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1st Time Parents: The Sleep Plan

Becoming a first time parent can be mind blowing. You spend nine months waiting for your baby to arrive. You feel prepared. You read the books. But then the baby comes and nothing quite prepares you for that moment. You may have spoken to friends and family who have had children. It would be expected the one subject that repeated itself frequently was sleep. Or lack of, to be more exact.

They advise you to enjoy the sleep you get now. How it will all change. No matter how many warnings you here, it’s impossible to know exactly how sleep deprivation will make you feel. But what you can do is prepare for it. This can be done by putting a sleep plan in place.

Struggling with fatigue and lack of sleep is all part of being a new parent. With night feeds and regular wakings from your newborn it’s understandable. Adults need regular sleep just as much as children do. The effects it can have on your body is something less to be desired.

What you will begin to realise is that babies thrive on routine. The same can be said for parents. Establishing this early on will set you on the right path. A sleep plan developed between both parents will enable you to combat sleep deprivation. Here’s what you can do to get yourself started.

Know your statistics

Knowing the facts is a great place to start. Newborns, for example, need 14- 15 hours sleep a day. Of course, this isn’t taken all at night. Wouldn’t that be nice? Newborns have regular naps during the day. But the key is to try and take control of the sleeping schedule. Avoiding naps close to your desired bedtime is one way of doing this.

The same applies when it comes to you. An adult is recommended to get eight hours of sleep a night. Some of you may be happy with less; others might need more. You will know your body, so listen to that where possible.

It’s a two-way street

As first time parents, everyday feels like you are learning something new. When it comes to handling sleep, this is where you will need to be on the same page. Helping one another is one way to tackle the impending sleep deprivation. If possible, each taking a night feed while the other catches up on sleep is a great routine to develop amongst the two of you. If breastfeeding is involved, there are other ways your partner can help. They could feed the baby pumped breast milk. Or offer to to wind and soothe the baby once the feeding has completed, leaving the mother to head back to sleep.

Develop a good bedtime routine

The first major part of a good sleep plan is to develop a bedtime routine. This is where you need to establish the timings as best you can. Try and work out how much sleep your baby gets during the day through naps. Then you should be able to determine the amount of hours needed at night. Of course, you won’t be able to stick to an exact time when they are first born. It would all depend on how your day has gone. But being aware of it will help you and your baby get the sleep you both need.

With a newborn it's advisable to start off slowly. Remembering the key points of a bath, feed and then bed. As time goes on you can adapt it to be as complex as you want. But for now keep things simple. A soothing warm bath followed by a feed could form the basis of a consistent bedtime routine. Also establishing it is night time by changing your baby into a sleepsuit. Then in the morning change them once again. This will allow time to show some form of basis, a day and a night period.

It all starts with you

Self care is necessary. It may seem like a big task when you feel tired. A lack of motivation is a sign of fatigue. But by eating a well balanced diet of slow-releasing energy foods like porridge, and healthy sugars like fruits is a good place to start. Keeping yourself hydrated is another way you can take care of yourself. A good diet will provide you with energy throughout the day to work through the fatigue, and will allow you to stay on track with your sleep plan. Drinking plenty of water can help you sleep better and keep you alert through the day. If you are at your best, then you will be able to stick to the plan.

Appreciate your partner

It’s easy to become irritated when you are feeling tired. This could lead to bickering arguments between both parents. None of which are meant to hurt feelings. The “I’m so tired” or “I’m more tired than you” bickering will form part of your day to day relationship. But, deep down, remembering to appreciate your partner is the only way to get through this stage of sleep deprivation. The mother may stay at home with the baby; a father may work. Each of you will think that the grass is greener. However, accepting that each of you have it tough will add a new dynamic to your relationship. Making you stronger than ever. You form part of a team when you become parents, so it’s essential to be kind to each other. This will help when implementing a sleep plan because it won’t be successful on the first try. It will require commitment from the pair of you to see it through.

Decide what will work for you

Once you have established the groundwork, the next thing to work on is finding a method for the nighttime wakings that’s right for you. What will work for one parent may not work for you. Be open minded and research these tactics. Controlled crying can be effective, but it can emotionally affect a mother, as well as the baby. You could decide to soothe your baby each time they wake. But this could potentially create a habit that might be difficult to crack in the future. Another way is to use timings of night feeds. By adding 15 minutes between each night feed, every few days will gradually allow your child to last longer between feeds. Again, try a few different tactics. Once you realise what will work for you be consistent with your chosen method.

The beauty of the power nap

A sleep plan will only be enforced if you feel alert yourself. This is where a power nap can be of huge value. The advice you may hear most is to sleep when the baby sleeps. But, let’s face it, life can get in the way of that. Plus too much sleep can cause you the same feelings of fatigue. A power nap should be short and just what you need to re-charge.

Accept this period of your life and embrace it

Finally, accepting that the sleep deprivation is just a time of your life that will soon improve, is the best course of action. Babies don’t stay newborn for long. So embrace each moment, tired or not, and enjoy this rollercoaster ride of parenthood. You may find yourself doing it all again in the not so distant future.