Sleep When the Baby Sleeps...
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Every new mom hears these words like a broken record offered as cute little sentiments during their pregnancy. But as a second-time mom, I know this is the biggest lie you can tell a new mom. Instead, offer real advice like how to master showering with children, or how to make grilled cheese with one hand and hold baby with the other.
Why It Doesn't Work
You see, in theory, it would make sense to sleep when the baby sleeps because then you would be well-rested for middle of the night feedings and be able to give baby your absolute best without suffering serious sleep deprivation. But in reality, if you sleep when the baby sleeps, then nothing else would get done. The idea assumes you have ZERO other responsibilities other than doting on your infant 24/7. Laundry, vacuuming, cleaning, and general household chores would never be done if you slept when the baby sleeps. And if you're like me, then you have another child to care for and naps are impossible. When the baby naps, I take that time to spend quality one-on-one time with our oldest. Plus, I can't expect a toddler to understand that Mommy needs a nap when she's standing there demanding more juice and Puppy Dog Pals. (but I totally close my eyes while she watches her morning cartoons...)
Not only that, but babies aren't born with an internal clock that tells them the difference between night and day, so their sleep patterns are anything but predictable and their naps can range from 10 minutes to 4 hours. Catnaps are completely normal, but by the time the baby falls asleep and you get in bed, get comfortable, and start to doze off, your baby could wake up. Not Cool. Adult bodies are not programmed to work off of randomized catnaps throughout the day. We wouldn't ever feel completely rested because we need 7-8 hours of sleep at night and maybe a nap during the day. We would simply be living in a cycle of not knowing what time it was or what day of the week it is. Our bodies are designed to be awake during the day and sleep at night (circadian rhythm) so chances are, our bodies would resist more than one nap during the day.
Another thing that doesn't get accounted for in the "Sleep When Baby Sleeps" idea is postpartum insomnia. A cruel joke, but is very real. I experienced it for the first 2 weeks after having Delaney: the phenomenon of being unable to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or not being able to go back to sleep after middle of the night feedings. There were nights that I would be up from 2am-11pm the following day, simply because by the time Delaney would be done feeding, I'd change her diaper, get her back to sleep, it would be an hour before it was time for the next feeding and I wouldn't be able to sleep in that time. I'm not alone in this: many moms suffer from this. It is said to be triggered by feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even postpartum depression. But let's be honest, moms brains don't shut off easily. I know I am juggling a thousand things and nighttime seems to be the time when my brain is going a mile a minute. Add on the newest addition of a baby to the mix, and yes, expect to never sleep haha. But there are ways to ensure you get some sleep...
Here's What Works
Since sleeping when the baby sleeps doesn't work for many people, how do new parents do it?! Coffee? Pure Adrenaline? Well, from personal experience, I know 8 hours of sleep is a thing of the past so I have a few tips and tricks that have helped me get the rest I need.
Don't be afraid to ask for help from close friends and family. In the first few weeks of baby's life, they will be your support system & life line. Chances are, they won't say no to come snuggle the baby while you shower and even take a little nap. After our first daughter, I had friends and family over all the time to help make dinner (proper nutrition is super important!), let me take a nap, and take a hot shower. I couldn't have made it without them. Knowing that the baby was in good hands was enough assurance for me that I was actually able to fall asleep and sleep deeply.
Another thing that might help you get the rest you need is to establish a good nighttime routine and sleep habits. It might seem like a no-brainer, but limit caffeine during the late afternoon and evening hours. Turning off screens 30 minutes before bed can help too - this means phones, TV, and anything that emits blue light rays. Listening to soothing music or white noise and practicing deep breathing can help your body relax and will help you fall asleep easier. Putting your phone on "Do Not Disturb" mode can help too - if you aren't hearing notifications, you may be less likely to look at your phone.
Lastly (and this doesn't always work for everyone), the only way you can control the amount of sleep you get each night is to sleep train your baby. Teaching your baby to fall asleep independently means you're one step closer to getting on a regular routine and and sleeping through the night. Two methods that have helped me with establishing good nap time and bedtime tactics are Moms On Call and Taking Cara Babies. Both are incredible resources for how to get your baby to sleep, what to do when they cry and fuss, and more than anything - reassurance that I'm doing the right things. Taking Cara Babies has classes but also just by following her on Instagram has been so helpful. We didn't do much sleep training with our oldest, and it's kicking our butts now: she will only fall asleep if someone is in the room with her. We are teaching Delaney to self-soothe (usually a pacifier helps, and once she's asleep, we remove the pacifier) in hopes that she will be able to put herself to sleep for many years to come.