Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Surviving Severe Sleep Deprivation



Nothing can prepare you for the sleep deprivation that follows when you have a baby; I think most parents would agree with me there. This is a detailed account of my experiences (so far) of sleep deprivation resulting from my babies, specifically my second baby. I know I touched on this topic in my last post, but I’m going to go into more detail here, and also share some of my ‘coping strategies’ for serious sleep dep.

I didn’t go into parenthood completely unaware of the effects of lack of sleep. I suffered from insomnia in my late 20s/early 30s; this was mostly due to anxiety, which abated when I changed some aspects of my lifestyle and got some counselling. And it is true that you get very little sleep in that third trimester of pregnancy; this last pregnancy I found myself getting up to use the toilet every hour in the last 4 weeks. In the last week of that pregnancy I had contractions on and off all night, every night, which didn’t help either…

But it is the ongoing sleep deprivation that gets to you, eventually, when you have a baby. In his first week of life, my baby fed every 2 hours. Then, in his second week, he stretched that out to every 3 hours. I thought I was doing pretty well in week 3 – feeling OK, if tired - and I was. But then I got to week four and suddenly I felt…all over the place. The baby crying made me feel really sad. The nappy rash on the baby’s bum made me anxious. The fact that he didn’t gain any weight that third week of life was keeping me awake at night with worry. I started to think that I’d made (yet another) mistake in having a (second) child. Sleep deprivation – just four weeks of it - altered my moods dramatically, so that I was happy one minute, super-sad the next, and it meant the little things got on top of me.

As I explained in my last post, more support from my partner at that point, via bottle-feeding in the evening meant that I managed to counter some of the more unpleasant side-effects of sleep deprivation by getting a bit more actual sleep. So when we got to 3 months I was all, yeah I'm doing so well, despite my baby still waking every 2-4 hours at night! Go me! 3 months of broken sleep sucks, but I was surviving, and even enjoying myself.

But I forgot that when babies get sick, they don’t sleep. Or, I should say, they don’t sleep in their own beds. My bubba caught a cold at three and a half months, and would only sleep ON us for 24 hours, preferably whilst we were moving. So, that meant walking around with an enormous 8kg baby on me, whilst suffering an aching back, shoulders and hips for at least 12 hours. It also meant there was an entire night in which I got pretty much no sleep whatsoever. It was brutal, obviously. But it was less brutal than the 4-month growth spurt and sleep regression…

Because OMG the 4 month growth spurt/sleep regression is TRULY HORRENDOUS!!!! I forgot how hard and long it is. Last week, I was up feeding every 2 hours all night, every night, for a whole week again. This week, he needs to feed every 3 hours. But he also wakes in between feeds because his something had changed in his brain and now he can no longer sleep as easily for long(er) stretches. It’s like being back at the start again. Except this time I have 4 months of constant sleep deprivation behind me too.

And then there’s the naps…I could write a whole other post on babies’ napping, but I’ll just keep things simply by saying: many babies struggle to nap properly. Both mine have. It’s hard, gruelling work getting my baby to nap. No, I haven’t had a nap myself since he was born. Enough said.

But such is life, and I’ve just had to cope as best I can.This is what having a baby is like, for me. So, I have compiled a list of my coping mechanisms for severe sleep deprivation for up to and during the 4 month sleep regression:


  • Don’t judge how you feel for the day until you’ve gotten up, had a cup of tea, some breakfast, and a shower. I always feel like complete crap when I’ve just gotten up; I often feel significantly better after these three things.
  • Drink lots of water. All day. Staying hydrated is key to feeling slightly less crappily overtired.
  • Drinks lots of tea – it does nothing for me physically, but it soothes me, mentally. (NB: I can’t drink coffee – it makes me crazy. But if I could, I would.)
  • Eat chocolate at 9:30am. You’ve been up all night feeding, you’ve had breakfast, but actually that pretty much goes straight through you...the sweet, chocolately pick-me up of a 9:30am fix is very effective in giving me that extra boost to propel me into the morning and all its nap-avoiding glory. 
  • Eat an apple at 3pm. This is when I start to really flag and it’s amazing how an apple perks me up! Someone posted this tip in a lovely FB group I’m in, saying an apple has a similar effect to a coffee – they were right! But without the crazy. <3 apples.
  • Drive carefully. I have to really focus when I’m driving and use those defensive driving skills I learned in that course I took 20 years ago. I’ve learned to take it slow when backing into the garage, or driving out of the property. I’m pleased to say, I have not (yet) scraped the car after this second baby.
  • Go to bed early, if possible. And try not to stress about sleeping (this is my downfall).
  • Take Panadol. It takes the edge off the crazy tiredness and the various aches and pains in your body, and thus and makes it just a little bit easier to drift off at night. I take it each time I wake (so, I might take a half or whole about 3-4 times a night).
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to do stuff. I’ve read one and a half novels in the last 4 months, which is super-sad for an English teacher who is not actually working, but my ability to focus on extended texts is not great right now, so I’ll give myself a break and let the ‘to read’ pile build up for now.
  • Go out somewhere, if you feel up to it. This can be useful if you have another, older child. I find I am better at keeping my cool when out in public under the judgemental stare of strangers :D Also, going out gives the pre-schooler something fun to remember from the day.
  • Hang out with sympathetic friends, ie those who will be OK with you forgetting what you are talking about halfway through a sentence. Preferably friends who are also super-tired parents who get what you are going through. There’s nothing more irritating that listening to someone who had at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep in a row tell you they are tired.
  • Read this article on baby sleep. I’ve read it 4 times now since it was published. It’s scientific, very reassuring, and devoid of any alternative therapy and/or hard-core pro sleep-training crap.


