Becoming a parent can feel like a miracle achievement, but getting to sleep after your baby arrives can be an even bigger challenge than you imagined. Tips to getting some shuteye with a new little one in the home include:
- Sharing responsibility with others
- Understanding your baby’s sleep patterns
- Not relying on coffee
According to Medical News Today, new parents have a 6-month sleep deficit during the first 24 months of their baby’s life. This proves there is no perfect way to go about making sure you get your 8 hours, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are plenty of tricks and methods you can try which will aid in the exhausting but exciting time of having a new child.
Sleeplessness after becoming a parent, either for the first time or not, can be caused by anxiety, crying and agitated babies, and postpartum mental health issues. Luckily, we have 17 tips to help you get the rest you need (and deserve) to be the best possible guardian to your baby:
Using Team Work
1. Discuss Your Sleep Needs Beforehand
It is likely that before you greet your new baby, you will have a lot on your mind. From creating a nursery to worrying about finances – thinking about sleep may be an afterthought that won’t come until you are in the grips of insomnia.
It’s a good idea to discuss your sleep needs before you have your baby, perhaps with your partner, as Margaret Park, MD, an assistant sleep specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, recommends: “Once you become pregnant, discuss your ability to handle sleep deprivation with your partner.” If you’re a single parent or would rather get extra help with this stage, you can instead have a discussion with a medical health professional, such as a prenatal nurse. It can prove very helpful to set up a sleeping plan based around your schedules and work, depending on your circumstances after the birth of your child.
2. Share Nights With Your Partner
If you have a partner, sharing responsibility and asking them to help can aid in your quality and quantity of sleep as well as theirs. If you’re formula feeding your baby, both parents can take a role in sharing this task during the night. If you’re a mother breastfeeding, ask your partner to help with diapers or dressing in the morning so you can go back to sleep.
If you’re a mother with a settled breastfeeding routine, your partner could occasionally give a bottle of expressed breast milk during the night. Make sure you try to keep these routines and shared responsibilities fair to avoid clashes or conflicts. This will help both of you feel less overwhelmed.
It also may be a good idea to re-connect with your partner after the birth of your child. If you feel comfortable enough, let a relative or close friend babysit your child for a few hours a night while you and your partner spend the evening together or go on a romantic date. Often, tension can arise between parents when the stress of a newborn is brought into the family mix. Making sure your family unit is still well-functioning and loving will ultimately help with sleep as cooperation remains vital.
3. Ask Friends And Relatives For Help
Hopefully, after you’ve become a new parent, friends and family will be open and happy to offer up their help. Taking advantage of these offers can absolutely help you get more sleep. For example, you could ask a close friend or loved one to come over and look after your baby while you have a quick nap. Remember – you can never underestimate the importance of a good 30 minutes of sleep. These short naps can improve alertness, mood, and memory. When you nap, aiming for the 30-minute mark will stop you from reaching deep sleep and won’t interfere with your night-time sleep routine.
If you’re a single parent, or perhaps your partner is often away from home you could see if a friend or relative could stay with you for a few days so you can get more sleep with the extra help. Doing it all on your own can be daunting, so don’t be afraid to reach out for a generous hand. Remember it takes a village to raise a child is not only just a cute quip but a helpful reminder that there are others willing to lend a hand.
4. Request Flexibility At Work
Many new mothers/fathers, in particular, find it easier and more comfortable to return to work on a part-time basis after their maternity/paternity leave. This is due to not wanting to be separated from their child, but also due to the pressures of both being a parent and juggling a career in the background. Understandably, these two pressures will lead to even less sleep. Good employers will listen to your needs and negotiate flexible hours and a new return-to-work routine. Depending on where you are or what company you work for, it’s a good idea to look into your rights as an employee regarding maternity or paternity leave.
