When you become a parent, the sudden lack of sleep can hit you like a tonne of bricks. No matter how much you prepare for it, no matter how many times people warn you about it, the ongoing interrupted sleep can make you feel like a zombie.
To make it even harder, you’re expected to care for a tiny baby while you’re adjusting to your new role as a mum. With all those up and down hormones, the whole thing can be hard to take.
When you’re in the thick of sleep deprivation, and wondering how anyone survives this part of motherhood, it’s normal to start looking around for solutions.
At mother’s group, you compare how other babies are sleeping compared to yours. You start questioning whether you’re doing anything wrong. You embark on a quest for the magic cure for your baby’s sleep.
We’ve all been there
I know the pain of ongoing sleep deprivation. With four children, I barely slept for the first few years of my parenting life. I went through everything you’re going through right now. The frustrated tears. Buying every sleep book on the planet. Joining all the baby forums to see what was working for other mums. Lurking on the sleep consultant websites, wondering if I should take the plunge and just pay someone to help me.
Somewhere along the way, I came to a realisation, and it changed the way I saw everything. Before you get excited, I’m not about to reveal the cure for babies that don’t sleep. There isn’t one (sorry).
But what I learned might just help you deal with the lack of sleep at your place right now.
It comes down to your mindset
You know those times when your baby is extra unsettled, refuses point blank to sleep and nearly pushes you over the edge?
And just when you think you can’t face another long night without sleep, you decide to take your little one’s temperature and discover she isn’t well. Then, just like that, you do an about face. Suddenly, you have a burst of new energy, because your baby needs you and you’ll do whatever it takes to get her well again, even if that means sitting up all night.
Your whole mindset changes, and suddenly you can deal with it.
This was my big discovery when I was knee-deep in nappies and chronic sleep deprivation. I realised that stressing about the sleep side of things was the worst part of the situation. When I changed how I felt about it, accepted that my baby was normal, I felt better. I stopped thinking that I couldn’t cope with the constant night-wakings and things magically got easier.
Babies don’t sleep how you want them to. That’s just how they are. For the best part of a year, your baby will need you throughout the night and it’s your job to figure out how to manage it. Not fix it. This is what I discovered, and I was so relieved when I did. Don’t get me wrong, I was still dog tired, but I approached it differently.
There’s no magic cure
There’s no magic cure for getting your baby to sleep perfectly. There’s always going to be some baby you know who sleeps through the night at four weeks old, but this is an exception to the rule and down to sheer luck.
You can try all the techniques to see if they work for you, but if they don’t, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or your baby. It just means your baby isn’t ready yet, and the sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to manage the situation.
I’m not saying that you’ll suddenly be like a mummy machine that never needs to rest. You won’t. It will still be awful and hard to get up every night, but if you take the emotional thoughts out of it (e.g. ‘Oh my god, not again!’ ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’ ”I can’t take another minute of this torture!’ etc) and change it to something more helpful, you’re automatically going to cope better.
Something like, ‘This won’t last forever’, ‘My baby is lucky to have a dedicated mum like me’ or ‘Every mum goes through this’ is better – and more true!
Managing without sleep
Your baby’s sleep will improve eventually. Like I did, you just need to accept that. Instead of stressing about how you can get your baby to sleep through the night, try a damage-control approach instead. If you’re up in the night, how can you get more rest in? Can your partner help with settling overnight, or first thing in the morning, so you can get a lie-in? Can someone sit with your baby in the day so you can get a break? What support group can offer you the reassurance you need?
If you’re really struggling to cope, consider seeing your GP or family health nurse, who may be able to offer you some extra support.
Need some more baby sleep advice? Our Parent School sleep experts can help. Click to find out more or book a one-on-one session.