By Elspeth Mary Witton
Having a new born baby is one of the biggest challenges parents will face. During this newborn stage almost all of us will experience a whole lot of anxiety around life with our new little one. Rest assured mum and dad, this is absolutely normal!
In fact, for the first few months after the birth of your baby, your brain is hardwired (especially for mothers) to feel an intense kind of worry around your baby’s safety at all times. This worry can really get to you and coupled with a screaming baby, an abundance of unhelpful advice and long periods of isolation, it is no wonder we can feel overwhelmed by anxiety.
It is incredibly important to make sure that you are caring for yourself just as much as you are caring for your baby – but this is often easier said than done.
No doubt you are working hard to make sure that your baby has good sleep hygiene, but you also need to put the same amount of effort and care into your own sleep. How we think and feel about our own sleep and our baby’s sleep plays a large role in how we actually sleep and how we tend to our babies needs. We tend to underestimate how much sleep we’ve had, as well as over estimate the effects that sleep deprivation has on our ability to function normally.
Adults with sleep problems, even the early parenthood kind, are encouraged to not only address the way they think about sleep but also change their behaviors around sleep. Behaviour patterns can include:
- careful caffeine use
- avoid blue light from TVs or laptops a couple of hours before bedtime
- only go to bed when tired
- get up and do something relaxing if you cannot get to sleep after 20 minutes
- get up at the same time each morning
If you feel anxious, angry or worried about being woken by your baby at night, it makes it difficult for you to read your baby’s communications. It also makes it more difficult for you to make judgement calls on how to respond according to your babies cues – is baby resettling? Does baby need a feed, nappy change, cuddle or just a little rocking?
We can also become less emotionally available at night to our babies when we feel anxious, angry or worried about their sleep; babies are more easily settled when we are emotionally available. To make matters even more complex, mainstream baby-sleep advice actually promotes the kind of thoughts and behaviours that adult sleep researchers tell us create or exacerbate adult sleep problems. This includes advice like staying at home to make sure your baby always sleeps in the same place, and focusing on getting your baby into a regimented routine. These actions can leave mothers feeling isolated and unsupported.
Instead of planning your day around your baby’s routine, try planning it around your own needs. Take baby with you as you go about your day.
Getting out and about with your baby – exercising, having fresh air – and socialising are powerful antidepressants and are important self-care aspects to be factored into your day. Instead of planning your day around your baby’s routine, try planning it around your own needs. Take baby with you as you go about your day. Your baby will thrive in the rich and healthy sensory diet of being out and about – the fresh air, sunshine, sights and sounds of your day.
Spending long periods trying to settle your baby in a dim lit or dark room ‘helping baby to self-settle’ is not good for you or your baby’s mood or circadian clock.
The key to making this work well for you both is to make sure that you are attending to baby’s cues promptly and having lots of little moments together, paying attention to your baby and having fun together.
There is no need to worry about your baby getting enough sleep as your baby will sleep when they need to as long as they are fed well and having a healthy sensory diet. Little things like going to the shops, the park, a cafe or museum can shed such a positive light on your day.