Parenting is no picnic, especially if it’s your first time doing it.
Ask any new parent – the honest ones will tell you it’s a warzone.
In fact, in a study that looked at British people’s sleeping patterns, new parents were found to get only an average of 5.1 hours of sleep per night.
That means they lose a total of 44 days or (1056 hours of sleep) during the first year of caring for their newborn.
Just like any form of insomnia, this can result in regular headaches, poor memory, poor cognition, and slower response time, which are just some of the immediate and milder ill effects of not getting enough sleep.
At worst, chronic insomnia can increase your risk of getting diabetes and even coronary heart disease.
Don’t panic just yet (that’s the last thing you and your baby needs) – there are several ways to handle this conundrum.
‘New parent insomnia’ mainly comes from the erratic sleeping schedules and sometimes unpredictable behavior of newborn babies.
In the warzone of your first year as a parent, your first mission is to have a clear view of the battleground.
The Key to Overcoming New Parent Insomnia is Understanding Newborn Sleeping Patterns
Here’s a list of baby sleep facts sourced from both the National Sleep Foundation and the Stanford Children’s Health network:
- 14 to 17 hours of sleep/day is recommended for newborns up to 3 months old
- 12 to 15 hours of sleep/day is recommended for infants 4 to 11 months old
- 11 to 14 hours of sleep/day is recommended for toddlers 1 to 2 years old
- On average, newborn babies sleep 8 hours in the day and 8 hours at night.
- On average, newborn babies only begin to sleep for 6 to 8 hours straight only until they’ve reached either 3 months or 12 lbs; however, some babies can take up to a year until they’re able to sleep throughout the night.
- On average, newborn babies awaken to eat about every 3 hours; this depends on what you’re feeding your baby as well as how old he or she is.
- The younger the baby, the smaller the stomach, which is why newborns need to feed frequently throughout the day; however, as your baby gets older, his or her eating and sleeping patterns will grow to mimic yours.
Remembering these facts will help you have a much clearer understanding of what you’re dealing with.
The more you know about your newborn baby’s sleeping patterns and behaviors, the better you can adjust your life and work around his or her needs and eventually overcome new parent insomnia.
Recognizing Signs of Sleep Readiness Helps in Putting Your Newborn to Sleep
What do sleepy babies typically do?
- Looking away from toys, distractions, and/or people
- Burying his or her face in your chest
- Looking bored and generally disinterested
Once your baby exhibits these signs, it’s time to put him or her to sleep.
Teaching Your Baby to Sleep Alone is a Crucial Part of Parenting
You can cradle your baby until he or she is sleepy, but don’t make a habit of letting your baby sleep while still in your arms.
This is a very important part of your baby’s sleep training: he or she must learn to sleep alone without the crutch of being cradled by a parent to sleep.
As early as possible, it’s best to train your baby with healthy sleeping behaviors like this that can help you both in the long run.
Let Your Newborn Sleep on His or Her Back – the Safest Sleeping Position
Years of research has led childcare experts to conclude that putting a baby down on his or her back is the best way to avoid SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
While lying on its back, your baby is much less prone to choking, vomiting, or being exposed to other factors that may prove to be lethal to a newborn.
Here are more ways to ensure your baby’s safety in bed (as well as lessen your anxiety about your baby’s safety):
- A firm mattress with tight-fitting sheets is best for babies; never use a soft mattress, or worse, a waterbed.
- Remove anything and everything that your newborn can suffocate on, even pillows, quilts, stuffed toys, or soft crib bumpers; the simpler the crib, the better.
- Always make sure that your newborn’s head is not covered; when using a blanket, tuck it in only as far up as the baby’s chest.
- For the first 6 months, it’s okay to place your baby’s crib near your own bed for both convenience and parental bonding.
- While it’s okay to bring your baby to bed for bonding and feeding, most experts advise that they should be returned to their own cribs for sleep; however, you should also consider the fact that…
Bed-Sharing or Co-Sleeping with Your Baby Can be a Safe and Wonderful Experience
Letting your baby sleep on the same bed as you can not only facilitate greater parent-child bonding, it can also allow you to better adjust to your baby’s developing sleeping patterns and lessen the effects of new parent insomnia.
It’s also a good way to save space until your baby grows up to be a child who needs his or her own room.
Just remember that there are some risks involved in this practice, including SIDS.
Bed-sharing/co-sleeping can be lethal, but there are ways to make it as safe as possible for your baby:
- Follow the above guidelines for baby bed safety, such as avoiding bringing any possible choking hazards to bed.
- Don’t use your own blankets to cover your baby as this can lead to entanglement and suffocation; instead, use a small, light baby blanket while ensuring that your baby’s head remains uncovered.
- It’s safer to co-sleep on a firm mattress with motion isolation. The firmer the mattress, the less chances of your baby being exposed to factors that can cause SIDS. Also, the better the mattress can isolate surface motion, the more freedom you have to move in and out of bed without waking the baby.
- Only adults with sound mental health can be entrusted with co-sleeping with a baby; both parents should consent to the decision and should be fully aware that they are sleeping beside a fragile newborn.
- Tie-up excessively long hair – it can entangle and choke the baby.
- Excessively obese parents or other people who, for some reason, may encounter difficulty feeling where the baby is in bed in relation to them may be unsafe for co-sleeping.
- In general, it’s safer to co-sleep with your baby on as large a mattress or surface as possible.
- Understand that adult beds aren’t made with baby safety in mind, so make adjustments, like putting the mattress on the floor instead of a high bed frame.
Make sure you follow all of these safety precautions before sharing the bed with your baby.
And whether you choose to co-sleep or not, you should know that…
Keeping Your Baby Active During the Day Can Make Your Nights Easier
As mentioned above, one of the main benefits of co-sleeping/bed-sharing is that you can better keep track of and be in sync with your child’s sleeping patterns.
There’s still a way to do this even if you prefer to let your baby sleep in a separate crib.
When your baby is awake during the day, keep him or her active; as long as there’s lots of natural light, it’s a good time to interact with your baby.
Accordingly, while your baby is awake at night, it’s better to keep activity to a minimum.
This teaches your child that daytime is for activity while nighttime is for rest and sleep, which helps to develop their natural circadian rhythms – the 24-hour internal biological cycles that are responsible for wakefulness and sleep.
The more your active your newborn is during the day, the better he or she will sleep at night, which is a good, natural way to stabilize your workload as a parent.
And one last thing…
Recognize the Fact that There is No Cure to New Parent Insomnia
Notice how this article’s title doesn’t have the word ‘cure’ in it?
That’s because you can only overcome new parent insomnia; you can only minimize its effects even as your own mind and body inevitably adjusts to it.
If you’re like most new parents who can’t afford 24/7 nannies, expensive daycares, or baby sleep training services, your first year of being a new parent can feel like hell.
The sooner you recognize this, the more realistically you can deal with the problem.
And as you’ve read above, there are plenty of ways to deal with the insomnia that comes with having a newborn baby.
In fact, as a new parent, this is just the start of your research into practical parenting.
If you really want to overcome new parent insomnia, the answer lies in learning everything you can to be the best, most efficient parent that you can be.