Nothing can prepare you for the sleep deprivation that follows when you have a baby; I think most parents would agree with me there. This is a detailed account of my experiences (so far) of sleep deprivation resulting from my babies, specifically my second baby. I know I touched on this topic in my last post, but I’m going to go into more detail here, and also share some of my ‘coping strategies’ for serious sleep dep.
I didn’t go into parenthood completely unaware of the effects of lack of sleep. I suffered from insomnia in my late 20s/early 30s; this was mostly due to anxiety, which abated when I changed some aspects of my lifestyle and got some counselling. And it is true that you get very little sleep in that third trimester of pregnancy; this last pregnancy I found myself getting up to use the toilet every hour in the last 4 weeks. In the last week of that pregnancy I had contractions on and off all night, every night, which didn’t help either…
But it is the ongoing sleep deprivation that gets to you, eventually, when you have a baby. In his first week of life, my baby fed every 2 hours. Then, in his second week, he stretched that out to every 3 hours. I thought I was doing pretty well in week 3 – feeling OK, if tired - and I was. But then I got to week four and suddenly I felt…all over the place. The baby crying made me feel really sad. The nappy rash on the baby’s bum made me anxious. The fact that he didn’t gain any weight that third week of life was keeping me awake at night with worry. I started to think that I’d made (yet another) mistake in having a (second) child. Sleep deprivation – just four weeks of it - altered my moods dramatically, so that I was happy one minute, super-sad the next, and it meant the little things got on top of me.
As I explained in my last post, more support from my partner at that point, via bottle-feeding in the evening meant that I managed to counter some of the more unpleasant side-effects of sleep deprivation by getting a bit more actual sleep. So when we got to 3 months I was all, yeah I'm doing so well, despite my baby still waking every 2-4 hours at night! Go me! 3 months of broken sleep sucks, but I was surviving, and even enjoying myself.
But I forgot that when babies get sick, they don’t sleep. Or, I should say, they don’t sleep in their own beds. My bubba caught a cold at three and a half months, and would only sleep ON us for 24 hours, preferably whilst we were moving. So, that meant walking around with an enormous 8kg baby on me, whilst suffering an aching back, shoulders and hips for at least 12 hours. It also meant there was an entire night in which I got pretty much no sleep whatsoever. It was brutal, obviously. But it was less brutal than the 4-month growth spurt and sleep regression…
Because OMG the 4 month growth spurt/sleep regression is TRULY HORRENDOUS!!!! I forgot how hard and long it is. Last week, I was up feeding every 2 hours all night, every night, for a whole week again. This week, he needs to feed every 3 hours. But he also wakes in between feeds because his something had changed in his brain and now he can no longer sleep as easily for long(er) stretches. It’s like being back at the start again. Except this time I have 4 months of constant sleep deprivation behind me too.
And then there’s the naps…I could write a whole other post on babies’ napping, but I’ll just keep things simply by saying: many babies struggle to nap properly. Both mine have. It’s hard, gruelling work getting my baby to nap. No, I haven’t had a nap myself since he was born. Enough said.
But such is life, and I’ve just had to cope as best I can.This is what having a baby is like, for me. So, I have compiled a list of my coping mechanisms for severe sleep deprivation for up to and during the 4 month sleep regression:
- Don’t judge how you feel for the day until you’ve gotten up, had a cup of tea, some breakfast, and a shower. I always feel like complete crap when I’ve just gotten up; I often feel significantly better after these three things.
- Drink lots of water. All day. Staying hydrated is key to feeling slightly less crappily overtired.
- Drinks lots of tea – it does nothing for me physically, but it soothes me, mentally. (NB: I can’t drink coffee – it makes me crazy. But if I could, I would.)
- Eat chocolate at 9:30am. You’ve been up all night feeding, you’ve had breakfast, but actually that pretty much goes straight through you...the sweet, chocolately pick-me up of a 9:30am fix is very effective in giving me that extra boost to propel me into the morning and all its nap-avoiding glory.
- Eat an apple at 3pm. This is when I start to really flag and it’s amazing how an apple perks me up! Someone posted this tip in a lovely FB group I’m in, saying an apple has a similar effect to a coffee – they were right! But without the crazy. <3 apples.
- Drive carefully. I have to really focus when I’m driving and use those defensive driving skills I learned in that course I took 20 years ago. I’ve learned to take it slow when backing into the garage, or driving out of the property. I’m pleased to say, I have not (yet) scraped the car after this second baby.
- Go to bed early, if possible. And try not to stress about sleeping (this is my downfall).
- Take Panadol. It takes the edge off the crazy tiredness and the various aches and pains in your body, and thus and makes it just a little bit easier to drift off at night. I take it each time I wake (so, I might take a half or whole about 3-4 times a night).
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to do stuff. I’ve read one and a half novels in the last 4 months, which is super-sad for an English teacher who is not actually working, but my ability to focus on extended texts is not great right now, so I’ll give myself a break and let the ‘to read’ pile build up for now.
- Go out somewhere, if you feel up to it. This can be useful if you have another, older child. I find I am better at keeping my cool when out in public under the judgemental stare of strangers :D Also, going out gives the pre-schooler something fun to remember from the day.
- Hang out with sympathetic friends, ie those who will be OK with you forgetting what you are talking about halfway through a sentence. Preferably friends who are also super-tired parents who get what you are going through. There’s nothing more irritating that listening to someone who had at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep in a row tell you they are tired.
- Read this article on baby sleep. I’ve read it 4 times now since it was published. It’s scientific, very reassuring, and devoid of any alternative therapy and/or hard-core pro sleep-training crap.
Anyway, I'm totally knackered from writing all this, so thanks for reading, and I'll see you on the other side. o_O