I found having a newborn baby a breeze. A walk in the park. A piece of cake. When she was tiny Frida would sleep, want boob, or be contented to snuggle on our laps or in a sling, perhaps looking at a book or a soft toy. She slept a lot at night, and napped a fair amount in the day. I reached a point where I quite genuinely wasn’t at all tired. OK, our lives had experienced a huge change, but I had it all under control! Decaf tea, healthy meals, a tidy house. I was incredibly lucky that breastfeeding came naturally to us. Frida didn’t struggle with colic or trapped wind, and was generally an utter delight. I didn’t understand when people told me that they struggled with their newborns, and I smugly thought to myself that I was probably awesome at this whole parenting game.
The four month sleep regression hit us, pushing my partner into the spare room and me back towards the caffeine following four, five, six wake ups a night. Throw into the mix a back injury, a wrist injury, a couple of colds and illnesses, and suddenly my smugness was thrown way out of the window. But we got back on our feet. We slowed down a bit, trying to find a pattern of rest and activity which worked for us and gave me a bit of a break. We hired a cleaner. We got better at doing online shops, meaning fewer onerous trips to supermarkets. Frida and I started going to a sensory class every week, which gave me a bit of structure and an hour where someone else could do the entertaining. I started to feel a bit more bad-ass again – ok, so I was surviving on way less sleep than I ever would have thought possible, but it was getting easier. Easier, that is, until Frida hit six months and a second sleep regression slammed into us and oh. my. god.
We are now seven months in and it is hard. Our darling girl is still delighting us constantly, but she is also waking me up on average every hour or so at night, for a bit of milk but usually just for a suck or a nibble on “mummy dummy”. EVERY HOUR. I don’t know if you have ever experienced having sleep that broken for a month, but it is quite something. I now understand why sleep deprivation is used as an effective form of torture – your thinking becomes hazy, everyday tasks turn into vast mountains to climb and conquer, you constantly feel on the verge of becoming very unwell. Co-sleeping and breastfeeding are just about saving my sanity, but I really do hope that things start to improve soon. Her teeth are coming through so maybe she is sore? Is she too hot or cold at night? Is she too young to have nightmares? Are these her natural sleep cycles? I just have no idea.
It’s not solely the lack of sleep either. Baby-led weaning and cloth nappies contribute to the never ending laundry which seems to require at least two loads a day, and I am trying to ensure I start preparing the evening meal before my partner gets home so that we can eat early with Frida before she goes to sleep, so there is always “work” to be getting on with alongside constantly entertaining a tiny person.
The things I adore about her – her constant laughter, her inquisitiveness, her enjoyment of interaction – mean that she is a baby who needs constant attention. Poems, singling, jiggling, bouncing. Hours of hiding and peek-a-boo, dancing in the mirror, playing elaborate games involving spoons and funny voices. She is so much fun and so utterly exhausting. Other mums comment in mildly alarmed voices “Oh goodness, she really never lets you stop does she?”. So captivating with her babbling and her expressions and her absolute presence in the here and now, so relentless. I wander around South London’s commons and parks with Frida in a sling, bouncing, speaking, telling, pointing, crouching, waving. Tired feet, tired everything.
I feel a bit like a broken record. I love her, I love her, I need a break, I love her.
When I started this blog I thought it would be so easy peasy to keep it up – after all, how could I struggle to find half an hour to myself, twice a week? Yeah. Well, I do struggle. The last post I wrote was eleven weeks and five days ago (!!!! Crap. That is embarrassing). The time I get “to myself” is time for washing myself, or doing yet another load of laundry, or reading articles about parenting (big up to fab magazines and bath-time companions The Mother, Fourth Trimester and Green Parent). But having a supportive partner and a baby who goes for longer and longer between milk means that hopefully it won’t be a struggle for too much longer.
I am in no position to be giving anyone advice, but here are a few “keeping sane” tips which are helping me in my pit of sleeplessness:
- Go to bed early. Even if it means you don’t get an evening, go to sleep when or shortly after your baby does. Frida’s first stretch is usually the longest so that can mean three hours in one go – it may not sound like much but when it’s the best you’ve got it’s amazing.
- Be kind to yourself. It really, really doesn’t matter if you have to resort to a meal from the freezer, or if your hair is knotty and dirty, or if you have to reschedule someone for the third time. You are looking after a tiny person, and it is the hardest job you will probably ever do. My partner often says to me when I moan that I haven’t been able to do a certain chore, “I didn’t do it because I’ve been at work all day – and so have you”. Throw yourself a bone.
- Get some help. I have found that well-meaning people are often keen to offer “help” with babies (which is lovely but when you have a breast fed clingy baby who often refuses to be held by anyone who isn’t one of her parents not actually that helpful), but actually what you might need is someone to drop over a meal, or help do a couple of loads of washing, or mow the lawn whilst you nap with your baby. We are lucky enough to currently have a cleaner which is an immense help, and our families are close by. My mum visited recently and baked a healthy cake I could freeze, sorted out some plants we had been sent, and brought lunch with her.
- Go outside. Even when exhausted, getting outside to a green space even just once a day makes the world of difference. It calms us both down, wakes me up a bit, and can offer some perspective on things which can seem overwhelming at home (here’s looking at you, creeping pile of laundry).
Do you have any other tips? Have you been through this and come out the other end? Please?!