Getting sleep as a new mom tends to be a joke amongst any parent. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a single new mom out there who expects their new baby to sleep 8 hours on their first night, but many moms are surprised at how little sleep they actually get.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s recommended that the average adult should get 7-9 hours of sleep at night. Any new parent has probably read that statistic and LOL’d because the idea of getting 7 full hours of sleep sounds like a joke! In a survey done by Sleep Junkie, 68% of surveyed parents were getting 7+ hours of sleep before baby, but only 10% of parents were getting 7+ hours of sleep after baby. They also reported that the new parents surveyed lost an average of 109 minutes of sleep at night! Even people who normally function just fine on less than average sleep can struggle with the sleeping changes a baby can bring.
So what can a new parent do to make these sleepless days a little easier? To be honest, I still struggle with sleep even with a toddler. But time and good ole’ trial-and-error have proven themselves useful in learning how to handle sleep deprivation after baby. Here’s just a few recommended tips from one tired mom to another.
1- Focus more on rest, not just Sleep
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is a piece of advice as old as time. It’s not the worst advice on the planet, but for most parents it’s just not practical. Not every parent has only one child, and some simply can’t sleep 5 different times a day. Our natural sleep patterns are nothing like a babies sleep patterns, so napping 30 minutes here and there may make us feel worse.
If you find yourself feeling more anxious about getting actual sleep, stop focusing on the sleep and focus on rest. Rest may not involve closing your eyes, but it could involve taking a bath while the baby naps, or enjoying a hot cup of coffee and a book. Resting may mean watching a show on the couch, or simply laying down without feeling pressure to sleep. Sometimes putting the pressure on yourself to sleep makes you get less sleep. This can be especially helpful if you find yourself having nighttime sleep anxiety. Take the pressure off yourself and give yourself permission to simply rest. Sometimes resting will bring on actual sleep, and sometimes it won’t. Regardless it’ll potentially help you feel more restored and ready to parent again.
2- Get Familiar With Your Babies Sleep Patterns
In those early dog-days of parenting it can be hard to pinpoint your babies sleeping patterns. When you’re insanely tired, you may miss the signs of an ending wake window, or the predictable patterns of a sleepy baby. You may also miss when your child naturally wakes up at night when you’re so tired yourself.
Right around 3 months or so, babies start developing some more predictable sleeping patterns. You may discover they typically wake up around the same time every night, or that they take naps at the same time every day. Take advantage of these predictable patterns by planning your sleep/resting times around your babies sleeping patterns. This may require going to bed earlier in the evening, or sneaking in a morning nap with baby.
If you’re having a difficult time nailing down your babies wake windows, the Huckleberry app is INCREDIBLE! It’ll predict your babies wake windows for you, and they even have a paid membership where sleep experts can help you with your babies sleep. I can’t sing their praises enough!
3- Enlist in outside help
Creating night time rotations with your spouse can be very helpful for overnight wakings. Many couples will get baby familiar with bottles so that partners can do some feedings overnight. Our son was formula fed, so my husband and I created a predictable routine for night time feedings, and we would trade off. This can also be achieved with breastfed babies as well. Family members and postpartum doulas can also be greatly beneficial for catching up on sleep.
My blog post, “How To Get Your Husband To Help Around The House,” can help in having that conversation with your spouse.
4- practice healthy sleep Hygiene for yourself
Many moms (and non-moms alike) struggle with getting sound sleep at night because of habits that prevent sound sleep. Having healthy sleep habits for yourself can make your sleep be more restorative and predictable (yes, even with a baby, your sleep can be semi-predictable).
Some things you can do to have good sleep hygiene is:
- Put your phone away and turn off screens about an hour before bed
- No TV’s or other screens in the bedroom
- Read a book or do a relaxing activity before bed.
- Limit or even eliminate your caffeine intake
- Limit and/or eliminate alcohol and tobacco use
Just like your baby is learning new sleep patterns, you are as well. Practicing healthy sleep hygiene for yourself can help your body adjust to its new normal faster.
5- Keep Baby Close
I’m not going to get into the argument about whether you should bedshare or not, simply because it’s not my area of expertise. Ultimately, that’s your choice, but I can argue that at least keeping baby in the same room as you makes your life so much easier!
The American Academy Of Pediatrics recommends room sharing for at least 6 months and ideally up to a year. When baby is close by, it really does make getting up in the middle of the night so much simpler. It also helps to have all the necessities for night feedings in the room with you, like a Boppy pillow, or bottle warmers, diapers, swaddles, you name it.
Some parents even put a bed in the babies room and take turn sleeping in the room with the baby. Once again, how you keep baby close is your personal choice as a parent.
6- Make Peace With Having A Messy House
I have always been one to thrive in a semi-messy environment, but not everyone is like that. Some people feel more anxious when their home is cluttered, and that is completely understandable. Clutter can be triggering for some people, especially when your world has been rocked by bringing a baby into it.
If you’re like me, learn to be content with having an imperfect, messy house. Establish a bare minimum of cleanliness you can live with, and go with that until you feel more rested. Even though it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, go for plastic and paper tableware to free up time doing dishes. Don’t feel pressured to have a clean house for guests. If your guests care THAT much that your house is dirty, then give them a friendly reality check that you just shot a human out of you and you’re allowed to have some dishes in the sink!
I have a blog post all about how I’ve learned to make peace with a messy house. Feel free to check it out here!
7- Remember this is temporary
At some point in history, your baby will sleep! You body will adjust to new sleep patterns, and you will learn this magical dance of parenting a baby. Things will probably change rapidly, and you’ll experience regressions, but you will sleep eventually.
I remember thinking often that I will never sleep again, and that thought led to massive bouts of panic. Now that my son is almost 3, I wish I could go back to new mom me and tell her she’s gonna be fine. I wish I could tell new mom me that eventually her kid will sleep through the night, that she will learn to rest during the day, that some chores just aren’t worth it, and that bodies are resilient.
Keeping your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel can help you get through those dog-days of babyhood. Once again, I promise, it will get better. It may be in a couple months, it may be in a couple years, but it will get better.
8- Recognize when it’s time for professional help
I had an intense struggle with postpartum depression as well as postpartum anxiety. One of the earliest signs of having postpartum anxiety (also known as PPA) was staying awake in panic, even while my baby slept. According to The Sleep Foundation, Insomnia happens in about 10-30% of adults, and can be brought on by the change in sleep patterns after birth as well as hormone fluctuations. Insomnia can also be a symptom or catalyst for postpartum depression.
If you are finding yourself chronically sleep deprived and/or experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Reaching out to your medical provider and/or beginning therapy can be the best step to take if you’re finding yourself in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.
This Too Shall Pass
The dog-days of babyhood feel like an eternity sometimes. I said it once and I’ll say it again, it will get better! Your baby will sleep longer stretches of time, your body will adjust, and you’ll feel human again.
In the meantime, if you are finding yourself sleep deprived to a dangerous point, please reach out to your medical provider! If you are in need of help for postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health needs, feel free to reach out to the PSI helpline at 1-800-944-4773.
If you are in a state of crisis and/or experiencing suicidal ideations, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.