Having a new baby is exciting, isn’t it? You’ve just spent your time building your nursery and putting together your pushchairs, and you’ve waited months for this new baby to be born. It’s supposed to be a time of happiness – but the exhaustion is something else. Tiredness is something that you think is easy to manage when you don’t have children. You pull all-nighters for your job and you work through the night to study, but one thing that you must understand is that this is not the same kind of tiredness as that which comes from a new baby. Newborn babies are beautiful and whole, but boy, do they take. They take from you in ways that you can’t even imagine until your baby is here – and that exhaustion is rough to handle.
Instead of panicking now that you’re learning that newborn days are hard, you must equip yourself the best way that you can. You can learn 7 tips for surviving sleep regression (those beautiful leaps in that first year- hint, sarcasm!) and you can learn how to cope with the exhaustion but before you can do that, you need to remember that you deserve a break! You are a new parent and you are going to have to learn how to be one – both of you. Mothers are learning in a brand new way, just like fathers have to. There is no such thing as a parent who naturally is a parent; you’re both learning and that’s going to take some time. You love your baby more than life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not okay to be unhappy with the lack of sleep!
So, what can you realistically do? You already know that babies are supposed to wake up, and you know that this is going to go on for some time. However, you need to do all that you can to prepare yourself for this phase in life because it’s not going to be an easy transition for any of you. Here are some tips for helping you to cope with those overwhelming new nights as a new unit.
- Talk. One of the worst things that you can do when you are struggling is to be quiet about it. You need to open your mouth and sing to everyone how exhausted you are. Your friends and family need to know that you are struggling so that they know it’s time to support you. Once you get pregnant, gather that village around you. The people you trust the most are those you can call on to have a nap when things feel desperate. They Are going to be there for you and you can build that village once you have your pregnancy confirmed. Knowing you have people to back you up on the hardest of days is vital to your ability to manage.
- Talk about your needs with your partner. Before the baby comes, you need to be honest with your partner about your expectations. What do you want from them? How do you want to handle the night shift splits? Some couples split the night in half because they can both get a few hours of sleep each. Just because you are at home with your baby, it doesn’t mean you should have to suffer through the night. Talking to each other about what you need early will really help you to carve out your equality as a couple and not use exhaustion against each other.
- Say no. When you have a bad night with the baby up, you should say no to all of the baby groups and other responsibilities. The house can wait. Your baby group can wait. Invitations places? They can wait, too. It’s not rude of you to say no when you don’t have the energy. You have to place your energy where it’s most needed and that will be in the production of your milk and with your baby!
- Rest when you can. When the baby is napping next to you in the basket, you can settle for a nap if you want to. Some parents like to use nap time to help them to get housework done and have something to eat, and you can do this, too. You should think about the whole ‘sleep when baby sleeps’ as an option, sure, but it’s not a must. Any experienced parent will tell you that if you sleep when the baby sleeps, you will never feel like you have some time to be human and they’re not wrong! You don’t have to catch up with housework; bonding and getting to know your baby is important, as is making sure that you feel less overwhelmed and more human.
- Always say yes to help. While you might say no to invitations and responsibility, you should always say yes if a friend offers you some help. You might not want a babysitter, but a cleaner, someone to bring you meals or someone to do your laundry is going to help you to feel supported. Saying yes to help doesn’t mean you’re failing and it doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it makes you smart! You are going to be able to get the rest you need and you’re going to be able to feel less scared of everything else you have to get done in the house.
- Speak to a doctor. If you are dealing with such a lack of sleep that you are starting to internalize your exhaustion and it comes out as depression, then you need to think about speaking to your doctor. Postnatal depression is not a joke, and you have to do all that you can to avoid it. Your baby is safe and sound, and you are going to be a much more effective parent when you speak up when you need help. A trained professional is the person to turn to when things feel too much so make a point of getting to know a professional who can support you.
- Outsource where you can. If you haven’t had a cleaner before, now is the time to get one. If you haven’t had someone help you before, it’s something you need to look into. You need to outsource – just like you would at work. If you’re breastfeeding, express for a couple of bottles in the night so your partner can help you out. Remember, you’re not alone.
- Remember you’re not alone! Having a newborn baby isn’t new. You are not the first parent to have a tiny baby and you feel exhausted and unable to function so reach out to others and ask them for their words of wisdom. If you are dealing with a crying baby as well as an awake baby,there could be a bigger issue and you should consider an appointment in this case.
- Don’t ignore your needs. You can really forget to bathe or shower, brush your teeth and even eat when you’re plagued with exhaustion, but you shouldn’t ignore your needs. Sleep loss can and does lead to mood changes so make a point of talking to your doctor to assess those needs.
- Make sure you rule out sleep issues. Short naps are normal as a parent as is broken sleep. However, if your child starts sleeping through the night and you still can’t sleep through, you need to see a doctor to ensure that you aren’t dealing with underlying sleep issues. Get to know everything and ensure you are supported.