For many mothers, the issue of sleep is arguably one of the most physically and emotionally challenging aspects of raising a baby. Sleep deprivation in mothers can not only lead to fatigue, but in some cases depression and anxiety to name only a few symptoms. Since every baby’s sleeping pattern will be different, and every mothers sleeping habits will be different, there is no one-size-fits all method. As a postpartum doula and as a mother myself, I would like to share my experiences with matters of sleep.
The first thing to know, especially if you are a new mother is that you will be shocked at just how little sleep you will get. When I was pregnant with Ethan my now 20 month old, moms would say “just wait…you don’t even know what tired is yet”. I remember that always used to upset me. For one I was a sensitive sleeper naturally and have struggled sleeping through the night on a good day. I was no stranger to fatigue. I also have common sense and figured it would be challenging anyway. I mean really who likes hearing “you don’t even know…or… just you wait..”. But, and its a big but lol, I really had no clue. So as much as I thought I was emotionally prepared…. I just wasn’t. I think rather than telling moms “you don’t even know what tired is yet”, I would like to say to you perspective mother’s that you are not supposed to know, you are supposed to discover this amazing journey on your own. You may even be one of the lucky ones who has a baby that sleeps very well through the night. So don’t stress about it until you approach your own unique challenges as they come to you.
It is also important to note that it is not recommended to sleep train or let your baby self soothe when they are still in their infancy. The first 1-4 months infants don’t have the capability of tricking you or manipulating you, they also need to eat a lot. It is normal during this time for babies to go no more than 2-3 hours between feedings. If they are crying, it is because they need something. Either your comfort, a diaper change, some more milk, or simply your embrace. So sorry mamas, the first few months are hard on everyone. I personally experienced severe anxiety in the night as I had postpartum depression as well. To put it in perspective, imagine how tired you would be after giving birth, your hormones are all over the place, your body is producing milk, and here you are sometimes alone in the silence of night desperately needing some sleep, perhaps struggling with feeding, or dealing with a colicky baby.
I will not go into the different methods of sleep training your children as there are many, and they all have their positives and negatives. For Ethan, I created my own method of mixing self-soothing with going in and comforting him., I would just slowly extend the length of time before I went in again. This worked for me. But the tips I am going to share can be applied regardless of how you sleep train your LO. Each approach can work. Don’t let someone advise you on how you should handle this issue. Your instincts will tell you what will work best for you, your child and your family. So regardless of what options you choose, or perhaps one that is somewhere in between, here are the tips that helped me get through this difficult time.
1- Communicate your goals with your partner. I have seen countless times where one partner is choosing the route of self soothing, and when the baby is crying, the other partner is tempted to go in and soothe the baby, or lashes out and feels he/she is neglecting the child. It is so important to handle this as a team. Always do the same routines with the child at the same time. If a strategy isn’t working for you and your family, change it up, just always be on the same page.
2-White noise. Having a white noise machine can really help keep your baby calm and increase length of sleep for your little one, as these sounds mimic the dull constant noise that they hear in the womb.
3-Lighting is very important. Make sure the area your child is sleeping in has a consistent light that is mainly dark, warm, and soothing. They will associate this environment in time with sleeping. Also dark rooms reduce the chances of your baby responding to their environment or nearby stimuli.
4- Be consistent. While you are sleep training your child, try your best to keep their mealtimes, bath times, and most importantly night time routines as consistent as possible. Sometimes this will not be possible but always try and stick to the same timelines. This will also train your baby to know when it’s time to go to sleep.
4-Swaddling. After you have your baby, if you have not already received instruction on how to swaddle in a childbirth education class, your nurses will show your how to swaddle your LO. This is very effective for most infants, however some (like my little man) did not like it past two weeks of age. Swaddling creates a sense of constriction and security. Some mothers swaddle with the arms in, others with the arms out so baby can support themselves better in the night. Talk to your doctor, nurse of midwife if you have questions about the best method of swaddling.
5-Accept help. If you are able to have someone else do an occasional feeding. Take advantage of that. If you are bottle feeding then your partner can help share the load and allow you to get some more zzz’s. If you are breastfeeding and not introducing a bottle, this tip will not be an option.
6-Give them time. Once your infant is a little older and able to sleep longer than before, it is important to let them try to fall asleep on their own. Basically if they are crying, and its more of a whine or whimper, as hard as it can be, let them sort through those emotions. This is the beginning of your baby learning to sleep on their own. If they are screaming or sound like they are suffering then of course, check on them. You will soon learn your child’s cries, as are there are many different ones.
7-Be positive. Lastly, and this is not based on any evidence this is just my experience. The nights that I felt happy, and connected with my child. When I would stare in his big beautiful eyes and smile, he tended to sleep better then the nights when I had anxiety or was frustrated with pumping. I think babies are far more in tune with our emotions then people realize. So if you are upset or stressed, use whatever comfort measures you need to to leave that negative mental space before holding your child in the night.
I hope that these tips will help you get started on your journey with getting more sleep. I wish you and your family all the best. Don’t worry, they will sleep through the night eventually, you shall reclaim your sleep again. Until then, you are not alone. All the mothers holding their little ones through the night salute you. All the best.