Sleep deprivation is very common among new parents. Newborn babies sleep quite a bit over the course of the day, but unfortunately, their sleep is often in small stretches. Because of this, mum and dad are often exhausted and a bit out of sorts until the family settles into a more predictable routine. Much to the dismay of sleepy parents, this process can and often does, take months.
Brand new babies spend a great deal of their time sleeping, often as much as 16-18 hours every day. It is rare for newborns to sleep for any real length of time though and most new parents go through a period of difficult adjustment after bringing their baby home. Experienced parents would advise new parents to sleep whenever the opportunity presents itself; when baby sleeps, try to get a little sleep too. This can be difficult to do however, for several reasons. First off, many new parents are a bit nervous and the stress may inhibit their ability to fall asleep easily and to stay asleep once they have drifted off. Second, there are few things more beautiful that a sleeping baby, so new parents often find themselves hovering over the cot that holds their precious bundle, watching with awe and appreciation. Finally, the sense that the household chores are piling up is very real in the first weeks after bringing a new baby home, so many parents try to get a few things done while their baby slumbers. While these are all valid reasons for not resting while baby sleeps, it's important for parents to attempt to get a bit of sleep when they can.
Establishing a Routine
Life before baby and life after baby are very different realities. Often, even the most organised and scheduled people can have trouble establishing a new routine once a little one joins the family. By the time that babies are three months old, their sleep patterns are usually becoming a bit more predictable and some are even sleeping through the night. Parents can help to establish consistency by attempting to adhere to a regular routine and establishing set nap times. Not only will this help baby to get the idea of when it is time to sleep, it will also help parents to get the rest they need. It also helps for parents to teach their babies how to self-soothe, allowing them to fall asleep without being rocked or held. It is good to snuggle quietly with babies before it is time for sleep, but wise parents quickly learn that it is best to lay babies down before they are completely asleep so that they learn to fall asleep on their own. As babies begin to stay awake for longer periods of time and sleep for longer stretches, parents can return to more normal sleep schedules for themselves too.
Even babies who are consistently sleeping well will occasionally experience a setback. Babies are constantly changing and just when parents think that they have things under control, baby will often change everything. From about 6-9 months, many babies have difficulty sleeping due to teething or the first bout of separation anxiety. Parents should certainly go to their babies when they awaken at night, but they should offer comfort and then return baby to the cot while still awake. Babies who have learned to fall asleep on their own can quickly develop the need to be rocked to sleep if parents begin doing so on a regular basis. Older babies (9 months and up) are physically capable of maintaining regular nap and bedtime routines, but will sometimes awaken and want to play at odd hours. Usually, if parents ignore their baby's requests for a middle of the night playtime, the baby will soon return to sleep.
Taking Care of Yourself
While it is important for parents to make sure that their babies are well tended, it is just as important for them to take care of themselves. In order to provide patient and consistent care for their little one, parents should make it a priority to exercise, eat well and socialise. Many new parents find that they are so harried from the constant demands of parenting that they experience bouts of anxiety and sleep disturbances. Enrolling in a class that teaches relaxation techniques may help and is well worth the effort since relaxed and rested parents are a gift to babies.
When Nothing Seems to Work
Although sleep problems are common in both babies and their parents and are usually no cause for concern, there are times when seeking outside help is wise. If your baby seems especially irritable or restless, a check up with the pediatrician may be required to rule out an ear infection or other ailment. Likewise, if parents find themselves feeling severely stressed or overwhelmed with exhaustion, an appointment with the GP would be wise. Although most sleep and other first year difficulties that parents experience will work themselves out, sometimes the GP can offer help in speeding up the process. Parenting is a joy and a blessing, but it also a lot of hard work. Parents need to respect the fact that they have limits and should not feel guilty about seeking help in learning to adjust.