However, stressing about your work situation should be the least of your worries. Try to avoid dwelling on returning to work, as these thoughts can deprive you of much-needed sleep. If you find yourself having concerns about work-life mixing with family-life, try to create a family calendar. This way, you’ll be able to see every family member’s work schedules, appointments, commitments, and other comings and goings, which is key for time management in the long-run.
Co-operating With Your Baby
5. Understand Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns
At the beginning of parenthood, it may feel like the phase when your baby wakes several times during the night will last forever. However, as your baby gets older, they will settle for longer periods of time, allowing you to sleep longer too. During the first stages of bringing your baby home, it can be helpful to understand their sleep patterns, as each pattern can be very individual for each child.
Most parents will learn naturally what time their baby will wake up. You’ll often hear parents having discussions which include quotes such as ‘my baby wakes up every night between 3 am and 5 am. Knowing these patterns in your own child will help you know when you should sleep and wake up around your baby’s natural cycle.
6. Sleeping When Your Baby Sleeps
This may sound like an obvious solution, but it’s vital to remember. When your baby dozes off, even during the day, you should take the opportunity to do the same. Despite how sleepless you may feel, newborns can sleep for up to 16-17 hours a day, which means there should be plenty of spaces during the day for you to nap also.
However, you should be aware of where you’re napping and how close your baby is. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sleeping with your baby on your chest or in your sprawled across your lap – on a couch or armchair – is a serious baby sleep mistake. It’s far more dangerous than co-sleeping in a bed, due to the risk of dropping or smothering the baby. If you’re going to nap or sleep with your infant, opt for bed-sharing.
If you’re concerned about sleeping for too long or not hearing your baby waking up, set an alarm to make sure you don’t miss the entire day.
7. Keep Your Baby Close
Another idea for breastfeeding moms, in particular, is to get a bassinet (a cradle which attaches to your bed or sits next to it (specifically designed for babies from birth to about 4 months). This will allow you to be close to your baby at all times, meaning you won’t have to travel far or even get out of bed to tend to your child.
Some bassinets also double as rockers, allowing you to rock your baby side to side without having to get up from the bed. A bassinet can also help any anxiety you’re feeling from being separated from your baby. Having them there by your side will assure you of their safety, and you’ll be happy with the knowledge that you will always be able to hear their late night cries. The American Academy of Pediatrics now actually recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents.
If you plan on using a cradle or bassinet, make sure it’s well supported on the bottom so it can’t collapse. It should also have a wide base to keep it from tipping if someone knocks against it. Keep in mind the manufacturer’s weight and size limitations, making sure to move your baby to a crib when they are too big for the smaller cradle. If you can’t find the specific manufacturer’s guidelines, a 20-pound limit is reasonable.
8. Know How To Settle Your Baby
As mentioned before, a huge issue with sleeplessness among parents is agitated or unsettled babies. This is why keeping a baby’s environment sleep-friendly is important to both them and yourself. Here are the top tips to follow to ensure your baby is calm and relaxed throughout the night:
- Keep the lights low
- Don’t talk much and keep your voice quiet
- Put your baby down as soon as they’ve been fed and changed
- Don’t change your baby unless they need it
- Don’t play with your baby before bed
Essentially, all activity before bed should be kept minimal and slow. Keep toys or distractions at bay, but feel free to add a small night light, a lullaby musical toy. or a calm nursery light projector. These small distractions will keep your baby amused without being too preoccupying throughout the night.
Pay Attention To Your Environment
9. Don’t Stay Up In Front Of The TV
When you wake up with an upset baby, it can be tempting to sit in front of the television and watch late night news while feeding them or rocking them back to sleep. However, staring into a screen will do you no help when you want to eventually get back to bed.
The blue light emitted for electronic devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are known for disrupting sleep. According to Live Science, it is believed that the shorter wavelengths in blue light are what causes the body to produce less melatonin because the body is more sensitive to this type of light. Other studies have found that blue wavelengths suppress delta brainwaves, which induce sleep and boost alpha wavelengths, which create alertness.
