“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”
Poor old Hamlet couldn’t sleep
and he was a right old misery-guts.
“It doesn’t matter how ready (or not) you think you are for motherhood, nothing, but nothing, can prepare you for the brain-numbing, bone-aching reality of new-parent sleep deprivation.”
In your vulnerable, zombie-like state you will seek answers to many, many questions:
How do I teach my newborn that day is for waking and night is for sleeping?
My baby wants to feed every two hours all night long. What am I doing wrong?
How do I settle a baby with colic?
How long should I let my baby cry?
Do I give my baby a dummy?
Should my baby share our bedroom or sleep in her nursery?
What will happen if I let my baby sleep in my bed?
Will my baby ever sleep through the night?
Will I ever get a proper nights sleep again?
The Mount-Everest-size heap of info that’s out there in books and blogs, on Facebook groups and dedicated forums and websites, may only serve to bamboozle you further. Every opinion seems to have a counter opinion. For every expert you find you will also discover an equally knowledgable detractor.
And beware – new mums can, at times, be both defensive and critical: nothing stirs up a hornet’s nest like telling someone how they ought to be bringing up their baby.
But, to be fair, lack of sleep has never led to a calm and reasoned thought process.
In an article on the Sleep Junkies website, Jeff Mann gives us a brief history of sleep deprivation and torture.
“In a torture or interrogation scenario, sleep deprivation tactics are used to bring about a change in psychological state, although the associated effects on the body’s immune system and vital functions will undoubtedly cause additional damage. Lack of sleep brings about a number of neurobiological effects affecting reaction time, memory and cognitive functions. It also has the effect of quickly bringing about hypnagogic hallucinations – feelings of ‘altered reality’ caused by the incursion of REM activity into wakefulness. Prolong these conditions and it can lead to severe moral and emotional impairment and ultimately psychosis.”
So, the one most helpful thing you can do is:
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
- Cut yourself some slack and take as much pressure off yourself as you can.
- Use a calendar or diary for everything. Tiredness affects memory, so write it down.
- Take a nap. The housework can wait.
- Get to know other new mums (the NCT is great) for support and sympathy.
- Get some fresh air everyday. Fresh air makes everything smell better!
- If your husband or partner needs their sleep because they are working ask them to allow you a few hours at weekends to either sleep or bathe or just put your feet up with a cup of tea. It will make all the difference.
Although the average newborn sleeps for 16 to 20 hours a day, it’s not all at once. And not all at night. This can be a pretty devastating revelation for those of us used to the autonomy of adulthood. But new born babies have no respect for rules and routines…
The early weeks are worst, when your baby’s doing a random, round-the-clock waking and dozing thing, often displaying a distinct aversion to sleeping anywhere other than your arms. Sometimes babies wanting to feed continuously, particularly throughout the evening. If you’re breast feeding the quality of your milk can dwindle during the course of the day, especially if you’ve had little sleep, which is another reason you need to look after yourself. Try to rest, and try to make you sure you eat a proper, nutritional meal so your body can produce the milk your baby requires. Sometimes it might be that your baby just loves to suckle, for comfort, which brings us to that other hornet’s nest…
To dummy or not to dummy?
“It’s amazing how much emotion a small piece of plastic can stir up. But it can – and does. Ranged in the ‘against dummies, no matter what’ corner are, generally speaking, the older generation, mutteringly darkly about bad habits and wonky teeth. Facing them from the ‘for dummies, actually’ corner are, equally generally speaking, an evangelical crowd of new parents who’ve finally found the way to get a moment’s peace.”
Before I became a mum I had no intention of giving my baby a dummy. I didn’t like dummies. My baby wouldn’t need to use a dummy. A dummy had never been something I would even consider.
Then I had my first baby.
I breast fed, which all went really well, but by the evening (and most of the night) my baby seemed to be permanently attached to a boob. In fact, there was no ‘seemed’ about it. As soon as he dropped off I would ease my nipple from his rosebud lips and he would instantly awaken, eyes and mouth shocked wide, and scream until I shoved it back in.
I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t eat, unless my husband cut up my food into tiny pieces and fed it to me.
One evening a couple came round with their baby who was six months old. When my friend saw me struggling to eat, unable to put my baby down, she asked if I’d thought about trying a dummy? She happened to have a box-fresh spare in her changing bag and before I could protest it had been unpacked, rinsed in boiled water and was dangling tantalisingly, like The Holy Grail, in front of me.
I prised my nipple out of my babies mouth, which gaped in dismay, and before he could utter a sound, popped in the rubber teat. His lips clamped shut and he began to suck. A hush descended on the room. I sighed with relief, re-arranged my clothing, nestled the baby into his moses basket, and poured myself a large glass of wine.
“There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.” -Edward Lucas
Probably true, but if the one is denied to you the other can at least make you feel, even if only temporarily, slightly less of a sub-human.
Remember what I told you earlier about all the confusing info out there?
Mumsnet shares a few positive comments on dummies:
They soothe your baby’s cries when nothing else can.
They can reduce your baby’s risk of cot death. (There are indeed studies that show an association between giving your baby a dummy while he sleeps and a lower risk of cot death. But it’s not yet clear whether it’s actually the dummy itself that’s providing this protective effect or simply the action of sucking which a baby could do just as well on his fingers or at the breast).
They’re simple to get rid of because you can chuck ’em out when the time comes. Unlike a thumb.
And for balance, a few negatives:
They are ugly.
They can delay language development.
They can cause night-time waking when they fall out of your baby’s mouth.
Some people say they are used by lazy mums who can’t be bothered to find out what their baby’s really upset about.
See what I mean?
IMHO, dummies are neither good nor evil. They are just a choice.
And, generally it’s the baby who makes the choice.
Here’s a few choices you can make that might help you get a few hours kip…
“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.” -Wilson Mizener
“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.” – Leo Burke
If you’re still as miserable as Hamlet why not cheer yourself up with this adult picture book…
Go the Fuck to Sleep is a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world, where a few snoozing kitties and cutesy rhymes don’t always send a toddler sailing off to dreamland. Profane, affectionate and refreshingly honest, it captures the familiar and unspoken tribulations of putting your child to bed for the night. Colourfully illustrated and hilariously funny, this is a breath of fresh air for parents new, old and expectant*.
(*You should probably not read this to your children.)
And you can listen to Samuel L. Jackson read it here. (It’s great, give it a go)
Further reading for you: