If there’s any issue to which all parents can nod their heads and say, “I’ve been there,” it’s the fatigue that comes with caring for a baby. You’re up at all hours feeding, diapering and otherwise tending to your newborn, who needs time to develop regular sleep-wake cycles.
Parents’ sleep is often disturbed for weeks to months after a baby’s birth. Lack of sleep not only leaves you exhausted but also can make you irritable and less able to focus, remember details and solve problems.
But seasoned parents will also tell you that it gets better. By age 3 months, many babies can sleep at least five hours at a stretch. By 6 months, many infants sleep through the night, and 70% to 80% of babies are doing so by 9 months.
In the meantime, hang in there — and try to sneak in as much sleep as possible. While there’s no magical formula for getting enough sleep, here are some tips that may help.
Sleep when your baby sleeps. While this is one of the most common pieces of advice, it’s not always so easy to follow. Some babies doze off for just 15 or 20 minutes at a time, and you may need to seize that time to shower, eat a meal or just go to the bathroom. Still, even an hour or two of extra sleep can make a difference, so try to make it a priority. Turn off the ringer on your cellphone, shut down your computer, hide the laundry basket, and ignore the dishes in the kitchen sink. These things can wait.
Set aside your social graces. When close friends and loved ones visit, don’t worry about entertaining them. Let them care for the baby while you excuse yourself for some much needed rest. Allow them to help with cooking and cleaning.
Avoid bed sharing during sleep. It’s OK to bring your baby into your bed for nursing or comforting, but return your baby to the crib or bassinet when you and your baby are ready to go back to sleep.
Share nighttime duties. Work out a schedule with your partner that allows both of you to rest and care for the baby. If you’re breast-feeding, perhaps your partner can bring you the baby and handle nighttime diaper changes. If you’re using a bottle, take turns feeding the baby. You could also split the night into two shifts or trade nights to be on duty.
Wait a few minutes. Sometimes middle-of-the-night fussing or crying is simply a sign that your baby is settling down. Unless you suspect that your baby is hungry or uncomfortable, wait a few minutes before responding.
Go easy on yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may feel cranky and disoriented. Try not to beat yourself up about it. Set aside nonessential tasks — such as preparing elaborate meals, balancing your budget or volunteering — for a time when you’re feeling more rested.
Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, Second EditionShop Now
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