The concept of exhaustion takes on a new meaning when you have a baby. New parents are often surprised at how tired they feel or comment that they were totally unprepared for how it would affect their mood and their overall lives. We’ve experienced first hand how difficult it can be to take care of yourself when your baby is waking to eat every 2-3 hours around the clock, but hopefully these tips will help you get some more shut yet until your baby’s development allows for longer stretches of sleep.
Manage Your Expectations
It’s no secret that newborn babies wake frequently in the first few months of life. If your newborn wakes every 2-3 hours for feedings, this may mean that you may only get about 1.5-2 hours of rest before the next waking.
Other things that are helpful for new parents to know are that newborns generally sleep most soundly when they are sleeping on or near someone. This is due to being used to a womb-like environment. In utero your baby is warm, snuggled close, hears your heart beat & your breath, and is constantly rocked to sleep by your moving body. That experience doesn’t disappear at birth. It isn’t uncommon for a newborn to be sleeping very soundly while being held but wakes the moment he or she is put down.
Knowing this is half the battle!
Having realistic expectations for newborn sleep is SO important because it can help prepare you mentally and emotionally for the transition. We recommend taking a baby care class that not only discusses diapering, swaddling, etc. but that also talks honestly about the realities of parenting a newborn.
Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
For some, this is the “golden rule” of parenting. And while it is great advice, the reality is that it isn’t always this easy. BUT if you can manage to take naps throughout the day, it will help immensely. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself here, but do your best to nap when your baby is sleeping throughout the day. At night, avoid spending too much time on your phone or tablet as this can inhibit the production of melatonin. Keep the lights low at night to reduce mental stimulation and make it easier to go back to sleep after a night feed.
If you’re someone that is always on the go this may be especially challenging. It may mean allowing some laundry to pile up or ignoring your to-do list for a while, but sleep is really important for your recovery from birth and will overall make things a lot more manageable.
Regular exposure to natural sunlight can help reset your circadian rhythm after a night with minimal sleep. If you’re physically up for it, try going for a leisurely morning walk (with or without your baby). If you aren’t physically ready for too much activity, sit in the backyard and sip some tea in the morning or sit by a sunny window throughout the day.
Sunlight exposure can also help your baby develop a regular sleep-wake cycle. Your baby’s own circadian rhythm will not develop until 3-4 months, which means that he or she won’t know the difference between night and day. But being exposed to sunlight will help that circadian rhythm develop over time.
Listen to Your Instincts
Every family varies when it comes to their newborn sleep setup. From room-sharing to co-sleeping, it’s important to do your research and do what works best for your family. For some, co-sleeping allows new parents peace of mind, the ability to breastfeed on demand through the night, and allows both mom and baby to get the most amount of sleep possible. For others, having your baby in a co-sleeper or basinet nearby might be best. This would still allow you to meet your babies needs throughout the night, but could help you get better quality sleep without a squiggly newborn nearby.
And remember, as time goes by your babies needs and your needs may change. If you start out with one sleep arrangement and you decide to try out something else, that is ok. Trust your instincts and go with the flow.
Ask For Help
Hiring a postpartum doula is an ideal way to prioritize rest after your baby’s arrival. An overnight doula can support you during night feeds then take over care of your baby once you’re done breastfeeding. This allows you to go back to sleep much more quickly! If your baby is bottle fed your doula can take over feeding through the night to allow you longer stretches of sleep.
During the day, ask a family member or friend to come by for a few hours to help with baby duties like laundry, nursery organization and maybe even help run some errands. If you’re in need of a nap, they can watch the baby while you get some uninterrupted shut eye. It’s amazing how postpartum support can help alleviate stress and ease your mind, allowing you to rest better.
If sleep is greatly interfering with your day-to-day life, reach out to your doctor or midwife. Severe sleep deprivation can increase the chances of postpartum mood disorders and could slow down or hinder physical recovery from birth. Taking care of yourself is of the utmost importance so that you have the energy to take care of your baby.
Remember, this season of newborn sleep doesn’t last forever. Typically by 2-3 months your baby will begin sleeping longer stretches and you’ll have adjusted to this type of schedule. When your baby is at a developmentally appropriate age and you’re ready to help your baby begin learning independent sleep skills, hiring a sleep coach can help you all sleep through the night!