Sleep isn’t the only thing that starts to fall by the wayside when you’ve got a baby in the house, but it is certainly one of the most important ones. Before we have children, sleep is often one of the first things we sacrifice in order to make time to do all of the other things we need to do. Laundry, dishes, a handful of work emails that started coming in just when you had to head home - all of these can seem like things you should be able to knock out fast before you let yourself get some sleep. Sleep isn’t a luxury, though - it’s a necessity, especially when you have a baby in the house. Tiredness and absent-mindedness can put both you and your baby in dangerous situations if you’re not careful, so when bedtime approaches, remember that sleep is a priority, and it’s okay to leave the dishes in the sink, let your phone ring to voicemail, and crash as soon as your child does.
“Sleep while your baby sleeps” is common advice for parents of newborns, but as your baby gets older, and sleeps for longer chunks of time during the night, you might start trying to put yourself on a more normal sleep schedule as well. While this attitude makes sense, it also won’t necessarily make your life easier. What might make your life easier is accepting that, for a little while, naps are just a part of your life, and the best way to help your body adapt to taking them is to try to nap early and often. Whether on your lunch break at work, while your baby dozes, as soon as your partner comes home from work, or whenever the opportunity arises, hunting down good times to grab a quick nap is the kind of hobby that can help a new mom out. Even if you can’t always get yourself to sleep on the spot, taking that time to lie down and close your eyes can help you recharge.
You may or may not feel ready to leave your baby at home with a non-family sitter yet, but even if you think you won’t be ready for that for months or years, there are times when you could use a little break. But what if your partner is busy and all of your baby’s grandparents are unavailable? When this happens, think about hiring a sitter just long enough to take a nap for an hour or two. If you’ve just fed your baby, she should be fine without you for a while, and you can nap secure in the knowledge that your baby is being looked after and taken care of in the next room over. And if anything goes wrong, your sitter can come knock on your bedroom door, and you’ll be right there to save the day.
As you get older, the things you actually want and need start to become the things it’s impossible for someone else to give you - 3 more hours in a day, a shorter commute, the chance to take back a choice or two. Wanting a nap can feel like another one of those things that is both all you need and something you can never ask for, but it’s definitely worth a try. If you’ve got a birthday, holiday, or anniversary coming up, and someone asks you what you’d like as a gift, try telling them you’d like a few hours of quiet childcare at the exhausted moment of your choice. Think of it as your very own version of the coupons for hugs and kisses that your baby might present you with as a birthday gift in a few years.
For breastfeeding moms, sharing nighttime feeding responsibilities can be difficult. Pumping can help, though - if you’re not already, consider pumping and storing your breast milk at a time when your baby isn’t as hungry and a feeding ends early. The milk will last days in the refrigerator, and longer if you freeze it. Once you start storing your stockpile, it’s a lot easier to poke your partner and say, “Your turn,” before rolling over and going back to bed when your baby gets hungry in the night.
For tiny people, babies sure can make a lot of noise. Having your baby’s crib or bassinet in your room at night can cut down on the time nighttime feeding takes, but the sounds your baby makes in sleep can keep new moms’ instincts on edge, and make sleeping deeply difficult. On the other hand, even if your baby sleeps in her own room down the hall, when it’s your partner’s turn to feed her and you can hear what’s going on, it can keep you almost as awake and on edge as if you’d gotten out of bed with them. A white noise machine is your friend, though a nice pair of headphones or even an open window could do the trick as well.
You know you’re supposed to keep up on your sleep by napping when your baby does, but sleeping on command can be easier said than done, even if you’re totally exhausted. Cutting down on your caffeine intake to help you combat tiredness could sound counterintuitive, but cutting back on the coffee could help you drop off more easily when you do find time to squeeze in a nap.
Sometimes, there are moments when sleep just isn’t going to happen for you, even if your baby is sleeping soundly, and there’s nothing you’d like more than a nap. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to wind down a little, though, even if sometimes when you can’t sleep, you can feel the need to check items off your to-do list to make up for the time not spent sleeping. Instead, try sitting somewhere cozy, listening to a favorite song, or even taking a nice hot bath. Who knows? You might drop off after all. Hopefully not in the bath, though.