Life as a new parent isn’t all adorable newborn cuddles, cooing and heart melts – you may also develop chronic sleep deprivation. Forget the epic births, painful post-birth aftermath or breastfeeding battles; for me, chronic sleep deprivation has been the most debilitating aspect of becoming a new parent for the second time.
Our first baby slept like an angel from 7pm-7am from about eight weeks. Armed with supreme hubris, when our baby turned nine months, my husband and I got cracking on baby no.2, as per our GP’s advice, given we were both in our late 30s. How hard could it be having two toddlers under 2? We’d blitzed this baby business with the first, so we could do it with the second, right? Wrong!
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We were fortunate enough to fall pregnant with our second daughter straight away, and our hearts swelled to twice the size when she came into the world screaming like a banshee, just as her gorgeous sister had done. But there was one crucial difference between our two girls – the second little blighter was a problem sleeper, waking constantly through the night, no matter what we tried. And believe me, we tried everything – breastfeeding, rocking, singing and more.
This was a rude shock to say the least and all our pride and confidence was crushed, only to be quickly replaced by upset, bewilderment and angst. Would we ever learn up cope with the 5-6 nocturnal wake-up calls? It didn’t help that she was a big baby (almost 10 pounds) and a voracious breastfeeder. Now that our challenging, little sleeper is 13 months, and finally sleeping beautifully through the night, here are some handy survival tips which may hopefully help you, if faced with a devil child, sorry, difficult sleeper:
Nap when they do
I hated this well-worn advice, but you don’t really have a choice when seriously sleep-deprived – the minute your babies go down, so too should you. Take turns with your husband, or enlist the help of family members if need be, to help care for your other kids.
Get a night nurse
If money is no object (lucky you!) get a night nurse or mobile midwife to come help you survive those long, long days and nights. One of the best baby shower gifts I’ve ever heard of is a bunch of friends pitching in for the cost of a night nurse for a few months as a gift to a very fortunate mum-to-be.
Leave the chores
I know it’s often impossibly hard to ignore, but leave the dirty dishes and the mountain of laundry in favour of sleep, as often as you can. And delegate, delegate, delegate – ideally, this is when your mum or mother-in-law will show their true mettle and step up to help you.
Take turns on night duty
Another survival tactic is to take turns one night on, one night off, with your significant other. While one of you gets up with the baby for cuddles/night feeds (you may have to pump milk ahead of time for your partner), the other parent can be getting some much-needed rest.
Take a break
Make a habit of getting out into the fresh air and sunshine, as often as you can, to cope with the stress, anxiety and upset of sleep deprivation. Do something that makes you feel good to boost your self-esteem and energy levels – exercise, get a beauty treatment, or spend time with a supportive friend.
Chronic sleep deprivation seriously affects your mood and coping mechanisms – there’s also a proven direct link between infant sleep problems and baby blues and postnatal depression. Get help ASAP with your local GP, visit beyondblue.org.au or phone Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
By Nicole Carrington-Sima