Sleep During the Newborn Stage (Or, How to Survive Exhaustion)

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After Benjamin 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. But this time it’s so different. Mostly because Lucy is such a champ at sleeping (up only once or twice a night) and doesn’t have the colic and reflux that plagued our boy, but also because I think my attitude is different.

So here’s a few tips I want to remember next time I have a newborn (particularly if they’re more like Benjamin) that might also be helpful to other new moms:

1. Don’t expect a full night’s sleep. I would get so frustrated when Benjamin wouldn’t sleep through the night (he really didn’t consistently until he was 1) 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. This time around, I expected to be up at least every couple of hours for the first few weeks and 2-3 times after that. Lucy surprised me by only getting up 2 times a night from very early on. Sometimes now (at 3 months) she will wake only once between 9ish and 6ish (AMAZING!).

2. Sleep close to your baby. Co-sleeping with Lucy is going great. I love snuggling up with her at night and never having to listen out for her or go to a separate room to make sure she’s still breathing. I don’t think our pediatrician supports co-sleeping but…oh well. It works great for us. Lucy never even fully wakes up. I just hear her rustling around a little bit and I nurse her on my side. She’s done snacking in 5-10 minutes and I hardly even have to wake up. I know all babies aren’t as easy as she is (Benjamin certainly wasn’t) but I think being close helps them settle back into sleep more easily. Having her so close helps me turn down my mommy radar that’s constantly listening out for my babies, allowing me to relax enough to go to sleep. Benjamin also co-slept with us for the first few months and then slept in a crib in our room after that. I so wanted him out of our bed that his inability to sleep by himself drove me nuts. This time around I’m enjoying it so much because I know it won’t last forever.

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 Benjamin 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 aforementioned screaming). Oh, and I was even more tired. This time 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 Benjamin early in the morning and takes Lucy, too, if she’s already awake. 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 sleeps in a sleeping bag in Benjamin’s room to help console the little sick and congested guy when he wakes up from coughing so that he doesn’t wake up Lucy and I (that was last night. Thanks, Daniel!) Anyhow, 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?). It also keeps me from hearing every tiny baby sigh or every time Benjamin rustles his sheets across the hall.

6. Pray. Sometimes I can get through a whole rosary during one of Lucy’s feedings. 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). But you know what I mean, 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.

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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Comments

  1. says

    Fun post. Over from Catholic Mothers Online (new blog roll). I have a newborn in the house at the moment, my 4th. She is the best sleeper I have had so far, and I am so thankful! But, my other 3? No way. You gave great advice. I really think it’s in the attitude and expectations. One, remember this time is so, so short. I know it’s cliche but being on my fourth, each newborn stage flies by faster and faster.

    Two, look to the needs of your baby (or this particular baby). Do not compare to other babies, even your own. If one is going to be colicky and up all night, well then, that’s what it is. No sense resenting it or fighting it.

    Tag team it, just as you said. In the early weeks, my husband does most of the night changes and then he passes baby to me to feed. We’re a month in now, and since he’s a night owl, he’ll the post-midnight changing but come the early morning, I’ll let him sleep and do it myself. I find the more sleep he has, the better, as he often is taking care of the other kids while I have to nurse or am sleeping myself. :)

    Co-sleeping is great, in general, for getting more sleep. As baby gets older, it sure is easy to nurse in bed, half-asleep, and be done with it.

    One other thing that is good to do, is to go to sleep earlier. Say, if baby nurses and goes down at 7:30, make sure you’re in bed within the hour so you get an hour or two of sleep before feeding. I find even that extra hour helps a lot with my night’s sleep overall and I feel more rested come morning, even if my house is a disaster. But on that note, you’ll find a day when you feel full of energy and be able to catch up and then can maintain more easily with better sleep.

    • says

      Love your thoughts on not comparing babies. I would get so frustrated with my son because my friends had babies who slept through the night and I thought he should be doing the same. I should have just resigned myself to the fact that his needs were different. I think it would have saved a lot of frustration and I’ll have to remember that if we’re blessed with a baby in the future that is colicky or high needs.

      And early to bed is a MUST! I agree!

      Thanks for stopping by :)

    • says

      Nicole,

      I am going to try that. Go to sleep earlier. The thing is, when she finally goes to bed, I think: yay ! I am going to be able to catch up with everything in the house and then I go to bed around 1ish. And I am exhausted during the day. So really, it does not help.

      Thanks

  2. says

    Love this post. I can relate to a lot of it. Right now, our daughter sleeps by herself in her own room and usually sleeps from 8.30 to 5-6 am. She has been teething though so her nights have been disrupted. I feel very guilty as well that my husband has to do the early morning feedings but I really can’t seem to wake up when he is around. I am bad !

    Thank you for this post !

  3. Abby says

    Thank you for the coffee point! Some people have tried to tell me that coffee might be the reason my baby isn’t sleeping though the night. I know it’s not the coffee. I need to not drop my baby from some freak case of acute narcolepsy, so I’m going to keep my morning cup of coffee :)

    • Haley says

      I’ve never noticed my babies being affected by just one cup. I know if you really overdue the caffeine it can make them wide awake (a friend discovered that when she drank energy drinks.) But, unless it bothers baby’s tummy, I bet the coffee is just fine. I hope you get some sleep soon :)

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