What does sleep look like after baby arrives?

 “Will I ever sleep again?”  

It’s something that many parents lament after their baby arrives. Sleep, or lack of it, is certainly the butt of many jokes at baby showers: “Enjoy your sleep while you can! You won’t get any after your baby comes along!”

The truth is that the arrival of a baby into your life changes everything. And yes, this includes your own sleep. Babies sleep differently to adults, and it’s helpful to accept this and adapt your own sleep for a time to accommodate the needs of your littlest family member. The responsibility of you sleeping well should not fall squarely onto your baby’s shoulders – but that said, there are many ways to help the whole family get the rest they need.   

So what might your sleep look like after your baby arrives?

Here are some of the ways that it might change:

You might find that you are more tired during the day than you were before.

Babies wake regularly throughout the night for their first year, and often beyond into toddlerhood. Studies show that frequent night waking is common, regardless of the mode of feeding, solid food consumption or the infant’s weight (1-4). Although night waking is normal behaviour, many parents find it to be exhausting. Keeping your baby in close proximity to you at night will help with this, and room-sharing is ideal (as well as protecting against Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy (SUDI)) for at least the first 6-12 months of your baby’s life (5).

You might find that you need to go to bed earlier.

Prior to baby arriving, you may have spent many nights awake until midnight, binge-watching shows or reading, then sleeping in to make up for those hours lost. When baby wakes frequently, and especially if they decide to start their day at 5 am, staying up late may mean that you are more exhausted the following day. If you struggle with the idea of giving up your late nights, especially if you feel that is the only time you can get to yourself, then try allocating two nights per week to staying up late. For the other five nights, try to stick to an earlier bedtime.

You might find that you feel anxious during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep.

This is especially common in parents who worry about their baby’s frequent waking and feel that it is excessive or should be improving. In this situation, it can be helpful to avoid looking at the clock or counting your baby’s wake-ups. Some other ways to stop stress and anxiety from disrupting your sleep are to take time to relax and wind down before bed, write down your anxieties in a journal and ensure you are getting enough physical exercise during the day (walks with baby in the pram or carrier every day is a great habit to get into!) (6).

If you have an older child, you might find that you become frustrated with their sleep, as managing two wakeful children is doubly stressful.

It is important to remember that your older child’s sleep needs are still valid, even if they look so old and big next to their tiny, new sibling. Setting up a small bed for them in your bedroom, so that you can attend to their needs quickly and sensitively might be needed while they adjust to their new family member.

You might find that there is lots of pressure from people around you train your baby to sleep better through the night so that you can get the rest that you need.

This advice is often well-intended but is unfair and unrealistic. Your baby wakes regularly through the night not only for food (7,8) and to help regulate their physiology (9,10) but for reassurance that they are safe and close to their mother or loving caregiver. This is not something that can be “trained” out of them, and your baby will learn to sleep more independently when they are developmentally ready to do so.

Finally, you might find that at times it feels hopeless and that you long for the days when you were able to have long nights of undisturbed sleep.

It is OK to grieve your pre-baby days and the freedom they brought. Remember that sleep will return, but when your children are young, parenting really is a 24-hour deal. If you believe that night waking is abnormal or bad, your anxiety on waking will cause stress and further sleep loss, in a vicious cycle. It’s beneficial to your mental wellbeing and resilience to try to accept that for now, how you sleep has changed, along with so many other aspects of your life. Seek support during the day from the people around you and grab breaks to rest and recharge where you can. You can do this!

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are some tips to help

Need to take a closer look at your sleep?

Take a look at your sleep hygiene

Contributed by: Georgina Dowden, IBCLC, Registered Nurse, Registered Midwife, Little Sparklers Director 

Image credit: Vida Images

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