By Dr. Amelia Bailey, Ob/Gyn
Congratulations, and welcome to motherhood for the first, second, or greater time. It is the hardest job you will ever have but it comes with the greatest benefits package. For me, the most difficult part of the newborn period is sleep deprivation. My daughter needed to nurse every 2-3 hours for one week, and every feeding felt like an eternity. My husband is very helpful, but he needed sleep once he went back to work. And even though there were very special bonding moments with my little girl during the night, it still felt very lonely being the only person up multiple times while extremely fatigued and hormonal. I know you have been there, too, my friend! So, what can we do to maximize sleep time and to make the most of the little sleep we can get? Here are my favorite tips for sleeping with a newborn baby, all of which I have been using since the birth of my second child just a few months ago.
Sleep When You Can
Everyone says it, and it sounds so easy to sleep while your baby sleeps. But it’s hard! You have bottles and/or burp cloths to wash, visitors to entertain, and a precious bundle to stare at for hours and hours. All of these threaten to rob the much-needed sleep of a new mom. First, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Have family or friends come to hold the baby, change diapers, and/or do household chores while you take a nap. If you do not have people who will help in this way, and you can afford it, go ahead and hire someone. Many night nurses or postpartum doulas will come to your home to help during the newborn period. And it doesn’t have to be for a long time, either. We hired someone to help for several nights around week 6 when my exhaustion and my baby’s crying were at their peak. These people are angels in disguise. If you don’t feel comfortable with help overnight, hire someone to assist during the day so you can nap. Sleep is a necessity after having a baby, not an option. You’ll be better able to function after some rest.
Once you’re able to sneak away, make sure your sleeping environment is perfect. Hang blackout curtains, use a noise machine and wear comfortable pajamas. You can finally enjoy sleeping on your back again! If you had a c-section, keep an extra pillow in the bed so you can place it over your abdomen as a brace when you cough, laugh, or sneeze. An adjustable bed is amazing for post-C-section recovery because it raises you into a sitting position (for nursing or getting into and out of bed) preventing you from overworking your abdominal muscles until recovery is well underway. The adjustability of a bed is also helpful after a vaginal delivery, especially if you had tears since you can find the sitting angle at which there is minimal vaginal pain.
Another tip: set yourself up for success by having everything you need near your bed. On my bedside table, I had two pacifiers, two burp cloths, a nursing pillow with a pocket that held gas drops and vitamin D (important to give babies that are exclusively breastfed). Other stuff on the table? My journal of my baby’s activity (I was so tired that I couldn’t remember which side I nursed on the last time), plus water and snacks for me. I also had a basket with all diaper changing supplies, because walking across the room to the changing pad was too much sometimes.
A sleeping baby is a thing of beauty. They need the same things we do to rest: a dark and quiet room at a comfortable temperature. Babies also need a bedtime routine, a nonverbal way of telling them that it’s time to settle down. Our routine was going into the bedroom, turning on the noise machine, swaddling, turning off the lights, and rocking for 5-10 minutes until she showed signs of sleepiness (yawning, closing her eyes, breathing slowing down a bit). Then I placed her in a co-sleeper and patted her leg until she was nearly asleep. There are plenty of variations on this theme; find what works for you and your baby, because you will be doing it multiple times a day for several months.
You get to decide where your baby sleeps. Recent recommendations say that sleeping in a separate area (bassinet, co-sleeper, crib) in the same room as parents is best. However, that must be balanced with your ability to rest. My babies were both very noisy sleepers. As long as they were in the room, I could not sleep, which was not safe for me or them. So, they slept in a co-sleeper in my attached bathroom. I was near enough to hear a cry or cough but far enough away to not hear every grunt and sigh. This is a very personal decision that you should make with input from your pediatrician.
A special word for all moms: let the mommy guilt go. Whether it be about breastfeeding, sleeping in the same room, asking someone else to care for your baby, or balancing this baby with other children–just do your best, then move on! This is a beautiful time but also a tough time, and it will pass quickly. Take a deep breath, get rest when you can, and try to savor the quiet moments with your newborn. If you are feeling overwhelmed or depressed, seek help immediately; you can’t and shouldn’t deal with these emotions alone. As one of my favorite people used to say to me, and this is advice definitely worth taking: be kind to yourself.
Dr. Bailey is an ObGyn and a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist. She treats patients who are having difficulty conceiving or who have complicated gynecologic conditions, following women throughout early pregnancy. Her expertise in sleep and women’s health, including pregnancy, stems from professional as well as personal interests. As a mother of both a newborn and a toddler, she knows how important it is to get a good night’s rest. She has used the Reverie Sleep System throughout both her pregnancy and postpartum periods with excellent results.