“Sleep when the baby sleeps”
That phrase must have been said to me 100x. Oh yeah, I’ll just have a sleep and ignore the massive pile of baby clothes with pooslosions all over them, the washing up mountain, my hair that is as greasy as fried chicken and the bins that need emptying. One of my worries before I had Lily was the sleepless nights and how I would cope with them. The 24 hour days that seem so endless. They are tough and they are long, but you can survive them.
Here’s a fact: Newborn babies are meant to wake through the night, it’s what they are supposed to do. So rest assured your little night owl is doing exactly what they should be doing at this age. That doesn’t mean that we find it easy. I have put together some tips to help you get through those early weeks, maybe you can read it at 3am to try and keep your eyes open. Hopefully I don’t bore you to sleep!
1. Prioritise tasks
You are going to have to do some housework, it’s just life. Try to stick to the chores that are in the most need of doing. Stick to one task per nap so you get a bit of a break too. Baby’s sleep a LOT in the day so you will have a few naps to get things done in. I would start with the washing, then the washing up, then later on preparing dinner. Other things like dusting, cleaning bathrooms and hoovering are all great if you get bonus time and want to do more but they can be saved for the weekend or when you have partner/mum around to help with the baby. Better yet they can do the chores for you.
2. Keep baby up late
Many people try and get their newborns to sleep at 7pm because they feel like that’s when children should be asleep. That’s true from about the 6 month mark, but younger than that the later you keep the baby up with you, the longer you will get to sleep later on when you go to bed. We had so much success for the first few months keeping Lily up until 10pm.
Our routine was this: Lily’s final 30 minute nap of the day would be no later than 6:30pm. We would then keep her awake playing until bathtime at 9pm. She would go in to her babygrow and have “wind down quiet time” until 10pm. At 10pm she would have a nappy change, then milk and go in to her crib. It meant that she had been awake for nearly 4hours and was really tired. This then gave me and Joe half an hour to an hour together to watch a programme or talk about our day uninterrupted before we went to bed too. Lily would then sleep whilst I was sleeping which was great and allowed me about 5 hours sleep at a time! She would then usually wake about midnight for a quick feed before falling asleep and then waking at 4am for another feed.
Two night feeds with a newborn is not too bad!
3. Look after you
You will feel like a milk engorged slob to start with. Make sure you make some time each day to do something for you. Even if it’s just having a shower and washing your hair. Or straightening it. I would have a shower when Lily was having her first nap of the day, once she woke up I would put her in her bouncy chair and straighten my hair whilst talking and singing to her. Even if I didn’t see one other person that day I would feel brighter for it.
4. Ask for (and accept!) help and support
In the early weeks after I had Lily my best friend came round whilst Joe was staying away with work. I was exhausted from looking after a newborn on my own that week. The washing had finished and needed to be hung up, so I asked her to hold Lily whilst I did it. “No, I’ll do the washing and you sit down” she replied. Well I could have cried and kissed her, it was so nice to have someone helping me. So many people say they will hold the baby whilst you get things done, but actually them doing the chores is amazing! In hindsight I should have asked friends and family to do more things like that as they would have been happy to.
5. Eat and drink.
As a new mum you obsess whether your baby is getting enough nutrients, are putting on enough weight. But you will go all day barely eating or drinking yourself. Especially if you’re breastfeeding you need to make sure you are getting enough calories to not only sustain your milk supply but also to sustain you! Drinking is especially important as if you’re dehydrated you are going to feel even more groggy and tired. I used to sit down to feed with a pint of water and force myself to drink the whole thing as I fed Lily. I found it useful to have a sports bottle of water with me around the lounge that I could take a swig from and chuck down.
6. Sharing night feeds
Now this I admit I didn’t do. Joe went back to work after 2 weeks and I felt that as I was on maternity leave I should therefore do every night feed, especially as I was breastfeeding. Next time I may not be so kind… During the week I think it’s fair that he gets to sleep as he has work. However one night either Friday or Saturday when he can have a lie in the next day allowing you one night a week of uninterrupted sleep will do the world of good. Don’t think this is only for bottle fed babies either, buy a good electric pump, I recommend the Medela Swing and get pumping! Milk will store for 4hours outside the fridge, 4days in the fridge and 6months in the freezer!!
7. Keep the room dark
When the baby wakes up at night keep them in the bedroom and don’t turn on the lights. Get a soft nightlight so you can still see but keep the room dark and quiet. Let them know that it is nighttime even though they don’t understand it is yet. Another fact for you: Babies don’t know the difference between day and night until about 10 weeks! By keeping the lights off you will also find it easier to go back to sleep once they’re settled.
8. Do not compare your baby to others.
Baby groups, they are great but they do inevitably lead to mums comparing how their baby is doing:
“Oh yeah Sally I’m sure little Angelica sleeps through the night every night, that’s so nice for you.. no Lily isn’t yet, oh it’s fine I think I got a little bit of sleep when I sneezed yesterday and my eyes closed for a second.”
It just makes you feel rubbish! Some babies sleep through the night from 4 weeks, some not until 4 years! Yes it’s good to get tips from other parents, but don’t beat yourself up if your child isn’t doing as well in one thing as another. Especially breastfed babies are more likely to wake in the night anyway.
9. Finally.. Try and enjoy those special snuggles and time together
Remember they are only newborns for a small amount of time. Soon they will be sleeping better and you will get some rest again. It felt like our special bonding time, when it was dark and quiet and it felt like it was just me and my baby looking up at me with her big milk drunk eyes whilst having a feed.
Well I hope they help a bit. There are loads more things you can do, dare I say it dummies helped when Lily went through a sleep regression. We also used womb sounds. Finally if you feel you are really struggling make sure you let people know. Your partner, health visitor, best friend, parents. It is tough being a new mum and it feels like you will never get a full nights sleep again, but I promise you will.