Updated: Dec 1, 2022
My sleep, baby's sleep, when to sleep, will they sleep? For new moms, the all-consuming mental load around sleep is heavy and insanity-inducing. It won't last forever (I promise) - let's talk about how it can be managed, but first, let's just talk about it.
Breastfeeding challenges, PPD, mom-guilt…add the anxiety around our child’s sleep to the list of things not talked about enough once you have a baby. Yes, yes, we all get the “you are never going to sleep again” comments when our baby is the size of a pea in the womb. We know sleep will be hard. Do we know how hard? No, we do not! But, we also don’t truly get how anxiety inducing a life revolved around thinking about sleep becomes. Here’s what it looks like...
Your baby enters the world (yay!) – Sure, the first week they sleep more than what’s to come (in some cases) - But then, OMG, wake ups are every couple hours in the night (sometimes more often), naps are sporadic, sometimes long, sometimes super short.
We think about the next time we can sleep. Like, really sleep. And it feels like never. Truly, never!
Do we think about it once, nope. Once a day, nope. A couple times a day, nope. It’s all the time. We think about our sleep and when, how, and how long our baby will sleep, ALL the time!
I remember timing that last feed and wake window to my 10pm bedtime to ensure that I could get at least a couple hours while my baby slept. It was always rushed, no wind down, no chatting with my husband, no wasting time. PJ’s on, brush teeth, feed baby, sleep. I was so tired that sleep did come fast most of the time. But I also had nights that I would lie there wanting so badly to sleep, but thinking of how the night will go. How long do I have? What is my strategy tonight so I can get a bit more sleep? The anxiety around sleep kept me awake during these key hours, and I’m sure many moms out there are nodding, “yup, me too.”
Then... we hear that first wakeup call and we pray that baby will go back down easily. We feed, put baby down, and as our head hits the pillow, we hope this next stretch is more than an hour.
And morning is early, foggy. And we plan for the first nap. Is it too early, too late? Will he sleep longer than a half hour? Do I have time to shower, or should I try to sleep?
The nap is short... when is nap two? You time it around a walk, and eat your lunch while baby’s in your arms. You time the third nap or catnap and then bedtime starts again. Is your head spinning yet?
As a new parent, the planning around sleep never stops. It’s consuming. We do it so that we know when we’ll sleep, what our day will look like, so our baby will get the rest they need to then sleep longer and more consistently. It’s all for a reason, but, wow, does it weigh down the mental load.
And when all our planning doesn’t work. When sleep isn’t comfortable. When we wait for the second shoe to drop - We become extremely anxious around every sleep situation.
So, when we talk simply about being sleep deprived as a new parent - that we are up every couple hours and not getting a full night's rest - we are only telling half the story around how the lack of sleep is truly affecting us.
For me, nothing helped more than talking about it and sharing stories (and schedules) with moms at a similar stage as me. And while I’ve made it through this place in my life, I see it all too well with my client’s and other new moms I meet. You will get through it, just like all other hard things. But, this anxiety around your child’s sleep is a beast, and finding the best ways to calm it will make the journey a little more manageable.
So, for those early months when sleep anxiety is high, I've put together my top 5 tips to calming and managing the thoughts around your child’s sleep:
1. Write it down: Get yourself a handy little notebook just for sleep. Record the start times/end times of naps, timing out wake windows until the next nap or bed, so you don’t have to think or rethink about it throughout the day. This can also be helpful for when a support person jumps in – times are all right there. This also helps to see important sleep patterns that might immerge and great for recording feedings as well. Just don't get consumed by writing it ALL down. Once baby is in a sleep pattern/routine, scale it back to the important stuff until you no longer need to write it down at all.
2. Follow age-appropriate wake windows: When baby is little, this will help you stay on track when it comes to how much pressure your child should build up before going back down to sleep. The right amount of pressure helps baby welcome sleep more easily (not being overtired or undertired) and supports baby in connecting sleep cycles (ie. sleeping longer). Now, it’s not always spot on and depends on the baby, but you won’t know unless you are consistent for at least a week’s time. If sleep is still off after that, then maybe it’s time to adjust. But, in the effort of keeping our thoughts around sleep calmer, find the right window and stick to it – meaning don’t think too hard about it for the week you are using it. Pick it by age, stick to it and adjust by 15-20 minutes if needed after a week.
3. Don’t spend too much brain energy on one or two off days: It’s just been a day or two. Baby is growing so much, and it might be gas or teething or another development in their brain or body. It definitely does not mean you are doing something wrong! While I know you are exhausted and just want sleep to work, when you have those days try your hardest to stop and just accept that it’s an off day. Cancel anything on your to-do list and just lean into it.
4. Use your community: By this I mean join a mom group or just make a friend at the same stage as you. You need to be reminded that you are not alone, for one. And two, it helps to calm your mind to share your schedule out loud, get your friends take. There’s no one that gets it more than her!
5. Get the help and support you need: Call on your people if you feel it's too much. Tell them what you need. Give your MIL the morning schedule and take a minute. She can handle it. It’s especially easy if you do tip #1 and write it all down. That way you don’t have to do much heavy lifting to give yourself that much needed break.
As your child gets older and you start moving into the stage where they can do longer stretches, working on structure and routine around sleep will help manage expectations and clear your mind from uncertainty. If your child is settled in a routine, they will bounce back more easily from a day of bad sleep.
And, along with routines, independent sleep skills will go a very long way.
If you’ve had it and are really just tired of thinking about sleep 24/7 to have it just not work out as you hoped, I’m here to help. Book a free chat with me, and we'll discuss where you're at!
Me in the early days. Puffy eyes and brain of mush.