Exhaustion and being a new parent go hand-in-hand!
Everyone said you would be tired after giving birth, but as new parents it can really take you by surprise just how exhausting caring for a newborn can be.
The trouble with lack of sleep is that it impacts on every single facet of your life. It can leave you feeling mentally drained and physically unwell.
Between the sleepless nights, recovering from giving birth, the constant feeds and the mental fatigue of coping with the pressure of caring for a baby, it’s no wonder babies are exhausting.
It’s so important for your own recovery after birth that you get some rest, but your baby just doesn’t want it to happen!
But don’t worry, there are several practical steps you can take to deal with that fatigue, as well as try to get some extra sleep for yourself.
The most important thing to remember is that eventually your baby will sleep for longer spells and eventually they will sleep through.
Typically sleep for babies gets better and longer from around four months and is vastly improved by around six months.
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How long does a newborn baby sleep?
For the first few days a newborn baby will be very sleepy and so may even sleep for up to six hours at a time.
The midwife may advice you to wake your baby for feeds, which is entirely up to you. If your baby is underweight then you definitely should wake them. If they are otherwise well, it may be best to let sleeping babies lie!
Once your baby is over the birth and is more alert, they may sleep for just two to three hours at a time. This is 24/7. Is it any wonder new parents are so exhausted!?
Some babies will begin to sleep for longer spells of up to eight hours after 12 weeks. However you need to remember that every baby is different.
So to cope with your newborn baby’s crazy sleep patterns, here are some tip tops for coping with newborn exhaustion.
1. Sleep when the baby sleeps
This is possibly the most annoying piece of advice that any new mum can receive, however it is true.
There are several reasons why sleeping when the baby sleeps feels totally impossible:
- The baby only sleeps for short bursts and you hardly get 10 minutes before they’re awake and crying again
- The baby only sleeps on you
- You have a ton of housework and admin to catch up on
- Visitors are treating your house like it has a revolving front door
So how on earth can you get some sleep while your baby does the same?
One option is to consider co-sleeping. You’ll need to follow safe sleep guidelines in order to reduce the risk of SIDS, which is a risk associated with co-sleeping.
Don’t co-sleep with your baby after drinking alcohol and don’t co-sleep on a sofa or armchair.
Make sure that visitors are told when it is OK to pop over, and if you want a day off, tell friends and family that you need a day of rest with no disturbance.
In terms of the housework, you need to let that go for a good few weeks. Give your other half a list of things to do every day, or when people offer to give you a helping hand, ask them to run the vacuum round or do the dishes.
2. Arrange a schedule with your husband
You need a formal period of time where someone else takes complete responsibility for keeping the baby alive and responding to their cries.
This needs to preferably be in another place (such as a walk outside) or at the very least another room of the house.
Mentally switching off from thinking about what the baby wants and constantly feeling on edge as you are preparing for the next cry is exhausting.
In the early days the juggle of co-parenting is pretty informal and you’re just winging it between the two of you.
After a couple of weeks you may still feel like you don’t have a great grip of the situation. But now’s the time you can start to agree a few set times when your other half steps in and you take a total rest.
If your other half has gone back to work, then this may be at weekends or evenings. Take at least an hour away from the baby, preferably two.
If you’re breastfeeding, you can still make this work. You’ll just need to pick a time that fits between feeds.
During this time your other half could take the baby for a walk in the buggy, so you could coincide it with naptime.
You could do this between feeds, or you could express some milk to be given in a bottle.
3. Introduce a bottle to your baby
Many midwives will tell you that introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby in the first eight weeks is a big no-no.
There are several reasons why this advice is given:
- When breastfeeding is in the early weeks your supply is still being established. When your baby is born, there is milk in the breasts that has been produced due to hormones. After a few days your breasts’ milk production becomes a matter of supply and demand. The baby has to extract milk from the breast in order to signal to your brain and body that more milk needs to be made. The more milk extracted from the breast, and the more frequently, the more milk will be made. So if you replace a feed with a bottle of formula, then you are disrupting the supply/demand flow. Even if you express the feed, midwives say you would still need to pump at the same time as the feed you offer the baby, so that your body is regularly being told to make more milk.
