I had never appreciated the importance of sleep until Lena arrived. When I worked in television, where days can start scarily early, I was fully aware that I was neither pleasant nor remotely useful if I had less than 8 hours sleep the night before. I very much operate in a haze of bewilderment and general grumpiness if I am not fully rested.
I find it incredible that after the business of giving birth, when all parties involved are beyond exhausted, that we are entrusted with caring for a little bundle. My whole body just needed a massive duvet cuddle and if I'm honest a good decade or two of undisturbed sleep. Unfortunately, newborn Lena followed the suit of all other babies by not knowing the difference between day and night. Once we did finally get her down in the evening an alarm would be set to wake her two hours later to feed her in order to encourage milk supply. I remember despairing that I would never get a good nights sleep again.
Below are a few things that I have learnt that I would like to share.
HelpIt is vital to acknowledge how sleep deprivation can affect your mood. I often found myself questioning whether I was in the depths of post natal depression, only to feel completely renewed after a good two hour nap in the middle of the day.
When the trickle of visitors start to arrive it is ok if your house is not spotless when you open the door. They are not there to judge the dust but to genuinely coo over the little being that you have created. When they ask if there is anything that they can do to help - hand them the duster/hoover/bleach immediately and if you're not comfortable letting them brush your toilet bowl - SLEEP. It isn't rude to just go upstairs for a little nap and let them get their fix of baby cuddles, if you know that they will be comfortable doing so. I have said to every one of my expectant friends that when we come to visit I will be there to either clean or look after their baby whilst they catch up on some rest.
Newborns tend to need another sleep after 60 minutes of being awake. This is a little odd for us adults and so sleep signs are often missed. I learnt this from a tiny book before I had Lena and it was golden information! Dominic and I used to play 'Sleep Sign Bingo' and there was great excitement if either one of us spotted a sleep sign. We knew that the quicker we acted on it, the easier it would be for her to fall asleep. Otherwise we would just have an overtired ball of crazy. Keep your eyes peeled for: yawning, vacant stares, eye rubbing, jerky leg movements, clenching hands into a fist and general grizzlyness.
Don't be too keen
Newborns are light sleepers- and after their sleep cycle of roughly 60 minutes they will either start a new cycle or wake up. Give them the chance to start a new one. Also know that they move and make noise whilst sleeping.... a lot. There were times when I would rush to Lena's cot assuming she was wide awake only to find she was having a manic dream about something or other! Here's a picture of her busting out some moves whilst fast asleep.
Night time routine
When a baby is born they arrive with no circadian clock, you can help by providing cues that differentiate between day and night. Ways we did this was first to put her down in a different place during her naps to her night sleeps, we kept the room very dark for night time, we used a different smelling moisturiser for day and night (call us crazy!) and we used 'night time voices' during the night wakings/ feeds/nappy changes compared to lots of chatting during the day. I clearly remember Dominic chatting away to Lena with the light on at 2am and me scrambling into the room hissing 'night time voices' in a faux-serene manner.
There are various books available to buy on baby massage techniques but I was lucky enough to attend a course at my local Children's Centre. If you have this at your disposal I would definitely recommend attending. Not only did it help me bond with Lena, it also gave me dedicated time with her where I wasn't distracted by the daily activities of life. A study in 2002 (Ferber et al) even confirmed that baby massage helps to establish a circadian rhythm, with higher levels of nocturnal melatonin evident after 12 weeks compared to those who weren't massaged regularly, so it's worth a go! I can cover techniques in another post, if you would find this interesting please leave me a comment!
We found this really helped to stop her crazy 'Moro' reflex. She would be sound asleep and then THWACK; her fist would make contact with her face. It took us a while to learn the do's and don't's of swaddling. My two biggest bits of advice are 1. This isn't how you keep them warm so don't use a blanket to swaddle them. Instead try a breathable swaddle cloth like the muslin ones offered by Aden & Anais. 2. Never use the Velcro swaddle wraps. When my Health Visitor saw me using one she very much shouted at me, and I now understand why. Keeping them so restricted means that they are unable to wriggle themselves free in order to cool down if needed. If you do choose to swaddle have a look at how to 'hip-healthy' swaddle.
Lastly, Ewan the Godsheep