10. Don’t Feel Obliged To Entertain
After welcoming your child into the world, you’re likely to have a lot of well-wishing visitors passing by. From relatives to friends to work colleagues – although you may be grateful for the gifts and the congratulations, it can be a little overwhelming. As a new parent, you shouldn’t feel obliged to make drinks or set out food for guests, especially when you’re tired.
Taking Care Of Your Mental Health
11. Look Out For The Baby Blues
Sleep loss can create serious mood changes/swings, which can leave new parents at risk off what is known commonly as the ‘baby blues’. While you may feel overjoyed when you greet your new child for the first time, a few days later you may find yourself feeling tearful, anxious or worrisome – these are all natural emotions within the first few days of welcoming a new member to the family. However, these emotions can be amplified to the extreme when you’re tired.
Make sure you look out for these symptoms and address them with yourself or your partner. Acknowledging them can be the first step to solving them, and taking a step back to look at reality. In more serious cases, you may be experiencing postpartum depression. According to the American Psychological Association, this condition affects 1 in 7 women and can last for weeks or even months after giving birth.
Understandably, postpartum depression is also highly linked to postpartum insomnia. To understand the condition which could be depriving you of sleep, it’s important to understand one important distinction between postpartum insomnia and regular run-of-the-mill not sleeping because of the demands of an infant. Insomnia after giving birth is when you can’t fall asleep even when your new little bundle is comfortably snoozing. Possible causes can be hormonal fluctuations, night sweats, and postpartum mood disorders. If any of these issues aren’t addressed, insomnia can last for months. If you’re concerned that postpartum depression or insomnia may be depriving you of the sleep you need, consult your doctor.
12. Try Relaxation Techniques
As a new parent, it’s understandable you will be quite busy caring for your new little one and preoccupied with other tasks such as figuring out how to serialize a baby bottle or collecting multiple pacifiers. But even just 5 to 10 minutes of deep relaxation may help refresh you and allow you to sleep without a racing mind. Some quick, relaxation techniques include:
- Yoga/muscle stretching
- Reading a book
- Listening to ambient or soft music
- Taking a short walk in nature
If you feel you don’t have enough time to dedicate to these types of tasks, simple deep breathing can also help you quickly relax. Anytime you feel tiredness or irritation getting the best of you take a moment to focus on this breathing technique:
- Take a deep breath through your nose until you feel your stomach rise and chest expand.
- Hold that breath for one to two seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your nose for at least 4 seconds.
- Repeat as needed.
13. Don’t Let Stress Swallow You
You may feel even more tired after having a baby due to stress. Stresses of birth, aftercare and general fear of the future may be consuming your thoughts, leading to excessive tiredness. To get more sleep, and more importantly get the best out of the hours you sleep, you should learn to cope with the inevitable stress that will come with having a child.
Some ways to allow stress to be released, rather than bottling it up include talking with your partner or expressing yourself to a loved one. It may be worth joining a local support group for new moms, or even in emergency stressful times, phoning a parenting helpline for support. This type of help can be found on the Parents Anonymous website.
Another way to avoid stress mounting on top of you is to focus on yourself every once in a while. As a new parent, you may feel you have lost part of your identity, leaving you awake all night questioning yourself and debating how hard being a parent truly is. To stop yourself from focusing on the negatives, try some self-care techniques to remind yourself that you’re an individual who also needs time to relax. The following can help you unwind and de-stress, even if you have little time:
- Have a Journal: Write in a free-flowing stream-of-consciousness style for 20 minutes a day. Notice feelings that are just under the surface.
- Listen to Music: Have an uplifting playlist to turn on when you’re busy with tedious tasks – they can make your mundane day suddenly feel a bit brighter.
- Make Yourself Tea: It sounds simple enough, but it’s easy to forget about your own needs as a parent. Make yourself a tea to remind yourself that you matter too.
- Talk to a Love One: Message or call a loved one to tell them your stresses, or just have a casual conversation.