- Nipple confusion. Some babies decide they prefer the bottle and reject the nipple. Or they stop feeding efficiently on the breast because they have become so used to the bottle.
- Risk of blocked ducts and mastitis. If you skip feeds then your breasts may become full and this can cause clogged ducts, which in turn can lead to painful mastitis.
So these are all of the reasons against introducing a bottle to your newborn. But I believe you can combine breast and bottle feeding from day one. I’ve done it. It worked. You just need a plan!
The biggest benefit of introducing a bottle from day one is that it means you are not tied to your baby 24/7. You can have a break, get some rest and still give your baby all of the benefits of breastfeeding.
There’s a whole article on combining breast with bottle feeding that you can check out, but the key points are:
Put your baby to the breast regularly. In the first eight weeks, make sure breastfeeding is the most frequent way you feed your baby. Use the bottle no more than once per day.
Ensure you empty both breasts. You’ll know your breast is empty because it will feel softer at the end of a feed.
Try different bottles to find one your baby prefers.
4.Create comfy spots in your home
Set up spaces around your home where you can rest and put your feet up. These should be spaces that make you feel happy when you’re sitting there!
Have things such as a book, drink of water, energy bars, and, of course, a very comfy chair and cushions.
If you’re breastfeeding, then make sure you have a breastfeeding station. This will have all of the essentials you need right within arm’s reach.
If you are bottle-feeding then you’ll want to create a similar area. You won’t need spare breast pads or pump parts, but you will want to keep a phone charger, magazines and a very comfy chair to sit in.
Make sure your bedroom is also set up for your comfort. That means having access to a drink of water and snacks. Plus try to keep the bedside table clear of clutter. I don’t know about you, but clutter just makes me feel stressed out and you want this space to be a relaxing one.
5. Start a good bedtime routine
A great bedtime routine will give your baby the cues that it’s time for bed. Eventually, they will respond to the routine by nodding off without too much help.
Humans are creatures of habit, so a soothing bedtime routine gives your baby the signs that it’s time for them to go to sleep.
It’s also a good way or relaxing your baby and winding them down for the day.
A decent bedtime routine will include a bath, final feed, putting on PJs, a short bedtime story, a cuddle and a phrase such as “sleepy time now, night night”, and then putting your baby down.
6. Deploy some sleep aids
If there were one sleep aid that definitely sent all babies to sleep, then the inventor would be the richest person in the world!
There is no sure thing when it comes to getting a baby to sleep. But there’s no harm in trying a few different things to see if they help your baby get some sleep.
Some sleep aids you could try to encourage your baby to fall asleep quicker and stay that way for longer are:
- White noise machine
- Lullaby music machine
7. Ignore the mamas who say their babies are champion sleepers
It’s not helpful to compare your baby’s sleep to another baby’s sleep.
For one thing, the mother could be exaggerating how well her baby is sleeping. For another, every single baby is different. It’s unfair that Gina down the road is getting 10 hours sleep, while you’re getting one hour maximum, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
Comparing your baby to another is only going to upset you, so close your ears and stop comparing!
It’s also worth remembering that all babies go through sleep regressions at some point. This is where your baby suddenly starts sleeping fewer hours when they were previously a good sleeper.
This typically happens at four months, one year and 18 months.
8. Look at your daytime routine
Are you trying to pack too much into your daytime routine? This is setting you up to be exhausted every single day.
It’s great to get out of the house, but try to make sure you do one activity a day and make it a gentle one. A short walk or a trip to a baby group are great things to do.
Also analyse how much sleep your baby is getting in the day. Some babies will do all of their sleeping in the day, then party all night.
Try to encourage your baby into regular, short naps to ensure that most of their sleep is done at night.
