Sleep changes almost as soon as we find out we’re pregnant. From the excitement, to morning sickness, heartburn, growing bodies, worries, and getting up to pee for the 100th time – it truly feels like you’re not sleeping at all.
With all of these sleep woes, it seems like it should get easier once your baby is no longer on the inside. Yet, as anyone with children knows, this is definitely not the case – once a new baby arrives sleep shifts into uncharted territory.
As new parents, we’re inundated with advice on sleep. The majority of articles on infant sleep articles focus on babies. Understanding the science behind infant sleep (it’s certainly not linear!) and normalizing the behavior (it is vastly different to adult sleep), is one very important part of the picture. Tweaks to routines, sleep environments, and advice from an Infant Sleep Educator can also help immensely.
However, a vital part to the surviving and thriving these early stages, is shifting our attention towards our own behaviours and attitudes. By taking a portion of the focus off our babies and placing more of it on to ourselves, we can feel more in control and better equipped to tackle our days and nights.
Throughout my pregnancy I kept hearing phrases like, “Sleep while you can – you won’t ever sleep again when your babies arrive.” Admittedly, this advice was shocking and frightening. I felt attached to my sleep patterns and did not know how I’d every function with such drastic changes.
We all know how we feel on minimal sleep and we all know it doesn’t feel good. But here’s the thing – you will sleep – it will just look different to what you’re used to. It will also shift as time passes and come back to some sort of pattern you were once used to. What’s essential to help us not only cope, but dare I say, thrive, is to have systems in place to help us maximize the sleep we are getting.
Here are 4 tips to help get you through the early newborn and later baby days.
1. Lights Out
It’s normal – and often necessary, that parents savour the child free time in the evenings. But it’s equally important to take your bedtime seriously. Frequent night wakings are normal and unavoidable during the first year (or more) of a baby’s life. Plus, most babies and children have this beautiful knack of waking up quite early. However tempting it may be to binge-watch Netflix, getting our own bodies in bed at a decent time can ensure that we maximize our rest time.
- Set your bedtime and start prepping for it an hour before. If you want to be in bed at 10 p.m. make sure at 9 p.m. you’re in your pyjamas, brushing your teeth and starting your own bedtime routine. We all know that there is always one more thing to do, pushing bedtime later and later. By giving yourself extra time you’re more likely to be asleep earlier.
- Consider your evening lighting. The evidence is clear – artificial light in the evening can interfere with getting to sleep easily or for longer, deeper lengths (www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/lights-out). Try to turn your phone off or adjust your settings to darken the hue of your screen. You may also consider using soft, red hued lighting or salt lamps in the evening or at any point in the night that you’re up, changing diapers or tending to your baby.
- Consider going to bed extra early 1 day of the week. Sleep debt is real and if we’re aware we’re losing sleep, we need to have ways to repay our debt. Try to choose one night a week where you go to sleep early, perhaps with your baby or child, to start repaying your debt.
2. Get Outside
Fresh air, sunshine, movement and new scenery are magic – they help revive us if we’ve had a rough night, offer us necessary Vitamin D, and they are also great ways to help our circadian rhythms stay on track. Getting outside can also help us socialize with other parents, offering a space to unload, relate and discuss sleep woes.
However, I will be the first to admit that getting out of the house with a baby can be challenging, to say the least. As well as waking up early, babies have this wonderful way of needing to eat, poo, spit up or make varied other types of messes, just as you’ve gotten ready to go out. Regardless of the time of year, it’s vital to get outside, even if it’s for a short time, for the plethora of benefits to your sleep and overall wellbeing.
- Get out once a day. Set a goal of one outdoor time and anything extra is icing on the cake.
- Keep your diaper bag ready to go. Each day make sure you’re topped up and always have doubles of items so you’re not constantly pulling things out of the bag and forgetting to replenish.
- Set extra time and cut yourself some slack. Give yourself an extra hour to get ready – babies may be tiny, but it takes a lot of time to get them ready. Also be sure to be kind to yourself. There will be days that you are late or need to cancel your plans. Anyone with kids, or an empathetic heart, will understand and forgive you.
3. Self care and connect with your village
In order to be the best parents to our children, our “cups” need to be full. Spending time with our loved ones helps release oxytocin, the feel good hormone. It also reminds us of who we were before kids – a whole, wonderful human, with our own important needs. Nourishing your relationship with your tribe is important – these are the people that are there to support you through the years, as your children grow out of babyhood.
- Schedule your plans. Make appointments, follow through with them and keep them regular. Get a massage, go to your favourite yoga class – whatever is going to fill your cup. Also, be sure to write your plans on your calendar – you’re more likely to commit to self care when it’s scheduled.
- Find caregivers that you trust. Leaving your baby with your partner or other loved ones is a great opportunity for them to bond. You may even consider getting them to use a baby carrier or wrap (https://lovechildorganics.com/4-reasons-families-invest-baby-wearing/) to help facilitate the bond and ease the time you’re away even further.
- Listen to yourself – try not to feel pressured to leave your baby too soon. If you’re not comfortable leaving your baby don’t pressure yourself into alone time. Schedule some date nights or friend hangouts at home instead.
4. Nap or rest when you can
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is a piece of advice that all parents-to-be are likely to hear. Admittedly, it can sound so frustrating. I was definitely one of those people that felt like napping was not a good use of my time – there is so much to do – laundry, tidying, catching up on messages, getting some “me” time, and on and on.
But here’s the thing – these lost minutes of sleep add up and we need to repay our sleep debt somehow. By taking on too much we will run ourselves into a hole.
- Let go or get help. You’ll frequently hear, “the laundry/dishes/floors etc. can wait.” If you are someone who can easily let these things go, by all means do so. A clean and tidy space is valuable to me and I knew it was not something I’d be ready to budge on. If you’re like me, consider calling on friends, family, a postpartum doula and/or a cleaner, to tackle the build up of household chores.
- Have someone watch the baby. Calling on a postpartum doula or a family member to watch your baby while you grab some daytime sleep can be hugely beneficial. Alternatively, postpartum doulas and your loved ones can take care of household tasks while you stay and rest with your baby.
- Lie down. Even if we don’t fall asleep, lying down and resting, especially in a dark space, can help us feel reinvigorated.
- Get your feet up the wall or get into an inversion. Reversing your blood flow is going to call on your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us relax and unwind.
While these tips seems so simple, take them seriously and commit to them – they truly can make a world of difference. They don’t have to happen all at one time or every day. Weave them into your life, amongst the feedings, the diapers and all those baby cuddles, as best you can. And remember, this won’t last – soon you’ll be worrying about how late your teenagers are sleeping in.
Kate is a Birth and Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, Infant Sleep Educator and Yoga Instructor, currently living in Toronto, ON. When she’s not supporting new families on their parenting journey, she is running after her wonderfully active 2-year-old twins. She loves exploring the ravines of the city, drinking green tea and green smoothies (in large mugs), and the colour purple.