Part 1: Nighttime Solutions When You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep With a Baby
Just when you think that your baby has this sleep thing down, maybe even reaching five or six hours straight of sleep, it happens. You’re up to the-world-is-ending cries every one to two hours, and you start to feel like you’ll never get any sleep ever again. Actually, it is worse then that. You feel like you aren’t even capable of taking care of your own child. The baby is crying, but do you really have to get up? Can you get up, even? The world is a shaky blur and the thought of picking up a screaming baby only makes the headache worse. In fact, you’re quite sure that if you do pick your baby up, you might fall asleep while nursing and that just isn’t safe.
It doesn’t seem like you can feel much worse than this. But you can’t take a day off from being a mom, so after searching the internet with something like “what to do when you are too tired to look after your baby,” you’re reading this article. I get it. Some people are better at handling life while tired. (Not me!). And everyone has their limits.
For the first four and a half month’s of Little Fox’s life, she slept quite well. Sure, we didn’t go to bed till one in the morning, but then she slept 4-6 hours at a time. And I was usually getting eight hours of sleep. Sounds amazing right? Unfortunately, it didn’t last. And I had to develop some quick coping strategies.
Different babies, different days, and different situations require separate solutions. Not all of these are going to work for you. Take a look at the various suggestions below, and decide which ones will help you survive through the next 24 hours.
If you are really worried that you might fall asleep while feeding your baby, try this. It is important to work out a safe space for you and your baby to be in, in case you do drift off. Even if you just fall asleep for a couple seconds, it is better that you be laying with your baby on the floor than on any raised surface like a couch or a chair. It is usually quite possible to find a position laying on your side that you can nurse your baby while laying down.
In case the floor is cold (or you haven’t had a good chance to sweep), you may want to lay a sheet down first. Keep an extra sheet handy in the bedroom. Just make sure the ends of the sheet are far enough away and pinned down. We don’t want any babies pulling the sheet over their head.
Use a Baby Tracker app
I use a free app which to track the time between Little Fox’s feedings, as well as the length of night feeds. (Mine is called Baby Tracker, and I find the free version works fine). This helps me to know why my baby is waking up. If it is only an hour after the last feed, it probably means a diaper change. If it is closer to two and a half hours, maybe she’s feeling dehydrated and needs more milk. Or those budding teeth are hurting and we need some more baby Tylenol.
This app can also be used to track your baby’s sleep. I use it to track mine. I find it helps me if I know I’m at 7.5 hours by the end of the night. Then I know that a nap at baby’s next sleepy time will be enough to make me feel refreshed, and I can get through the morning. You may not want to do this though, if knowing you’ve only had four hours and twenty minutes of sleep is just going to make you feel worse.
Pumping milk is what helped me survive my first two weeks after delivery. When we went home (five days after delivery), I was pumping five minutes before each feed to help Little Fox with latching. By the 3 am feed I would have enough for my husband to make a bottle and take the 6 am feed while I slept in. (He’s a morning person and I’m not, so this schedule worked the best for us). Introducing a bottle this early did not lead to any future problems. In fact I am pretty sure it is what has kept me breast feeding through the first year. In the early days I was using a single manual pump, however, as my (early) mother’s day treat we got me a single electric pump. (Now I pump twice a day, once in the morning and once before I go to bed).
Although we mostly used pumped milk for during church or other outings where I’d like to be more mobile, we also keep a reserve for early mornings. If my husband is available and I need more sleep, he gives Little Fox the bottle while I nap until the next feed. I can also call over the mother-in-law during the day if I need some extra sleep and a nap at the same time as the baby might not be enough.
If your baby doesn’t seem to take the bottle, try having someone give it when you’re not in the room. I’ve heard of babies who will take bottles from grandparents while mom is out, but refuses to even try a bottle when mom is at home. Little Fox loves her bottles, even though she doesn’t get them as often any more. Even if she just ate, if she sees one of her bottles she has to grab it and hold on for dear life.
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Repeating the Jesus prayer is one of the simplest ways to pray with a hardly-there mind. Early on I tried praying the rosary through difficult night feedings, but found I wasn’t able to think of what prayer I was meaning to say next. Using a rosary or chotky (Eastern prayer rope) while repeating this prayer helped me reach out to God through the difficult moments. If you are able to concentrate on the rosary, that is great too. Or even repeat the Hail Mary on all the beads. The Theotokos of all people understands the pressures and difficulties of motherhood.
Keep Baby’s Crib Next to Your Side of the Bed
Or somewhere close in your bedroom. Besides the fact that sleeping in the same room as you baby is listed as a way to reduce the risk of SIDS, it also helps you both get more sleep. The moment your baby is down, you can slide right back into bed. There is no hallway and between room travel. At 3 in the morning every step you don’t have to take counts.
Our family went with a portable playpen/crib after Little Fox outgrew her bassinet. There are plenty of other good options for fitting a crib in your bedroom as well!
For the infancy stage, I recommend getting a bassinet or a co-sleeper. We used a bassinet for Little Fox, though I think we should have gone for a Safe Co-Sleeper. It is so nice to have your baby close at night!
When Every Night is Exhausting
And if these no-sleep nights are occurring every night, I recommend The No-Cry Baby Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I read this book before Little Fox was born, and it helped us start with some good nighttime habits.
Little Fox’s temperament turned it into the “less-cry” solution, since she cries herself to sleep in our arms when she needs a nap. Silly baby right? Not even happy about being held… Ah, well, she’s too interested in observing the world around her to sleep. It’s only Mama and Tato that appreciate how much better her mood is after a good rest.
Remember that getting enough sleep with a baby in the house is still important. You can’t be you without enough sleep, and you aren’t a bad person for needing to close you eyes. Don’t compare yourself to other moms who seem to be doing fine with one hour. Everyone has different limits. Know and respect your own because that is how God made you. Those limits can grow over time, but only if you meet yourself where you are at now.
Don’t forget to share this post with other moms you know, or expectant mothers! Subscribe, and stay tuned for next week’s article on Daytime Solutions for Parenting Babies While Exhausted.
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