“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is a common cliché repeated to new parents, which tends to induce guffaws from folks who are in the thick of it. Newborns need to be fed every two to three hours, which precludes a good night’s sleep for brand-new parents (especially breastfeeding moms), and newborn sleep cycles are unpredictable. And then there are the babies who won’t sleep unless they’re being held, or won’t sleep unless they’re in a moving car…
And grownups need to sleep. Whether you, personally, need as little as 7 hours or as much as 9 hours, not getting the sleep you need can be dangerous – and it will make you really miserable.
So, how do you REALLY get enough sleep as a new parent?
1) Sleep is priority #1.
If you’re used to getting everything done on time and keeping your house sparkly-clean, it’s time to let it go. It’s tempting to use the hours that your baby is sleeping to get chores done, but don’t do it! Get to bed, fast. A longer nap is better, but even twenty minutes or even just lying down and putting your feet up will make you feel at least a little better.
No, seriously, though: sleep trumps dishes. Some experts believe that if you’re sleeping an average of four hours a night for four to five nights, you’re as impaired as you would be if you were legally drunk. So, forget the laundry, and don’t even think about working on the thank-you notes for the baby shower – go lie down!
2) Keeping the baby in your room at night really helps.
This is something you can anticipate and shop for before baby comes: getting a small crib or bassinet that fits in your room will cut down the time you spend going back and forth between your bed and the nursery. The Stokke Sleepi system is a great solution: when your baby is itty-bitty and brand new, the bassinet fits nicely into your bedroom, and when she outgrows it, you can convert it into a cozy full-sized crib that makes a gorgeous centerpiece for your nursery.
Or, if you want to co-sleep but are nervous about keeping the baby right in your bed, the new Halo Bassinest is an awesome solution – whether you’re trying to get some shut-eye at night or catching a quick catnap during the day, this bassinet keeps your baby at arm’s reach, safely, so you can grab your hungry babe and breastfeed her without your feet ever having to touch the cold floor.
3) Accept help when it’s offered – that includes feeding, if you can.
If you’re bottle-feeding, then passing off feeding duties is a little easier. If you’re breastfeeding, then pumping a bottle and passing it off to someone else can be “liquid gold, equal to an extra two or three hours of sleep.”
And if a family member or friend offers to do your dishes, cook meals, do laundry? Let them do it. “Before I had kids, I would never have asked someone to do my chores for me, and even with my first I had a hard time,” writes Katie at Marriage Confessions. “But by the time Gracie was born, I learned that that’s just what people DO. Anyone with kids knows what position you are in as a new mom, and it makes us feel useful if you let us help. We feel like we’re passing the torch, and what a heavy torch it can be!”
4) Accept that you won’t get all the sleep you need… but remember, it will get better.
Newborns sleep a lot, but they also wake a lot: they’ll sleep for 16-20 hours out of 24, but they wake frequently. However, by the time your baby has been around for 3 months, she may be sleeping 5 hours at a stretch, and by 6 months, you may have a little sleeping champ on your hands. Of course, every kid is different, and their sleeping and waking needs can vary from month to month, but the earliest stage of sleep deprivation is NOT going to last.
And parents of two or more get better at postpartum sleep:
“Despite juggling more responsibility at home, studies show that moms who had given birth at least once before tended to get more sleep at all stages of pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Their sleep was also more efficient, meaning that of the time they spend in bed, they spend most of it sleeping rather than tossing and turning – or laying awake listening to the grunts and sighs of new baby sleep. Somehow, experienced moms seem to prioritize sleep more, or they’re just so tired that they crash hard at every opportunity.”
When it’s done, you may even find yourself missing those early sleepless days in retrospect! One mom who described her postpartum period as “just sleepwalking, trying to make it from one feeding to the next” admitted in retrospect that “she found herself missing those bleary-eyed late-night feedings, because she had treasured their quiet time together.” Whether your feelings at the end are just relief or silver-lining nostalgia, this early sleepless period will end, and you’ll get through it!