 months of age and will be 2.5-3 times their birth weight by 12 months of age. It is likely the most rapid growth they will ever do in their lifetime.
Given this, you will be expecting at least 8-12 feeds in 24 hours and nappies to match. Often a well-meaning friend or relative may ask the question ‘so are they a good baby?’ and the answer is always yes! All babies are good babies as this is how they were designed and this is normal baby behaviour.
But how can you cope with the constant cycle of broken and interrupted sleep?
- Keep your baby close
I cannot stress this enough, keeping the crib next to your bed in your room will save both you and your baby waking fully in the night and so hopefully baby will settle quicker as you can reach them and soothe them quicker and you will also get back to sleep easier too. Next to me cribs are excellent for breastfeeding mothers (just ensure you follow the instructions so they are secure). If you are formula feeding you may wish to keep a bottle of pre-made milk next to the bed with a clean sterilised bottle. It will save you from getting up and is ready to go. During the day if you are spending time downstairs you may wish to put the baby to sleep in the pram carrycot or a Moses basket. This will save you trips up and down the stairs and you can close your eyes on the sofa and know the baby has a safe sleeping space to nap.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps
Totally clichéd but also totally true! Do not be tempted to run around your house doing the laundry and dishes. Catching up on 30-40 mins sleep whilst the baby naps is an excellent way of battling the sleep deprivation from overnight and shorter naps make you feel less groggy than a longer nap so you are more likely to feel refreshed. If you have visitors – enlist their help! Most family and friends will gladly hold or watch a sleeping baby whilst you head upstairs for a lie-down!
- Tag teaming feeds with your partner
We get lots of questions from expectant mums about when they can pump milk so that their partner can also feed the baby. If you are formula feeding exclusively this is definitely one you can tag-team on. Maybe consider taking alternate nights so one of you is fully rested and can handle the daytime whilst the other gets a daytime cat nap! If you are breastfeeding; we would recommend waiting until your milk supply is well established and that you feel confident and comfortable latching your baby to the breast before introducing a bottle with teat. This can vary for different mums and babies but most babies will be well established on the breast by 4- 6 weeks. It is recommended that you continue to put the baby to the breast between 1am-6am as this is when prolactin levels are at the highest for milk production and will really support maintaining your supply.
Therefore the other parent can offer a bottle of expressed milk for example at around 10pm which will hopefully give you a couple of hours sleep before the early hour’s feed! See below for a guide on starting to pump expressed milk for your baby and how to offer that first bottle.
- Tag team with other baby tasks
Just because you are breastfeeding does not mean that there are not loads of other tasks that your partner can do to support both you and the new baby. Often when babies have fed well at the breast they may continue to show signs of rooting on their mother’s chest as they can still smell the milk. I liken it to being in a restaurant and smelling all that delicious food – even if you are not hungry you’d be tempted for a snack! Therefore, if you know the baby is not hungry and just will not settle on mum – pass them to their other parent, they will often settle really well and have a contented sleep on them because they can no longer smell that lovely breastmilk! Your partner can get involved with all those fun parts such as bathtime, nappy changes, taking the baby for a walk; and during these activities, you can have a lie-down and a quick nap. You may also want to do some much needed self care; have a bath, read a few pages of a book, listen to a mindfulness app, anything that helps you unwind a little.
- Invest in a keep cup
It sounds a bit silly but this my number one tip as I hate cold coffee! Get an insulated cup with a secure lid. It will keep your coffee hot, it reduces the risk of spills on the baby (and risk of scalds and burns), can go under the buggy or next to your bed and is excellent for tea or even a cup of soup!!
- Get outside
Try to head out once a day at least, the exposure to sunlight helps to produce vitamin D and this can aid sleep for both you and your baby. But the exercise and fresh air will also help you feel better. A brisk walk will help produce that feel good feeling you get from exercising and can help to really improve your mood too.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and stay well hydrated
I cannot stress the importance of this! It is so easy to reach for sugary quick snacks when you are exhausted and feeling run down. But the sugar high from biscuits and other sweet treats often lead to a spike in your blood sugar which is generally followed by a big sugar low making you feel even more tired. There’s little nutritional value in those sugary snacks too and you need energy when you have such an important role to play. Try to keep some healthy snacks on hand – yogurts, nuts, chopped fruits, avocado, boiled eggs, oatcakes or veggies with dips like hummus and healthy option granola bars. Complex carbohydrates such a wholewheat pasta and sweet potatoes as well as leafy green veg and lean protein or oily fish create easy but filling lunches and dinners. Make sure you are drinking water throughout the day too – being dehydrated can make you feel more tired. You may find it beneficial to book a couple of home delivery slots with the supermarket to give you a break from the shops; there’s also no harm in stocking up on a few ready made meals to help you out too.
- Feeling low
When you experience sleep deprivation for just one night it can make you feel irritable so it’s not uncommon for weeks or months of poor sleep to lead to some parents feeling anxious and depressed. If you are feeling low in mood, or you find that you are struggling to sleep even when your baby is sleeping these could be some indicators of postnatal depression. You are not alone; up to 1 in 5 women experience mental health concerns in pregnancy or the first year after childbirth. You may also experience anxiety around your baby’s health, low mood, tearfulness, or anger (this list is not exhaustive). The key to recovery is early recognition and support; no healthcare professional will judge you for feeling the way you do as having a baby as much as it is a joyful time also comes with challenges and changes to your life that you can never fully prepare for! You can discuss your concerns with your Health Visitor or GP and they will be able to give you practical help and support to manage your symptoms and help you to feel well again. If you ever start to experience intrusive thoughts about harming yourself or others you can attend your local hospital A&E where they will provide you with immediate assistance. If you feel safe to you can take your baby with you as the aim is to always try and keep mother and baby together.
- It is hard!
It is difficult and it is okay if you do not enjoy every single minute of parenthood when you are desperate for some unbroken sleep. Try not to be hard on yourself as you are doing a fantastic job looking after your tiny human. It does not last forever but when you are in the long nights it can seem never-ending. If you ever feel yourself becoming upset it then it is fine to pop your baby down in their cot where they are safe, leave the room, take just 5 minutes to have a breather and then go back into them. A crying baby as much as it is distressing to hear is a healthy baby who is communicating to you that they are not happy! Sometimes just taking 5 minutes can really help you to bring yourself back to calm to then be able to meet your baby’s needs. Make sure you slow down, at the moment your priority is your baby and your wellbeing and everything else can wait. I can guarantee there will always be laundry and dishes!
Enjoy the baby cuddles and snuggles as in the blink of an eye they will be waving goodbye to you at the school gate.
For advice on how to help your baby sleep safely in order to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Sydrome) and much more, sign up to our FREE Baby Care Workshop!