Coping with little or no sleep

Oh yes it is difficult to manage a baby when you are getting very little sleep. I know it’s not necessarily as you imagined from the pictures in glossy magazines of mum and baby in harmony with each other. You might have had high expectations of getting lots done whilst you are on maternity leave-baking, learning new recipes or meeting up with friends and now you can’t even manage time to have a shower! You are not on your own here; this is how the majority of new mums feel. It is so overwhelming becoming a parent.

And it can be sooooo tiring. It is without question, the most challenging job you will ever have to do, and the only job for which you have received no formal training! Don’t despair. This is a normal feeling. I remember leaving the hospital with my first son and suddenly realising this is real and I am in charge of this tiny person, and he is expecting me to know what I am doing. It is a steep learning curve and it is wonderful, but it is also difficult, especially when you are not getting much sleep. Your baby’s sleep need is actually quite large, possibly 15-18 hours within the day and night, but unfortunately this will rarely be in one large chunk, but rather scattered throughout a 24 hour period. You essentially are “on call” in this time period so you will need to look after yourself so that you not only survive this time, but that you enjoy it and thrive.

  1. It’s not unusual to feel full of energy in the first few weeks after your birth, the body has a clever way of helping us feel able to cope, but that can start to wear off and tiredness can take its toll. Going to bed really early, like a 7 or 8pm is one way that many mums can get a chunk of sleep. Once your feeding is established, then someone else can provide the later 10/11pm feed (expressed if applicable) and you won’t be needed again until the later one again. This way you could even get 4+ hours of sleep which will have a very positive impact on your health and well being. It’s not forever either, so you will have plenty of time with to stay up later at another stage, but for now it is survival of the fittest.
  2. Take in turns with the other parent or someone else who is willing, if that is possible. I know that you are possibly on maternity leave and that the other parent will have to go to work the next day, but looking after a small baby during the day can often be harder than going to work! So if it is a possibility, then take alternate nights to look after baby. Bear in mind that getting just a 5 hour stretch of sleep if this is at all possible, really helps regulate your mood.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or accept the kind offers extended to you. It is not a sign of weakness, but a show of strength when you reach out and request or accept assistance. Consider yourself lucky if this is available to you, as many mums are living far away from any support network. Don’t refuse any offers, the less laundry you have to do, meals that you have to prepare, floors that you need to wipe, the better for you and more time you will have to attend to baby and of course, to rest if baby is having a snooze. Remember, this time will pass anyway and you won’t need the help forever, but if it is there, take it!
  4. I know you will have heard, sleep when baby sleeps, and now you may think that you would like to kill the person who started that! It can be hard to switch off during the day and even more so if you know that baby won’t sleep for very long, even if you do manage to get them down. Be kind to yourself. At least stop and put your feet up and watch some day time telly. Don’t worry you won’t turn into that person, this is such a short period of parenthood, and we have to look after ourselves or else we won’t be able to be the mum that we want to be.
  5. Take your baby out for a walk. You’ve probably got a lovely new pram, it may not feel much like getting out, but definitely make that effort. Getting fresh air and exercises of this nature can also help your energy levels and help you get to sleep easier when you get the chance. It is good for baby too and will help to regulate their sleeping pattern. Motion sleep is what many baby’s desire anyway, so you are filling two needs
  6. Don’t over-rely on the coffee or chocolate, it can affect your breast-milk and make it hard for you to actually sleep well when you get the chance. Avoid coffee or tea after 2pm so that night time sleep is not made more challenging.

Talk about how you are feeling. Your mum, your sisters, your friends, even your mother in law will understand that it can be hard and emotionally charged and we need to talk it over instead of bottling it up. Bottling everything up will make it hard for you to get some shut-eye when it is possible, as you will find it tough to switch off, so try not to keep it all in, make sure you find time for humour as well, it will pass.