If you’ve welcomed a new baby into your home, then chances are, as new parents, you might be losing sleep for fulfilling late night duty calls, and you’ll find yourself craving for a goodnight’s sleep.
While becoming a parent is indeed one of the most exciting life events for many, especially with the many firsts that will come your way and probably bring out all those never-before experienced maternal or paternal instincts in you, your first tryst with parenthood is undoubtedly one of the most life-changing experiences that you’re to come across.
As any new parent will tell you, frequent feedings, diaper changes and having your hands full taking care of just about every little need of your newborn could take a toll on a good night’s sleep for new moms and dads.
Although a sound sleep may seem elusive to new parents, it is important for neomamas and papas to find ways to catch up on some sleep whenever they can and make the most out of it. According to Dr Ankur Rajvanshi, Consultant Neonatologist & Paediatrician, Cloudnine Hospital, Whitefield, Bengaluru, “Newborns take frequent naps lasting anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, for a total of 16 to 18 hours of sleep each day initially. New parents are often severely sleep deprived if the only sleep they are trying to get is overnight.”
According to experts, when you miss out on something as important and basic as sleep for a prolonged period of time, it could often have a negative bearing on both the physical and mental well-being of parents.
A 2019 study, ‘Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers’ conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick, published in Science Daily, states that after the birth of the first child and up to 6 years later, the sleep duration and sleep satisfaction of birth mothers and fathers do not fully recover to the levels before pregnancy. That makes it 6 years of disrupted sleep. The study further reveals that women tend to experience more sleep disruption than men after the birth of a child, hinting that mothers still perform the role of the primary caregiver more than fathers.
Kanika Gupta, a businessperson and a mother of three – most recently to one-year-old Arna – says in agreement, “It does become difficult and hard to get a sound sleep at times, because my baby often gets cranky and wants to be rocked more, because I just stopped my feed. She wakes up every two and a half hours, and despite trying everything under the sun to calm her down, like making her listen to music, watch YouTube videos for babies or rock her, I find it hard to put her to sleep! So, I’m just waiting for her to grow bigger so that I can get back to my regular sleeping patterns. But I feel catnaps with the baby really help one to rejuvenate.”
While it is normal for babies to keep their parents up at night, sometimes there are other medical reasons too, as new mom Maya Baruah, a homemaker, found out. “My son is only four months old, and his crying is worse than other children in the sense that nothing seems to pacify him, and we were puzzled as to why he would cry for 5 to 6 hours at a stretch. This, of course, has affected our sleep routines,” Baruah recounts. Baruah was able to solve the mystery only after her paediatrician informed her that her child had colic issues, a medical condition that could arise in babies when they suffer from issues related to indigestion, allergies or even anxiety.
Tips for new parents
Sleep when the baby sleeps, is what everybody says. But Namita Narula Gandhi, a communications professional and new mom to an 8-month-old, has more to add, “While there’s no magic formula for getting enough sleep, I think co-parenting plays a key role in ensuring that the mother gets adequate sleep. We need to train our babies post 3 months onwards so that the sleep pattern can be set accordingly. Frequent night waking will continue, but it is better to have a routine set for the baby. Besides this, a dark room and optimal room temperature are key to ensuring that the baby sleeps well and so do I.”
While sleep deprivation is often a part of raising a baby, there are still a few ways to get some shut-eye.
- Catnaps: Each time your baby sleeps, try to take a short nap as well because this is really the best and only time when you know you are going to be able to sleep. Make sure your family and friends know this, so they do not disturb you during this time. Else consider switching off your phone for that duration. Remember, everything else can wait.
- Share night-time baby duties with your partner: You and your partner can share diaper changes and other night-time baby duties. Most doctors do advise direct breastfeeding but are usually okay if the mother expresses breast milk before, and it can then be fed with a bottle or spoon to the baby by the partner. That way, the mother gets a few extra hours of undisturbed sleep.
- Sleep hygiene: Establish a good sleep hygiene habit. Make sure you take a good warm bath to relax or get a massage done at home whenever you have somebody for support if these measures help you unwind. Reading a bit or watching a favourite show could also help you relax. Such activities often help to unwind and aid in falling asleep as the baby turns in for the night too.
- Baby in their own bed: Even though a lot of parents love the idea of cuddling their newborn and making them sleep in between, it’s usually a bad idea for your sleep health. Make sure the baby has a crib or a separate bed near you so that if you toss and turn, the baby does not wake up to disturb you during whatever precious hours of sleep you may get.
- Keep the room free of clutter: The bedroom should only be associated with relaxation that aids sleep. Keep it clutter-free and stack up minimal objects so that it helps the mind relax. Also having a set of dark curtains could help prevent morning light from getting in. This will ensure both you and the baby sleep longer.
- Sleep train: As the baby gets bigger, teach them to fall asleep by themselves after the initial few minutes of feeding and then rocking a bit in a rocker or your lap. Then gently put the baby down and let them be. Initially they may cry but they do get used to the new ways, so sleep training is important.
If you find yourself still not getting enough sleep and you need help, that is when you can approach a doctor.
Studies say that long-term sleep deprivation effects can include an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
A lot of new parents report cognitive issues due to lack of sleep and it could affect normal life, including managing to look after the baby. So, a sound sleep should definitely be one of the top priorities for a new parent. Warning signs to look out for are mood swings, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, alterations in vision and appetite.
“When you get enough rest, it is good for you and good for your baby, although it could be challenging to get an optimal amount of sleep and rest in the early weeks and months of your baby’s life. One should aim for a regular bedtime routine, avoid screens in the bedroom, nap during the day, and exercise and eat well,” suggests Dr Rajvanshi, adding that adapting to some new routines could be your way to attain quality rest.