- Download a Gratitude App: You can use this app to write down things you are grateful for, such as your happy new baby and wonderful family.
Do More For Your Physical Health
14. Take Time To Exercise
This tip may feel counterproductive to the outcome you want – realistically, who wants to work out when they’re feeling extremely tired with a newborn? However, a little bit of exercise can go a long way when it comes to feeling physically strong and getting to sleep easier.
During exercise, your body will release feel-good endorphins and feel tired later on in the day rather than restless and irritated. Even light exercises, such as 10 minutes of walking with your baby, can help you unwind later in the day and clear your mind for the night ahead. According to The Sleep Doctor, Scientific evidence indicates that exercise can be an effective natural therapy for insomnia. Physical activity also increases time spent in deep sleep, which is something you’ll be craving when you’re in and out of light sleep due to your new little bundle of joy.
15. Lie Down (Even If You Can’t Sleep)
According to Diana Lynn Barnes, a Los Angeles therapist and president of Postpartum Health International, simply relaxing instead of constantly running around will help your body feel more rested. She says: “Get off your feet, relax on the couch, and stay off the phone.” However, she also adds that it isn’t necessary to force yourself to nap during this relaxation time. “Just lying down for a half hour can be very restorative,” she claims.
This type of rest of often referred to as quiet wakefulness. Simply resting with your eyes closed can calm your mind, give at least some of your neurons a break (since you’re not actively thinking or concentrating on something), and let your muscles and organs relax. It can also reduce stress, improve your mood, and increase alertness, mental clarity, creativity, and motivation. All of these changes can enhance your productivity.
16. Don’t Become Dependent On Caffeine
It’s very tempting to reach for a cup of coffee when you’re drowsy and need a pick-me-up. But you shouldn’t make caffeine your go-to answer when a crying baby has kept you awake all night. Relying on coffee during the day will likely cause even more disruptions when it’s time to get some rest. According to HuffPost, researchers at Harvard Medical School report that caffeine blocks adenosine – your body’s natural sleep-inducing agent.
Caffeine addiction will also have detrimental effects on your long-term health if you heavily rely on consuming it during the troubling, sleepless periods of being a parent. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that caffeine withdrawal, as well as causing fatigue, sleepiness, headache and concentration problems, can also cause flu-like symptoms, depression, and anxiety in some people.
17. Get Early Nights
Being a parent, especially to a newborn, is a busy time. You’ll be rushing to tidy up the house, buying diapers, baby proofing every piece of furniture and figuring out how to set up various cribs and walkers. But it’s important to not let these tasks carry into the night, as you don’t want to be in bed late if your baby is an early riser.
Your usual routine may be to be in bed by 11 pm, but that’s not an ideal when you have a child. Aim to be settled down by 9 pm – yes, it may sound like a child’s curfew – but it can do wonders in making sure you get the hours you need before you inevitably have to wake up to do a feed or change a diaper.
If your baby is a frequent early riser and you’d like to try to rearrange this routine, there are a few things you can try. For babies who are 4–9 months old, bedtime should be about 1 hour and 45 minutes after the 3rd nap, as long as the main two naps are at least 1–2 hours each, according to Medium.com. Bedtime should be earlier if naps are shorter. Don’t be afraid of a 5:30 or 6:00 pm bedtime. This earlier bedtime can lead to a more consolidated night’s sleep and therefore a later rising.
Of course, a lot of these tips are easier said than done, but that can often be the nature of parenthood. A lot of parents claim it’s far easier to make it up as you go along instead of rigorously following parenting books and YouTube tutorials. Everyone will make mistakes and feel tired from time to time, but remember that sleepless nights won’t necessarily last forever.
Nothing will ever be perfect when it comes to parenting, so make sure you celebrate the small victories and move past the mistakes. Soon, you’ll learn how to adapt to your babies sleep schedule and soon enough you will be able to regularly sleep too!