Sleep Care

Finding Time to Sleep as a New Parent

Getting sleep when you have a new baby is a daunting task. Although newborns spend up to sixteen hours a day sleeping, it’s often in spurts of two to three hours at a time. Add this to the fact that newborns never seem to be sleeping when you want them to be and you’ll quickly be wondering if a good night’s sleep is a thing of the past.

But, don’t lose hope. Keep in mind that by the age of three months, many babies can sleep at least five hours at a time. And, by six months, some babies will sleep 9 to 12 hours at night. So, while you wait for your baby to reach those milestones, a little creativity will help you get the rest you need.

If you’re like most new parents, you’ve probably already heard the age-old advice of “sleep when your baby sleeps.” You’re advised to nap when the baby naps and leave the dirty dishes and the laundry. But eventually those chores will need to be done and unfortunately the best time to do that is often while baby is sleeping. So what’s some advice you can really use to get some sleep? We have compiled a list of the most creative ideas from parenting experts.

But first, the basics.

  1. Ask for help. Whether it’s your spouse, older children, a family member or a neighbor, enlist the help of others so that you can have some nap time. And when people ask what they can do to help, be sure you tell them. Most people are happy to help out where they can. So let them do a load of laundry or cook a meal if they offer.
  2. Don’t take on too much or start any new projects. This is not the time to add new responsibilities to your plate. Instead, try to cut back and make taking care of yourself and your new baby, your primary concerns.
  3. Learn to wait and watch. Sometimes a baby will fuss a little in the middle of the night. So wait and see if your baby is just settling down before rushing in. Unless you suspect your baby is hungry or uncomfortable, it’s OK to wait a few minutes and see what happens.
  4. Go to bed when your baby goes to bed. Although this may sound really dull and boring, for the first few months, it is a very smart practice. So if you put the baby down at 8 p.m., you should go to bed then too. By doing so, you’ll get more sleep in the long run. And, if baby wakes at 5 a.m. and then goes down for a morning nap at 6:30 a.m., go back to sleep too. Your goal is to get as much sleep as you can squeeze in.
  5. Don’t turn on bright lights or make a lot of noise during the nighttime feedings. The atmosphere should be quiet, dark and sleep inducing. This is not the time to be laughing or tickling the baby. You want to encourage sleeping at night as much as possible.

Next, use a little creativity to carve out time for that much-needed sleep.

  1. Take care of the baby in shifts. Some experts estimate that a new mom wakes up on average every 30 minutes to check on her newborn. In a ten hour stretch, that is 20 times a night and can be very draining for a new mom. But if both parents break up the evening into shifts, the night becomes more manageable. For instance, mom goes to bed at 9 p.m. and lets dad bottle feed their infant at 11 or 12. What this means for mom then is that she has some undisturbed sleep from 9 p.m. to about 2 or 3 a.m. when the baby
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    needs to eat again. (And dad sleeps from 11 p.m. to morning undisturbed.) Even breastfeeding moms can implement this strategy by pumping at least once during the day and storing the milk in the refrigerator for dad to use at feeding time.

  2. Buy a cradle that rocks and put it beside the bed. Attach a rope to the cradle so that you can gently pull on the rope to rock the cradle without ever getting out of bed. If mom is usually the one up with baby at night, encourage dad to try rocking the cradle first without disturbing mom. Sometimes the gentle rocking motion will put baby back to sleep and mom and dad can go back to sleep.
  3. Alternate nights. With this strategy, parents take turns getting up with baby at night. For instance, mom might have Monday and dad might take Tuesday and so on. By doing this, both parents become less sleep-deprived because they are sharing the burden of nighttime care. And be sure to alternate weekends too. One weekend mom sleeps in and the next weekend dad sleeps in. It may even be wise to sleep in a separate room when it’s your night to sleep so that you aren’t being disturbed.
  4. “Dreamfeed” your baby. This strategy encourages baby to sleep better by making sure that he or she is completely full before you go to sleep. To dreamfeed, pick the baby up while he or she is sleeping and gently encourage him to either nurse or take a bottle without waking him or her. Most of the time, this eating will fill the baby up and he or she will sleep for a few more hours before waking for another feeding.
  5. Do not disturb. If do you manage to sneak in a nap while the baby is sleeping, post a sign on the front door that says “Mom (or Dad) and Baby Sleeping. Don’t knock or ring the bell unless we are expecting you” and turn off your cell phone and house phone. Then, darken the room and rest.

And finally, take heart. The sleepless nights typically only last a few months. In no time at all, both you and baby will be sleeping better.

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