I never knew what sleep deprivation meant until I became a mother. The first month was rough, but we made it through. Now that my daughter is 1, I look back and overall, it wasn’t too bad. You do make it through, and your baby will eventually sleep! I made a few “mistakes” during the first year that may have contributed to my lack of sleep. I use quotation marks because it isn’t really a problem unless it is an issue for you. And well for us, I was starting back at work and the lack of sleep was causing me anxiety!
Please note, when I talk about sleep deprivation, I am not talking about the newborn phase. Newborns are meant to wake every couple of hours to feed, this is normal and expected!
- Do not feed the baby to sleep. Feed the baby and then put the baby down in the cot awake. This teaches the baby to fall asleep without using your breast as a sleeping aid. I always breastfed Madeleine to sleep which worked fabulous for us from newborn to about 6 months of age. Then after that, her sleep cycle matured and shortened from 6 hours to 2 hours. She was up every 2 hours during the night, particularly after midnight. At each of those wakings, she expected to be breastfed back to sleep otherwise she would scream the house down!
There’s a terrific article on the ‘Little Ones’ Blog which explains the different sleep cycle duration and how it matures over the first 6 months of a baby’s life. It will explain when your baby will likely wake, if they haven’t been taught how to put themselves back to sleep. You can read about it here.
- Be smart about which sleeping aid you use! This is a very important lesson. I am so glad that Madeleine didn’t take to a pacifier as we would’ve had another issue on our hands! Most babies who use a pacifier to put themselves to sleep, will wake up and cry if they can’t put the pacifier back into their mouth! One of the mums in my mother’s group was waking up every hour because her daughter’s pacifier kept falling out of the cot! Only use a sleeping aid that you can continually use and doesn’t require you to wake up during the night. We use white noise and a blanket, both of which are readily available and accessible!
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. This is so cliche but it definitely helps, even if it’s 10 minutes or even if it means I’ll be woken up by her crying. Overnight 4 x 45 minute sleep is better than not sleeping at all.
- Leave the house work. The dirty dishes, a home cooked dinner and the washing are things that can wait. They are replaceable. Unfortunately, you are not. There’s a precious little baby that needs you. You are important, so use your time wisely and sleep when you can. A well rested mother is better than one that’s sleep deprived.
- Consider leaving the baby with someone so that you can catch up on sleep. I used to be reluctant to ask for help, which is so silly of me. But sleep deprivation is real, your mother or mother-in-law would love to spend time with their grandchild. So give them a call, have them mind the baby, whilst you catch up on sleep!
- Have you considered co-sleeping? During the early days, I was a bit reluctant to co-sleep as I was worried about crushing my baby and the increased risks of SIDS. Once you have eliminated the possibility of both (there are some great cots that attach to your bed which allow for safer co-sleeping), it can be quite handy not having to leave your bed to breastfeed or settle them (especially in winter)!
Looking back I found 6 months and 11 months of age to be the worst months for sleep. At 6 months, once I taught Madeleine to fall asleep without my breast, this improved a lot! At 11 months, she experienced some separation anxiety but this seems to have subsided at 12 months.