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Pregnancy And Postpartum Life - Postpartum Life | June 16, 2021, 8:24 CDT

Prioritizing Sleep With a Newborn in the House

The rest new parents need is possible with these tried-and-true strategies.
Anastasia Climan
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Photography by David Heisler

Getting enough sleep is one of the biggest challenges of becoming a parent. Here's how you can protect your fundamental right to rest.

Why you should sleep

Caring for a new baby is hard, but doing it while sleep-deprived makes it even tougher. Sleep is essential to your mental and physical well-being. Without proper rest, you may struggle with emotional instability, trouble concentrating, sugar and caffeine cravings and long-term health consequences, such as a higher risk of diabetes.

You may think getting up early to take care of chores or catching up on your favorite shows at night is worth the lack of sleep—but think again. Shortchanging your much-needed shut-eye is rarely a good idea.

You'll be less efficient at everything else if you choose to skip opportunities to rest. It's normal to have a messy home or take a temporary step back at work after giving birth. Seek opportunities to make your life easier through grocery delivery services, babysitters and family assistance. Learn to forgive your imperfections; this is hard enough without piling on.

Choose an ideal sleep environment

Not too many parents have the luxury of a full night's sleep with a newborn in the house. Babies naturally wake every couple of hours to eat. It can take a while to settle them down after feeding, burping and changing their diaper (and sometimes putting on a fresh outfit if they spit up or have an accident).

Take a few minutes to set up a functional sleep environment so you'll have everything you need during those midnight wake-up calls.

Try these tips:

  • For breastfeeding moms, find a safe co-sleeping arrangement and pump during the day to make nighttime a little easier
  • If you're bottle-feeding, fill up bottles with fresh water and keep formula powder near the bedroom so you can make a bottle quickly without having to run to another room
  • Keep an extra change of clothes and a clean swaddle or blanket within reach, so you don't have to rush around to find one in the middle of the night
  • Put a nightlight in your room so you can see without exposing yourself or your infant to bright lights at night
  • Store plenty of diapers and wipes next to the crib (overnight diapers will give you more longevity between changes)

Share shifts with a partner

If possible, arrange with your partner to take care of the baby in shifts through the night. Babies need a lot of sleep, so many parents attempt to put them down between 5 and 7 p.m. Make a decision about which parent will head to bed with the baby and who will take each shift.

For example, one parent goes to bed from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. while the other parent handles feedings and diaper changes. The second parent heads to bed at 1 a.m. and sleeps until 7 a.m. knowing their partner will take care of the baby.

Of course, this arrangement is easier when you're not breastfeeding and if one adult prefers to stay up late. Whenever possible, give each other opportunities to sleep in or take naps. Even if you don't technically sleep during your entire shift, staying in bed and knowing you're off the clock for a few hours can give you the peace of mind to relax.

If you're a single parent or your partner's work schedule doesn't allow them much leeway to help out, you may want to reach out to other local parents, willing family members or babysitters. Switching off with other struggling parents or paying a responsible high schooler to give you a hand for a few hours a week could free up opportunities to provide you with the sleep your body requires.

Accept challenges as they come

There are going to be times when even the best sleepers will keep you up at night. Babies go through various phases during their first year of life, including teething, sleep regressions and growth spurts. Understand that changes are usually temporary. Try not to feel frustrated or defeated by a few bad nights.

Once your baby transitions to solid foods and finishes teething, things may get easier. If teething pain is a barrier to sleep, ask your child's pediatrician about infant Tylenol. Sometimes even when you're doing everything right as a parent, your child doesn't want to sleep through the night. Continue to aim for a schedule, but remember to be flexible and kind to yourself in the process.

Anastasia Climan