When I was pregnant I was told countless times that I should make the most of sleep before the baby came, and that when the baby was here I would never get a decent night’s sleep ever again.
Pregnancy is a great thing. Apart from the obvious, pregnancy gets you ready for your new life after the baby has arrived. Throughout the pregnancy, sleeping wasn’t a comfortable experience and the closer it got to the due date the harder sleeping became. Firstly, you had to get up every couple of hours to wee. Secondly, when you weren’t weeing you couldn’t sleep as you were the size of an elephant, ‘weren’t allowed’ to lay this way, or that way or whatever, had pillows shoved in every conceivable gap around your inflated body and you had all these baby related thoughts in your head. After spending the night tossing and turning and weeing constantly it got to about 5am and you’d give up, go downstairs, make yourself a cup of caffeine-free tea and turn the TV on – to be faced with nothing more than children’s TV, before the world wakes up to the morning news shows.
When the baby finally arrives you basically sleep when it sleeps for the first two weeks, longer if you’re lucky. Then after that the real fun starts where baby slowly becomes more awake, sleeps less and needs more interaction. The times that you can sleep get less, to the point where you’re 7 months in and baby only sleeps for 3 half hour instalments every day and if you don’t get enough sleep at night you’re stuffed. No chance of a catch up.
So after the baby arrives you basically get up in the night every couple of hours to feed it/change it/shush it/wind it/look at it/check it’s temperature/make sure it’s breathing and everything else that parents do. You then can’t sleep when you go back to bed as you’re worrying about it, listening to every little whimper and every breath to make sure that it’s ok. If you get past that you then have a lot on your mind – the Baby’s future, your financial situation, all the jobs that you didn’t get around to doing as you had a baby to look after. Before you know it, it’s 5am and baby is crying to be fed/changed/entertained/cuddled and your day starts again.
My point? Pregnancy sets you up for parenthood. Not only does it give you 9 months to get used to the idea of becoming parents and to bond with the little bean growing inside you, but it also gets you used to insomnia, broken sleep and early mornings.
Parents always talk about sleep deprivation. I hate that phrase. I have had sleep since having LP, therefore I am not deprived of sleep. However, my sleep now comes in 2-4 hour chunks, and not the 8-10 hours I was used to before I got pregnant. Occasionally LP will surprise me and will sleep for a whole 5 hours, once we even managed 6 hours in a row, and I felt like a new person. generally though, LP will wake every 3-4 hours throughout the night for breastfeeds. 7 months in and I am used to it. I can function as well as I could on 8 hours sleep pre-pregnancy. Again, I think your body gets accustomed to the amount of sleep or the sleeping pattern that you are getting and you learn to deal with it and function adequately. The problems only really arise when you get a lot less sleep than your body is used to.
Last night, for example, LP went to sleep as usual at 6:30pm. She then slept until 9:30pm at which point I fed her. She then woke again at 1am, had a feed and then refused to go back to sleep until after 4am! Rocking, shushing, feeding, singing, patting, nothing worked. She just wanted to be held. Every time we got her to sleep she’d wake up the minute you tried to put her down. Until 4am, when she finally went back to sleep. She then woke up at 6:30am and wanted to play. Then my day started again.
Even though I’m used to broken sleep, the disruption and lack of sleep last night has made today very difficult, I can’t function as well as I can having sleep of 3-4 hour installments.
I have friends who formula feed and whose babies sleep through the night from 8pm-8am every night. Occasionally they have a bad night and the baby will have woken up once, sometimes twice during the night. They will say to me that they don’t know how I get up every night, throughout the night, as they found that one night of getting up twice so difficult.
The reason I, and every other Mother to a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night can get up and then function the next day is because we are used to it. We have had months of broken sleep that starts off as waking up every hour and gradually increases to waking every 3 or 4 hours, our bodies have adjusted over time. Mothers are amazing creatures, we are adaptable, resilient and unfaltering. Basically – we just get on with it.
Dave is a great man, and he always gets up to help settle LP when I need him to. But, when it comes down to it, he has his day job – and as I’m breastfeeding he can’t do that bit anyway! So I try my best to manage without dragging him out of bed unless I really need help. When he’s off work he takes LP downstairs and gives her breakfast so that I can have a little lay in and when he’s working I do the same for him – take LP downstairs so as not to disturb him. We are very much a team.
There are a lot of scenarios since having LP that I look at and wonder how I would cope, and I had never even thought about it before having LP. I have a lot of respect for single parents as, even though Dave works night shifts regularly, the majority of the time he is there to hand LP over to in the night if it all gets a bit much. Parents of twins – how do you rock and shush two babies to sleep? One may need a nap, the other may not? You get one to sleep then the other’s crying wakes the sleeping one up… I really do not know how they do it!
All I can say, Dads do a great job too. But Mothers truly are amazing.