How to survive sleep deprivation as a first time mum

I’m going to be honest (and I’m sorry for those who are pregnant, but honesty is the way to go with this stuff) …sleep will never be the same again once you have a baby. For me, I was exhausted as a first-time mum. I had NO idea about sleep deprivation and the affect it would have. It was a really tough time and I felt very alone. I didn’t see a way out and I didn’t see how anything could help in the slightest. I just took the stance that ‘this is it, I just have to endure it‘.

I probably spent the first 4 months at least with this mindset, until I started to realize that I was a shadow of the old me. I remember clearly returning to work when my son was 9 months old, answering “how are you?” with “finally feeling a bit more human”. It was met with a laugh or a knowing smile, but even the mums around me who had been through it, didn’t offer any more than that.

A constant theme I have found in motherhood is this odd practice of pretending everything is fine.

Why do we do that?

All that does is create more anxiety and loneliness in the mum who is struggling to put one foot in front of the other. We must be more honest. We must be there for each other, because we’re the only ones who really know how it feels.

Yes, sleep deprivation is horrendous, but isn’t it better to offer that mum reassurance that we’ve all been through it and we all survived? Rather than making her feel she’s the only one and none of us ever had it that bad? Or maybe it’s because we feel some sort of shame and embarrassment attached to anything negative in our parenting and want to be seen as ‘the perfect mum?’ I think we are probably all guilty of this in some way.

If you’ve got this far, then I’m going to assume that you’re either about to become a new mum (congratulations!) or you are currently struggling with this new transformation and want to know EXACTLY how we all have survived this crazy time?

Some of us just push on through, some of us just admit defeat but we ALL do what we have to, to survive.

Sleep when the baby sleeps

I’m going to put my hands up here and say ‘nope, I never did this’. Which is exactly why I have it as the number one tip.

I discounted this advice as ‘impossible’ and ‘farfetched’. How could anyone possibly sleep when the baby sleeps? I have things to do, I don’t know when this sleep may be, I might have visitors coming round etc etc…it just didn’t make sense to me.

And you know what happened then? I was awake every day and most of the night for months. I’m telling you now, I will do things differently if I have another!

If you are deciding to do ANYTHING over sleep, whether it’s showing off your baby to family and friends, or putting washing away or cleaning the dishes or even binging on Netflix, it’s not worth it. Those things can wait.

Just sleep.

Learn to say “no”

Which leads me on to learning to say ‘no’. Yeah, we can all use this word with our partners and even children, but how often do we use this for everyone else?

Saying ‘no’ can be done in many ways without using the word, but we need to be assertive and tell those around us that right now, it’s just not happening. We’ve just had a baby, we’re up all night, so ‘no’ we can’t have 10 visitors today who expect us to also have a tidy house when they arrive and the kettle on ready. JUST NO.

Practice doing this as part of your self-care routine and you will not only find you lose some anxiety, you will feel a little more in control of your life (which doesn’t come often when a newborn).

Make sure you EAT well

That’s right! Please do not succumb to this insane pressure of trying to lose the baby weight. That will happen naturally when life settles down a bit and self-care moves into a different phase. During the first few months of your baby’s life, you need to eat well. This doesn’t mean ordering takeaways every night (because although convenient, filling and delicious, it’s definitely not healthy).

But healthy doesn’t mean smoothies and bowls of salads either! You need carbs more than anything right now, as well as protein and some good fats (especially when breastfeeding). My main tip is to either get someone to cook you some homemade meals that you can have in the freezer OR batch cook during your last few weeks of pregnancy. This was a lifesaver for me.

Ask for help!

Again, we are all guilty of trying to do this all alone. It all comes back to that unrealistic idea of ‘perfection’. Trying to show the world that we’ve ‘got this’, we’re ‘strong’ and we don’t need anybody.

Listen, if we’re looking after everyone else, then who is looking after us? We are strong, and it takes courage to ask for help. It doesn’t have to be direct and it doesn’t have to be family or friends. It can be getting yourself to a mum and baby group and admitting you’re struggling (this helped me massively) or it could be finding a facebook group online to get some support. Whatever form it takes, please don’t do this alone. The best thing for your baby is being as healthy and present as you can be, and doing it all alone plus sleep deprivation just doesn’t end well.

Share the night duties

This is a tricky one and may not apply to everyone. Again, this is advice I wish I had taken. I was exclusively breastfeeding my son for the first 7 months of his life, and he wouldn’t take a bottle, which meant I couldn’t even express and take a break. I was on demand for every single feed night and day for half a year.

Anyone who has breastfed can attest to how full on that was. So, like some of you, I couldn’t simply ‘share’ the night feeds (or any feeds for that matter) but what I could have done was ask for some help for me. I wasn’t just doing the feeding, I was getting up and going into another room to save my partner his sleep (my baby fogged brain made me believe he would be worse off without sleep as he had to go to work…how very naive I was about the work I did).

Ask people to get you things, pass you things, see to the baby when it isn’t about hunger. Anything that you CAN pass on to someone else should be the first thing you let go. I repeat…do not take this all on alone!

Remember this is TEMPORARY

One of the most useful tools I use when things just seem too much, is this phrase. Life is temporary and everything in it too. Yes, this means the good things come to an end, but it also means that the difficult and the bad pass. It all passes and it doesn’t last forever. You will get through this, we all do…but this is about getting through it the best way you can. Sometimes just reminded ourselves that a situation or feeling is temporary is enough to make it feel a little less intense.

Keep going, mama. We’ve got your back.

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