In general, a baby under six weeks will be awake for around 45 minutes to an hour before they need another snooze.
An older baby of eight to 20 weeks can stay awake for longer, but will still need around three to four naps per day.
Write down how long your baby is sleeping per day and see if they could be getting too much in the day, which means they are not sleeping as much as they could at night.
This table should give you an idea of how much day and night sleep your baby roughly needs. Not all babies conform to numbers exactly.
It’s also worth remembering that the total nighttime sleep is just a total, it won’t be taken all in one go. Certainly not in the first four to five months anyway!
By 12 months your baby will be more capable of sleeping for the full night. If you’re still having difficulty getting them to sleep longer than a couple of hours, now is the time to think about sleep training.
9. Eat well
Being tired makes you irritable and can actually also make you feel unwell.
If you forget to feed yourself, this will only compound those problems.
Remember to feed yourself well and often. Have three good meals a day that feature fruit and vegetables so that you are giving your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
10. Don’t overdo the visitors
People want to see you, of course they are excited for you.
But, even the best behaved visitors can be exhausting for you. Having to keep up with conversation and just knowing people are in the house is draining.
Try to stick to a visitor schedule that you can handle.
If you don’t want visitors out one day, then be polite but clear with friends and family that you need a break where you just hang out at home with the baby in peace.
Some people may be knocking on your door unannounced, which is the worst when you just got the baby down for a nap.
You could try putting a polite sign on the front door saying “mama and baby are napping, please come back later or drop us a text”.
Friends and family who love you will understand that you need your space at this busy time.
11. Get a water bottle
Lack of sleep has a real knock-on impact on physical and mental health.
Staying hydrated is absolutely key to combating these issues, plus if you’re breastfeeding you need to be downing extra fluids every day anyway.
In order to remember to drink more, get a nice water bottle and keep it with you at all times.
If you’re someone who will leave it all over the house and forget where you put it down, then try getting a couple, keeping one by your bed or in the nursery and the other downstairs in the living room.
Sip from it regularly.
It’s actually been proven that sleep deprivation can increase the risk of dehydration, as it disrupts the release of a hormone that’s key to staying hydrated. Remember to drink your fluids mama!
12. Stay stocked up on healthy, energising snacks
Your body is recovering from it’s biggest challenge ever and you’re not getting much sleep. Snacks will give you that little boost you need to get through the day.
Keep them healthy, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Healthy does not have to be boring!
A few ideas for great postpartum snacks are:
- Hummus on a wholewheat bagel
- Fruit and dried fruit – apricots, pears, mango and prunes will be great for your postpartum health
- Yoghurt with honey and walnuts
- Rice cake topped with prawns and cream cheese
- Fruit smoothie
13. Keep an eye on your mental health
Sleep deprivation can really send your mental health into a downward spiral.
The baby blues are totally normal, but if you’re feeling very down and struggling to stay positive during this sleepless time then you need to be honest and open with your family.
Speak to your loved ones and find a solution that gives you more time to rest.
If you are really concerned, have a discussion with your doctor.
14. Ditch the housework
If you have the funds, then paying someone to come and clean the house once a fortnight will help to take the pressure off.
Otherwise, ignore the housework and do the absolute bare minimum.
You will not look back on this time and remember how sparkling your kitchen counter was. You will look back and remember the moments you spent holding your baby.
The housework can wait, so put a hold on all chores for at least the first four weeks. After that, do the bare minimum, such as vacuuming, keeping toilets clean and washing dirty dishes.
15. Remember this will not be forever
Right now it feels like your life is officially over. Exhaustion does funny things to your brain, and despair and misery is one of them.
It’s important to remember that while you are finding things incredibly hard right now, this will not last forever.
One day your baby will start to sleep for longer spells. This will continue to improve until finally they are sleeping through the night. It will happen! Tell yourself this regularly.
I hope these tips will set you on the path to getting some extra rest and sleep.
Remember your baby will soon sleep through the night, and so will you!