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Navigating the Mysteries of Sleep: Parenting Edition

As a mother of nine wonderful kiddos, I've certainly had my fair share of sleepless nights. Whenever a new parent asks me about sleep and when they can expect to sleep again, I typically respond with, "Don't expect to get a full night's sleep during the first two years of your child's life." Don't be scared! It's not all or nothing, you will sleep and be rested. My statement is just a poke at sleep and being a parent! It's a universal truth that becoming a parent changes your relationship with sleep. It adapts, evolves, and becomes something entirely different, but rest assured, you will find moments of rest and be rewarded with heartwarming experiences that make it all worthwhile.

The Paradigm Shift:

Think back to the days when you were a single person. Sleep was incredible – uninterrupted, on your terms, with no one demanding your attention. It was pure paradise. Then you met your partner, started sharing a bed, and suddenly, you had to adapt. Perhaps they snored or tossed and turned like a "princess and the pea" character. Despite the initial challenges, you adjusted and discovered the joy of cuddling up with your loved one.

Pregnancy prepares you too:

Pregnancy, with its unique challenges and bodily adjustments, unknowingly prepares you for the sleepless nights that often accompany newborns. Those restless nights and frequent bathroom trips during pregnancy can be seen as nature's way of easing you into the sleep deprivation that comes with caring for a newborn. Additionally, the heightened sense of anticipation and the constant awareness of your changing body during pregnancy can foster a heightened state of alertness, which can be an asset when tending to a newborn's needs. While the physical and emotional toll of pregnancy is undoubtedly challenging, it inadvertently equips you with some of the resilience and readiness required for the demands of early parenthood, creating a unique and beautiful connection between the two phases of life.

Enter the Babies:

And then, along came the babies. Those first few weeks were unbelievably tough, and I won't sugarcoat it. When people say, "Sleep like a baby," do they really know that babies don't sleep like adults? Newborns wake frequently because their circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep-wake cycles, are not fully developed at birth. This is due to their immature nervous system and the need for frequent feedings to support rapid growth and development during the early months of life. Also, babies start to make their own melatonin around 3 or 4 months. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates our circadian rhythms, making us naturally sleepy at night.

Side Note: Research has shown that melatonin is present in breast milk, and the concentration of melatonin in breast milk tends to be higher during the evening and nighttime hours. This suggests that when a parent breastfeeds their baby during these times, the melatonin in the breast milk may help establish the baby's circadian rhythms and encourage nighttime sleep.

So with this in mind, babies have no concept of day or night; 2 a.m. is as good as 2 p.m. This is why I affectionately call the first six weeks of postpartum the "zombie weeks" due to the sleep deprivation. But amidst the sleepless nights, you'll also experience the pure joy of those sweet morning smiles and cuddles that melt your heart.

The First Year Challenges:

Surviving the first couple of weeks is an achievement, but there are still growth spurts, milestones, teething, illnesses, and sleep regressions to contend with during that first year of "no sleep." Some nights are blissful, while others are challenging. As your child grows, molars make their entrance at 12 and 24 months, adding another layer of sleep disruption. This is why I insist on not expecting a full night's sleep during the first two years of parenthood. However, it's essential to remember that for every sleepless night, there's a beautiful moment with your child that makes it all worthwhile.

Light at the End of the Tunnel:

Rest assured, it does get better. As adults, we still wake up at night, but we can usually fall back to sleep (unless we're in the throes of perimenopause, but that's a topic for another day). As your child grows older, they will learn to sleep through the night and handle their nighttime awakenings independently. By the elementary school years, you'll find yourself enjoying uninterrupted sleep again, though sick nights or nightmares may occasionally throw a curveball. During the teen years, you'll anxiously await their return from nights out with friends, cherishing the moments when they share their experiences with you.

In the end, you might never quite experience the pre-kid sleep you once knew, but your relationship with sleep will change and adapt. The newborn stage is undoubtedly the most challenging, but it's a phase that eventually passes. Setting up sleep routines, considering co-sleeping, and enlisting the help of your partner or even a postpartum doula or night nurse can make those early weeks more manageable.

So, to all the new parents out there, embrace the journey! Becoming a parent is undoubtedly tough, but it's also one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. Embrace the changes, cherish the sleepless nights, and remember that this challenging but beautiful phase is fleeting. Amidst the sleepless nights, you'll find countless moments of love, cuddles, sweet morning smiles, and memories that will warm your heart for a lifetime.

Are you a new parent navigating the beautiful journey of parenthood? Embrace the changes, cherish the sleepless nights, and celebrate the heartwarming moments. Share your experiences, tips, and stories in the comments below. Let's support each other on this incredible adventure called parenthood. Together, we can find the balance and joy in every moment.

Prenatal Coach & Postpartum Doula, Fort Collins, CO
Prenatal Coach & Postpartum Doula, Fort Collins, CO


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