Newborns like to sleep. Newborns need sleep. New parents might be surprised how much their baby sleeps.
If babies sleep so much in the early weeks, why do new parents feel so sleep-deprived and exhausted after bringing their baby home?
Newborns typically sleep between 16-18 hours a day. That’s a lot of sleep! Babies, however, have different sleep patterns from their parents. A newborn baby sleeps for two to four hours at a time, and then wants to be fed, changed, and comforted. That’s quite a change in an adult’s sleep cycle of a consecutive six to eight hours of sleep each night. No wonder new parents are so tired!
New parents of babies also need sleep to be able to function throughout the day and to care for their little one.
Sleep deprivation and extreme fatigue are tough, and can even be dangerous to your health. Symptoms of sleep deprivation include headaches, hot flashes (caused by stress, emotions, and anxiety), cognitive impairment, irritability, and in extreme cases, even hallucinations. Sleep deprivation slows down your metabolism, can make you feel depressed, and make you feel like you’re on the verge of getting sick, like you’re coming down with a cold or flu.
So what can you do to cope with the sleepless nights and extreme fatigue during the early weeks of being new parents? Here are some tips:
Understand that sleep deprivation is normal for new parents
Sleep deprivation is to be expected. You are not doing anything wrong. Your baby is not doing anything wrong. Needless worrying leads to even more sleep deprivation. Try to relax and be kind to yourself as much as you can.
Focus on teamwork as new parents
Now is the time for you and your partner to shine as a parenting team.
Discuss your teamwork strategies BEFORE the birth – ask more experienced friends and relatives for advice if this is your first child. Find a class or workshop for new parents, such as the Bringing Baby Home Workshop, to help prepare you and your relationship for welcoming your baby to your family.
Partners can help in many ways:
- Create a comfortable and relaxing environment for mother and baby
- Look after the mother’s physical and emotional needs
- Take turn feeding your baby, when you can. Even when mom is breast feeding, breast milk can be expressed and your partner can feed baby from a bottle when needed.
- Bond with your baby by ‘wearing’ the newborn in a close body sling
- Take care of the baby’s non-feeding activities, such as diapering, changing clothes, bath time, and play time.
- Be supportive and have a positive attitude!
Be compassionate toward each other when either of you get irritated or upset. If you are sleep-deprived, you will lose some of your ability to self-regulate emotions.
You are both only human – and so is your baby. A sense of humor always helps. You will make it through this sleep-deprived phase of parenting your newborn.
Yes, that’s right. Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing, exercise (with your doctor’s approval) can boost your metabolism and circulation, speed up digestion and elimination of toxins in the body, counteract depression, and make your sleep more efficient, once you get the time.
Remember, you don’t have to go to the gym to get exercise. Even a short walk in your neighborhood, with your baby in a stroller or carried close to you in a baby sling, will help. If you can’t get out of the house, do some gentle stretching or yoga on a matt in your living room.
Sleep when the baby sleeps
There is so much to do when you have a newborn. When you bring your baby home you might feel that you need to accomplish household tasks while your baby sleeps during the day.
Take care of yourself while your baby sleeps. Use the time to catch up on your sleep. It’s not selfish. It’s self-care. Your baby needs you to be as rested as possible when he or she is awake.
Try to avoid the mindset that you need to keep the house clean, cook wonderful meals, and be “super mom.” Parenting a newborn is hard work and it’s exhausting. Take the time to sleep when your baby sleeps. It’s important for you and your family.
One of the problems with getting enough sleep while caring for a newborn is that adults don’t slip in and out of sleep as easily and quickly as babies do. Studies have shown that rest is the next best thing to sleep – so, just lie down when you get the chance, close your eyes, elevate your feet slightly, and let your mind rest as well as your body.
Drink enough water
If you don’t get enough sleep, it is even more important to stay hydrated. Some of the symptoms of dehydration overlap with those of exhaustion. Avoid excessive caffeine consumption and sugar-laden drinks.
Don’t skip meals
Keep your metabolism going, and don’t let hunger make you even more irritable. Good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep healthy, quick meal options on hand. Keep healthy snacks on hand, as well, for the times you need a little something more between regular meals. Meal planning before your baby arrives can help you maintain a healthy diet in the early weeks of being new parents.
Stay connected with your network of support
You may think you don’t have the time, but visits, phone calls, and video calls with supportive friends and family can refresh your spirit. You may have gotten to know other new parents in preparation for your baby’s arrival. Reach out to them and support each other on your parenting journey. A whole new world of connections opens up to you once you have children. Embrace it!
It’s only temporary
You will not be sleep-deprived forever.
Babies vary enormously in their sleep patterns during the first few months of their lives. They do become toddlers eventually, and then school children, and then teenagers. (Then you will be struggling to wake them up in the morning!)
Having a baby and creating your family is one of the most exciting and joyous adventures you will have in your life. Enjoy every moment you can!