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Getting Sleep With a New Baby

Photo by: iStock

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, you went to bed at night and slept; most mornings, you woke rested and refreshed. Then came baby—and sleep feels like a distant memory. You’re exhausted, maybe even a bit cranky, but you don’t see an improvement in your near future. Good news, though—you can do some things to help you and your partner get the rest you so desperately need.

Midwife Tracy Donegan of GentleBirth, suggests, “Start off with the mindset that these next few weeks are likely to be challenging and adjust your expectations of the kind of mom you think you ‘should’ be — aka Supermom. When you relax any rigid ideas of how you think things ‘should happen,’ the less frustrated you’ll be.” And, as you give yourself a break from expectations of perfection, you’ll relax and be better able to rest.

The next step is to understand that you must make resting a priority for both you and your partner. Donegan suggests staying in your pajamas for the first week after your baby’s birth. She points out, “Visitors see you as sick and won’t stay as long.”

“Divide and conquer,” recommends Denise Stern, CEO of Let Mommy Sleep. “Swap nights or even half nights caring for baby with your partner, even if that means sleeping in separate bedrooms. Being "off” for 6 to 8 hours a few nights per week allows your body a bit of restorative sleep and a mental boost knowing that there is a definite break in sight." She also recommends eliminating as much blue light from your electronic devices as possible, since studies show that using those devices all day can mean taking up to 30 minutes longer to fall asleep. When you have a new baby, getting to sleep faster can be a life-changer.

Establishing sleep routines with baby as soon as possible is also very important. One suggestion, from Batya Sherizen, baby coach, if to help your newborn get days and nights clear. In utero and shortly after birth, your baby is used to sleeping most of the day, when your body movements rocked her to sleep, while being awake more at night, when you were still. Sherizen recommends waking your newborn every three hours during the day to eat, which will gradually move her longer sleep periods to night. Another suggestion is to keep rooms bright and stimulating during the day and to make them dark, quiet and calm at night.

Jared Heathman, MD, a Houston psychiatrist, boils it down. “Sleep!” he says. “While it is a basic instinct to protect your offspring, it is important to maintain self-care for the sake of the entire family. Find a separate room for deep sleep when family can care for your newborn. Infants make the oddest noises, and hyper-vigilant mothers will jolt awake with each stirring. Frequent awakenings may prevent deep, revitalizing sleep which is much needed.” Being in another room lets you sleep with fewer interruptions.

From Alexandra Weinberger, certified labor and postpartum doula, comes the advice to swaddle your baby and to use a noise machine to simulate the tightness and noise of the womb and to drown some of the normal baby sounds that might wake you unnecessarily.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps. End of story. If the husband or dad or the mother-in-law or mother don’t like it, find them something to do. Sleep when the baby sleeps,” insists Janet Paterson, pediatric/neonatal RN. She also says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’ve had enough sleep, it’s all small stuff. When you haven’t, a dirty coffee cup is the end of the world.”

Staying hydrated and eating well, including plenty of fruits and vegetables and your vitamins, are also important, especially if you are breastfeeding. And you should not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help or to take it when it’s offered. Being cared for by different people is actually beneficial to baby’s development. so, pump milk and let Grandma give the baby a bottle while you sneak in a nap; let your partner change diapers or ask friends to bring over a meal of two. Let the dishes and the laundry wait until you’re rested; the world really won’t end.

Also, if you need the volume on the television lower or the room darker for you and baby to nap, speak up; don’t expect your partner, family or friends to read you mind or assume that they “should just know.” Tell them.

Finally, from Catherine Merritt, co-founder of Finnbin, comes this advice: “Make sure your baby is sleeping in a familiar place during naps, rather in different seats, rockers, etc. That helps create continuity in an otherwise uncertain world! And never underestimate the power of a power nap! If the baby is sleeping for a long nap, take a 20-minute snooze to recharge.”

Pam Martin has been writing professionally since the early 1980s, on a wide variety of topics. She brings 20 years of classroom teaching and tutoring experience to the party, including early elementary classes and courses in writing, reading and literature, history, geography and government at middle and high schools. She is also accomplished in crafting and in writing about projects, including her blogs, Roots and Wings From the Village, The Corner Classroom, and Sassy Scribbler, which encompass crafting, cooking, lesson plans, and professional writing advice.

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