It’s one of the most frustrating pieces of advice new mothers receive about baby sleep: “Just sleep when the baby sleeps!” It all sounds like a good idea in theory right? But it’s unlikely to be received as if you’ve just given out next weekend’s winning lotto numbers.
Here are 12 things mothers REALLY do when their baby sleeps – that is if they are lucky enough to have a newborn baby that will keep sleeping past the first 20-40 minute sleep cycle.
When Baby Sleeps #1: Conquer Mt Washington
That pile – I mean mountain – of washing isn’t going to do itself. When your working environment is messy or cluttered, your mind feels messy, until there is mess no more. Mt Washington will stare you down until you think you’re going to lose the plot. Either way, it has to be done at some point. If she waits until the end of a (long) day, a mamma knows she’s going to fall into a heap and it wont get done. Unless she does it when the baby sleeps.
When Baby Sleeps #2: Have A Shower
New mothers don’t love the fact that sometimes it can be days before they actually get the chance to step foot in a shower. If you’re a non-parent, you may wonder how this is even possible – how could a decent human let this happen?! They must have their priorities all messed up, right?
But especially in the early days (coined the fourth trimester), baby is adjusting to life outside of the womb. Imagine what it would be like to be in the womb: a warm, dark, snug, comfortable and cosy place, with the ambient sound of a mother’s heartbeat.
Being in mums arms (or in a baby carrier) is the closest place baby can be to replicate that feeling while going through such a massive adjustment. Therefore, by responding to her baby’s needs, holding her baby and getting very little sleep, it can lead to a lengthy amount of time without a shower. Unfortunately, a new mother’s showers don’t tend to be very relaxing, as a mother often worries about not hearing her baby if he or she wakes, so she rushes to get it done. Or, baby does wake up… usually as she’s just stepped into the shower and gotten all wet.
When Baby Sleeps #3: Checking On Baby 101 Times
Okay, you may think this one is a complete waste of time, but when you become a new parent, many of us go through a stage of fear that something might happen to the baby if we’re not extra vigilant, for example SIDS. So a mamma will put her baby down, telling herself that she’ll check on baby in a few minutes, and if everything is good, she will lie down too or do something else on the to-do list.
So she checks, then thinks, ‘Hmmmm maybe I should just wait five more minutes and check again’. And Again. And again. They get sucked into the big black hole of baby checking, all while telling themselves that next time when they check, they’ll go do something. Then of course you accidentally make a noise and wake baby up after a whole 10 minutes.
When Baby Sleeps #4: Feed Themselves
It can be really hard to eat a decent meal when you have a baby in your arms all the time – especially a good, healthy meal. With a belly growling louder than a passenger aeroplane taking off, as soon as baby is down and asleep, a mother’s human instinct for food kicks in. What also kicks in is a baby’s inbuilt ‘mum is eating!’ wailing alarm, which is guaranteed to go off, just as mum takes that first bite of food.
When Baby Sleeps #5: Have A Poo
Getting out the big guns here – and I don’t mean to be crass, but we all HAVE to poo at some point. When the baby is in our arms isn’t a good time. And you can’t schedule having a poo, so sometimes you just gotta hang onto it until the baby sleeps. Urgh. Having a quiet, undisturbed poo, opposed to a rushed one while the baby is screaming, can feel like heaven to a new mother.
When Baby Sleeps #6: Pay Bills And Return Phone calls
With a long list of phone calls to return, which are usually from companies wondering when you’re going to pay their bill (in your long list of overdue bills), this is one of the more important things mothers feel they need to sort out when their baby sleeps. Because mammas are so busy looking after baby, many things tend to slip, even the bills. There are appointments to be made, changes to policies to be made, and all sorts of administrative tasks that need to be done during business hours.
When Baby Sleeps #7: Doing The Dishes
You get to the point where you get desperate after running out of clean coffee (or tea if you prefer) cups. And spoons. And plates. And bowls. And well, you get the picture.
When Baby Sleeps #8: Hanging Out The Washing
You know you’re in trouble when you start wearing a wrap around the house because all of your maternity bras, tops and pants are covered in baby spew, leaked nappy contents and your last attempt at lunch (where more landed on the baby’s head and your top than in your mouth.
When Baby Sleeps #9: Prepare Dinner
A mother knows that if she can sneak in dinner preparation while baby sleeps, it will make it so much easier at night time, especially when you have to contend with the witching hour (aka arsenic hour). While full dinner preparation may not happen often, she may attempt to get vegetables peeled and cut or meat defrosted before the baby wakes again.
When Baby Sleeps #10: Having A Mouthful Of Tea
Baby is asleep in bed, yay! Mum excitedly does a silent fist pump, runs straight into the kitchen and switches on the kettle. Finally, a nice, hot cup of tea. The minute her cup of tea hits her lips, baby is somehow awake. Babies just seem to know when mum is having some ‘me’ time. And mum well knows she’s going to have a stone cold cuppa… again.
When Baby Sleeps #11: Getting On With Business
Some mothers have businesses to run or are on maternity leave, but have agreed to work from home. Sure, they could just say no to work, but saying no may cause a dire financial situation or stop a business from running. A mamma who is still working tends to spend every spare minute working, which can be very demanding and draining. Sleep sounds awesome, but no income does not.
When Baby Sleeps #12: Adoring Her Baby
When a baby is asleep in our arms, it can be the most beautiful thing to just stare at our babies and enjoy them, especially while they are not being so demanding of us. Staring at and adoring our babies produces oxytocin, which is great for breastfeeding and great for bonding. While some believe that a mother will create a rod for her own back by holding her baby, its actually some VERY important work.
A strong, loving bond between mother and child can only mean good things for future generations – all we need is love! We should all support new mothers to hold and adore their babies as much as possible. Also, teaching babies the importance and joy of comfort teaches them how to be comforting in return. My own children are an example of this! The empathy and comfort they give friends and family is beautiful to see.
So What Advice Should We Give Mothers About Babies and Sleep?
The list above is far from exhaustive. The whole notion of daytime napping is impossible for mothers also who have pre-school aged children, who need mamma’s time when the baby sleeps. It completely voids any opportunities for catching any sleep, unless she has an extra pair of hands helping her out while her partner works.
At the end of the day, while it may help to solve one problem if you sleep when the baby sleeps (if baby stays asleep long enough to make it worth it), it poses another big problem. It means that mum is stuck in a cycle of being awake when the baby is awake, and being asleep when the baby is asleep.
Why is that an issue? It means she gets no time for herself, or for the important things that need doing – things that wont do themselves. Sure, baby sleep problems don’t last forever – but we all need a break. If you had to do your day job from the minute you woke up, and then had to sleep at your desk, you’d go a little crazy too.
This baby sleep bind drives me crazy sometimes. Because as much as I was (am!) desperate for sleep, I am desperate for some me time too. Some time to sit with my thoughts and be ME, doing what I would like to do, not have to do. And even if that was just sitting in peace, finishing a whole cup of tea with the television off, in silence… it would mean so much to me as a mother, woman and human being.
So before you volunteer some baby sleep advice, be prepared to listen, empathise and support, rather than give an opinion that she didn’t ask for. Its best to wait to be asked for advice when it comes to babies. Trust me, many mothers do get the idea that sleeping when the baby sleeps means they may get a little more sleep (if they don’t get stuck lying there in bed, thrashing over their to-do list). Ask her what you can do to help instead, and she’ll love you forever.
BellyBelly highly recommends the book What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing.