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SLEEP. The elusive, beautiful nectar of life that we took for granted when we were young and free. Nowadays, sleep is all of the desired things. Even though happy sleep season has long past, we musn’t give up entirely and allow deprivation to get the best of us. This takes planning. What we’re talking about here is squeezing sleep out of all the moments you can. It’ll take some concentrated effort, but feeling not fatigued to the point of tears is possible.
Set your mind to it.
I know this probably sounds ridiculous, but it's actually half the battle. We’re used to being exhausted, and it can almost feel as if making the effort to snag a little sleep would be more torture than the current permanent exhaustion. But the fact is sleep is collective, so it's worth the effort to get really intentional with it.
Be determined about it. Getting sleep requires looking past all the normal tasks you used to be able to get done. It’ll likely mean not showering for another day and not doing the dishes even if you’re onto paper plates because every single dish is dirty and ignoring the full diaper accidentally left where you last changed the baby. Look past it all. Your bed is calling.
This is a hard pill to swallow, especially if you’re used to a clean house and a clean body and answering texts in a timely manner. FORGET IT, LADIES. Go to sleep instead. Priortize this business. It’s the only way. (And it won’t last. Hallelujah. It’s just a season.)
Take actual naps
Even 20-30 minutes, cruel as it sounds. Once baby drifts off, let nothing come between you and your pillow. If you strategically manage to feed yourself and pee while baby is awake, SERIOUSLY go to sleep when baby does. Really. (Don't be mad at me. Notes on this below). This is the order of things: 1) Eat. 2) Pee. 3) Sleep. No doubt the actual list is quite long, but everything else comes after number 3, not before. Repeat after me: This is the only way.
On that note: Good intentions sometimes tow the line of reality. If you can't fall asleep, don't just lay there. Alone time is too precious to be restless, so even if it's not sleep- relax when that baby is down. A bath or shower, a good book, a favorite show, whatevs- do something that fills you up and recharges your soul. But try sleep first.
If you are serious about getting sleep, you may need to pay for it. Literally. (Paying for sleep. #theheck) But seriously, hiring a babysitter so you can go to bed is COMPLETELY reasonable and very possibly necessary, especially if your babe has older siblings. On the other hand, if your situation allows, enlist family and friends who need a baby/kid fix to come over and care for your darlings for free so you can sleep. (A tip: Ensure that these folks know your best baby-comforting techniques so that your wake-ups for breastfeeding will be few and far between. Also top the baby of with milk before you hit the hay to guarantee the longest sleep possible.)
Postpartum visitors can also help with this. A 15-20 minute nap for you during their visit is a completely reasonable request. See this post for more.
Share Night Duty
This might be really difficult to ask of your partner, particularly if you’re staying home and he’s working. Let the feelings of guilt about this be abated. You cannot function on complete exhaustion. It’s good for everyone- including husband- for you to get sleep. As soon as breastfeeding is well established, teach that baby to take a bottle. Use a bottle warmer so dad can take night feedings. If bottle feeding is out of the question, he can bring baby to you to nurse as needed. Try to be in a different room, if possible.
Use earplugs or a noise machine whenever you’re not on kid duty. Your mothering instincts will always be on high alert and that’ll keep you from deep sleep, so if you’ve handed the kids off, drown it out.
Cosleeping will likely give you more actual hours of sleep. However because your subconscious is continuously aware of baby, the sleep is very light and therefore not as restful. Cosleeping can be especially useful in the early weeks following birth while baby is waking most often and your body is still recovering from birth (and also you can't walk or move well...who wants to be getting up every couple of hours?). You’ll need to makes sure you’re practicing safe cosleeping, or you can use a cosleeper or halo bassinet.
Have a bedtime ritual. And a bedtime.
Getting to bed at the same time each night helps get your body into a healthy rhythm (as does waking up at the same time each morning, but that can be hard with a baby waking you all the night long. Grace for these things. Do what you can.)
Doing the same thing before bed each night will cue your body to start winding down. I lay on my spoonk mat and listen to the ‘Calm Meditation’ Pandora station for about 20 minutes before falling asleep. Using the spoonk mat has literally revolutionized the depth and quality of my sleep.
Other options: Reading, stretching, showering, yoga, prayer or meditation, journaling. Just try to stay away from screens and caffeine at this point in the day.
Go down when the baby does
Plan out your evenings so you can be ready for bed before your children are. If you need to start getting ready at 3pm, so be it. But be ready so that when kids are in bed, you can get right to it as well. (Remember that whole thing about ignoring the to-do list? Here again.)
Get the baby to sleep
Take advantage of those early weeks when baby takes 5 naps a day. Sleep too. Seriously. See the beginning of this post for more.
As for nighttime, baby will need to wake and eat often for the first months, but there are some things you can try to encourage your baby into his or her natural sleep rhythm. More on this in future posts. (Don’t worry. I won’t leave you hanging long. :))
Prioritize sleep. Enlist help. Share night duty. Create rituals around bedtime. Sleep when the kids do. If you enlist these tips (as many as possible, all at once)- you will definitely get more sleep—maybe even enough sleep to function in a not completely exhausted zombie-like state. The very first step is imagining it differently and really going after it. You can do this.
Which ideas have you tried? What's the best thing you've found so far?