Sweet dreams: Top tips to achieving better sleep as a new mum
Being a new mum can be exhausting, as we all know. Andrea Mara offers some guidelines for better sleep
When it comes to motherhood, one of the biggest adjustments to contend with is interrupted sleep. Before babies, you're in charge of how much rest you get on any given night, then all of a sudden, you hand over the keys to sleep - for what seems like forever.
It's not forever, but during those early baby months, it's hard to see past it. It's hard to see anything at all at times.
So what can you do?
Look after yourself
If you're sleep-deprived and seeing the world through a deep shade of blur, the last thing you want to hear is 'Sleep when baby sleeps'. It's advice that's often given and rarely taken. When you're surrounded by laundry and breakfast dishes, it's difficult to make yourself drop everything and take a nap. Or you may have a baby who doesn't nap for long periods - who wakes just as you're finally nodding off.
But if you don't sleep enough, everything else is harder.
So if you can nap while your baby naps, do it. Alternatively, try to go to bed a little earlier at night. If you've had a long day, it's tempting to stay up watching TV or reading Facebook - everyone needs me-time. But if you make a conscious effort to go to bed even an hour earlier than usual, that's an extra hour of sleep to get you through the night-feeds and fuel you into the next day.
After a night of broken sleep, it's only human to look for causes and fixes. Often, there's no particular reason, but the very act of analysing and seeking solutions can be helpful. It gives you a sense of taking control, even if deep down you know that putting her to bed five minutes later than usual or the slight drop in temperature or the full moon probably didn't cause the broken sleep. Planning to put her to bed five minutes earlier tonight might give you the motivation to get through a tired morning.
You can't "make" a baby sleep, but you can create an environment that's conducive to sleep, and you can look after yourself. Like all things parenting, it's a marathon not a sprint. And eventually, though it may take time, your child will sleep.
If your baby is new, don't worry about a routine yet
People have a habit of asking about routines, or telling you that a routine will fix all your problems. When your baby is older, it's something to consider, but at the newborn stage, it's too early.
Sleep coach Niamh O'Reilly (thenursery.ie) and the author of No Fuss Baby and Toddler Sleep is very clear on this. "Please, please, forget about routines for a while! When a new 'bundle of love' arrives, many people feel pressure to have a routine from day one. I don't believe that this extra pressure is helpful. Indulge yourselves for a few weeks - let the baby just 'be'. Spend time getting to know one another."
Warm the cot
Transferring a sleepy infant from the cosy comfort of your arms to the relatively cool sheet of a cot can have her awake again within seconds, so take the chill out of the transfer by putting a warm towel or hot water bottle in the cot for a few minutes - and, of course, be sure to remove it before putting your baby down.
Swaddling isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, but for some babies it can work really well. If you do decide to try it, Niamh O'Reilly has some tips. "Swaddling is a great way to help your newborn relive the comfort and security of having been inside you for so long. It reduces the startle reflex, which can prevent them from staying asleep for periods of time. I would recommend a breathable and slightly stretchy fabric so that your baby is not too tightly swaddled. Go for a relatively tight upper-body swaddle, but looser around the hips and legs. Their hips need to be able to move freely as there has been some research highlighting a link between a 'too tight swaddle' and hip dysplasia."
Try a sleeping bag
If swaddling isn't helping, try a wearable sleeping bag - they're a handy alternative to blankets, and have the added benefit of sleep association, explains Niamh O'Reilly. "Using baby sleeping bags can give your little ones a good strong sleep association, which, over time, helps them to think 'Oh, I'm expected to go to sleep now'. Quite often, the zipping up of the sleeping bag can be their cue for sleep-time. Use them for night-time and also for naps."
Keep night-time feeds dark and quiet
When your baby wakes to feed at night, leave the light off and try to keep everything calm and quiet. Your goal is for your baby to feed and then settle back to sleep. Turning on the light could wake her up more than necessary. For the same reason, if a nappy is only wet and not irritating your baby, there's no need to change it.
For your older baby - try a bedtime routine
Any time from about 12 weeks on, try introducing a calm, consistent bedtime routine. Familiar evening-time rituals will get your baby ready for sleep - try a warm bath, a massage, a quiet bedtime story or a lullaby. Follow the same sequence every night, and your baby will start to associate this with sleep. "Having a consistent bedtime routine is so helpful for little ones in terms of knowing what's happening next," says Niamh. "So keeping each night similar means the ritual will become familiar over time, and sleep should come more naturally."
Take the pressure off yourself
When your baby is new, remember that she is extremely unlikely to sleep all night. This can be difficult to keep in mind when well-meaning friends and relatives ask, "Is she sleeping through yet?" Not only do you have the pressure that comes directly from lack of sleep, you have the added pressure of wondering if there's something wrong. There absolutely isn't. Most newborns don't sleep all night, and that's just fine. Knowing that it's normal is the first step to coping with lack of sleep.