Oh my goodness, I don’t think that you can ever prepare for how tired you may feel in the weeks and months after your baby is born! Even if you have a little person who has what might be considered a relatively good stretch of sleep overnight, caring for a newborn is all consuming and not just physically tiring but emotionally draining too. It is fair to say that you can be the best read, most informed new parent, but you never know what kind of baby you are going to have and what their needs may be. This can be made so much more challenging if you have baby-with digestive discomfort, colic, reflux, cow’s milk protein allergy, tongue tie or feeding difficulties for example. Take heart that it is very usual for a new baby to be unsettled, even without an underlying medical issue, but always speak with your GP if you are unsure.
Many babies will seem to need lots of parental comfort such as holding, cuddling, rocking and jigging about to help them go to sleep or even just to stop being upset and this is typical. It is very usual in the first few months for parents to report that their baby only sleeps on and off and does not sleep for longer than 1-3 hours at a time day or night! During this period, we need to make sure that you look after yourself also and try to get you and your family as much rest as possible. There are certainly a few strategies that can be very helpful to allow this to happen.
1. Try not to worry about what you feel or have been told are “bad habits” there is no such thing in the early days. Your task is to ensure that your baby has a felt sense of being loved, safe and secure and that their needs are met lovingly and without delay. Despite some onlookers reporting that you will spoil your baby, the reverse is actually true. These early months are about helping to bond and lay a foundation for an unconditional loving relationship that will be enduring. The less you resist this dynamic, the faster the need to be held all the time evolves into your baby feeling more robust and confident to lie down or sleep without as much input.
2. Although I absolutely do not recommend that you do an sort of sleep training, I do think that you could start to do some sleep shaping to lay a string platform for positive sleep practises without going insane; having an understanding of the following may help;
- Most young babies benefit from being returned to sleep every 1-2 hours throughout the day. Learning to read an early sleep cue can be beneficial in achieving sleep easier and ensuring that it is as long as it needs to be. Look for brief eye rubs, moments of quiet and brief yawns too. Don’t wait for more intense signals as they represent overtiredness and can mean that your baby may fight sleep or wake more frequently and sleep fitfully.
- Starting the day no later than 730am and always providing a feed first thing can help to regulate the feeding and sleeping pattern to ensure that those rhythms are in sync and run parallel to each other, rather than clashing. This way you can have feeds every 1-3 hours depending on the individual need and sleep every 1-2 hours accordingly. This enables feeding to occur on wakening from the nap and not always just before. This further helps to ensure that your baby is alert for the feed and may take enough rather than falling asleep on the job!
- Your new baby’s bedtime is quite late initially, a bit like an adults-maybe 10pm-12am. An earlier bedtime happens slowly over the first few months so that by 4 months a 7-8pm bedtime would be age appropriate for many young children. Don’t force this because they will only do this when ready, but also don’t miss this as if you do a fairly settled baby can become very restless. Follow their lead as best as you can.
- It is a good idea to try to allow your baby to be less asleep when you put them to bed at bedtime specifically. This can mean than when you offer the final feed you may change a nappy and put them down a little bit more aware/slightly awake. This small adjustment helps to allow the baby to learn to cycle through sleep and increases the chances of them maintaining their night sleep for longer intervals and waking only for feeds or brief reassurance. You may find that you baby is not open to this but keep trying as the weeks go by and then when it is becoming established do the same for nap 1 and nap 2 as well.
3. Getting out and about in the fresh air can help regulate your baby’s body to natural bright light by day, and then dimming light by evening/night- which can help in a number of ways. Exposure to light specifically in the mid afternoon is helpful in regulating your child’s sleeping patterns and promotes a deeper, more restful sleep. This can also help baby to distinguish between day and night before the young body starts to make the sleep hormone melatonin. It may also help you feel better as this activity will help enhance your mood and motivation too.
4. Don’t be afraid to use the car, pram, the swing or a sling to enable sleep. Always do so in line with the manufacturers and safe sleep guidelines, but certainly utilise your baby’s desire for motion that can significantly helps them achieve sleep. Although not a long term solution it certainly is great to help you get through what may be a challenging and tiring time.
5. Draft in plenty of support and don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Make sure then if applicable both parents are sharing the load. With the help, hopefully you’ll get a block of 3-4 hours of unbroken sleep. Getting a block of sleep such as this can make a huge difference to how you feel, and the need for an early bedtime will go soon a again too!
6. Parenting yourself. To be the best parent to your infant then first you need to parent yourself. As well as deepening your relationship with baby, travel inwards to the relationship with yourself too. Meet your needs, put yourself first, take time out, and continue to ask for help. Doing something kind for yourself means your tank of self love is high and then you will have enough to give to another. You cannot give to another, what you do not have for yourself. Time out is not selfish as you may believe; it is critical-get your nails done, go for a walk alone, meet up with a friend. Don’t be hard on yourself. Although we feel the baby must come first, actually parents need to put themselves first in order to be able to be available emotionally as well as physically.
C&G Babyclub also recommends that you’re ready when they are!
To minimise the amount of time you have to be awake, preparation is key. Try get ready for the night feeds before you even go to bed yourself. Have nappies, bibs and muslin cloths and other supplies all within arm’s reach. If breastfeeding, have some water and support pillow ready and if bottlefeeding, have bottles prepared and stored in the back of the fridge.
The sooner they get back to sleep, the sooner you get to too!
If your little one is 6months+ and is formula fed or you have moved on from breastfeeding, consider having some Cow & Gate Follow On Milk Ready to use milk beside the bed. The milk in the 200ml and 1 Litre bottles is sterile and you don’t have to store them in the fridge before they are opened. You can simply pour the liquid straight into your little one’s sterilised bottle and feed them. You won’t need to worry about going downstairs and trying to count the scoops while still half asleep (we’ve all lost count before). Find out more about Cow & Gate Follow On Ready to Use Milks here.