Is the Sleep Deprivation of Infancy Straining Your Relationship? Tips to Help
“Excuse me, but I feel like I hate you.” This is what a client reported saying to her husband after waking him from a deep sleep at 3 a.m. She had been up breastfeeding their newborn every two hours and dealing with their sick toddler while her husband tried to get a decent night’s sleep before an important day at the office. Unfortunately, this relationship scenario is not unique during the first three months infancy—a phase my friend refers to as, “The 100 Days of Hell.”
Of course, the arrival of a baby is life’s greatest blessing and worth every dark circle and all the squabbles in the world. However, many underestimate the serious strain that sleep deprivation can put on a relationship.
As somebody who could easily pull an all-nighter as needed while in school, I thought caring for a baby while on maternity leave would be a piece of cake (LOL). I was blind-sided by the severe physical exhaustion and mental fatigue I experienced in the months after our first bundle of joy joined our family.
I recall times which I would hear the lullaby music coming from our baby’s crib toy, only to realize it was turned off and I was apparently having an auditory hallucination… I normalize this psychotic experience by remembering that my best friend said she repeatedly experienced the exact same phenomenon during her son’s infancy. This same friend also said there were times she could swear she was saying things out loud, but her husband and family would become frustrated because in actuality the words were only uttered in her mind—she was just looking at them blankly in silence, literally too tired to speak.
Another friend reported waking from a mid-night’s slumber when her husband wildly entered the bedroom in his boxers with their naked baby in his arms as he flipped on all the lights yelling, “WHERE are her PJ’s?!” (This is particularly funny because her husband is a sophisticated, mild-tempered man with never a hair out of place.) She calmly got up, opened the drawer and selected some pajamas for their daughter, who thanked her by throwing up on her several times. Nevertheless, my friend applauded her husband for following what she calls, “The First Rule of Parenting”—if you are losing your mind, it is time to wake up the other parent!
I reached that breaking point myself after trying to calm our crying infant during three hours of non-stop wailing while we were at a friend’s vacation home, and finally woke up my husband for relief. He held Celeste up to his nose, smiled and said in a loving voice, “Baby, why are you scaring Mommy & Daddy?” I laughed and perhaps never loved him more. I was eternally grateful for his company, his patience and his humor. Together, we were able to realize that she was just fine. (Poor thing just needed to be left alone to settle down, instead of me fussing with her in an attempt to quiet her more quickly and not wake other guests…)
After 10 years of counseling expectant and new parents, I recommend the following to survive the “100 Days of Hell”:
- “If Mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy.” This was the mantra my husband learned in the Expectant Father’s class I made it mandatory for him to attend. (It was a good class!) Remember that Mom is recovering from childbirth and may be dealing with the physical challenges of breastfeeding (unless baby was adopted.) The mother’s rest needs to be promoted, especially because sleep deprivation can increase risk of postpartum depression.
- Get support. Hire help if you can, ask family and friends for assistance. Accept help graciously—this is no time to be too proud. It takes a village to raise a child, and that starts right from the get-go. Consult a therapist (many allow you to bring an infant in session or can do some work via Skype.)
- Work as a team. It is not healthy for one partner to carry the majority of night and early morning feedings alone. The couple must compromise and work collaboratively or resentment will corrode your relationship. Period.
- Have a plan. Determine a schedule that works for you. For example, many couples decide to have the parent who is working out of the home handle the early morning feedings.
- Sleep when you can. Leave the dishes and the scrapbooking and prioritize rest. (I just saw my neighbor for the first time since she gave birth three weeks ago. When I asked her how she was doing she said with a smile, “Well, it’s 3:00 and I’m finally showered and up for the day!”)
- Understand, “This too, shall pass.” Remember this is a stressful time and your relationship is under strain. Understand the relationship data gathered during this phase is skewed and it probably isn’t the time to make any reactive or impulsive decisions, like homicide or divorce…
You will get through it. It gets easier. And, you will love your partner once again when everybody catches up on their beauty sleep.
“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one. “ -Leo J. Burke
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Marter, J. (2013). Is the Sleep Deprivation of Infancy Straining Your Relationship? Tips to Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/first-comes-love/2013/11/is-the-sleep-deprivation-of-infancy-straining-your-relationship-tips-to-help/