The transition to parenthood was tough, PND, guilt and judgement
For first-time mum, Nicole, the transition to parenthood was tough. “Gunnar was pretty chilled out initially, but things started going a bit pear shaped around the six week mark,” Nicole explains.
“Gunnar was spirited and strong – lifting his head up from only a week or so old. And he was always hungry – he fed at every opportunity he could.”
“I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into!” she recalls.
“I had this baby who woke every hour overnight and only catnapped for 35 minutes max during the day. He didn’t like to be anywhere but on me and demand fed constantly!
People had said it would be hard, but I hadn’t realised the reality. I thought that what I was going through was normal and that I should be coping better. Needless to say, Nicole’s new reality was wearing her down. As Gunnar reached the five month mark, Nicole was screened for post-natal depression.
“There was so much online about what you should and shouldn’t do and I felt like I was trying everything – but seemingly never in the right combinations. Plunket told me one thing, and a sleep programme I had bought told me something else.I was confused and there was so much guilt and so much judgement. I needed to figure out the things that worked for Gunnar specifically, and for us – but that was so hard, and as a first-time mum I really doubted myself!”
Reaching out for help
“By that point Gunnar was often really grizzly, as he just wasn’t getting enough quality sleep, not to mention what was happening for me!” Nicole recalls. “Talking to Josie was the first time that I didn’t feel selfish for wanting a baby that slept; I felt like I was doing the right thing.”
In their initial phone call, Josie let Nicole download where they were at and what Gunnar was currently up to. A big baby, Gunnar was exclusively breastfed on demand, and was having three meals of solids a day. They’d tried a sleeping bag, but he was too active for that – and his preferred modes of settling were being fed or rocked back to sleep – by Mum only… how exhausting!
“Josie was really intuitive and asked all the right questions. She really listened, but she also had a really good understanding of the issues,” Nicole shares. “She was also the first person to ask me ‘how are you coping with all of this?’”
“Josie suggested three different methods for settling Gunnar and we talked through each of them. I chose one to try then, but she still included all three in the plan she sent through to me – in case I changed my mind. We were heading into the Christmas break, so we planned to start – and kick off the follow up support – early in the new year.”
A new year – a new approach
Back from a (not overly refreshing!) holiday, Nicole was ready to put Josie’s plan into action. “There were a few things we changed at once – from removing the night light in his room, transitioning out of the swaddle, stopping the battle with the sleeping bag, and moving to more scheduled feeds that were still age-appropriate.
In terms of settling, we started with a ‘spaced soothing’ approach, with time spent out of the room before I would go in and pat him, letting him know I was there. I never had to do it for more than ten minutes either as he was always asleep before that!”
As well as getting Gunnar happier going to sleep himself in his cot, Josie helped Nicole determine that Gunnar no longer needed feeding in the night.
“His weight and the amount of milk and solid feeds he was having during the day meant Josie suggested reducing what we were doing to just two night feeds, and trying the spaced soothing the other times he woke up. Soon after we started doing this though, he stopped waking at all!”
As simple as it sounds, Nicole felt it took six weeks for all the aspects – day naps, night wakings and the early rising – to fall into place.
“He started sleeping through really quickly, but then we struggled for a while with early wake ups. And it was still really hard to listen to him cry as I put him down, despite knowing that I was doing the right thing!”
Nicole also said that, from her point of view, not getting up to him straight away in the night was a hard habit to break. “It felt like it would have been more convenient not to do the proper settling method in the night, as it was so quiet and I could have stopped him crying much more quickly by feeding him. However, I knew I needed to do this for the long-term gain. At first when he would wake I would get up and sit on a mattress in the hallway with my timer, shutting the bedroom door so that it didn’t disturb Andrew so much.” Luckily those days were short-lived…!
Now Gunnar is a happy and alert little dude. “He’s picking up so much and developing so quickly. And I think he really likes sleeping too. As we go into his bedroom, I can visibly see him settle – he knows what’s going to happen now. He really loves his night-time sleep too – he never wakes up!”
For Nicole, life is also much brighter and she no longer needs the interventions her doctor was working towards to treat postnatal depression. “I felt so much better when we both started sleeping better,” Nicole explains.
Not only that, Nicole’s back to enjoying time with her little love again. “I feel like I’m able to be a better parent now – I’ve got more energy to play and we get more time together as a family, instead of me handing him over as soon as Andrew gets home so that I can try to squeeze in a nap.
Life feels, overall, much simpler – and I know how to plan around what Gunnar needs now.”