Sleep deprivation guide for new parents


Julie Mitchell

Julie Mitchell

Blog author Julie Mitchell

Julie is a producer of blogs, films and children in Los Angeles.

Published September 7, 2016|7 min read

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You’re not your best self when you’re tired. Good thing you can crash after work or sleep in this weekend. Unless, of course, your sleep deprivation is due to a new little bundle of joy in your life – then there is no opportunity to catch up on that lost sleep.We’ve all had those long nights followed by excruciatingly long days. We’ve pushed through a full day of classes after pulling an all-nighter in college or worked late on a project and managed to survive a work conference the next day..But who do we become on those particularly tired days? We’re less patient with our co-worker, Barry, and his lip smacking habit. We can’t think of the name of the thing we’re trying to think of when our professor calls on us to name that thing. We’re more sensitive to our best friend’s offhanded remark and more insensitive to our other best friend’s dating woes.

When you’re a new parent, it can feel like an endless cycle of long nights and longer days.Here’s a completely imagined (and in no way based on my real life experience) sleep journal from a new breastfeeding mom. Maybe these fictional journal entries and the real life advice that follows them can help a new parent cope with their desire to sleep.Night 1I’m exhausted and sore but so in love with this little guy. I wouldn’t sleep even if the nurses weren’t coming in and out of our hospital room. I just want to stare at him.

Advice: This is a classic mistake. You have the rest of your life to love your baby. You only have right now to get some sleep and recover from labor. Some of the best advice I ever got was to send the baby to the nursery for a few hours and get some quality sleep. Tell your nurse the plan and ask to not be interrupted until the baby needs to feed again.Night 2It was nice to be in our own bed and my husband brought the baby to me for feedings so I didn’t have to get up.Advice: Yes, Partners, it really does make a difference when you bring the baby to mama for feedings. It makes an even bigger difference when you burp, change diapers, and help the baby settle back to sleep.In a few weeks, you and your wife may decide that she’ll take the night shift and you’ll take the morning shift, but for the first couple of weeks there is no shift and no schedule. It’s just all one big long attempt at catching up on sleep for both of you.Also, a good rule of thumb for partnerships the first couple of weeks postpartum is that the person who went through labor is responsible for recovering and breastfeeding (unless you’re bottle feeding). The other partner is responsible for everything else – the housework, the food, the navigating friends coming over, etc.Night 3This little guy is hungry! He ate every hour and a half!Advice: You may know that newborns have to eat every two to four hours but you may not realize that that’s two to four hours from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next feeding. So by the time you feed and burp the baby on both sides, change his diaper and get him settled back to sleep, you’ve used up half an hour of your 2- to 4-hour spread.Night 4Must remember to look if coffee is safe while breastfeeding. You know, when my eyes are awake enough to focus on a computer screen. Ha. Ha.Advice: In general, a moderate amount of caffeine is considered safe while breastfeeding.

Night 5Cried when I found out neighbors were stopping by. They stayed two hours. Crying again thinking about it.Advice: Everyone says, "Sleep while the baby sleeps." No one says, "Tell neighbors not to come over because you need sleep. Tell friends to leave because you need sleep. Go to bed right now instead of washing the dishes. Make sleep your number one priority."Night 6Baby made noises all night. I couldn’t sleep. Husband never even heard it! Advice: Babies are loud sleepers. If the sleeping sounds keep you awake, it may be better to move the baby to a bassinet just outside your door or turn down the monitor if baby is in his own room.Night 7Baby and I have fallen asleep twice while breastfeeding. Must not let that happen again. I will NEVER bed share with my baby. Advice: I promise you, this won’t be the last thing you do that you swore you’d never do as a parent.

Night 8We’re bed sharing. I can’t help it. Baby and I just keep falling asleep and we sleep better that way.Advice: Yes, it’s true. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend bed sharing, but I don’t know any parent who hasn’t fallen asleep with their baby whether on accident or on purpose. Instead of beating yourself up about it, consider a safer way of sleeping with your baby like a co-sleeper which attaches to your bed but gives baby his own sleeping space.What you want to avoid is falling asleep with your baby on accident on the couch or in your bed when it’s not set up for safety. Certain risk factors like bedding, cushions and alcohol/medication (on your part, not the baby’s) make sleeping with your baby more of a safety concern.Night 9Husband hasn’t heard baby for three nights now. Trying to be reasonable. Not like he can breastfeed baby, right?Advice: This is where resentment can start to set in. Everyone’s tired. Everyone deserves sleep. But only Dad has a choice. Mom has to feed the baby – whether Dad chooses to help with that or not is his choice.Later on, Mom might start pumping a bottle so Dad is responsible for a feeding at night, but for the first few weeks mom has all the feeding responsibilities if the baby is exclusively breastfeeding.If the baby is bottle feeding, then both parents should be taking turns with night feedings.Dads, if you really don’t hear the baby, encourage your wife to wake you up to help. It may save your relationship.Night 10Some point in night, husband woke me to say I was snoring. Saw red. Don’t remember what happened next. Must have said stuff? Husband hasn’t spoken to me since. Advice: Go to bed angry. Yes, things need to be discussed, but your relationship is not going to benefit from a delirious and angry explosion in the middle of the night. Everything seems more overwhelming and more emotional when you’re tired. Talk about what you need when you’re calm.Night 11Feel surprisingly refreshed. Think I’m getting second whined. No, I mean second whined. NO…whined. How do you spell whined? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! I MEAN SECOND WHINED!!!Sorry. Woke husband up to ask. Think I’m getting second whened. Wait…Night 11.5Wind.Advice: Yes, your brain is not going to work like it used to. It’s not just the lack of sleep, it’s the fact that part of you now lives outside of you…the hormones don’t help either.

Night 12Babe slept three hours straight. Husband and I woke every fifteen minutes panicked. But had great convo around 4 am with grandmom who died last year. She says I need sleep. Ha! Ha! Hahahahahahahaha. Advice: It’s the irony of new parenthood. All you want is for your baby to sleep and when he does, all you do is worry that he’s sleeping too much.Night 13Tried the crib for a couple hours last night. Babe had massive blowout. Took us an hour to clean and get back to bed. Advice: Double wrap the crib mattress. It goes: mattress protector, sheet, another mattress protector, and another sheet. That way all you have to do is remove the top two layers in case of a mess.Night 14We did it! We survived the first two weeks. It should get easier from here. Right? Right?!Advice: Yay! You did do it. Those first two weeks are the hardest because it’s all new and overwhelming and one of you is recovering from labor or surgery.And, yes, in some ways it does get easier. The next big hurdle is when you and/or your partner return to work. But don’t worry about that for now. Just get some rest – even if you have to use some weird pieces of tech to help you do it.