It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when you’re a new parent, but you absolutely need it. Being well-rested isn’t just about your personal comfort, it’s about the safety of your newborn child. Sleep has been something that I’ve struggled with since becoming a mom, as I need a good sleep every night and none of my babies were good sleepers.
You’re in for about four years of rough sleeping per child; count on it. Once your newborn grows old enough to make it through the night, they’ll likely sneak up to mom and dad’s bed with regularity (like my 3-year-old does). It may take a few years to wean them from this habit, just as it takes time to wean them from breastfeeding early on.
Until a child is about five years old, you can expect sleeping through the night to be a difficult proposition. They may awake because of the blankets got kicked off, they had a bad dream, or they need to go potty. So you need to take a proactive approach to encourage good sleep. The worst of it will be the first year or so; be smart about it and you’ll find your rhythm. Here are some tips for that.
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1. Get Baby on a Sleep Schedule
Babies don’t sleep the same as developed adults. Newborns will sleep about 14 to 17 hours a day, but that won’t be continuous. They will nap for a few hours, wake for an hour, nap for a few hours, wake, etc. So you need to find the ups and downs of your unique child. Just as no two people are alike, no two babies are, either. The first few months will be spent getting to know your baby and what helps him or her sleep better.
Does he like to be swaddled tightly? Does white noise help her sleep better? Does he fall asleep better after nursing or after playing? Does she like rocking or bouncing better?
My recommended resources:
- Team Baby by Ida Gazzola and Julia Dee (who have 17 children between them)
- Sleep: Secrets to Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night by Tracy Hogg
2. Change Your Sleep Schedule to Match Baby’s
Ideally, you want the baby asleep at night and wake up when you are. For the first few months, however, this doesn’t work. Baby is used to sleeping or waking around the clock. When I was a new mom, I was told to sleep when the baby sleeps. I didn’t alwayts follow that advice, but it was good advice. If you’ve been up from midnight to three am dancing around the living room with baby, take a nap with him from ten am to noon.
As an adult, you need about seven to nine hours of sleep a day. Yes, everyone is different (I need at least eight hours and preferably ten, while I have friends who can function just fine on five hours of sleep). Get to know YOURSELF as well as your baby during this time. How much sleep do you need to be a happy mom, and what helps you sleep better?
Try to involve your partner as much as possible with baby’s care too. Maybe you can take turns waking up with baby, especially if baby just needs a diaper change and a swaddle to go back to sleep. If you choose to formula feed, then Daddy can help prep bottles and feed baby. If you are nursing, Daddy can still check baby and see if he needs a feed before bringing him to you.
3. Find a New Mattress
Another thing that can encourage better sleep is simple and straightforward: upgrade your mattress. At This Old House, you can explore new mattress options conveniently on your own time (like when baby has you up at midnight) and in detail. When you do have a chance to sleep, you want to be sure that you are getting the best possible sleep.
If the mattress is too soft, you’ll have back issues. If it’s too hard, you won’t be comfortable. You want that “Goldilocks” zone which is “just right”. Exploring mattresses can reveal just the right solution for you and your spouse. There are even mattresses now that can be softer on one side and harder on the other side, to accommodate both spouse’s preferences. If one spouse moves around a lot at night, you may want to look for a mattress that minimizes motion transfer to the other side of the bed.
New pillows may also make a difference for your sleep. Your postpartum body has been through a lot in growing and birthing a baby, and needs extra support. If you suffer from backaches or soreness, it could be caused by a poor mattress or a too-flat pillow.
4. Get Help From Friends or Family
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, ask for help! Have your partner take the baby so you can rest or have your partner do the chores that are calling your name and keeping you from sleeping while the baby sleeps. If your spouse works long hours or is otherwise unavailable, prioritize the chores. Do the bare minimum of laundry for yourself and baby. Skip the vacuming or see if you can hire a house cleaner while you are adjusting to new motherhood (one of my first jobs as a teen was cleaning house for a friend for six months after her fourth baby was born).
If you or your spouse can take parental leave, then do it. The first few months of a baby’s life are the toughest, so if you can both be there to care for baby (and each other) during this time, take that opportunity.
If you can get help from friends or family, that’s also worth it. My mom and mother-in-law both lived half an hour away from us when our first was born. They were able to babysit for us so we could get out on a date. When my second was born, my mother-in-law came a few times to play with my older daughter so that I could rest with baby. Be honest with your family and friends about what you need, so that they can help you. Most will be happy to do so!
5. Resolve Medical Problems
It’s no secret that pregnancy affects a woman’s sleep, but if you still can’t sleep well after giving birth, something may be going on that is not related to your new baby crying in the middle of the night. Sleep apnea affects many women in the early postpartum period, and it can often last up to six months.
This condition causes breathing issues during sleep, which severely hampers the mother’s sleep quality. Your partner may notice that you stop breathing for a short period of time. Or you may snore louder than previously. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy using a CPAP oral appliance alleviates breathing issues and facilitates better sleep for people with sleep apnea. Consult your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms along with breathing problems during sleep.
It’s easy to be focused on baby during this time and what baby needs. If you find yourself waking frequently even when baby isn’t, or if you don’t feel rested even when baby does sleep for several hours at a stretch, you may want to ask yourself if there are other issues affecting your sleep. Something as simple as a CPAP appliance or the right supplements could make a huge difference for your rest.
Rest for You, Rest for Baby
When you skip less urgent chores, match your sleep schedule to the baby’s, or get your little one on a schedule, you’ll be able to get more rest. Don’t forget to brainstorm other ways to improve your sleep, like that new mattress. Don’t eschew help from friends or family, and feel free to trade off baby duties with your spouse.
Simply put: find your balance and be flexible enough to shift as the need requires. When you’re rested, your baby is in better hands than when you’re frazzled. Yes, this won’t be something you can do perfectly. Be intentional and you’ll be more rested. Remember, a happy mom means a happy family! Sleep well!
Love this post? You’ll find more tips and advice like it in Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby: Tips to Help You Through All Four Trimesters, a book about pregnancy, birth, and baby’s first three months. Written with my good friend Anna Eastland (mom of 9 kids!), Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby is an honest, practical look at pregnancy and beyond. We share what’s worked for us in growing, birthing and loving fourteen babies.
Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby is available on Amazon.