Being a parent to a newborn baby is a 24/7 commitment. You are never off the clock. It's important to develop a plan for coping with such a challenging and important journey to avoid the baby blues. Below I'll share some tips and tricks that will hopefully help you stay calm and composed when your baby cries through the night, they certainly helped me.
I am a relatively new father –my son is now 19 months old– and having survived for 19 months without doing anyhting too crazy, I thought that I’d share a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way!
Learning how to stay calm at night when I am exhausted but my baby won’t stop crying has been one of the most helpful tools in my parenting journey thus far. Understanding how to deal with this can help you to avoid the stress and possible depression that comes with the sleep deprivation from being a new parent.
Parenting is hard. Exhaustion, anxiety, and depression are very real possibilities.
Depression or baby blues that arises in a parent after having a child, called Postnatal depression or Postpartum depression (PPD), is a serious issue that is not talked about enough. It affects both parents, (a fact that I wasn't aware of until recently) and is extremely common: 1 in 7 mothers and 1 in 10 new dads suffer from postnatal depression. It’s also important to note that if you are living abroad as an expat (like I am in Singapore) your child is more likely to suffer from depression themselves, so being aware of the signs is very important.
Having been through much of this myself recently, I firmly believe that staying calm through the inevitable sleepless nights can genuinely help to reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression. Ian Disley, an expert in postpartum depression, notes that for women the onset of PPD "usually begins two-to-eight weeks after delivery, and the duration of PPD will depend on the severity of the case, and whether the mother seeks help.” This time frame coincides with the period where the sleep deprivation really starts to get to you. It’s generally within the first 2-3 months where you have to figure out your night time coping techniques. That being said, for me it was between months six and nine when the sleep deprivation was the hardest to deal with and when the coping techniques came into their own.
For those that have experienced it, no explanation is necessary; for those that haven't no explanation is possible.
Until you have a baby, you probably have no idea what actual sleep deprivation is, or what it does to you. Of course there was the odd weekend in your twenties when you missed a night, or even two nights sleep, or the 5 day festival where you slept for 2 hours each night and drank cheap booze all day. But none of this is sustained sleep deprivation over a long period, interspersed with the normal working week (if you need help with workplace stress and anxiety, see here and here), as well as your new evening job of cleaning, tidying, changing diapers, etc. The days of sitting down after work to a relaxing dinner, and a few episodes of your favorite Netflix show are long gone! If you get the chance to talk to your partner calmly for 20 minutes over a glass of wine, consider yourself lucky! It’s far more likely that your evenings will involve skipping dinner, grabbing a beer, and falling asleep mid sentence in your chair. At least that’s what often happens to me...
Being constantly and consistently exhausted has a ripple effect across your entire life. It can lead to large amounts of stress, which can cause the depression mentioned above. So, how do you avoid that stress?
My tips for staying sane with a crying baby
Below are a few tricks that I have picked up along the way, mostly thanks to the great advice I have received from my family and friends (you know who you are).
- Try to concentrate on and control your breathing. My technique was to really focus on the inhale, followed by the exhale. Focus on one step at a time. If you can, try to replicate a rhythm that reminds you of sleep. Somebody told me that if my chest expansion and contraction reminded the baby of sleep then he would go to sleep too. That seemed to work for us, and it kept me calm.
- Visualize a relaxing place. My technique was to visualize a golf course back in the UK. I remembered the holes in great detail and played an imaginary round, and guess what, I was brilliant, my best round ever!
- Move rhythmically. I pace around the room in a set direction, following a set path, like a road. After a while I could do this in the pitch dark and not bump into anything. I found that subconscious muscle memory relaxing, and I also found that the movement helped to get my son to sleep.
- Never look at the time! As soon as you look at a clock or your watch you start thinking about how few hours of sleep you are going to get: causing you to worry about the commitments you have the next day that you feel you’ll be unprepared for. It’s important to not be in your head too much, or you’ll get trapped (click here for help dealing with these thinking traps).
In my experience it’s much better to just stay relaxed using the above techniques and roll with the punches. You are far more likely to be able to grab a few precious hours of sleep this way when you do finally get to rest your head on the pillow.
If you are struggling with this, or any other part of being a new parent the best first step is to talk about it. Family and friends generally want to help and there are hundreds of amazing therapists out there who are trained to listen and support. If you want to find a therapist but dont know where to start, try the RingMD directory.
My final piece of advice is to always remember that this is just a stage, it will improve. Becoming a parent is the hardest yet most fulfilling thing I have ever done. Even with the sleepless nights, the poo in the face, and frequent sickness, I have loved every single minute of it.