Before becoming a mother, I took sleep for granted. It was easy to get to sleep, easy to stay asleep, and *gasp* I could get up whenever I wanted.
During pregnancy, I was so heavily focused on the birth, I forgot to prepare for life with a baby. Needless to say, the first six months went by in a blur. My son did NOT sleep. With each nap, and throughout the night, I resorted to rocking or feeding him to sleep. My husband and I were exhausted. We were not getting the rest that we desperately needed. My husband worked long hours. My family lived 300 miles away. I was depleted and unhappy.
I spent countless hours reading books, researching online, but all I found was conflicting advice. I tried all of it and nothing helped.
I kept presuming it would get better as my son got older. It did not.
Eventually, when he was almost 2 years old, I decided I needed help. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do to improve our sleep. I hired a sleep consultant. Within a few days we had cracked it. I was amazed. And I quickly felt more like myself again. I regret not doing it sooner, maybe I would have enjoyed his first few years more and not have spent most of it in an exhausted fog.
More and more I hear mothers saying that it is normal for babies and young children not to sleep through the night and that we should just get used to it. Of course when our babies are newborns we should expect regular wakings to feed, but this does not have to be the case when they get to six months old.
These days too many mums feel they are expected to get on with it and put up with the lack of sleep, loneliness, and difficulties of raising a child alone. In past generations mums often had a village to help raise their children, meaning they had the support they needed. I remember when I was young, I was often looked after by neighbours or family members. However, times have changed. Work pressures and our modern-day way of life mean that so many of us do not have the village we desperately need. Especially those of us that live abroad. It can feel incredibly lonely not to have that help at your doorstep.
I believe that the sleep deprivation we deal with as new parents is a main contributor to how we experience parenthood. Sleep deprivation affects us in so many ways. It impacts our mood and mental health, and weakens our memory, ability to concentrate, immunity, sex drive, and more. The list feels endless. For these reasons we do not need to just put up with it. We deserve more than that.
Once our babies are born we quickly find ways to help them sleep. We try everything. It can be rocking, feeding to sleep, or even putting them in a fancy moving swing. But while this works in the short term, it means that we are not helping baby learn how to fall asleep by themselves. I also created these habits in the early days and made it much harder for myself later down the road. If I could go back, I would make sure to start with good sleep habits, meaning that we might not have created habits that were hard to break and had such a tough time getting enough sleep.
I am passionate about educating new parents and parents-to-be about sleep. So here are some good habits that you can start from day one. They might just give you a nap long enough to have a hot cup of tea and a rest.
Make sure baby sleeps in the same place for naps and during the night, and make sure it is dark. Babies like the dark! Invest in some black out blinds if you can.
Babies sleep best when they are dressed warm in a cool environment. So make sure the room temperature is 18°C – 21°C and dress baby in a nice warm onesie.
Keep the sleeping area boring. Mobiles look nice but can stimulate baby. By all means, have a mobile but try hanging it over the changing table instead.
Use a white noise machine to drown out external noises.
A well-planned, consistent bedtime routine is conducive to a good night’s sleep. Once their bodies and brains start to recognise the signals that indicate an upcoming bedtime their energy levels will start to wind down, melatonin production will kick in, and muscles will start to relax.
Giving a newborn baby a bath at the start of their bedtime routine can help them to distinguish day from night.
When you feed baby in the night do it in the room they sleep in and only use a very dim light (preferably red/orange hue). Do not put on a TV or watch your phone as this light can stop you and baby going back to sleep quickly.
Pay attention to your baby’s ‘wake window.’ This is the amount of time a little one can cope with being awake between sleeps. It is important to stick to these times meaning your little one is not overtired when you are putting them down to nap or to bed in the evening. The problem with going to sleep when already overtired means you might have a battle on your hands as their cortisol levels are increasing and it will be hard for them to fall asleep. This can also cause short naps and night wakings. To start with, these windows are really short. A newborn baby can only cope with an awake time of 45 minutes for their first month. So if baby has been awake for almost an hour and is fussing she is more than likely tired (and not hungry) so needs to have a nap as soon as possible.
Last, but by no means least, work on your child going to sleep on their own. If we help them to sleep (for example rocking or feeding) then when they wake in the night they will need us to do the same thing for them to fall asleep.
And Mama, I really cannot stress this enough, take care of yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Your people do not know you are struggling unless you tell them and your people want to help. Take that nap when baby sleeps and try and go to bed early (before getting sucked into that 3rd episode on Netflix).
I really hope you find these tips helpful.
Want more sleep support Join Joanna in the upcoming baby sleep foundations workshop at the MAMA MRKT or check her out on Instagram.
This post was kindly edited by TLD Contributor Zyanya Breuer