Most of us can pace ourselves through a few broken nights. The problems sets in when the disruption continues. Tiredness becomes exhaustion, and you may find yourself showing symptoms similar to depression: anxiety, apathy or even violence.
These feelings may be strongest in the early hours of the morning, when you are battling yet again with a wailing or wakeful child who is showing no signs of going to sleep. But no matter how frustrated or desperate you feel, it is vital never to shake your baby: research has shown that just one shake could cause her permanent brain damage.
If you are unable to suppress your feelings, it is vital that you get help by waking your partner, calling a friend, relative or neighbor, or telephoning the relevant helpline. You may not want to disturb other people in the middle of the night, but they would far rather lose a night's sleep than know that you returned to a situation with which you were truly unable to cope.
Better still is to try to take steps to overcome your sleep deprivation before it reaches crisis point. For example:
- Catch up on lost sleep when your baby naps during the day.
- Let your partner take over during the evening while you go to bed, so that you have some reserves to see you through the night.
- Express some milk and share the night feeds with your partner, so that you ea a chunk of unbroken sleep. - Ask for (or buy in) help: new grandparents or friends would probably love the chance to cuddle your baby for a few hours while you catch up on some sleep.
If you are on your own, not all these suggestions will be relevant. However, there are additional steps you can take to make sure you have the support you need to see you through.
Tips for success
If you find yourself at breaking point, try the following routine:
- Â Put your baby in her cot, leave the room and close the door - it won't hurt her to cry on her own for a few minutes, whereas one action from you could have irreversible consequences.
- Â Make yourself a drink (non-alcoholic - it's important that you stay in control) and sit quietly while you calm down, preferably somewhere where you can't hear your baby.
- Â Do not return to your baby until you feel able to cope with her.