As a new mom, we often enter motherhood with expectations of what life will be like with an infant. Then once our baby is here, we’re plunged into the ocean’s depths, trying to figure out how to navigate this ship when the only real training we’ve had is that cool unicorn pool float with a drink holder. The waves are crashing over us, stronger than we anticipated, the course is uncharted, and our weather app didn’t say it would be so dang windy.
There’s really no way to know what to expect as a new mom, despite our best intentions. And it’s important to share our stories so other moms navigating the same rough waters can find some relief.
Before my daughter arrived, I decided that she’d sleep next to me in a bassinet for the first year, at least. That decision was made by considering the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that infants room-share with parents for at least six months, and preferably a year. Convenience was also a big factor – it was just easier to have her in our room. Not to mention, I had a cesarean birth, so getting up and moving around was already difficult and I wanted to remove as many difficulties as I could.
Plus, I just loved having her close to me. I wanted to be able to respond to every need, and I did.
When she was 12 weeks old, I returned to work full-time which was very emotionally difficult, topped with sleep deprivation, and I was a wreck. Through my bleary-eyed reading, I learned that being overtired actually made it harder for babies to sleep at night and growth spurts necessitate more milk. So I did everything I could to make sure she was getting enough sleep and milk at daycare by taking my lunch breaks to nurse and hold her while she slept. I held and nursed her as needed at night. The months went on, and she was continuing to wake up between six and eight times a night, which meant I couldn’t get a solid 45 minutes of sleep, ever. I wanted to be the hyper-attentive mom, but it was crushing me.
I kept thinking she was turning a corner after a couple of good nights. I learned later that I would need to create the turning point myself.
This went on for eight months, and week after week, the grind of getting up every hour was drowning me. My extreme sleep deprivation exacerbated my postpartum anxiety and I was unable to function normally. My mental health continued to deteriorate and because of the sleep deprivation, I couldn’t focus my mind enough to figure out how to fix it.
I needed a life raft….ASAP.
Thankfully, my husband took the lead and suggested we contact a pediatric sleep consultant that was recommended by a friend. The idea of having someone help us who had tons of knowledge and experience and could apply that toward our specific situation, answer questions, and help us with a plan, was appealing. Help was in sight! I was so worried she’d recommend a method I wasn’t comfortable with, which turned out not to be the case! She worked with us in whatever way we wanted. With her help, and reading The Sleep Lady’s Goodnight Sleep Tight book, we were able to establish a bedtime routine and guidelines that helped her feel safe and secure. She knows we’re always there, but she also had the space to learn how to soothe herself. There were some tears from both of us at first, but it was 100% worth it.
Within a week she was sleeping through the night, and could put herself back to sleep if she awoke during the night.
I was getting six-plus hours of sleep in a row, which compared with the fragmented, minimal sleep I had been getting, was life-changing. After about a month, I started to feel like myself again. My mood was improved, I could think clearly, and I felt more motivated and positive. I can’t stress enough the importance of sleep for new moms, because it dictates your outlook on everything else.
While sleep training and moving our daughter out of our room at nine months old wasn’t my original plan, I learned that sometimes the best thing to do is adjust plans for reality, not on former expectations. Every mom, baby, and family is different, and we all need to do what works best for our specific situations. So keep an open mind and heart, because your situation may not play out how you expect it to, and you’ll need to adapt. I know a new mom somewhere is struggling with this, and I want you to know that you can find relief! It just may mean your plan changes, which is ok. It’s important to hold space for yourself, too. You got this!