Anyway, I'm totally knackered from writing all this, so thanks for reading, and I'll see you on the other side. o_O

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Feeding the Babies



 TW: childbirth

Breastfeeding is amazing, and it’s also really hard work. I have had two babies, and I have breastfed them both, and both times it has been challenging for different reasons. This is my account of my experiences of feeding my two babies.
 
My first baby had a terrible birth; labour was extremely long, her neck got twisted up in the umbilical chord, and she was pulled out very quickly. Needless to say, she was pretty munted when she came out, and had no interest in latching or feeding. This inability to latch continued for what seemed like an eternity. We put her on formula, and I pumped and pumped to get my milk in, and then from day eight we ditched the formula and I just used a nipple shield, in the hope that she would eventually be able to latch on. Finally, with the help of a lovely Lactation Consultant - when my little girl was about three months old - I got her latching. It was a very frustrating and demoralising first three months with a newborn baby for me, but I was super-determined to persevere and get her fully breastfeeding. I breastfed her until she was 10 months old, when my supply dwindled so much that she decided she no longer wanted to breastfeed, and we switched exclusively to formula and bottle-feeding.

So when I became pregnant with my second baby, I said to myself that I wouldn’t put myself through that stress again; if he came out unable to feed, we’d just put him on formula. No pressure, no angst – just do it.

And then my second baby had a pretty sweet birth. Active labour was short, and my waters didn’t break until about half an hour before I pushed him out, so he was pretty much in a spa bath throughout most of the ordeal. He came out, cried, and then began rooting around for food. He latched, and fed, and hasn’t stopped feeding since. He is a hungry, hungry baby who loves to breastfeed, and I have lots of milk, and this all makes me very happy. It’s been a much more positive experience than I had with baby number one. But now at over three months old now he still feeds every 2-4 hours at night, and every 2-3 hours during the day, and I can’t deny that I find it very tiring.
It’s been three months of constant feeding, and I know that’s just how it goes for babies and for breastfeeding mums. The broken sleep, the being camped out on the couch, the leaking and the spraying, and the sore nipple from a slightly dodgy latch when you were feeding awkwardly out in public; it’s just part and parcel of breastfeeding. My baby is growing beautifully too, so maybe I shouldn't really complain..but the sleep deprivation is pretty hard-core, so I'm going to anyway.

Fortunately, as well as breastfeeding constantly, my baby will also take a bottle and drink formula. So every evening, I go to bed at about 7:30pm (and I try my hardest to go to sleep) and my partner feeds him whatever I’ve managed to express, and then tops him up with a bit of formula. And then at 11:30ish I take over, and continue to breastfeed him through the night. 

Splitting the night up between us two parents was my midwife’s suggestion, and it was a really good one. Without those hours of sleep before midnight, I would most likely be a totally depressed zombie. I am definitely a bit zombie as I am now - and I’m quite grumpy at times because of it - but overall I am actually enjoying my second baby. I feel sad now to say that I didn’t really enjoy my first...and I think that was partly because of my focus on exclusively breastfeeding, and the consequential sleep deprivation. I didn’t even understand the link between sleep deprivation and post-natal depression until after I had baby number two…which explains a lot about my moods and general mental health during my first baby's first year of life.

So, when I see/hear arguments (usually online) which are essentially breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, all I can think is; but BOTH ARE AMAZING!!! Celebrate them both! It is truly awesome that my body produces a complete food for a tiny human. And it is so great that humans are intelligent enough to have created baby formula, another complete food for tiny humans. I know many women who've struggled with breastfeeding; whose babies wouldn’t latch, whose milk supply was low, who needed a break from the constant demand, who went back to work soon after having a baby that so they couldn’t exclusively breastfeed. Formula not only keeps babies alive and healthy, but it gives us parents – especially women - choices and options.  I know formula is expensive (actually, I find breastfeeding not very cheap too because I eat SO MUCH, which is one of the greatest thing about breastfeeding, in my opinion :D), and I know that formula companies are problematic (I remember in great detail that video about formula use in India from 4th form Social Studies...), but I do think that we need to accept that it is actually a good thing in itself too.

