Sleepless with a Newborn
Have you ever heard or participated in this type of conversation?
Mom 1: I am so tired. My baby was up 4 times last night and my husband slept through it all.
Mom 2: Oh that sucks. Our baby has been sleeping through the night since she was 3 weeks old. You should just let her cry. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
…Or maybe you’ve been a part of this?
Mom 1: My baby just wants to nurse all night long. I can’t seem to be able to put her down. I feel like I can’t even get 10 minutes to go to the bathroom by myself.
Mom 2: Oh honey, this is just a phase. Enjoy it while you can because it’s gone in the blink of an eye.
Ugh… I feel so bad for mamas who are in either of these situations and feel as if they are doing something wrong or even worse, feel that they are losing a sense of themselves because of sheer sleep deprivation and overwhelm. The newborn phase of motherhood is so incredibly hard and we don’t give our mamas the support they need to navigate this huge change. Often unintentionally, we meet them with comments that validate our own experiences as a mother and leave the tired mamas Googling to figure out what is wrong with her baby (and her). I meet so many moms who feel like they are doing things “wrong” and don’t know where to turn, so I thought it might be helpful to talk a little bit about what is “normal” for sleep during the newborn months by debunking a few of the common myths.
1. Newborns sleep through the night.
Newborn babies are not supposed to sleep through the night. They need to eat every couple of hours to establish healthy eating habits and their sleep cycles have not matured. Some babies will naturally sleep longer stretches of sleep than others, but there are many babies that will only sleep for 45 minutes to an hour at a time during the day and then will be up every couple of hours at night. We typically start to see longer stretches of sleep (3-6 hours) around 6 weeks of age, but babies still need to eat at night! Depending on weight and whether they are breastfed, some babies may need one to two feeds up until 9 months of age.
What can you do? Keep your baby’s periods of wakefulness short during the day. A newborn should only be awake for 45 minutes to an hour at a time during the day before needing to go back to sleep. Some babies need more help than others going to sleep , so do what you need to do to safely get your baby to sleep. Rocking, swings, car rides, stroller rides may all be necessary to help your newborn get to sleep. You can wean off of these associations as your baby becomes older and more aware.
2. Babies need to be put on a schedule from Day 1.
There are a ton of books out there that claim your baby should be sleeping through the night by 12 weeks and on a schedule during the day by that time as well. Talk about stress! The first 12 weeks of a baby’s life should be spent getting to know your baby—watching their cues, learning how to feed and calm them; they should not be used to put your baby on a rigid schedule. Babies do not have established circadian rhythms (the 24 hour cycle that determines predictable sleepy cues throughout the day) until 4 months of age.
What can you do? Pay attention to your child’s sleepy cues—rubbing eyes, getting fussy, yawning, gazing off into space. Work to get your child to sleep during the day even if they don’t show all of these cues. Keep track of your child’s sleep and feedings so you can begin to notice patterns emerging. Begin thinking about a more structured schedule as your baby moves closer to 4 months.
3. You’re spoiling your baby with all of that holding.
This is simply not true. Holding a baby, especially skin to skin contact, is extremely beneficial to a newborn and parent. When your newborn cries, she cries because she is hungry, wet, or tired; not because she is trying to manipulate you.
What can you do? Use The 5 Ss to calm your baby when they are crying. Too tired because you feel like you are holding all of the time? Give your baby to your partner or a friend to hold if you are tired and need a break. Consider investing in a post-partum doula to help. Just because your baby needs to be held a lot doesn’t mean that you have to be the only one holding her all of the time.
4. You can sleep when they are in college.
I know that some people get angry when they hear the words, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” because their babies hardly sleep. It is definitely a balancing act in the beginning and moms need to steal moments for sleeping so that they can remain healthy, but it is so important that new moms rest so that their bodies can heal during the fourth trimester.
What can you do? Set up a schedule with your partner so that you can get sleep at night. Maybe you sleep earlier in the evening and take over for the early morning shift. Find something that works for both of you. Trade Facebook and other screen time for sleep. Make your sleep environment conducive to sleep (dark, cool, clutter free) so that when you are able to rest, you’ll be able to fall asleep quickly.
5. Moms should love every minute of being a mom.
I know that people often tell other moms to “enjoy every moment” as a reminder that time does go by fast. It’s true, but we don’t have to love all of it all of the time. It’s okay to be frustrated and to vent and ask for help. It does not make us weak as women, mothers, or as friends to say that we are not loving something. It’s okay to feel frustrated and it’s okay to cry about it. Sometimes a good cry is all we need to feel better again.
What can you do? As a mom, share how you are feeling so that you can keep your emotional health in check. If you are feeling more than just the average frustration or baby blues, consult a post-partum therapist or counselor. When you see a mama having a hard time, we should say, “I see how hard you are trying. You’re doing great! Is there anything I can do for you?” If a mama complains, validate her. Tell her how hard it is and offer to wash her dishes. Try not to offer advice on what she could be doing better. That’s not going to help her “enjoy every moment.” Let her know you have been there and that it does get better, but ask if she would like some help before offering advice.
You’re doing it right, mamas. This newborn thing can be tough. Keep your expectations in check and sleep when you can over anything else. There is support available if you need it.