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40 Winks, Or At Least a Cat Nap

How to manage sleep deprivation with your new baby

by
author image Antonia Blyth
Antonia Blyth began writing professionally in 1996. She has contributed to "British Marie Claire," "Us Weekly," "UK Elle," "Just Seventeen," dailymail.co.uk, "Red UK" and "Madison Australia." Blyth holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Goldsmiths University of London and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University College London.
40 Winks, Or At Least a Cat Nap
A new parent can't wait for the little one to sleep. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Overview

All you want is a good night’s sleep, but you probably haven’t had one since before you got pregnant. When you were pregnant, you may have awakened frequently during the night. And now there is a new person in the house, possibly in the same room or even the same bed; you're sleep deprived and that can be overwhelming for the new parent. It is also a challenge for the new again parent.

To ensure you're getting as much rest as you can, there are a few tips and tricks to keep you down for the night or at least long enough to care for yourself, your baby and your family. Hang on, they're not babies forever.

It's completely normal to feel like you can’t believe how often you have to get up at night, you can’t believe the baby needs another diaper or to be fed again and you feel like you’re at the end of your rope -- yet you’re just being a good parent.

Dr. Jay N. Gordon, assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA Medical School

Beyond Tired

Tiredness happens to everyone, but ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to serious fatigue. Michelle Barone, a marriage and family therapist who has worked with families for 30 years, explains the signs that fatigue may have become a problem.

"There will be an increase in anxiety," she said. "There may be worry that you are unable to care for your baby, and the inability to sleep even when the baby is asleep at night -- also, confusion and a hard time making simple decisions. If you feel like isolating, are easily agitated or quick to anger, you should seek additional support."

Barone also points out that managing post-partum depression or mood changes with the help of your doctor or therapist is important.

"If you have had anxiety or depression issues prior to pregnancy, have some support in place to access if these issues become exacerbated after the birth," she said.

Dr. Jay N. Gordon, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA Medical School and a former senior fellow in pediatric nutrition at Sloan-Kettering Institute, advises parents not to panic if they're feeling exhausted.

"It's completely normal," he said, "to feel like you can’t believe how often you have to get up at night, you can’t believe the baby needs another diaper or to be fed again, and you feel like you’re at the end of your rope and yet you’re just being a good parent."

However, he points out that if you're not coping and you're extremely fatigued, it's important to seek help and support.

"If you're seriously sleep-deprived, you get sick, and you can’t keep together what needs to be kept together -- in that case, you need to talk to your doctor," he said.

Coping Strategies

Finding ways to manage the upheaval and exhaustion that comes with a newborn is vital. The key is to ensure you're receiving support from others.

"The chronic sleep deprivation that happens in that first year of having a newborn is unparalleled, and parents will feel they’re going a little bit crazy," Gordon said. "It helps to have support from other parents, to have a supportive spouse and to surround yourself with people who support what you’re doing."

Barone adds that delegating to friends and family is paramount.

"The first six to eight weeks is an important time to rest, nurse and

get to know your baby," she said. "Ask friends and family to help with

household chores, shopping, laundry, taking older children to and from

activities while you care for the baby -- and don't try to keep the house clean."

Barone also advocates taking time to care for yourself as much as possible.

"Transitions can be stressful and challenging," she said. "Having disrupted sleep, getting to know your newborn, caring for older children requires full energy and attention. Maintaining good self-care -- eating often, resting when you can, having contact with family and friends -- will head off some of the challenges."  

She adds that keeping a generous attitude toward oneself is a great coping strategy.

"Actively validate the positives of the day so that you don't get caught in negative, self-critical talk," she said. "This is all new, so give yourself lots of time to adjust, express your feelings and treat yourself gently."

Sleep Cycles

When it comes to trying to maximize sleep and stay healthy, Gordon says sleeping when your baby sleeps is the key to surviving life with a newborn.

"If you tell a mother she’s not allowed to rest while her baby is resting, you make mothering so much more difficult," he said. "Understand that there are rhythms in your life, and as a new mother and father, that rhythm involves wrapping yourself around the baby’s new sleep patterns so when the baby sleeps, you sleep, whether it’s a nap or very early bedtime."

He also points out that your old routines and ideas of when you should sleep may go out the window.

"There’s nothing wrong with going to bed and sleeping at 7 or 8 o’clock at night and grabbing a two- to four-hour nap with the baby during that first stretch," he said.

But if your baby barely seems to sleep at all and is fussy or colicky, you may need to review your routine or seek advice.

"If, in spite of all your best efforts, things are not going well, call your doctor, because even though it’s not likely anything’s wrong with the baby, it’ll be helpful to get that reassurance," Gordon said. "There are babies who have reflux, where they’re actually getting acid and stomach contents into the esophagus. You'll need a discussion with the doctor in that case."

So, relax, give yourself some emotional breathing room as you adjust to the new life of parenting or the life or your new child and fit yourself into your new routine.

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