When my first child was born I thought I would go mad from lack of sleep. I would sob from sheer exhaustion during the early morning hours when he would inevitably be awake–night after night after night. The second and third times have been so different. Mostly because my daughters haven’t struggled with the colic and reflux that plagued our boy, but also because I think my attitude is different.
So here’s a few tips I try to remember when I have a newborn that might also be helpful to other new moms:
1. Don’t expect a full night’s sleep. I would get so frustrated when my son wouldn’t sleep through the night, something he didn’t do until he turned one, making it only harder for me to fall asleep again once (if) he did. I would dwell on the sleep I was missing as the minutes ticked by. I would count up the scant, interrupted hours (or minutes) of sleep in horror. With my girls, I expected to be up at least every couple of hours for the first few weeks and 2-3 times after that. Then I get to be pleasantly surprised when the baby gives mama a good long stretch of sleep before that one year mark.
2. Sleep close to your baby. It’s not for everyone, but I love co-sleeping. I love snuggling up with my baby at night and never having to listen out for her or go to a separate room to make sure she’s still breathing. And I don’t even have to completely wake up to nurse my baby while lying down before we both nod off again. Having my baby so close helps me turn down my mommy radar that’s constantly listening out for those infant cries, allowing me to relax enough to go to sleep. I usually just have baby in my bed but we also have the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper which gives baby their own space. Be sure to practice safe co-sleeping!
3. It won’t last forever. It feels like it you’ll be tired until you die of exhaustion. You won’t die. Probably not, at least. There really will come a day when you wake up in the morning and realize that your baby slept all the way through the night. I know it sounds crazy but try to give up control, resign yourself to exhaustion, and enjoy the sweetness of your baby. If your baby is extremely colicky and screaming through the night this is really really hard to remember. I understand. I’ve been there.
4. Be a team. Daniel and I were so tired and so new at being parents when our son was born that we struggled with this. It started to be a competition of Who Was Most Tired and Miserable. When Daniel was up with Benjamin and exhausted the next day, I felt horrible and guilty. And still tired. When I was up with Benjamin and exhausted, I hated Daniel for being asleep (which he probably wasn’t because of the colic-induced screaming). Now we’re a team. I do the night feedings (well, it’s not like he could help me out with that) and Daniel gets up with the kids early in the morning. That way I start the day with, at the very least, a couple solid hours of sleep to get me going. When I start to lose it, Daniel helps out and I’m trying to learn not to feel guilty when he’s tired. He wants to help. When he gets really tired, I try to make sure neither babe wakes him up and I don’t resent him for a full night’s sleep. He tells me what a good mom I am when I gulp down my second cup of coffee with blood-shot eyes. I tell him what a stellar dad he is when he cleans up the preschooler’s vomit in the middle of the night so I can keep resting with baby. Encourage each other. Appreciate each other. Lean on each other.
5. White noise. Having some white noise where the baby sleeps helps soothe them and keeps them sleeping longer because it makes them feel like they’re in the womb (who knew wombs were so loud?). We like this one. It also keeps me from hearing every tiny baby sigh and midnight bathroom trips the preschooler makes.
6. Pray. Sometimes I can get through a whole Rosary during a long nighttime feeding. Or I can start one and pick it up again the next time she wakes. Then I feel like I’m doing something important (as if feeding my baby wasn’t important enough!). I pray for my family. I pray for my friends. I ask the Blessed Virgin to help me be a good mama. I ask forgiveness for flying off the handle when Benjamin asked me the same question 3,086 times the day before. You get the idea.
7. Swaddling. Swaddle. Do it. I finally jumped on the Aden and Anais swaddle blanket bandwagon and they’re wonderful.
8. Eat well. When I cut sugar and too many carbs from my diet, I am significantly less tired. When I take care to eat plenty of the delicious veggies that Daniel grows in his garden and have lots of protein at breakfast, I can avoid a horrible crash at 2pm.
9. Coffee. Let’s be honest. It’s hard to survive no sleep without coffee. But, to give hope to you non-coffee drinkers, I survived most of Benjamin’s first year without coffee because of health issues. Hot water with lemon does help jumpstart your day. But, it’s not really a substitute for that happiness in a cup: COFFEE.
10: Be thankful. If I recollect how thankful I am to have my babies, I can circumvent some of the frustration at being tired. Fighting some exhaustion is a small price to pay for these little ones and I can’t forget that.
How bout you? Do you have any sleep advice? Any suggestions for how to survive seasons of no sleep?
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