As a parent of a baby, you will have many fantastic moments with your baby and joyful times. You will also face some unexpected situations and difficulties. Probably the biggest challenge facing parents with a new baby is a lack of sleep. I know first-hand that getting enough sleep (or not) makes a huge difference on my parenting.
According to a popular pregnancy and parenting magazine, the average new parents “loses out on more than one month’s sleep during the first year of their baby’s life.” (1) That’s right. By your baby’s first birthday, you will have missed the equivalent of an entire month’s worth of sleep. That’s like pulling an all-nighter every twelfth night for an entire year!
There are things that you can do to help your newborn baby to sleep, like cluster feeding before bed and establishing a bedtime routine. (2) Both of these things helped my babies to sleep better from a young age. However, no matter what you do as a parent, you will probably still have to get up with your baby during the night a lot. Newborns need to feed every few hours, and so will wake up hungry. Older babies may wake up with growing or teething pains, and there are plenty of other causes for your baby to wake up during the night.
So how can you–as the sleep-deprived parent–cope?
Take It In Shifts
If both parents live together with the baby, then getting up in shifts can be a lifesaver. For example, agree that one of you will wake up with the baby during the night, but that the other one will get up with them in the morning (so that the other partner can sleep longer in the morning). Even with an exclusively breastfed baby, the mother can wake up and feed the baby, and then the dad can care for them while mom gets some more sleep. If you desperately need some more sleep, this can help both partners to be involved with baby and get some much needed rest.
If you are really tired, it can be tempting to compensate by eating sugary foods and drinking caffeine rich drinks. However, I can tell you from experience that these “pick-me-ups” only last for a little while, and then you end up feeling even more tired and generally yucky than you did to begin with. It’s amazing how much a healthy lifestyle can help to improve your energy levels. Even if you’re tired in the morning when you get up with your kid(s), eating a healthy breakfast can really help you to feel better. (3) Regular exercise–even if it’s just taking your baby for a walk–can help as well.
Keep a Sense of Humor
Simply having a sense of humor and being willing to laugh about a situation can make all the difference. Yes, you will still be tired, but you can be happy too. Do you find yourself doing clumsy or silly things because you’re tired? Rather than getting frustrated, realize that it can actually be funny. It’s normal to be more short tempered than normal when you’re tired, but having a sense of humor can help change that.
As parents, most of us feel like we can’t take naps. Even if our baby’s asleep, we normally have a to-do list that’s a mile long. If you need the sleep, let the dishes or laundry wait and nap while your baby does. Even if you have other kids, consider getting a baby sitter for an hour or two (this is a good way to let relatives or friends help out) while you take a nap. Then you’re still home and easily accessible, but can get a little rest as well.
(1) “Nodding Off” Prima Baby & Pregnancy November 2009