We thought we had it all figured out even before our baby arrived. For the first six weeks, the baby would sleep in the bassinet, closest to my side of the bed. I had grand visions of a slumbering little peanut, peacefully dreaming while I watched his angel face smiling back at me; I wasn’t going to miss any of it. At six weeks, he’d transition flawlessly to his crib where he would sleep for 12-hour stretches while hubby and I would begin to adjust back to normal life—cook up elaborate, romantic dinners like we used to, and settle into our comfy sectional to watch endless episodes of The Walking Dead and Orange is the New Black.
Then reality sank in quickly and ruthlessly. Soon enough we both felt like zombies—serving a life sentence. Every day would painfully bleed into the next, with no end in sight for the midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. wake-up calls. While I felt loved my new baby dearly, the sleep deprivation was absolutely jarring. When it was time to transition him to his crib, I hit my sleep-deprivation rock bottom.
So, what’s a new mom to do? In all honesty, I am still figuring it out. But here’s are some tried-and-tested tips that have worked for me and my husband:
1. Sleep when baby sleeps: What a cliché, right? Wrong. In the first few weeks, I packed everything I could into his 20-minute naps: house cleaning, dishes, laundry, reading, writing, phone calls, online bill payments and more. Until one day I felt so weak I found myself wanting to fall asleep behind the wheel. My best bet was to catch as many zzz’s as I could while he slept.
2. Forget about the late night shows for a while: I used to be a self-professed night owl. In fact, I enjoyed taking the night shift at Citynews; so, bedtime was 2 a.m. most nights. To ensure I was getting enough sleep, I had to adjust my sleep routine, and it took a while. Four hours of sleep might work for Anthony Robins, but I needed my rest in order to function properly. So, I trained myself to go to bed by 10—no matter who the guest was on Letterman.
3. Horizontal breastfeeding: I discovered this one when my little one was already a few months old, and boy did it work! Tyler found it comforting and relaxing to breastfeed while we both lay down. I didn’t protest because it bought me a few extra zzz’s. A warning, though, about laying down while feeding: It became a sleep crutch for my boy, and for a while, it was the only way he’d fall asleep. That made it difficult for me to be away for more than two hours at a time because the habit included naptime too. It also made for a hurdle when we started weaning. Note: If your baby suffers from reflux, this method might not work because he’ll still need to burp.
4. Get help: I didn’t want to appear like a diva who needed her beauty sleep, so I didn’t ask for as much help as I should have. But that’s not to say that generous offers didn’t come in from concerned relatives and friends who loved me and watched the circles under my eyes quickly turn to craters. My advice? If the offer is on the table, and you trust the source, take it! A short nap can be very refreshing. Plus, you’re giving your loved ones a chance to bond with your new bundle.
5. Share the joy: They aren’t lying when they say your baby will be up every couple of hours. Of course, their tiny bellies don’t stop just because the clock strikes midnight. But your rest is also important. If you have a partner or someone who can help, consider pumping. If you’re not breastfeeding, allow that person to take the 3 a.m. shift. This will buy you a few hours of much needed, uninterrupted sleep, and it will give your baby a chance to form a connection with other important people.
6. Take a road trip with baby: I know this might sound extreme to some, but it worked for us. Every week or two, I would pack Tyler’s diaper bag and my overnight bag and head to my mom’s. It gave my mother a chance to take care of her baby while I took care of mine, and it gave my hubby a chance to catch up on some much needed rest. We realized he needed this sleep when he started catching naps under his desk at work. True story!
7. Consider sleep training: It’s controversial, I know. But sleep training doesn’t have to mean endless tears. There are various methods out there, and then there’s the one that will work for you. Through my research, I learned the appropriate age to sleep train your baby is about four to four and a half months. Sounds young, but at this stage a baby is apparently old enough to sleep through the night without needing to feed and, in most cases, is not yet dealing with the need for special comfort due to teething.
Our little boy now really does sleep like a baby. He’s in his crib by 7:30 every night. That is, until the next growth spurt strikes, or tooth emerges, or milestone is reached.
I have yet to fully catch up on my sleep. In fact, the other day, when I went to put the laundry in the dryer I found a super heavy diaper. Yes, I threw a diaper in with the laundry. Sleep deprivation will make you do funny things. Glass half full: It didn’t contain a number two.
This article was originally published in June 2014.