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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Lindsay (Young Married Mom) says
I was going to comment on which of these I found the most true, but turns out ALL OF THEM. You totally hit the nail on the head. The perspective on doing this the second time is invaluable, and it’s wonderful that you’re writing these down for new mamas (and those of us who have forgotten!). Well said!
So glad you got some A+A blankets! Without them, swaddling was a total joke with our kid. Those flannel receiving blankets did nothing! I love the thought of praying while you’re up in the middle of the night. It certainly helps keep those “OMG THIS IS NEVER GOING TO END” and “WHY CAN’T DADS LACTATE?!?” thoughts from creeping in. Good luck mama!
The A+A blankets are so wonderful! And perfect for summer swaddling in Florida where it’s a million degrees!
Love these! We made a rule that whoever is up with kids in the middle of the night gets to watch whatever they want on TV, even if it is a show that we would typically watch together.
Great plan! We’ve been watching an episode of Longmire together after the bigger munchkins go to bed but while Miss Gwen is doing her evening cluster feeding and then Daniel’s been taking first shift and watching Breaking Bad while I get a couple of hours in to start the night.
I found that making up stories in my head while nursing my little ones to sleep helps me immensely. It keeps me occupied and happy (kind of, as long as I don’t completely loose circulation in my hand). My oldest would often nurse for hours before letting me get up and go to my bed. Loosing it only makes it worse, I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, maybe I’ll find it when I get more sleep.
That’s a great idea, Adele. I’ve been lucky that Gwen does her cluster feeding in the early evening (7-9ish). My other ones liked the forever nursing trick in the middle of the night!
Thanks for the good reminders. Baby #5 is coming ANY DAY, and I have to try hard not to start the competition of “Who Was Most Tired and Miserable” after we get home from the hospital. Speaking from experience (unfortunately) it can get nasty, and is counterproductive. They are only this little for a short time. Prayer will help me focus on being thankful for this awesome gift!
My husband and I engaged in that competition with our first! So awful – we spent so much time arguing over who had gotten less sleep the night before, to the minute. Somehow, by the third, we had switched over to trying to ensure that the other got enough rest. I gues we’re growing up. 🙂
We’re getting better at it, too! I think now I’m more stressed out by the idea that Daniel is miserably exhausted all day at work than by me feeling tired at home.
Prayers for a safe delivery for your sweet little one, Mary! 🙂
These are all great suggestions. I was lucky that both my kids started sleeping through most of the night around 3 months old. I found giving them a little bath at night before bed time helped them sleep better too. Since I am a stay at home mom, and my husband has to get up early for work, I did all of the night feedings. For anyone just starting out with their first child, just know that you will get through it and it won’t last forever. Some how your body just pushes you through it.
Baths do help! And it’s amazing how your body survives despite the sleep deprivation.
With my first, I kept an ipod dock in her nursery, and listened to podcasts when it seemed the nursing sessions would never end. It was so much fun and now it’s a fun memory (that I might recreate with our next newborn!).
That’s a great idea, Tacy!
I agree completely with all ten points!
Love this. I felt like the videos that were made to help encourage gay youth should also be made for new parents: It Gets Better. Numbers 2, 3, and 4 I cannot support enough. Each time I get frustrated, I fast forward in my mind twenty years – my daughter will (hopefully) be in college and starting her life – and I’ll wish for midnight snuggles.
Resting while the baby sleeps gets tricky when you have older children but trying to make it as restful as possible; have them look at picture books with you on the bed, put in a video etc.
I feel like it’s been movie central over here lately! Looking forward to some screen free days in the future, haha.
We’re expecting baby 4, and I would add do whatever you can beforehand to reduce your responsibilities those first few weeks (or months!). Bake a few extra casseroles to keep in the freezer, line up a couple of people that can lend a hand in some way, and try to have plans for the other little ones. In our case, we’re homeschooling this summer so we can take off in the fall–I can’t imagine trying to teach my older ones while I’m in those first few weeks with Justin working full time! I have a feeling that their once or twice a week TV habit may become a little more common, so I’ll be looking for some appropriate Netflix choices. It’s a season and it will pass so quickly.
