I don’t know about you, but I vividly remember being an expectant mother. I was nervous, yet ready to embrace this transformative new role – and yet I was confronted constantly with nonchalant (though well-intentioned) remarks about the sleep I was no longer going to receive.
“Sleep now before the baby comes, because you’re never going to sleep again…”
“Get ready to be awake round the clock!”
“Be sure to stock up on your coffee supply!”
These statements were almost always delivered with a laugh and a smirk and a just you wait kind of attitude. And I recall that I would awkwardly giggle along with them, because how was I to know what lay ahead? At that point, I couldn’t possibly know what it would feel like to be totally and utterly sleep deprived. How the anxiety around NOT sleeping would make it impossible to actually do the very thing I was anxious about: sleep.
People have babies every day….we must be made to muddle through, right?
Society has a tendency to approach sleep as a luxury — something that we can forego when we have more important things to worry about, like keeping a newborn baby alive. After all, nothing could be more important than a new tiny human to love and nurture and dedicate our whole being to.
By diminishing the impact of sleep deprivation, new parents are led to believe that it’s not a big deal and that we should all be able to effortlessly cope with prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, because, well, that’s what parenthood is all about, isn’t it?
As a result, managing sleep loss is rarely included in the “what to expect” conversations, books and clinics for new parents. Society doesn’t make a concerted effort to normalize the way newborn, baby, and toddler sleep differs from our own.
Sleep is one of those fundamental aspects of our daily repertoire of behaviours that we often don’t truly appreciate until it’s gone. It affects every cell in our bodies. It modulates digestion. It alters hormone release. Sleep changes the way we think, feel, move, and relate to one another. Sleep is important, both for baby and also for parents.
It’s absolutely true that as parents we will need to sacrifice our own needs for the needs of our little ones. However, a little bit of preparation, some solid information about what sleep really looks like for babies, and the knowledge that we’re not meant to go it alone — or to be able to do this entire thing flawlessly! — can mean the difference between overwhelm and empowerment.
So, let’s support new parents with shared experience and recognition of the challenges we face when enduring nights on end with little-to-no sleep. Let’s normalize baby sleep so that we can all acknowledge how difficult it is, and help each other approach it a bit better. And perhaps offer up a nap while we hold the baby. Because really … baby sleep is no joke.