Do you have a newborn in the house? Do you feel like a zombie? You’re not alone – Yvonne Walus has some tips which might help get you through those rough first months.
The arrival of a newborn baby is an emotional time. Parents often report feeling euphoric and terrified (in equal measures). When the adrenalin wears off, however, they’re often left feeling exhausted. Having responsibility for someone so precious yet so fragile, the abrupt change of lifestyle, and the number of new tasks to be performed would be enough to drain the energy out of a small power plant. Add to that the constant lack of sleep accompanied your baby’s crying… Night after night. After night.
The bad news: There’s no magic solution. The good news: A few simple tricks can help you feel human again.
1. Sleep whenever you can
You’ve probably heard the advice to “sleep when your baby sleeps”, and you should absolutely do that. Forget the laundry, switch off the phone, resist the temptation to post one more delightful baby photo on Facebook. Go to bed.
You can even sleep when the baby’s awake. Take turns with your partner to be “on call” while the other one sleeps. Ask a family member or friend to come over for an hour with the express purpose of letting you have a nap. If all else fails, talk to your LMC or Plunket nurse about ways in which they can support you.
2. Make use of visitors
It’s lovely of the people you know to want to meet the baby… Lovelier still if they bring dinner! If they ask you how they can help, suggest a few grocery items or point them in the direction of the vacuum cleaner. Explain to your guests how sleep deprivation is affecting you (difficulty in concentrating on the conversation, lack of energy, low spirits), and even though you may not be the best company right now, you really value their help. Then let them help.
3. Lower your standards
It really is all right if the garden is overgrown and the windows are unwashed. It’s okay to leave the dishes in the sink or to still be in your pyjamas at lunchtime. Your most important job is to take care of the baby, look after yourself, and not neglect your partner too much. The dust on the bookshelf will wait.
Order groceries online, skip the baby’s bath time, get pizza delivered, and when an outfit gets too soiled and grubby, turn it into a cleaning rag instead of trying to launder away the stains. If you can afford it, hire a mother’s helper, even if it’s only for an hour a week. It’s a myth that all other new mothers are superwomen who manage on their own, and even if they were, you don’t have to compete with them.
5. Adjust your expectations
Although a newborn baby will sleep a whopping 16-18 hours in every 24-hour cycle, they will do it stretches of three to five hours. Accept it: Uninterrupted nights are off the menu for a few months. Fortunately, babies need a lot of shut-eye, and healthy infants will typically sleep until they’re hungry, need their nappy changed, or are ready to interact with the world (usually all three). Once they get what they’re after, they want to fall asleep again.
6. Listen to your baby
But how DO you help them settle back to sleep once they’re fed, changed, and played with? You may feel overwhelmed by contradictory parenting advice: Routine versus cue feeding, swaddle versus don’t swaddle, don’t let the baby cry but actually do. White noise, no noise, baroque music…
Right now, the only advice you need is this: Do whatever works for you and your baby. If you want to rock her to sleep, don’t let anyone force you to put her to bed awake. If the motion of the stroller is the magical cure for night-time grizzles, then walk back and forth on the driveway as though it’s a new Olympic sport. And if listening to radio static sends your baby into dreamland, thank your lucky stars and tune in.
7. Be grateful
It sounds really obvious, but sometimes we are too tired to feel thankful for the little bundle of joy, especially if she’s screaming. Remember, this newborn stage is not forever. This too, shall pass – all too quickly. Enjoy every exhausted moment with your sweet baby.
8. Quick fixes?
Coffee, guarana, and Vitamin B may sound like just what you need to overcome your fatigue, but if you’re breastfeeding, remember that these stimulants will find their way into your milk and keep the baby awake, too.
9. Have a health check
If the feeling of exhaustion is persistent and overwhelming, don’t assume it’s all normal and part of the job. Check your thyroid and your adrenal gland, as well as your sugar and iron levels. While doing that, your GP can also assess your risk of postnatal depression.
10. Think before you drive
Research has shown that an exhausted driver can be every bit as dangerous as a drunk driver. Sleep deprivation leads to lack of focus, poor judgement, and – of course – dozing off behind the wheel. If you’re tired, don’t drive.
Yvonne Walus is an education specialist, senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two children.