So you’re having a baby. “Forget about getting any sleep in the next 18 years”, they say. But is it really that bad? Probably not. We are pretty sure that you will most definitely get some sleep, but it’ll probably be interrupted sleep. If you’re not used to it, sleeping for short bouts and being woken up a few times in the night can really affect you at first. It can affect your mood, how easy/hard you find your days, and your general wellbeing. But not all is lost, as there are ways to cope with interrupted or lack of sleep when you’ve just welcomed a new baby into your family.
Will my baby wake up often in the night?
At first, your young baby will wake up for a feed every few hours. This will happen both during the day and during the night. When they’re still very little, your baby may go to sleep for the night anything between 9pm and 11pm (or even later), wake up around 2-3am for a feed, and then maybe again at 5-6am. But remember, your baby is an individual with their own personality, and all babies are different! Your baby could be following a pattern similar to this, or one of their own, and that’s all to be expected. Although this may seem like a lot of waking, there a few things that you could try to work around that.
- Divide and conquer
Between you and your partner, is there a way you could perhaps take it in turns to get up with the baby? This may not always be possible – it may depend on your circumstances, on your baby, and on how you choose to feed your baby. But through the postnatal classes we teach here at BabyNatal (like Sleep and Colic and Calming), we have come across families who get really creative and make arrangements so that each parent gets a nice stretch of 5-6 hours of interrupted sleep. This could be achieved with one of the parents going to bed earlier (before the baby), leaving the middle-of-the-night feed to your partner, or having a lie in at least some of the time, for example. We recognise that these aren’t feasible options for everyone, but it’s always worth having a think and see if it could be something you could do?
- Nap in the day
We’re pretty sure you’ll have come across the famous piece of advice: “Sleep when the baby sleeps”. Well, it’s actually not bad advice at all – especially in the early days, when your body is recovering and recuperating from giving birth, and you’re still adjusting to the new sleep patterns. Taking short naps during the day (just as your baby does), instead of rushing around trying to do the laundry or cook batches of food will do wonders for your overall wellbeing, including your mental health, so you should definitely give it a go.
- If you can, try and aim for a nap between 1pm and 3pm. Our bodies are programmed for two periods of intense sleepiness – one is in the early hours of the morning, and the other one is after lunch, so take advantage of your baby’s nap during those hours, if you can.
- Aim for a power nap of about 20 minutes. If you manage to sleep for that length of time, you should be able to wake up feeling refreshed, alert, and more able to continue with the rest of your day. If you sleep any longer than that, however, you’ll go into a deep sleep phase. Whilst this is great for you and your body, if you get woken up in the middle of it, you’ll end up feeling more sluggish and groggier than when you went to sleep! Having said that, when it comes to your night-time sleep, one uninterrupted stretch of at least 50-90 minutes will most definitely help you!
- Cut down on stimulants and keep hydrated instead
Although you may feel like you need all the caffeine you can get (after all, you’re not getting all the sleep you’d like to get), caffeine may actually not be the answer for you. While you may get an immediate boost and experience increased alertness, caffeine can also delay your sleep, induce sleep disturbances, and create irritability and anxiety. And these are the last things you want and need when you’ve just had a baby and are trying to catch up on your sleep! So drink plenty of water instead, and if you feel like having a hot drink from time to time, do try and opt for herbal tea. With so many on the market, you’re bound to find one that you like. And if in doubt, remember that fennel tea is great for breastfeeding mums and camomile tea has a calming effect, so it could even help you sleep!
- Eat little and often and avoid alcohol, or eating late at night
If you can, try avoid big meals late at night. These may end up sitting on your stomach and make you feel ‘heavy’ and bloated. Midnight snacking can also be counterproductive. Refined sugars stress the organs in charge of hormone regulation, causing you to wake in the night, as your levels fluctuate. If you do feel peckish just before bedtime, try and pick foods that contain an amino acid called tryptophan. The name may sound a bit intimidating, but this substance is actually quite helpful to our bodies. It helps us produce serotonin, which in turns makes melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep cycles. Foods that are high in tryptophan include yoghurt, milk, banana, eggs, and turkey. Also, although alcohol can allow some people to fall asleep quicker, it actually reduces REM sleep. So try and avoid drinking alcohol just before you go to bed, especially considering that on average it takes about an hour for your body to process one unit of alcohol.
- Be kind to yourself
You’ve just welcomed a new baby to the family – congratulations! Now it’s not the time to make your house look spotless. Remember that you don’t need to say yes to absolutely everyone and anyone who wants to come and visit you and meet your baby – not if you don’t feel up to it, and not unless they’re prepared to tuck you and your new baby into bed while they tidy up your house and cook you and your partner a nice meal!
So make sure you cut yourself some slack, leave perfection at the door for a few days/weeks/months (years?), listen to your intuition and to your body, put your feet up (literally), and just do what you feels manageable. Think about your priorities and let everything else slide for a while. And by that we also mean that if you need to pick up a funny novel to read or watch your favourite show on Netflix in order to relax, de-stress, and re-energise (instead of cleaning your bathroom) that’s exactly what you should do!
- Find a good support group
Although this won’t give you immediate relief to your sleep interruption or deprivation issue, a good support network always makes everything better, especially when you’ve just had a baby. With a really good support network, you may even be able to get together with a friend and take it in turns to have naps while you watch each other’s baby! Failing that, you could always go for walks together, to a baby group or class, like our BabyNatal Developmental Baby Massage classes, where you can meet lots of local, like-minded families with children of a similar age.
- Get up and move
Of course we don’t want you to put yourself under any pressure to start exercising after having just had a baby, but if and when you feel you can, think about going for a gentle walk with your baby – you can always meet up with a friend, a relative, or go with your partner. Stretching, moving, and being exposed to fresh air can give you that required (and yet very natural) boost of energy that you need to carry on with your day. Always remember to consult your GP, should you wish to resume any form of physical exercise after the birth of your baby.
- Co-sleep and bed-share.
As this is quite a big topic in itself, we have covered this in a separate blog post, so watch out for the link to that! In the meantime, if you would like to know more about safe sleep for your baby, please head over to The Lullaby Trust.
Do you have any more tips to share to help new parents cope with interrupted sleep? What worked or works for you?