That’s all great advice, Kristy!
I’m in this newborn phase right now as well. I have a 3 week old and she’s my first. We’re lucky that she’s a champion sleeper and generally doesn’t wake up more than a few times each night, but I think a lot of it is about perspective. Some nights are more difficult than others, but I feel blessed each time my husband gets up with her to soothe her so that I can sleep. Now that he is back at work, I am happy to get up with her at night so that he can sleep because I am so thankful that he works so hard to allow me to stay at home with our baby. She sleeps in her own room and during the night, I nurse her there, but in the morning, I bring her into our bed and nurse her, then we snuggle for a few more hours. I’m sure my perspective will change as more babies come along and I don’t have the luxury of sleeping when she sleeps.
So glad you’ve got a good sleeper on your hands! It was hard to have a baby with serious sleep challenges our first time around.
My tip: Get outside if the weather is nice! I remember taking my newborn daughter and 2y-9mo-old son outside in the backyard for a picnic in June (in VT – the most gorgeous weather) and being so refreshed by the warmth of the sun, sitting on the grass, with a blanket, etc. It was just enough of a change of pace for us all and he wasn’t one to run away and be too crazy, especially in that setting. (For some a picnic might be stressful but we kept it VERY simple!) That chance of pace/environs is so key when you are so tied down and overtired. Refresh yourself in simple ways whenever you can! 🙂
Such a good idea!
Mandi @ Messy Wife, Blessed Life says
My daughter loved to be swaddled! She started sleeping through the night early (at six weeks) so when she started waking up a lot at night at six months (perhaps from a move – new, unfamiliar location and change of time zone – or teething) I was so defeated. I had gotten so used to sleeping all night that I felt “cheated” that I couldn’t do it anymore. Attitude definitely affects how well you deal with exhaustion!
It’s so hard when they regress from good sleep to night wakings again!
Amen to swaddling and white noise (we love our Sleep Sheep). Also, a baby swing. Both of my kids slept extra long whenever they were in the swing. At first I felt tremendous guilt about them taking longer than normal sleeps (like 3 hours instead of 2!) and worried if I was going to ruin them for life by having them sleep in a swing and not their bassinet. And then I remembered that sleep is pretty awesome, and they will learn to sleep in non-swings, and it’s all good. And it was! And baby number 3 is due in October, and you can be sure that we will be making room in our 500 sq. foot apartment for that swing.
Our middle child, Lucy, LOVED her swing. Gwen has seemed none too pleased with it so far, but I might give it another shot next week!
Kelly (New Leaf Wellness) says
Buy your spouse a silent alarm clock! I bought my husband a LARK from Apple a few years ago and it’s amazing. It’s a wristband that tracks your sleep patterns and vibrates when you need to wake up. I never even hear my husband get out of bed! 🙂
What a good idea! Usually we have our human alarms that wake us far before the sun comes up, haha.
All so true! Hmm, what else? If this isn’t your first baby, try to look at the night feedings/wakings as a chance to get some one-on-one time with the new baby. My third is three weeks old, and the two- and four-year olds need me so much during the day. I love getting that alone time with baby girl at night. And when it’s really hard, I think of my friends who have suffered infertility and miscarriage, and remember how blessed I am to be holding a healthy newborn (even at three in the morning). Not that it should never feel hard or that you should never complain, but somehow that always gives me perspective.
That gives me perspective, too! We had close friends lose a daughter to stillbirth at 38 weeks and after that I’ve been nothing but grateful to get up and feed my healthy babies no matter what time it is.
Caitlin E. says
With our first, my awesome husband read to me during night feedings. He was in grad school at the time, so his schedule was fairly flexible. We made it almost all the way through the Percy Jackson series. I didn’t fall asleep sitting up, or stay wide awake resenting him, and this way I actually looked forward to night feedings. It was our special time together, and young adult novels aren’t usually too heavy or dark, just exciting enough to want one more chapter.
With number two life is different. Husband has a real job, that requires him to be coherent. I mastered the art of sleep nursing and co-sleeping. She’s almost a year, and we still swaddle her arms… *cough cough* It’s all about survival now 🙂
What a great idea! And co-sleeping really has saved me with our second and third. My babies sleep better and so do I!
Best things I have learnt :
Not count the hours of sleep I d0 get! The “poor me” syndrome is almost as exhausting as not sleeping.
Drink plenty of water.
Pray for the mothers who live in the shacks in the township nearby me — they are probably up too trying to keep their babies warm. I thank God that it is just teeth or poor digestion that are making my baby fret, not involuntary fasting and rain and cold.
If I am struggling to fall back to sleep, start praying the Rosary. I always picture Our Lady sympathetically praying for mine and other mother’s exhaustion.
Yes! I was a slave to the poor me syndrome our first time around. Horrible! And praying the Rosary is a wonderful way to spend those moments 🙂
Thanks for this. My son is exactly a month old today. We’re also co-sleepers and its been so nice, I can hear him fuss and get restless to eat before he’s even really awake. Im thankful too, that since we have an older child we know ‘this too shall pass’. Just trying to take it easy and take it all in. Although sometimes I do escape to read blogs and do laundry 😉
Number 1 is SO right on! I found that expecting a full night’s sleep or feeling like something I deserved was being denied me really made my life miserable. My sister-in-law hit it on the head when she told me I should not make sleep an idol 😉 That was game-changing advice!
Also, I would say that a nutrient-dense diet is so key postpartum. Taking care of your body can make the world of difference!
And of course, co-sleeping is the best 🙂 I wish I had done it with my first – I probably would have had a few less tantrums those first few months…
Oh wow! These are all very true…and yours is the most helpful advice I’ve actually run across online. I just had my second child, a son, who spent a week in the NICU and is now 3 weeks old. My daughter is 3.5 years old. The two experiences with them have been radically different. My daughter was fussier and more demanding in the evenings, and it wasn’t always clear what was wrong with her. My son is more predictable as far as figuring out what’s wrong with him, but I couldn’t help at first but be upset because I would know sometimes he just wanted to be held, by me only, and sleep that way (which I don’t know much about co-sleeping, but it looks like it is worth checking out after hearing about it on this post). With my daughter, people leaped at me to offer their help. My son? It’s like they all moved farther and farther away from me after his birth, which is strange in itself, so it’s been just me and the working husband. Funny thing is, my husband wasn’t working when my daughter was born. We were just in school. Now he works and no help? So it makes it even more difficult because we end up with no relief days, hours, whatever. To make matters worse, he also wants to be constantly held during the day too. But either way like you said, I am so very thankful for my son. I love both my children dearly and wouldn’t change anything about this situation. I know soon it will be over. My daughter was sleeping more soundly as of about 4 months of age. I hope my son follows suit. Until then, coffee and the occasional energy drink are my best friends.
If there’s any tips any new mom should check out, it would be this. No1 and 3 are so true. Don’t expect full night of sleep but when you’re exhausted, tell yourself that this thing doesn’t last forever.
Yes! Living on four hours of broken sleep for the past year nursing twins, I did feel like I was not going to make it. You are so right that it is challenging, but perspective is so valuable. Prayers are essential…and soaking up the time that we get extra cuddles while they are still little is so important.
Laura Rose says
Mine would be considered taboo to many people, I suppose. As soon as they can lift their head at all (for 8 lb+ kids, it’s always been within a week or two) we try sleeping them on their tummies. My mom slept all seven of her kids on their tummies and my 4 month old is our 4th and they’ve all slept like champs on their tummies. After reading the reasons why pediatricians suggested not sleeping babies on their tummies it didn’t make sense to me. (I could get into it, but that would take a whole blog post) and our several of our kids have been major spitter-uppers (totally not a word, but whatever). It made me more worried to have my child sleeping on their back and spit up and choke on it than it did for me to have them on their tummy where they could simply lift their head and turn from side to side. Yes they sometimes need a good face wash, but I know that they have the ability to help themselves until I can get to them and give more assistance. That being said, we either have our kiddo in a crib/pack n play in the room with us or have a baby monitor in the room so that we can hear regardless of which way we put them to sleep. Ours have all slept way better on tummies because they don’t startle awake when they move their arms in their sleep. All 4 of ours have been sleeping at least 5-6 hour stretches at night by 2 months, usually more like 1 month actually. I would never argue that it’s the “best” way, but it has been what has worked for our family. Our motto is generally to use our own reasoning skills and do what makes sense and works in our family, not just go by the book or what the doctor says (because they tend to change back and forth anyway over the years). So I usually nurse baby to sleep, put her down on her tummy. She sleeps for a good 5-7 hours (she’s 4 months now), I feed her in bed and she and I usually fall asleep. If I wake up before she’s ready to nurse again, I sometimes move her back to her bed (on her tummy) just to give us a little more room in the bed, but often times she just sleeps with us for the second part of the night. I know most peds would lecture me on both putting her to sleep on her tummy and co-sleeping, but I don’t make parenting choices without thought and reason of my own, so while I respect my doctor, I don’t feel bad at all politely “agreeing to disagree” with mainstream pediatrician baby-sleeping ideas.
Benjamin slept better that way, too, and he learned to roll over very early. I was NOT about to wake him up by trying to roll him back to his back! The girls were pretty happy on their backs, so it wasn’t so much an issue with them.
What kept me sane during middle of the night nursing was watching Friends on Netflix. I watched 10 years of episodes in 3 1/2 months. By the time I watched all 10 years my daughter was pretty much sleeping through the night.
This post was so encouraging to me! My first was very similar to yours, colic and a absolutely terrible sleeps the first year. I had so so so many days I didn’t think I could make it another day without good sleep and then I developed awful insomnia, there was just so much anxiety surrounding seep, my sleep, his sleep, it was terrible. My son is now 1.5 and a great sleeper and I love the idea of having a second and always invisioned more kids, I just don’t know if I can or want to do the whole newborn thing again, it seriously scares me! My question to all the seasoned mommas with more than one kid, what made you want to do it again? I’m just afraid I will have another and not be able to handle it especially since I will not only have a new baby but also a toddler to take care of. Thank you for this post if was so perfect!
This was posted some time ago, but the reply may still be relevant. My son was a horrendous sleeper too. He’s now 2.5 years old and still usually wakes once or twice a night (we co sleep so it’s not a big deal – he’s just a sensitive soul and wants to know we’re there). Anyway, I had the exact same concerns as you when I fell pregnant with our second. I remember days where I cried from exhaustion and felt I would never feel human again, where I was physically ill from tiredness, where I worried about my mental health from all the sleep deprivation. I am now writing this with my one month old asleep on my chest. The sleep deprivation is there but it’s not the same. I was better prepared mentally as I was prepared for the worst, and as luck has it, this baby is a better sleeper so far and generally only wakes 2-3 times. Ironically with my first I longed for sleep when he would wake every hour, and now with my second, he wakes so little I’m up all night fretting if he’s ok!
But he is worth every second of tiredness. And for the most part, even with a hurricane toddler to cope with on top of a newborn, it’s somehow easier this time round. You can do it, especially as you know it does pass.
