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I just had a dream last night that I was pregnant.Yeah, it was a pretty weird dream considering that it’s actually impossible, since the great partial hysterectomy of 2018. Not having a uterus makes it pretty much impossible to be pregnant. But, it reminded me of what it was like to be pregnant and becoming a new mom, all those years ago. Those early months of being a parent can be the foggiest of your life. I, honestly, didn’t know which way was up a lot of the time because I was so damn exhausted. Having to try to navigate, keeping a kid alive while keeping yourself organized at the same time is no easy task. It doesn’t leave much space for sleep, especially when your newborn is making your sleep as broken as physically possible. Don’t even get me started on the colicky newborn sleep nights. Trying to learn the way another person sleeps is not easy even if that person has come directly from you. Sleep is one of those things that you expect to lose out on when you become a parent, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy to truly comprehend how much sleep you will actually lose or what that can mean for you as a new mom… and that’s coming from a lifelong insomniac.
When you’re a mom, everything becomes about survival, and sleep is a big part of that survival. You think about when you can nap, about how long the baby is going to sleep through the night, how often you will be waking up to check on their breathing patterns. Babies are brand new to the world and you are learning about them as much as they are learning how to be human beings. The thing is, that’s little consolation when you’re so tired that you can’t see straight. There are guides such as Baby Sleep Positions: The Complete Guide For Parents that can help guide you through how to understand the ways that babies sleep, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. You can anticipate broken sleep and still be in shock and awe when the reality of sleep deprivation hits. Just because you chose to be a parent does not mean that you could have anticipated the gravity of what sleep deprivation can do to your mind, your mood and your health.
If it helps in any way, just know that sleep deprivation has been used as a torturing device in wars, so you’re not alone in feeling like you’re being cruel and unusually punished. As a new mom, there are lots of things that you’ll be learning and experiencing about motherhood for the first time. Sleep, for baby and mama, is a crucial part of surviving that process so let’s take a look at some of the top things that you need to learn now about how your baby will sleep.
Top things to learn now about newborn sleep
- Sleep deprivation is very dangerous. You can joke about leaving your car keys in your car, or leaving the chest freezer open in the garage, or falling asleep on the toilet due to lack of sleep but what happens when you are so tired you leave the baby in the carseat in a hot car? It’s scary and it’s dangerous. Severe and prolonged sleep deprivation can cause depression, hallucinations, memory loss and high blood pressure. Not only that, it is exhausting to try to live on very little sleep. Ideally, you’ll be sharing this sleep deprivation load with a partner, but if you’re trying to navigate things by yourself ( and even with help from your partner) then you’ll definitely need to call in some reinforcements in terms of friends and family to have some extra help.
- Parents often lie when it comes to their baby’s sleep. We all want to pretend we’ve got our mom shit together. If you ask a new parent how their baby is sleeping, they will tell you that their baby is sleeping just fine. But what does “fine” even mean for most people? I can tell you from my own experience, it sure as heck didn’t mean sleeping through the night. It mostly meant, at some point during the night they passed out and then I passed out and none of us died before the next feeding. But it most certainly did not mean we all had a massage and fell asleep at 9 PM and stayed asleep until 8 am the next morning. I never could have told that lie, the baggage under my eyes would have ratted me out. Newborns are not designed to sleep through the night. They have tiny tummies that need feeding every couple of hours, and they require cuddles and contact because they’ve just spent nine months suspended in animation in the coziest womb ever. Some parents feel the need to exaggerate that their babies are getting enough sleep so that they feel like they are competent parents when actually, it’s pretty refreshing if somebody just tells you the truth. Then, we know we’re all in this gangsta ass mother hood together just trying to survive. To be completely honest, when I had 2 babies, 2-years-old and under, I really thought I was going to die from lack of sleep. I survived on coffee, delirium and a partner who helped me up when I thought I could no longer soldier on.
- Solid food will not force your child to sleep. So many myths and legends of old parenting will tell you that if you put something heavy in the baby’s tummy, they will sleep for longer. But this doesn’t actually work. Sure, they might drift off into a high sugar, carb coma but that’s not healthy.at.all.Firstly, they’re not designed to sleep through the night. They are babies, they’re not built FORD tough. They are designed to wake up regularly as a survival instinct, to fill their bellies and train you for the zombie apocalypse. Secondly, putting solids into the belly of a newborn baby can lead to a lot of gut issues later on in life. You could also be exacerbating reflux issues and other pain issues that your baby may end up having. Why? Because baby tummies are not designed to hold solid food until beyond six months. There is plenty of research to back up this fact.
- Great nap times are not an indicator of great night times. Hell no. In fact, you’re baby might just be getting their days and nights mixed up and that’s a whole new level of cruel and unusual torture. Just because your baby sleeps during the day in solid nap time chunks doesn’t mean they’re going to do the same thing at night time, in fact, the opposite is probably true. Oh, in your exhausted state you’ll be tempted to let them sleeping babies just keep on napping but take it from this seasoned mom, don’t do it. One of the best things that you can do is to put your baby into some kind of a routine that’s based on them and not based on what you believe they should be doing. For example, overtired babies don’t sleep very well, and you’ll notice that within 90 minutes of waking up, your baby’s going to learn to understand your baby’s sleep cues.
- Routine is a good thing. Bedtime routines work, but it has to be dependent on what your baby’s wants and needs are. You could try to put your baby down before a certain time of night, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to instantly learn to recognize this as nighttime bedtime. A good winding down with a bath, lavender lotion massage, and story at bedtime is perfect, so just make sure that you are sticking to the same order so as they get older they will learn that this is what they’re bedtime routine is.
- Babies will always fall asleep when they are tired enough to do so but to be able to drift off into a peaceful slumber is the real goal. If you manage to get your baby off into a nice deep sleep and put them into their crib successfully, then congratulations to you because this only happened because they felt safe and comfortable enough to do so in your care. Believe me, many a night I silently, army crawled backwards out of my daughters’ nursery like some sort of James Bond supervillain so I know, it takes some time to get the process working.
- Breastfeeding can help with sleeping. Breast milk is packed with melatonin and as a naturally occurring human hormone, the levels of this hormone increase towards the evening. Those nighttime feeds are packed with all of the good fats and melatonin that your child needs to fall asleep. As our melatonin starts to rise in the evening and reaches that peak in the early hours of the morning, breast milk is melatonin. Breast milk can be quite magical in that way.
- Keep the environment dark. Lighting and devices will always interfere with baby’s sleep.I recommend room darkening blinds or blackout curtains. I never had a nursery without them. If you’re trying to put your baby to sleep, leave your phone behind. Sure you may be tempted to try to multitask during those 3 AM hour long feeding and rocking sessions but try to avoid the phone because that blue light will be shining in their face as much as it will be yours and you both need your rest.
The important thing to remember is that this is temporary and it won’t always be this hard. If you can remind yourself of that from time to time in the early days, it will change your perspective and make it all feel a bit easier. The most important thing is that you and baby get enough rest to live and love and fight again the next day. Motherhood can be really hard and sometimes a bit miserable but then, it’s filled with little hands hugging your neck, loving you unconditionally and even the occasional moments of unadulterated bliss. Take from this mom of a 18 and 16-year-old, with one heading off to college in the fall and the other one about to graduate from high school, I would not trade one second of my exhausted front row seat in their childhood for any amount of sleep. From me to you, motherhood is very hard but it is also very worth it and never forget, you are not alone; we’ve all been where you are.