If there's one thing all parents can agree on, it would have to be the degree of tired you never knew existed until you had a baby. For any parent of a newborn, sleep is something we're incredibly aware of and always chasing.
Adding to our exhaustion is the focus others place on the baby's sleep. How many times have you been asked, "How's the baby sleeping? Does he/she sleep through the night yet?" Too many times to count, I'm sure.
There is plenty of information on the various methods and advice on infant sleep, but I’m not talking about any of that. What I'd like to share with you is something that was extremely helpful to me in making peace with our nights. It involved my mindset.
That's right, not a specific plan with steps to follow, but instead changing how I talked and thought about sleep. This was an enormous relief for me.
Somewhere in my search for sleep answers, I read these tips and it was by far the best advice I got:
Don't look at the clock.
Don't count the hours of missed sleep.
I don't have to look at the clock when I wake up. Just don't do it. Huh… Could that really help?
Looking at the clock is so natural for anyone when you wake up in the middle of the night. And of course initially you do need to do this with a newborn for the nighttime feedings. But the idea of not making the hours of missed sleep your focus, something you're striving for and failing miserably at, is a big shift in your expectations and perspective.
I started to try this out and it really made a huge difference. I didn’t look at the clock every time my daughter woke up at night. When I woke up in the morning (the last time, you know that time when you actually start your day), my first thought was no longer doing the math to count how many hours of sleep I got or how much I'd lost. Instead of feeling defeated and even more exhausted, I simply started the day. Still tired of course, but not focusing on sleep, feeling like a failure, and wondering when things would change. That focus in itself is exhausting and stressful.
See how this works? Think about how much importance we place on sleeping well. Now imagine how much energy we give to that - researching, talking to other parents or the pediatrician, deciding what sleep plan to do...
We’re constantly judging ourselves as parents based on how long our baby is sleeping at night.
By simply letting go of this pressure of performing well at sleep, we free ourselves from this additional energy drain. And what parent couldn’t use less in the energy drain department?
Still unclear how this would help? Think of it like a great sales pitch. It’s all in the message. The message we’re accustomed to hearing is: Your baby must be taught to sleep well and when are you going to achieve that?
Instead, what if the message was: Babies sleep in short intervals and that’s normal. Do what you need to do to care for yourself during this time. One message is of pressure and the other is of compassion.
Do you think a more compassionate message would change how you feel and think about nighttime? Maybe even your energy level? Try it and find out!
Know an exhausted, sleep deprived mom? Share this post with her!
Laura Winters, LCSW is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress. Laura's practice is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ.