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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 19 December, 2014

Column: Sleep deprivation for new dads can be hellish. Here’s how to survive.

Ask any father what their baby’s first few weeks were like and they’ll tell you it was like nothing they’ve ever experienced. Here’s some tips on how to cope, writes David Caren.

David Caren

IF NEW BABIES came with a health warning, it would read: May Cause Sleep Disturbance.

It’s like this. ask any other father what is was like in the first few weeks (or months!) when their new baby was home and you are likely to hear the following descriptions: hellish, like nothing I have ever experienced before, unbelievably stressful, I thought it would never end…

Sleep deprivation can come as a big shock to new dads when the focus of their attention up to this point was in getting everything organised for when baby comes home. You seldom consider what life will be like when your new baby is in the home and you unknowingly overlook the demands that a new baby can have on you both. Sleep deprivation can have serious implications on your health and is said to be one of the main causes of post-natal depression in new dads.

Yes, you read that correctly, he said male post natal depression. Snigger you may, yet a recent study highlighted in The Journal of the American Medical Association on the effects of ‘Prenatal and Postpartum Depression’ in fathers referenced ‘paternal depression’ as being a poorly misunderstood condition affecting 1 in 10 of the father population.

How to cope

For the majority of new parents however things begin to settle down after a few weeks when normal(ish!) sleep is resumed; however in the post apocalyptic period you may wish to draw on the following tips to help you cope better with sleep deprivation:

R & R: Along with all the preparation that goes into getting things ready for the new arrival, new dads must ready themselves by banking plenty of rest beforehand, so early to bed in the run up to baby’s first appearance in the family homestead – this does not mean switching to watching the TV in bed!

Night on/Night off: Take it in turns so that one does more of the feeds, over one day/night (but not all!) this will give you and your partner the opportunity in getting a decent chunk of sleep within a given period. Try to get to bed shortly after the last feed in the evening. Partners of breastfeeding mums don’t think that this doesn’t involve you guys, support your partner if she decides to express her milk.

Weekend pass: Most men have moved beyond the ages when they thump their chests and say, ‘Me work, you feed.’ However, with the absence of Statutory Paternity Leave (the mind regularly boggles why this is so), it can be difficult for Irish fathers to be fully alert and productive in the workplace if they have had little or no sleep the previous night. This scenario can often cause a strain on new parents. Try to establish a routine that is fair and flexible but suits both parties.

Recharge: Seek support from family and relatives, especially in the early days, be it to call round to allow you to get out, or more importantly to take a nap. A twenty-minute shut-eye will do you the world of good. Accept that the housework may also take a backseat for a while and try and avoid being the ‘we want to do it on our own’ new parents. This principle seems to fall more on new parents of first-borns – believe me you’ll learn your lesson by the time the second one comes around!

Me-time: Remember to take care of dad; a sluggish ratty father is about as useful as a pram without wheels. Take yourself and baby out for a walk in the fresh air – this will give you both a better quality of sleep. Takeaways are often a new parent’s best friend in the beginning. Do your best to avoid heavy starchy late-night eating and, instead, consider healthy snacks over regular periods and ensure you drink plenty of fluids (and not too much of the brand that gives you wings!). Consider taking a general multi-vitamin.

Sleep battles: Avoid unnecessary conflict. A common subject for arguments amongst new parents is the battle over who had the most sleep. Lack of sleep affects ‘both’ parents. So if you or your partner had a difficult night, try and be supportive and arrange for them to get a nap when next possible.

David Caren is founder of Dad.ie and author of ‘The Irish Dad’s Survival Guide to Pregnancy & Beyond…’ available in all good bookstores or online at www.obrien.ie

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