In between all of the waking and feeding and crying, how is a parent supposed to find a little shut-eye?
Sleep isn’t the only thing that starts to fall by the wayside when you’ve got a baby in the house, but it is certainly one of the most important ones. Before we have children, sleep is often one of the first things we sacrifice in order to make time to do all of the other things we need to do. Laundry, dishes, a handful of work emails that started coming in just when you had to head home — all of these can seem like things you should be able to knock out fast before you let yourself get some sleep.
Sleep isn’t a luxury, though — it’s a necessity, especially when you have a baby in the house. Tiredness impacts everything from coordination to mood, so when bedtime approaches, remember that sleep is a priority, and it’s okay to leave the dishes in the sink, let your phone ring to voicemail, and crash as soon as your child does.
The power of the nap
“Sleep while your baby sleeps” is common advice for parents of newborns, but as Baby gets older, it’s tough to continue. After all, “do dishes while the baby does dishes” isn’t a thing, and we all need to take care of tasks eventually. Naps start to seem like a luxury, but it might make your life easier to accept that a short recharge can make you feel better. Even 15-20 minutes for an adult can be life-changing and is unlikely to negatively affect overnight sleep.
Even if you can’t always get yourself to sleep on the spot, taking that time to lie down and close your eyes can help you recharge.
You may or may not feel ready to leave Baby at home with a non-family sitter yet, but even if you think you won’t be ready for that for months, there are times when you could use a little break. But what if your partner is busy and all of Baby’s grandparents are unavailable? When this happens, think about hiring a sitter just long enough to take a nap for an hour or two. If you’ve just fed Baby, they should be fine without you for a while, and you can nap securely in the knowledge that Baby is being looked after and taken care of in the next room over.
And if anything goes wrong, your sitter can come knock on your bedroom door, and you’ll be right there to save the day. If finances are tight, consider exchanging an hour or two of care with another new parent/friend.
“All I want for Christmas is sleep”
As you get older, the things you actually want and need start to become the things it’s impossible for someone else to give you — 3 more hours in a day, a shorter commute, the chance to take back a choice or two. Wanting a nap can feel like another one of those things that is both all you need and something you can never ask for, but it’s definitely worth a try. If you’ve got a birthday, holiday, or anniversary coming up, and someone asks you what you’d like as a gift, try telling them you’d like a few hours of quiet childcare at the exhausted moment of your choice. Think of it as your very own version of the coupons for hugs and kisses that Baby might present you with as a birthday gift in a few years.
Pumping: not just for work
For breastfeeding parents, sharing nighttime feeding responsibilities can be difficult. Pumping can help some. If you’re not already, consider pumping instead of waking up to feed. For some people this sharing of overnight duties improves rest — even if you still have to wake up briefly to pump. It’s worth experimenting with pumping if feeding Baby back to sleep is a challenge.
For tiny people, babies sure can make a lot of noise. Having Baby’s crib or bassinet in your room at night can cut down on the time nighttime feeding takes, but the sleeping sounds Baby makes can make it hard to drift off. On the other hand, even if Baby sleeps in their own room down the hall, when it’s your partner’s turn to feed him and you can hear what’s going on, it can keep you almost as awake and on edge as if you’d gotten out of bed with them. A white noise machine may just be your new best friend.
You know you’re supposed to keep up on your sleep by napping when Baby does, but sleeping on command can be easier said than done, even if you’re totally exhausted. Cutting down on your caffeine intake to help you combat tiredness could sound counterintuitive, but cutting back on the coffee after lunch time could help you drop off more easily when you do find time to squeeze in a nap or just at bedtime.
Giving in without giving up
Sometimes, there are moments when sleep just isn’t going to happen for you, even if Baby napping soundly, and there’s nothing you’d like more than to join them. Instead of stressing about the lack of sleep, try some ways to wind down. If you’re worried about what’s on your to-do list, try journaling or picking one thing to get done. Then, take the rest of the time to relax your body and mind. Maybe that’s zoning out to a favorite show or podcast. Maybe it’s listening to music and stretching. A shower or bath can also be a great way to wind down and sleep. Who knows? You might drop off after all.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team