The summer I was pregnant with my first child was the summer that the long running hit reality show Survivor debuted on TV (yes, it was that long ago—my daughter is now a teenager). I watched with bewilderment as that first cast of characters went without food and slept in crappy conditions, turning on one another and acting with genuine despair. I remember thinking, ‘This is ridiculous! How hard can it be?’
Then I had my baby.
And after a few weeks I realized that it was the first time I had dealt with a serious stretch of lack of sleep in my life. Suddenly, I knew how those cast members on the island of Survivor felt. They acted crazy and emotional because of lack of sleep.
The first three weeks of life with a newborn can send you into a state of despair and desperation. Lack of sleep, no matter what the cause, can cause a ‘sleep-debt’ resulting in an unclear mind and unhappy parents. When I was going through ‘sleep-debt’, I would have done almost anything to get a few extra hours of sleep. I distinctly remember Googling everything about making a newborn baby sleep, finding methods, articles and books and trying them all.
I even convinced my husband that we absolutely needed this special baby bed, called the co-side sleeper and we drove across town to the only store that sold it. It was out budget range, but we bought it anyway and over the next number of months it became a very expensive cat bed.
Our baby didn’t take to the co-side sleeper.
No one could have prepared me for the feeling that accompanies lack of rest. I felt teary a lot of the time and a little bit achy, like I had the flu. Overall I felt like an outsider watching my own life, observing a long movie that never ended. When my midwife made one of her home post-partum visits, she took one look at me and told me to go lie down, while she rocked my baby in a chair for a few hours. I will never forget how thankful I felt for those few hours of sleep!
Ideally, when a new baby arrives—especially your first baby—you will have a support system in place. They can help spell you and your partner off, so that you can get adequate rest. But for many people, close family or friends aren’t always available. After my second baby was born, I had learned a couple of things that helped me survive those first three weeks of sleeplessness.
Grab a shower, but don’t worry about much else.
The first few weeks with a new baby can feel endlessly long, but also like they take forever. While you are adjusting to less sleep, don’t worry about extraneous things in life like cleaning or working. Just take the time to rest, binge watch TV-shows as you are feeding baby, and tending to the rest of your family as you can. It’s a marathon, not a race, and slowing down the pace considerably, will help you later on.
Accept help when it is offered.
I’ve always been more of a private person, and somewhat proud too, and I had a hard time accepting help from acquaintances and neighbours when it was offered. I was always nervous about being judged, or that my house wasn’t tidy enough or that my appearance was disheveled. Accept any offers of assistance that come your way, be it child minding, meals or even just a shoulder to lean on. And then when you are feeling up to it, you can return the favour. No one cares what you or your house looks like right after you had a baby – only you care. They just want to help.
If it wasn’t for my midwife stepping in early on, I may not have survived those first weeks as a new parent. Well, I probably would have, but it was pretty profound, because I still remember it all of these years later.
Remember that you need to rest to recharge your healing body, and accepting offers of help and finding time to sleep, is the best way to do it. Even if it feels like it’s taking forever, you will look back, and you won’t remember any of it!