There is no bigger transition in our lives than having a baby. Adjusting to the needs of a new little human can bring its challenges and learning curve. As a Postpartum Doula for the past 10 years, most of the families I have worked with end up needing some type of support around sleep. Not only are new parents navigating their baby’s changing sleep and feeding patterns, they are also figuring out their new normal and how they as parents can get the amount of sleep they need to function.
The ideas around human behaviour and sleep have evolved greatly over the last 40-50 years. First, the science is clear that putting a baby to sleep on their back and keeping them in the same room as the parents until at least the age of 6 months can ward off the absolutely horrific incidences of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Also, many grandparents today will still offer advice like ‘let that baby cry and put that baby down because you’re going to spoil it’. However, with new research and experts that spend their careers learning about human and brain development, we are learning even more that letting a baby cry, especially around trying to "teach" the baby how to sleep, is not the recommended practice.
So let’s talk about the term ‘nighttime parenting’. Whoever thought that the professionals in the world around infant care would have to remind us that parenting a newborn is a 24 hours around the clock job? As human beings, we are not designed to sleep for long periods of time when we are infants as our tummies are small and the food that we flourish on digests quickly. So with that being said, why do we want our babies to sleep for long periods of time? Why is that our ultimate goal when we know babies who wake frequently for feeds are also less likely to succumb to SIDS?
Well the simple answer is... many parents are tired and alone! We often hear that it takes a village to raise a child and if we look back this was indeed true for most cultures throughout history. But as our way of life has evolved and families move away from each other, this supportive village has been lost for many of us.
So how do families survive the early months of taking care of their infant child that wakes often and needs to be fed on a frequent basis? For some families there is no other option except to get through it a day at a time and do their best with the resources they have. Some families have grandparents, friends or other family members to come and stay in order to help in those early weeks and months with a newborn. There are other options like fee for service resources available such as hiring a Postpartum Doula or a night nurse to help parents get more rest and the support they need.
Below are my top three suggestions for families that are struggling with the reality of sleep deprivation and taking care of a baby:
Most of us are programmed to get things accomplished in a day and when there’s a new baby on the scene, our level of day-to-day productivity can really go down. This can make a lot of new families feel like things aren’t getting done and this can cause stress. One suggestion is to find ways to delegate! What tasks can be allocated to different family members and friends? Can the birthing person’s partner/support take over tasks like diaper changes, meals, laundry etc. I often remind a new family that there’s a new top priority in the house and you will have to shift the level of priority of the other elements of their life.
Before a baby arrives, we can pretty easily predict our sleep around work, fun and other activities and aim for a certain amount of hours of sleep each night. Now with a new baby, feeding and keeping them alive is the new "fulltime job", so try not to get up and start your day just because the clock says the day has started. You can think of your day ‘starting’ when you have found a bit more sleep even if that means napping at different times throughout the day.
Learning about what normal infant sleep looks like will help you curb your expectations! Knowing what is normal will help you understand and better prepare for what you will need to survive this ever changing, sleep depriving time in your life!
To learn more about normal infant sleep or to get the support you and your family need to get more rest, reach out to our Gentle Sleep Consultant to learn more!