Every person you talk to asks about it, every second parenting article is written about it and chances are it’s on your mind a few times each day (and night).
Sleep could arguably be the most challenging and often controversial part of new parenthood.
Mother in law says do this, Grandma says do that, health nurse says something else and the book you read said something different altogether. Then there’s your intuition. What’s that telling you? Sometimes that inner voice can be really hard to hear. Constantly being told what to do from external sources and relying on this information can drown out our inner voice to the point where a lot of people don’t even think they have one. Have a listen. What can you hear?
Babies expect to be held. 24 hours a day initially. It’s exhausting even thinking about it. Why is it that our expectations about baby sleep are so different from theirs? A lot of things have changed in the last 1000 years but a new baby doesn’t know that. They don’t know that they are safe from animal predators if they are alone in a cot, they don’t know that they aren’t being left behind by the nomadic tribe when Mum leaves the room.
So if this is what our babies intrinsically expect and need, why do we so often consider it a sleep ‘problem’? Expectations and support.
I believe nearly all infant sleep ‘problems’ are really a result of overly high expectations and severe lack of support.
We go into parenthood with this idea that the ‘holy grail’ of sleeping through the night is something we should be able to achieve with our baby and if we can’t, our baby has a sleep problem. What if we changed our expectations? Or even better, what if we learned about the reasins waking through the night is actually beneficial for our baby’s brain development, our breastfeeding relationship, our fertility control (not just because you don’t feel like sex) and is protective against SIDS? References at end of article.
What if we just didn’t expect to sleep much for the first year or more, without assuming our baby has a problem? How would that change how we approach life as a parent? We might prioritise finding support for ourselves.
If you are anything like me you have probably mourned the absence of the ‘village’ since becoming a mother. Actually I feel like there is a big hole in my heart that can only be filled with regular contact and emotional and practical support from other mothers. Living, laughing, crying and loving together. It’s a deep and constant ache. Sometimes I get a glimpse of what that village would feel like but in this nuclear-family-living-in-a house-by-themselves culture, it is never more than a glimpse.
So in the absence of the village and often the absence of extended family to help out, how can we find this support? Organically grown mother’s groups of like minded women, paying a cleaner, having an Au Pair or HelpX helper live with you, cooking in bulk and doing food swaps with friends, doing kid swaps with friends, having ‘village days’ where you all spend a few hours or a day cooking together for the week at one person’s house and then clean up their house at the end, going to someone else’s house next week.
As mothers though, actually admitting we need help and asking for that help is a massive obstacle.
We don’t want to seem like we aren’t coping, or heaven forbid, not enjoying motherhood.
For what its worth, I’m going to give you permission right here and now to ask for help and accept all offers of help. We were not meant to do this alone, which is why it is so unbelievably hard when we do. I’m also going to give you permission to acknowledge those times you don’t love motherhood. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. Motherhood and your actual children are two different things.
Oh, and napping helps.
You might think there is no point in lying down for half an hour but there is a lot of solid evidence out there highlighting that a 20 minute nap has a significant positive impact on just about every area of your life. You might also feel guilty about having a nap. There’s washing up to do, washing to hang out, dinner to cook, blah blah blah, we’ve all got the same list. If you’re going to be happier and more productive once you’ve woken up does that make you feel better about it? Besides, the only person making you feel guilty is you. You deserve that nap my friend, and a massage and 3 hours reading in bed and a home chef and a week long yoga retreat but a short nap is probably the most realistic and achievable out of that list. You work all day and pretty much all night. Have a nap.
Yes, ‘the days are long but the years are short’ but, honestly, that is a pathetic excuse for a consolation when you’re in the depths of it. You need actual support.
If after giving these ideas a go sleep is still a significant problem for you, there is support available. I offer sleep consulting services for tired parents but be warned, I will be focusing first on how I can help you understand your baby, modify your expectations and develop a support network before we worry about what little munchkin is doing.
The No Cry Solution series by Elizabeth Pantley
Helping your baby to sleep by Annie Genthin and Beth McGregor
Boobin all day and boobin all night by Meg Nagle (The Milk Meg)
Sleeping like a baby by Pinky McKay
The Science of Mother Infant Sleep Ed Wendy Middlemiss and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett
Why love matters by Sue Gerhart
Heart to heart parenting by Robin Grille
Sleeping with your baby by James McKenna
I live in Darwin in Australia's Tropical North and am the mother of three beautiful children. I am blessed with working with women through their fertility, preconception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting journeys. I am committed to lifelong learning and am interested in nutrition and natural health, the childbearing cycle, natural parenting philosophy and practice and the spiritual journey of motherhood.