Samantha B says
Be Thankful – YES YES YES! That is the only way I’ve made it this far in my pregnancy (first one) being so sick and exhausted. Just being thankful to have the baby and that the baby is healthy…
Moving to stay-at-home/part time post baby will probably help with the sanity after birth 😉
Tara Seguin says
Coffee is really the best. The perspective that helps me the most is that I realize now I won’t die of sleep deprivation. Even when all the stars are aligned, so I am in the occasional crucible of weeks of no-sleep-with-little-help, there is no way it will kill me. I would definitely fall ill first, and end up in the hospital, where I could catch up on sleep. I don’t know why extreme hypotheticals make me feel better, but they do! Like when I used to have nightmares about forgetting to go to university classes, I got in the habit of reminding myself when I woke up in a daze, that I already have my bachelor’s, so even if the dream is real, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, just having that sense that this is truly temporary makes it a lot easier to bear – and you can believe that is true because my fourth baby is now almost 14 months old, still sleeps terribly, and has basically been awake for 48 hours with an awful cold. He’s a rare case, my first three were bad sleepers, but nothing like this guy. But! I only occasionally want to cry, or sell my children to the neighbours, or bite off my own pinkie. The perspective of experience is very conducive to joy. Okay now. More coffee.
Haley, it’s irresponsible to advocate bed-sharing with your baby. And then in the very next sentence ask people to practice safe co-sleeping!? Bed sharing simply is not safe. I know mothers whose babies have died while bed sharing. These are not women who were obese, or on drugs or alcohol. They were well-meaning breastfeeding mamas, like you, just trying to get a few more winks at night to better take care of their children and themselves the next day. But instead, tragedy resulted. Co-sleeping safely and bed sharing are not the same thing. Please consider revising your post. You may just save a baby’s life!
Hi Rachel. Tragedies do happen and that’s awful. Babies can also die from SIDS when they’re sleeping alone in their own crib. Bed sharing is a form of co-sleeping and I think mothers should make the decision of whether they think it’s safe for their baby. If you’re interested in seeing more than anecdotal evidence on bedsharing this is an interesting study done in the UK: http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/News-and-Research/Research/Bed-sharing-and-infant-sleep/–Bed-Sharing-in-the-Absence-of-Hazardous-Circumstances/
Jessica V says
Rachel I agree with you 100%. I work in the operating room of a children’s hospital and unfortunately have witnessed many LifeNet organ havests of babies that were smothered while co sleeping. It doesn’t matter how alert you think you are, there is always a risk of rolling over on baby. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true. Sleeping in bed with your baby is not safe period. There are also safe ways to prevent SIDS like the Snuza baby monitor or the Owlet.
Tara Seguin says
There are studies showing that co-sleeping has one advantage, because over-exhausted parents who do not lie down with their babies are more at risk of falling asleep while sitting or even standing, so the new baby can be dropped or otherwise seriously harmed. The reality is that new babies are incredibly vulnerable to accident and death, but since the advent of modern medicine in the western world, the vast majority of our babies survive. But babies are still vulnerable, and each choice we make has its own element of risk, one way or the other. Guaranteeing a happy outcome at all times is simply not an attainable goal. The only way to even approach it requires a vigilance and a level of new-baby-specific products (like Snuzas and Owlets) that are only available to those who can afford to buy them. Expecting and enforcing that all babies should have choices made for them as if they were born into privilege, detracts from the fact that many parents are making the safest choices they can, based on the resources at hand. For some, co-sleeping may be a safer option for their baby because the parents don’t have the money for specialized equipment, or because the parents need to drive another child to school, and they are far more likely to crash and have their whole family injured or killed if they don’t get that little bit of extra sleep that co-sleeping affords, than they are to suffer a sleeping-related tragedy. I feel that in cases like this there is a tendency for people to decide which *kind* of tragedy (car accident, co-sleeping, etc) would be socially acceptable, and it usually favours the privileged families who have extra products, resources, and safety nets on hand.
if your baby is ALWAYS crying, get a super power air filter, or three or four, some ear plugs, and noise cancelling head phones. Turn them all on at the same time, put your baby in the opposite corner of the house, and sleep. You will be much better equipped to love the baby and your life with a good nap.