Having newborns in the house is an exciting, wonderful adventure for most couples. It is almost a magical time, and one we remember fondly.
However, it usually means the main caregiver, almost always the mother, is up a lot during the night with a wide awake infant. And if the infant does sleep, the emotionally drained new mother will sometimes find herself unable to sleep anyway. This can cause a lot of anxiety for her. She worries about it and can sometimes dread to see the night coming.
As a mother of ten children and a foster mother of more than fifty children over the years, I have had a baby in my house for much of my adult life. I have learned that these sleep deprived periods of times can be gotten through, and have learned a few tricks along the way.
I remember with my first three or four babies, and with the foster children who were moving through our house during this time, I would despair of the night. I would fret “I didn’t get any sleep last night, and I know I’m not going to get any sleep tonight!” This would sometimes bring tears at the very thought of how tired I was.
But as the babies kept coming, I learned that not getting any sleep wasn’t going to kill me. Morning would come whether I slept or not, along with housework and chores, but mostly, morning also came with sweet little baby smiles and rocking chairs and nursing (or bottle feeding as the case was with the foster children) coos and baby powder, and life always seemed good again.
I learned it was good to go to bed early, if possible. I was not afraid to co sleep with my babies. I put extra pillows between the baby and the edge of the bed, also propping my arm with them to keep the baby secure. If baby was sleeping in my bed, I was careful not to take any sleeping aids or anything that would put me to sleep more heavily than a new mother usually sleeps, which is almost always lightly, as her senses are heightened as she listens even in her sleep to her infant. If this idea scares you, there are now little cribs that hook onto your bed, so that even though the infant is in his own bed, he is still close enough that if he wakes to be fed, you can reach for him with getting up and without coming fully awake.
I laid towels or receiving blankets under baby, so that wet diapers or leaking milk did not make it necessary to change the sheets. I would just toss the wet towels on the floor to be picked up in the morning, and put a fresh one down.
Another option is to take the infant to a recliner. Once again, prop up your arms with pillows to make a secure nest, and doze while baby feeds.
During feedings during the day, whether I was nursing or bottle feeding, I would try to lie down. Then I could doze a little while baby fed. These short twenty minute naps were wonderfully refreshing, although sometimes I would be surprised to wake up and find I had been asleep for an hour or more. If there were other small children in the house, I would lay on the couch so that I would sleep lightly enough to be woke up if the children needed me. Even if it wasn’t as deep a sleep, it still helped.
I learned, for my energy’s sake, it was good to try and keep my weight down. That can be a real challenge for a new mother who has gained a little too much pregnancy weight. Eating light will both help get the weight off and improve your energy level. One way to do this without being hungry is to eat only raw foods during the day until around three in the afternoon. Eat as much as you want, you can munch on raw fruits and vegetables all day long. It moves through your system fast enough that it doesn’t weigh you down, and it helps clean your insides so that you are not weighed down with heavy, sluggish food that takes too long to pass through. Then at night, with hubby home, eat a cooked meal with your family.
Once baby is six months old or so, encourage him or her to sleep through the night. Go to the baby if he wakes up, but don’t get him out of his bed. Kiss him, hug him, but then firmly lay him back down. I was never afraid to resort to letting my babies sleep with a bottle or pacifier. The night bottles only had water to keep their budding teeth safe. I had one thumb baby and one finger baby, and I never tried to take these things away from them. I valued my sleep, and if these things made it possible, then they could have them. My pacifier and bottle babies were always ready to give them up by the age of three. My thumb baby took a little longer, but she was the sweetest, most docile child, and it was such a little thing. My finger baby is still sucking away at the age of five, but less and less all the time.
I also learned that the times awake with my babies in the middle of the night were wonderful prayer times. I could usually pray for everyone in the whole family before we were done. I also used this time to just think about things, problems one child or another was having, struggles I was having, as time to think uninterrupted during the day was almost unheard of. Once I quit worrying about my lack of sleep, and began to use it as a thinking and praying tool, I seemed to quit worrying about it so much.
Give yourself permission to sleep a little later in the morning without guilt. This time will not last forever; it is not eternity, no matter how many children you have. It will pass, baby will learn to sleep all night, and even a mother of as many children as I have will have a few months or even years in between babies to catch up on their sleep.
Go with it, learn to rest in snatches during the day, and enjoy your baby!