It’s worrying how many expectant parents tell me that their biggest concern about having a baby is the lack of sleep!
At the same time, I admire these parents for having the foresight to get clued up about baby sleep, manage their expectations and learn how they can cope with sleep deprivation.
Well-meaning but unhelpful advice like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ and ‘ask for help’ just don’t cut it.
We’re not always able to sleep when baby sleeps and if that sleep lasts just 20-30 minuets , we often feel worse than if we’d stayed awake!
We don’t all have friends or family close by to lend a hand and often we’re handling it all all on our own.
So how can a new parent expect to sleep in the early weeks and what will help?
If I’d have known that nature gifts mothers with a post-birth rest period, I’d have made the most of it! Newborns often have a large amount of sleep in the first 24-48 hours after birth. Be sure to rest and recover and indulge in some deep sleep during this time. Don’t have lots of visitors and fuss over the new baby until you’ve both had this recovery. It will stand you in good stead for the weeks ahead.
New babies wake regularly for feeds so you will be up in the night for a while but remember, this is actually a relatively short period in your life and, if you follow our sleep advice, you’ll soon be sleeping through the night again.
Newborns can actually only manage around 45 minutes of ‘awake time’ between sleeps so you’ll find they sleep a lot too. Accommodating this sleep through the daytime will lead to a more calm night.
Take night shifts
If your partner or a family member can participate in giving night feeds, it will give you a chance to rest and renew! You may well still wake when baby wakes but by staying laid down in bed and allowing someone else to tend to baby, you’ll find you can resettle yourself more easily to sleep. Even mother’s who breastfeed will benefit by offering breastmilk in a bottle some of the time so that it’s not all on mum!
Taking turns to be on duty for the whole night of even two nights on and two nights off, will allow for some good, restorative sleep for both parents.
Getting your baby into a very basic bedtime routine as early as just 2-3 weeks in is a great idea. Simple steps like a wash, change clothes, milk feed, cuddle/song/poem and then down to sleep – When done in the same order at the same time every evening, this creates rhythmicity for a baby and cues him that sleep time is coming.
Practice putting baby down
Whilst your new baby won’t immediately be able to put himself to sleep, giving him a little exposure to his sleep space and the sensation of falling asleep are practices that will stand him a great stead later on. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’. We’re not expecting baby to settle to sleep in his crib every time and you may need to pick up for more cuddles and comfort, but if you can get him down before he’s fully asleep, it will help him to develop his settling ability.
– And the sooner he masters this, the more sleep filled your nights will become!
Even if you’re not getting as much sleep as you ideally need, you can do other things to look after your physical and mental well-being. Sitting down with your feet up, resting your eyes, taking cleansing breaths or even meditating for as little as 5 minutes at a time, will bring huge benefits. If you can snatch 20 minutes like this, you’ll feel great! It’s more important to do this kind of thing than to do housework otherwise you’ll burn-out and your baby needs you on form.
Also, consider your diet and advance prep some high energy snacks and meals to keep you fuelled throughout the day. Sleep deprivation will cause you to crave sugary crabs for a quick fix but this is going to cause energy spikes and crashes, not sustain you. You need your carbs so choose the fibre filled ones and those found in vegetables for improved energy, focus and sustainability.
Adopting these strategies will help you through those early weeks with your new baby when you’re running on a lower sleep tank than we’d like. These tips will also help your baby to adopt some rhythms and practices that will help him to develop good sleep skills sooner and you’ll all benefit from that!!
Founder of The Sleep Nanny®, Author, Speaker and Trainer.