Better sleep for parents and babies
By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
Lately I have been blessed with opportunities to connect with mothers adjusting to life with a new baby. They have shared their experiences and struggles with me and what strikes me the most is just how much mothers take upon their shoulders, often without complaint, sometimes with a very small support network. Mothers, what cannot be stressed enough is to practice daily self-care and to acknowledge that time for yourself is much deserved!
One recurring theme that comes up among mother’s stories is how hard it is to function after a night with very little sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause poor decision-making, increase the likelihood of depression and affect the quality of relationships.
A few things for new parents to keep in mind are to:
- Discuss how the childcare and household duties will be managed before the baby is born. Will parents take turns getting up at night? If the mother is the one to handle night feedings, will the father handle all the laundry? Remember, what works for one family may not work for another.
- Say no to added responsibility. You may feel obligated to join the board of your older child’s school, but doing so with a newborn at home will be too overwhelming.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps. Ignore the household chores, e-mails and phone calls.
- Say yes to help. If family and friends offer to drop off meals, tidy up the living room, or watch the baby while you take a nap, take them up on it.
- Know that sleep loss can lead to mood changes. Some mothers are susceptible to symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression. Be open with others you trust about how you are coping. Keeping connected with others can alleviate feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, and being overwhelmed.
Remember that lack of sleep will not last forever. Most children eventually sleep through the night, which means that parents will be able to have a restful night’s sleep again. But until that time, what can parents with newborns do to increase the chances of better sleep for infants? For expert insight from a certified sleep consultant, we turn to Joleen Dilk Salyn, founder of Baby Sleep 101. She is a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants, and mom of two. According to Joleen:
“The good news is that the sleepless nights are only mandatory in the first few months when a baby has a near constant need to eat. After that time, sleep will become more consolidated and parents can begin to lay the foundation for healthy sleep habits for their children.
The first six to eight weeks, however, is strictly for mom to recover and for the new family to adjust. Unfortunately, it is also in the first two months that most babies will begin to hit a very fussy period known as “The Period of Purple Crying” (sometimes referred to as colic). Depending on how severe it is, it can be a very trying time. Thankfully, this fussiness will start to taper off after week seven. In the meantime, take care of yourself, don’t worry about domestic duties, ask for help and accept it when people offer. Use any tools you have; baby swings, slings, soothers, feeding, rocking and holding to help soothe your baby. It is impossible to create any “bad habits” in regards to sleep at this point, so use all available resources.
In addition, make sure the baby is getting plenty of sleep. Most newborns can only be awake for about 45 minutes before they need another nap. Missing this sleep window can mean a very cranky baby who resists falling asleep.
If you have an “easy” baby, then when social smiles appear (around six weeks of age from the estimated due date), you can implement a very basic nap and bedtime routine. This wind-down routine, when practiced consistently, serves as a cue that it’s time to sleep. Initially, the wind-down routine will be short; perhaps a diaper change, a feed and into bed, but can be expanded as baby grows.
After four months of age, due to biological changes that take place, there is more you can do to shape the foundations for healthy sleep practices. The basics for any child (whether four months or four years old) when beginning a great routine are to consider the following points or ACCTS:
Allotment of sleep
Know how much sleep your child should be getting in a 24-hour period. Track your child’s sleep patterns for three days to see if they are receiving the required amount.
Healthy sleep for babies is solid, only waking to feed one to three times a night, depending on their age and going right back to sleep. The goal of naps is to be at least a solid hour in length after four months of age
Extremely important when changing habits and when beginning to lay healthy sleep fundamentals.
Timing of sleep
When a child’s sleep is well timed with circadian rhythms, it produces the most restorative sleep and helps ward of overtiredness.
Self soothing skills
Falling asleep unassisted is a learned skill. A child must have these skills in place if a parent wants their child to sleep solidly.
Depending on the age, personality and temperament of your child, these factors will determine how long it takes them to become well rested. The good news is, the more consistent you are, the sooner you will see progress.
Parents who would like a consultation for a customized sleep plan, or those interested in workshops, mom’s groups and professional development (daycare and preschool staff), go to babysleep101.com for more information.
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She provides counselling services at the Nest Family Centre on Stafford St. and is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.