My son is almost a year old and has yet to sleep longer than a four-hour stretch. He wakes up four, five, or even eight times a night and often takes over an hour to get back down. I try to enjoy these moments and remember that the snuggles won’t last forever. But I also know how hard it is to parent the way I want to when I can’t even keep my eyes open.
We all want to do right by our children, and that means taking care of our own bodies. So I've compiled my favorite tips for dealing with sleep deprivation:
1. Coffee, coffee, coffee
It's the first tool in every mom's tool belt. Some days, caffeine is the only thing that keeps me going. Since I know that as a breastfeeding mama, I need to limit my consumption, I mix regular and decaf K-cups in a drawer and randomly draw two every day. If you don't see “decaf” on the label, your body may just react the same way it would to regular coffee. I pick my K-cups and brew. Maybe that day I'll have two caffeinated cups (oh, happy day), maybe it'll be two decafs. If you’re not a decaf drinker, that’s okay. Studies have suggested that up to three, eight-ounce coffees a day won’t impact breastfeeding. If you do notice your baby struggling to go down for a nap, try drinking your coffee immediately after a breastfeeding session. If coffee isn't your thing, you can always try teas, which have varying levels of caffeine. Other alternatives include drinks with vitamin B-12 to help keep energy levels up. Be sure to check labels and consult with your health care team if you’re concerned about any ingredients.
2. Hydration is key.
Seriously, hydrate. Water has been shown to boost energy – and it's just good for you. Drink as much water as you can handle – then drink more. My house is filled with reusable bottles. They’re in the nursery, my bedroom, my office, and the living room. I also use a crazy straw because I'm convinced it helps me drink more. I know that plain water can be a struggle for some, so mix it up by adding fruit for flavor. Coconut water’s also a great option.
3. Teamwork and communication are vital.
When we brought my son home, I felt like I did nothing around the house, and it made me feel unbearably guilty. My husband finally told me that my job was the baby and his job was me, which meant I had to let go of my need to do everything. I took care of the baby; my husband did most of the cooking and laundry.
If your partner, friends, or family members are available to help you out, try to let some chores or errands go and allow your loved ones to handle them.
It’s also important to remember that with sleep deprivation on top of hormone changes, you’ll likely be more sensitive than usual. Let your partner and those around you know when the lack of sleep is really getting to you. Your loved ones will probably jump at the chance to watch your baby so you can nap, and at the very least, they’ll know you don't really mean it if you’re short with them (or call them names).
4. Exercise to wake up your body.
I know you’re tired. I know moving is the last thing on your mind. But exercise makes you more alert and can even make you feel more energized (make sure your OB clears you for exercise, often six weeks after delivery). I stick my son in a carrier and lunge around the house. Do squats while holding your baby. Do a push-up or two during tummy time. There are plenty of videos on YouTube with 20-minute postpartum exercise routines or tips for working out with your little one. You’ll feel better, and your body will thank you. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which can improve the quality of sleep you get.
5. Turn down the monitor.
Before we moved my son to his own room, no one was getting good sleep because the baby would wake my husband or my husband would wake the baby, and I was up just staring at both of them wishing they’d stop making so much noise at each other. When we moved my baby to the nursery, I often found myself staring at the monitor instead of getting the sleep my brain desperately needed. Our solution? Turn the monitor on low and set the timer for 30 minutes. This means that after 30 minutes, the video feed cuts off, but the audio is still on. By that point, I’m usually asleep and only wake when I hear the baby crying. This is another example of making sure what little sleep you can get is quality sleep.
6. Call in the backups.
It truly does take a village to raise a child, and sometimes that means you need to call upon your village so you can get some much-needed rest. Whether it’s your mom, cousin, sibling, or friend, someone will be there for you; you just need to ask. While you may not want your mother-in-law spending the night to help with early-morning feedings, it could be helpful to have her come over for a few hours to do a load of laundry and watch the baby so you can catch up on some sleep.
7. Sleep when the baby sleeps.
I hate this piece of advice. I feel like my time could be better spent doing laundry or cleaning my kitchen. You know what? It really couldn't. You need to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Not once has my partner come home and asked why the laundry is in the basket still after ten days. He does, however, frequently come home and ask if I got some rest. Sleep deprivation isn't a badge of honor, so make the time to get some rest.
The most important thing to remember is nothing lasts forever. Your baby won’t wake up every two hours forever, but they also won’t be a baby forever. Hold them, rock them, love them. Then go take a nap.