So, yay for breastfeeding, and yay for formula-feeding!! It’s helped me keep one baby alive, and is keeping me sane whilst feeding the other one.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

At least you get the odd compliment, when you’re a teacher...




Now that I have been on maternity leave for a few weeks, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on Term One, and how it went for me as a professional teacher (as opposed to a pregnant teacher, haha), and I can honestly say that Term One went very well. I do love my job as a high school teacher even though sometimes, when you are in the thick of the term, it can be a bit hard to see the good for all the work there is to do, with all the planning and teaching and marking goal-setting and inquiry-setting-up and reporting and parent-interviews, and the millions of other admin things that come with the job.

On the last day of Term One, two of my Year 12 girls gave me flowers. And in that last two weeks of the term, during parent-teacher interviews, I met so many grateful parents, who sincerely thanked me for teaching their children. In those last two weeks of term, I received numerous compliments from students and parents alike. It was all so flattering and lovely. And it made me realise just how few compliments and praise parents receive, in contrast.

Like, almost no-one ever praises anyone’s parenting. 

OK, that’s possibly not entirely true – I’m sure there are people out there complimenting other people on their parenting…I just never really hear it. I have had a select few friends - who are particularly supportive and amazing people - compliment my partner and I, by saying super-kind things like, “You guys seem really onto-it” or “Parenting is so hard! You are doing a great job!” 

And I guess it’s not really like you expect your children to praise your parenting…most of the time they are not really thinking about it, and when they do, they are disagreeing with your decisions, heh. My daughter is affectionate, and tells me “I love you, MumI” and has even started saying, “Thanks for cooking dinner, Mum/Dad,” on occasions, and of course she wants cuddles, and endless amounts of stories read to her, every day. It’s wonderful, but again it’s not actually praise for the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Oh, if only 3 year olds (teenagers? Possibly all children?) could reflect and verbalise and say, “Thanks for staying calm when I yelled at you for not catching the balloon as I instructed you to,” or “Thanks Mum/Dad, for not losing it when I threw a massive screaming tantrum and tried to hit you with a toy, and then you had to take the toy away, all because you insisted I wear shoes and jacket to play outside in 9 degree weather”; then we might all feel a bit more valued, and like our efforts are appreciated. But kids don’t notice that stuff; and I don’t really know if we can expect them to (at least not until they are older, maybe).

Let’s face it - parents mostly receive criticism about their parenting. And I am ashamed to say that I have been guilty of criticising other parents - especially before I had any kids of my own. But now that I am a parent, I realise just how hard the whole job is; I know how much thinking and reflecting (and reading) I’ve done to inform my own parenting choices; and I can now see just how much relentless criticism parents face. 

It’s not always overt, to-your-faced criticism, but there is a fair amount of it out there. In my experience it’s mostly the stuff that gets published in media, talked about in workplaces, and discussed amongst friends and family that is particularly dominant. This constant negative dialogue about parenting does affects us (well, it affects me – I wish I could be all, “water off a duck’s back” about it, but I can’t). It makes you question your ability to parent, even though you know, in your head, that you have chosen the right way to parent for both you and your child (because really, who else would know better about those things than you???).

And the other thing that really pisses me off about the general criticism of parents…it’s nearly always the mothers that take the flak, because, well, mothers still do a vast majority of the childcare in most households (in NZ). Thus the onus generally falls on mothers to defend themselves to the rest of the world (as well as doing so much parenting). It's like it's just another way of disparaging women, and that makes me sad and angry.

So one of my things that I’ve pretty recently decided - over the last year or so - is that I will try to use more supportive language when talking to parents; to acknowledge the challenges they/we face, and build up their/our confidence and self-esteem. I don’t want to be part of the culture of criticizing others’ parenting, no matter how much I might disagree with their approach and/or strategies. And sometimes that’s hard to do, because we don’t all agree on what we should/shouldn’t be doing as parents. As humans we observe, and we compare, and then we tend to judge. And I guess that’s normal..? But I think those judge-y thoughts should be kept to ourselves, and not expressed through critical comments, or ‘disapproving looks’, or unsolicited advice, or poorly written ‘articles’ (or stupid viral videos that make gross generalisations about whole generations). 

Society should provide parents with information and support when they want it, and support them to seek help when it is needed. If we are really concerned then maybe we could ask them, “Is there anything I can do to help?” And ultimately, we should try to be more positive in our discourse around parenting; after all, *parents are paid even less than teachers.

*Yes, I realise parents are not paid at all. And I think that sucks majorly.


Surviving Severe Sleep Deprivation

Nothing can prepare you for the sleep deprivation that follows when you have a baby; I think most parents would agree with me there. ...