5 Tips for New Parents
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
Becoming a parent for the first time is easily the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I now have this really sweet tiny human, and I am entrusted with taking care of him and guiding him into who he will eventually become. It’s truly the most amazing honor and privilege I’ve ever encountered. It is also kind of scary, a bit isolating, and a little hard. It is wonderful, I promise!! But I firmly believe we have to talk about how hard it can be because otherwise, we just feel even more isolated when we aren’t enjoying every single moment. When I look back, I received a lot of great advice from seasoned moms. I also read parenting books, blogs, and followed lots of professionals on social media. Constantly consuming information was overwhelming but has helped shape the parent I now am and now, I am a professional myself! If I could travel back in time as a sleep consultant, here are the top 5 tips I would give my bleary-eyed, exhausted, yet enchanted self:
1. Understand the Science of Newborn Sleep
One of the first things we hear when we excitedly announce our pregnancy is “Congrats! Say goodbye to your sleep!” So, it’s not surprising that sleep is one of the main stressors for expecting parents. Will you ever sleep again? It’s true that some babies struggle more than others, but you don’t need to say goodbye to your sleep! At least not for long. You probably will lose some sleep in those early days as everyone adjusts to the new normal and hormones are all over the place. Newborn babies will have some fussy times and stretches of sleep that can range anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours. You may even be waking your baby to be sure they eat every 3 hours until your pediatrician blesses off that they’re gaining weight steadily and you can let them sleep until they wake you. So why is sleep so all over the place? In short, their biological rhythms (or lack thereof) are to blame. In the first 4 months or so, your baby’s body is not making its own melatonin (the sleepy hormone) so they can’t quite tell day from night yet. This can mean long stretches during the day and waking up to party in the middle of the night. Babies actually sleep a lot when you consider the number of hours, but since it is happening a bit erratically, you (the parents) are often awake at a time when your own body is producing melatonin and wants to sleep! While this is not fun for mom and dad, it is temporary and around 6 weeks you will start to see some longer stretches as their night sleep begins to consolidate.
2. Prioritize Your Own Sleep
Notice how I didn’t say “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” I see this advice flying around all the time, and received it an awful lot myself. I don’t hate it! But, I would always think “Ok, well do I wash the dishes when the baby washes the dishes too?” Try to accept that your house may not stay squeaky clean like it was pre-baby. This is temporary! However, some things just need to get done; if you don’t do the laundry what will you wear? It's not practical to pressure yourself into sleeping every time the baby sleeps, but I find it can be helpful to just keep a running list of “priorities”: things you need to get done that can’t really wait. Put sleep pretty high on that list. Like, close to the top, number 1 or 2. When your baby naps, decide what is the number 1 priority and get that done. Maybe you catch a nap or maybe sleep waits until next time. Make your own sleep a priority but ditch the guilt of feeling like you “should” be sleeping just because your baby is. You are still a person and sometimes a few quiet moments or a funny show on Netflix (or clean leggings) is even sweeter than a 30-minute nap.
3. Allow Your Newborn to Sleep On-Demand
Schedules are amazing. I am a Type-A, schedule-oriented person. I live out of my planner and when I had a newborn, I just loved the idea of putting him on a schedule which included two-hour naps, followed by feeding and exactly one hour of awake time. While I do love the EASY (Eat, Awake, Sleep, You) routine for tiny babes, watching the clock at this age just isn’t practical and will likely cause more stress than it relieves. As we covered above, newborn sleep is erratic and unpredictable, and a well-rested baby will sleep better. Because of this, you’ll want to learn your baby’s sleepy cues (often this includes droopy eyes, zoning out, fussing, and yawning) and get them down at the first sign! When we wait too long, baby becomes overtired, meaning their body is releasing hormones meant to keep them awake. They will fight sleep harder, and not sleep as well. This will happen from time to time despite your best efforts, so don’t agonize. Just know that newborns have a very short amount of time they can be awake between naps (30-60 minutes, this includes time to feed) so the sooner they get to sleep the better!
4. Don’t Compare - Give Yourself Lots of Grace
Comparison really is the thief of joy. It will do you no favors to compare your baby to your friend’s baby, your motherhood journey to another mother’s, or even yourself to your spouse as a parent. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and we all have that friend whose baby slept through the night at 5 weeks. That may even be you. But, if it’s not, that’s ok! There is a very wide range of normal when it comes to newborn sleep, and some babies are more sensitive than others. It’s not because of anything you’re doing, it doesn’t reflect on your parenting, and there’s nothing wrong with your baby. Just like it takes your little bundle of joy a while to learn how to be a baby, it may take you a while to learn how to be a parent. Any seasoned mom will tell you she still doesn’t have it figured out most of the time, and that’s absolutely ok. You are the best parent for your baby, and you are doing an amazing job. Likewise, try to remember that your spouse may parent differently than you but they are also amazing, learning as they go, and doing their best just as you are. Try to hold space for all of your feelings (there are so many in the crazy newborn days) without any shame or judgment for your own experience. You don’t deserve that from anyone, but especially not yourself.
5. Accept Help!
It really does take a village. It can be hard to accept help when it is offered, but as I learned the hard way, no prizes are given out for doing it all on your own. If someone wants to bring you a meal, hold the baby while you shower (or nap!), or even wash your dishes, let them. If someone asks you how they can help you, tell them. Be honest! At the same time, you’re not obligated to entertain or make time for things that aren’t helpful, so don’t be afraid to communicate a need for privacy or alone time as well! In my experience, people truly want to help a new mom, but don’t always know exactly how to do so. Last but definitely not least, seek help from professionals qualified to help you. If you’re struggling to breastfeed, find a lactation consultant you love or chat with your pediatrician about the transition to formula. If you’re struggling with mental health, a great therapist will make a world of difference. And if the sleep thing just isn’t happening, well, I’ve got your back.