When Squeak started waking every 30-60 minutes for a few months I felt like I had been hit by a truck. It was only when I collapsed at home one morning and spent the day in A&E that I realised I wasn’t dealing well with the situation.
You see, I expected babies sleep at night before the first waking to look like this:
This meant I was in complete denial, keeping my fingers crossed that THIS would be the night Squeak finally slept longer.
Instead, Squeak’s sleep has looked like this:
1. Seriously, stop with the housework.
Nobody needs you to have a home with neatly folded clothes, all kitchen utensils freshly washed and stored in their cupboards, or even hoovered carpets. My priority list had been:
- attend to Squeak’s needs
- attend to housework
- attend to myself
This meant I often wasn’t eating anything until mid morning as I flew around, balancing chores with feeding/changing/playing with Squeak. I had to consciously revisit my priority list and put myself joint first with Squeak, eating breakfast together, bathing together and getting dressed together.
If necessary, buy disposable plates and cups. Treat yourself to no washing up until sleep improves. Don’t even look at the iron. In fact, throw it away.
2. PUT DOWN THE COFFEE
Coffee is great if you didn’t get a great nights sleep or need a little pick me up. It’s a total disaster if you’re barely sleeping at all. I’d find myself twitchy with despair as Squeak surprised me with a two hour nap shortly after getting out of bed. Yet that damn coffee meant even though I was crying tears of exhaustion I just couldn’t get myself to back to sleep.
Forget the caffeine, forget the sugary drinks, drink lots and lots and lots of water.
3. Create a restful sleep environment
I don’t know why it took me so long to do this. Installing black out blinds, regularly opening windows for fresh air, keeping bedrooms at a constant warm temperature, all meant when we did sleep, it was a much better quality of sleep.
4. Sleep when the baby sleeps
This piece of obvious advice still makes me want to smack someone in the face. Bear with me.
Once you’ve forgone the housework and stopped propping yourself up with stimulants, you must prepare yourself for slumber at any minute. As soon as baby nods off, that’s exactly what you’re going to do too.
I began to enjoy having a shower in the morning then putting clean pyjamas on, making sure I was always ready for bed.
5. Socialise at home
Being ready for bed at all times meant I was incredibly unsocial. I stopped going out. I stopped going to baby groups.
Know this is only for a short while and that you will resume an outside life very soon.
6. Discover your own self soothing requirements
As we all know, babies can struggle to fall asleep and we put so much energy into finding out how to make them comfortable. I had fallen out of my own routine and struggled to sleep when the opportunity arose. I realised I had forgotten how to self soothe!
I stopped putting pressure on myself to sleep and focussed instead on breathing techniques whilst listening to audiobooks read by my favourite voices and authors, concentrating on every word. I recommend Neil Gaiman as a particularly soothing voice with particularly wonderful stories.
Also, that thing about children having a nice warm drink before bedtime works for grown ups too. A lovely comforting mug of warm milk is an absolute treat.
7. Go to the doctor
I was totally focused on Squeak’s sleep needs and didn’t realise I had become anaemic which was contributing towards my fatigue. Don’t assume your exhaustion is entirely to do with regular night wakings. Sorting out my iron levels meant I was able to function again.
8. Mop up sleep during the good times
I fell victim to proclaiming success as soon as Squeak’s sleep improved and immediately went back to my slovenly ways of staying up late on the internet only to end up bemused when things changed. I’ve learnt to use these good periods to fully recharge on sleep. I will never, ever again take sleep for granted. It’s still my number one goal even though Squeak is reliably sleeping again.
I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a mum who has to go back to work or has other commitments because some of my advice is only operable for a stay at home mum. I wonder how I would have coped with a full time job or other children. I like to think Mr Wawa and I would have managed nights together but I’m not sure if that would have been enough. I don’t think society prepares people for the real struggles that parenthood presents. There seems to be an assumption that motherhood is easy and somehow belongs alongside doing the dishes.
The patience and self sacrifice are brutally real, but I promise you, the wind will change and you shall sleep again.
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