The first 6 weeks after your baby is born are really challenging (see Part 1: Thoughts from a Sleep Deprived Mom), but we have discovered a few tried and true ways to help you and your family get some rest…starting now. The following suggestions combine my experiences as a mom, a researcher, and a dietitian.
Sleep when your baby sleeps. I know all of the books and advice gurus have told you this one already. I also know that you are busy and probably the only time you can have a moment to yourself or with your other kid(s) is when the baby is sleeping. Forego that urge to do-do-do, at least for those first 6 weeks. Trust me, naps make a HUGE difference. Every minute of sleep counts.
Let people help you. Sure it’s hard to admit you need help. But all mothers know how hard it is to have a new baby. That’s why they always say to you: “Let me know if you need anything.” Let them help you! They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to help. Something as simple as giving them a grocery list to pick up a few things for you or bringing dinner over that first week post partum will make a big difference for you and your new family.
Let Grandma (Grandpa, Aunt, Uncle, etc.) hold your baby for an hour. They will love the bonding time, and your aching arms will get a break. Take that time to lie down, take a bath or do something else you like.
Get out and get some air. Sometimes just a trip to the grocery store ALONE can be a refreshing experience. Strolling down the aisles, favorite beverage in hand, soft rock playing in the background, what could be better?
Have your significant other take the baby so you can sleep. Even just a few hours will help. If you breastfeed beforehand, you’ll have some time before baby needs to be fed again…so SLEEP!
Let Grandma (or any trusted family member or friend) watch the baby so that you can take a nap. Every once in awhile, invite them over with the sole purpose of watching baby so you can take a good 1-2 hour nap. This will give you a chance to recharge after a week or so of frequent night waking with your little one.
Keep healthy snacks and drinks at hand while breastfeeding. Since you are already sitting down, breastfeeding is a great time to eat a snack. Keep healthy snacks that can be eaten with one hand nearby (I don’t need to explain why just one hand to those who have nursed before!) Eating small, frequent (healthy) meals or snacks will increase your energy, making you feel better.
Don’t look at the clock. Avoid looking at the clock when you are sleeping or napping. Not knowing exactly how long you’ve slept (or not slept) can help you feel more rested. I took this suggestion myself when my daughter was an infant and going through a particularly challenging bout of frequent night waking. Normally I would look at the clock and exclaim: “What?! She’s up again? I just went back to sleep 30 minutes ago!!” If I didn’t look at the clock, I had no idea how long she (and I) had or hadn’t slept. Sure, I was just tricking my sleep deprived mind, but it really helped change my attitude!
Knowledge is power. Just knowing that it is normal for you to be tired during this time, and that it won’t last forever, will make the sleep deprivation easier to deal with. It will go by fast, and soon your little one will be sleeping longer stretches and falling asleep more easily. Before you know it, your baby will be 2 years old (like my sweet girl) throwing herself on the floor of the supermarket, screaming because you won’t buy her a candy bar. It’s all a matter of perspective!
Note: Lack of sleep can really affect your mood. A little bit of the “baby blues” is normal in the post partum period, but sometimes there is a fine line between the baby blues and post partum depression (PPD). Contact your doctor if symptoms of depression last longer than 2 weeks. For a list of symptoms of PPD, please go to: http://www.womenshealth.gov/FAQ/depression-pregnancy.cfm#c
A final thought: get some sleep.
Looking back on the exhaustion during my daughter’s 1st year of life, I can’t stress enough that the only real solution for lack of sleep is…sleep! A little caffeine may get you through in the short-term, going to the gym or taking a walk will boost your energy, but true exhaustion from lack of sleep is only remedied by sleep, and every minute counts. Trouble napping? Sitting quietly or lying down in a restful (quiet) place can help you feel more rested, even if you can’t fall asleep.
Do you have any other tips to offer sleep deprived new moms? Please share them with us.
If you have any questions about infant sleep, just ask; we are here to help you!
Next time: What's the Difference Between Crying and Colic?