"Sleep Like A Baby." Ha, yeah right!
You know how when you’re pregnant everyone says things like “Make the most of sleep now, because you won’t get much once baby is here!”? And you think, yeah yeah, it can’t be that bad. Or, ha! I’m not sleeping much at the moment… Wait, it’s going to get worse?!!
Well yeah, I’m here to tell you that the phrase “sleep like a baby” is totally misleading. Babies have seemingly incomprehensible sleep patterns in the first few months of life, as they get used to being in the outside world. In the womb babies don’t get to experience night and day, but they do start to recognise patterns of activity. When they are first born it’s exactly the same - they have no concept of night and day, but they are aware of what’s going on around them.
So as you read all the books that say how to get your baby into a schedule, there’s one key thing you need to keep in mind: your baby hasn’t read the book. They don’t know that when it is light they are supposed to be playing and interacting, and that when it’s dark they’re supposed to become calmer and quieter, and ready for sleep. Yes, they will eventually get the hang of it, but they are learning, just as you are.
Whilst your baby is learning to sleep and be comfortable outside of the womb, as a new parent you are also adapting to your new lifestyle. You are probably used to having a solid night’s sleep, and now your sleep is broken, and frequently interrupted by real and imagined baby noises. In the first few weeks you will sleep very lightly, as your brain is reacting to every input, in case it needs you to leap into action to protect your baby. Millions of years ago this would have been so that you could protect your baby from mountain lions creeping into your cave, but in our modern world the worst you have to keep an eye or ear out for is probably your cat jumping into the cot for a snuggle.
All this can take a toll on your body, mind, and ability to cope. There’s not much that can prepare you for the realities of this new, sleepless way of life. Self care is really important, and so is getting enough sleep to be able to safely take care of your baby. Here are some tips for better sleep with a newborn:
Teamwork makes the dream(s) work. Split the load and take turns sleeping. Whoever is awake can re-settle baby, change nappies, take baby for a walk, play, or just put baby in a sling and carry on with daily life, whilst the other parent has a snooze. (The awake person doesn’t have to be a parent, it could be a helpful friend, your doula, Grandma, or even your health visitor if you ask nicely).
Help baby regulate their circadian rhythms. During the day try to be more active and playful with baby. Take them outside to get some fresh air, or just stand by the open window if the weather is too foul to go outside. As it begins to get dark, start winding down for the day and do some more gentle activities such as reading a story or giving baby a gentle massage.
Make sure baby has a safe sleep environment. You’ll sleep better knowing baby is safe, so check out The Lullaby Trust for safe sleep guidelines.
Make sure you stay hydrated and eat something nutritious every day. Whilst it’s tempting to glug down some sugary drinks and snack on your favourite sweets, eating more regular meals and drinking lots of water will help balance your blood sugars and make sleep come easier.
Treat yourself to a relaxing massage. Whether it’s your partner or a professional masseuse, a good massage will help you physically relax and sleep better. It will also help ease any aches in your shoulders from carrying baby, aid recovery from birth, and generally help you mentally switch off.
Nap when you can. Seriously, just take every opportunity to nap....
Babies and toddlers do go through phases of ‘good’ sleep, and then phases where it seems like you’ll never sleep again. If you’re struggling to get enough rest, please do ask someone for help, especially if it’s starting to affect your mental health. Book a babysitter you trust, or ask a grandparent to come round for the afternoon so you can nap. You could even book your local postpartum doula (I wonder who that could be? :D) for a couple of hours, so that you can rest well knowing your baby is looked after AND you’ll wake up to a tidy house - it doesn’t get much better than that does it!
If you'd like more sleep advice, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can chat.