New parents don’t have it easy. Their own personal care and well-being are often sacrificed for their baby. Simple tasks like blow-drying their hair or sleeping in on a Sunday are a thing of the past. With a newborn, parents are lucky to squeeze in a 5 minute shower and a solid few hours of sleep each day. With an infant at home, sleep cycles are quickly thrown out of whack.
Adults should get about 8 hours of sleep, on average, each night. Pre-kids, you may have enjoyed uninterrupted sleep, but with a new baby, it is interrupted by continuous feedings and attending to your baby's needs. This can cause an increase in stress and frustration. Some mothers will even stop sleeping as they anticipate their baby's cry or may have trouble falling back asleep on their millet pillow after a nighttime feeding.
One study found that first-time mothers were at an increased risk for insomnia, depression, fatigue, non-refreshing sleep, and daytime sleepiness. This can cause increased stress and declining mood, making it more difficult to function during the day, and worsen symptoms of postpartum depression.
According to Dr. Rebecca Robbins, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, “navigating your and your newborn’s sleep is among the steepest challenges during the early weeks of an infant’s life. Unfortunately, this can be difficult, as the caregiver is often operating on very little sleep as their nighttime’s are being punctuated by feedings, introducing stress and frustration.” Though this may sound bleak, there is hope for new parents. Dr. Robbins told the Sleep Foundation that “there are evidence-based tips and strategies that can set you up for success during the early weeks and months of your infant’s life and well into their late stages of development.”
Though your child’s needs are a priority, experts strongly advise that parents pay attention to their own sleep needs. In doing so, you will have more energy to spend with your little one and your brain will be equipped to form memories. If you are a new parent and feeling desperate to get some rest, follow the expert advice below.
Sleeping as a New Parent
You may have been able to have a late-night drink or afternoon coffee during your pre-parent days, but not anymore. You need to be diligent with your sleep hygiene so you can get the best sleep possible - when time permits! As you are already well aware, your infant has a shorter sleep cycle than you. Where adults are awake all day, sleeping eight continuous hours at night, an infant sleep in bouts of one to three hours. This means that you will be awoken a few times during the night.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps
This is one of the most common pieces of advice passed down to new parents. This isn’t an old wives' tale or folklore – it’s back by research. Experts at the National Child & Maternal Health program with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recommend napping when your baby naps. You will likely be tempted to get a load of laundry done or tidy up the kitchen, but your time will be better spent getting some rest. You don’t need to sleep for hours either; just getting a 20-minute power nap can help you feel energized and reduce stress levels.
- Establish a bedtime routine
When the newest member of your family came home, your bedtime routine changed significantly, and you may have been wavering ever since. It’s time to recreate the routine and focus on a good sleep environment. Ensure you have comfortable bedding like a millet pillow, Tencel sheet set, and supportive mattress. A dark room will also help you sleep, so consider room darkening blinds. This will also help when you are trying to squeeze in a short nap. If you get up at night, you can use a motion detector nightlight, so the room stays dark until you get up. Additionally, when we sleep, our bodily temperature drops. By lowering the temperature in your room, you can help trigger sleep. You can also incorporate your baby into the routine. For example, maybe you have a warm bath together listening to peaceful spa music.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
This is a common new parent mistake. You want to do it all, but in reality, it “takes a village.” Reach out to family, friends, or even neighbors if you need some help. Ask someone you trust to come over and watch your little one for a few hours while you get some uninterrupted sleep. You should also feel comfortable asking your doctor for help if you struggle with sleep, depression, or other postpartum struggles. Though these struggles aren’t often shared on social media, they are widespread.
- Share the parenting duties
As new parents, you are both eager to be a part of the process and likely want to support the other. Though great in theory, it means both of you will have interrupted sleep and feel exhausted. Instead, take on shifts. While your baby is young, you can consider sleeping in separate rooms, or one person sleeps with earplugs. This way, only one parent will be awoken when the baby is up, and the other can get some rest. It will also give you each the opportunity to get some one-on-one bonding time with your baby.
- Set boundaries
You may have lots of requests from friends and family to come by and visit and you may not always be up for it. Though they mean well, they can add stress and make you feel even more tired. Don’t feel you need to play host in addition to being a parent of a newborn. Get comfortable saying no and tell them why. They may simply not know and be eager to help in another way, like dropping off a home-cooked meal at your door!
- Start sleep training early
There are countless blogs, books, and podcasts all centered around sleep training. Your doctor or midwife may also have advice. Although there are differing theories, many recommend starting sleep training at about six months. When your baby is on a similar sleep schedule as you, you will both feel more energetic, happy, and positive the next day.
- Speak to your doctor before taking any medication or natural supplements
If you have trouble falling asleep, you may be tempted to try a natural sleep aid or sleeping medication. If you breastfeed, this will also make its way to your baby. Though it may seem harmless, you should treat all herbs and natural remedies like medicine. Be sure to speak to your doctor before taking any sleep aids – natural or not.
- Consider a night nurse
Though it comes at an expense, many people have had great success with a night nurse. A night nurse is an infant sleep specialist who will take care of your little one through the night. The night nurse or nanny will often sleep in the infant's room – soothing, feeding, changing, and caring for them. As a bonus, they teach new parents how to care for an infant, which helps reduce anxiety many new parents experience. You have the option of a couple of nights a week or every night for some time. Though this was often used by working parents with busy schedules, it is becoming increasingly popular for urban families all over the U.S. Unfortunately, this service doesn’t come cheap. One D.C. agency called Hush Hush Little Baby charges between $25 and $40 an hour.
- Remind yourself – you will hear your baby cry
Many parents keep themselves awake, afraid they won’t hear their baby if they fall asleep. So, they lay on their millet pillow, curled up in their Tencel sheet set, just waiting in anticipation. This is precious sleep time you don’t want to waste away! You are biologically tuned to a baby’s crying – if you can hear it, you’ll wake up. If you are afraid that the nursery is too far, you can keep a monitor beside your table for peace of mind.
- Take it one day at a time
These days are tough, but they won’t last forever. One day your infant will sleep through the night. Of course, there will be ups and downs, but eventually, they will sleep soundly, and you will no longer have to get up for late-night feedings or to soothe them. Just take it one day at a time and if you have any concerns or need some reassurance, remember tip #3 and ask for help. You can talk to your pediatrician to rule out any medical reasons like gas or acid reflux that could be keeping your baby up.
As a parent to an infant, you have one of the most challenging jobs in the world. You’re on-call 24/7, and your sleep can suffer as a result. Fortunately, with these ten tips, you can get more quality sleep and feel more refreshed. Before you know it, these days will be a distant memory, and you will sleep soundly once again.