Baby Care Series: Surviving Nights With A Newborn

It’s been 3 months post-partum and while my son started pulling longer stretches, I don’t see sleeping through the night (further referred to as STTN) in the near future. Not that I am expecting him to: I am one of those moms who made peace with the baby not to STTN for as long as I breastfeed.
Here’s a bit of a sleep story from the past: my first one woke up every 1-2 hours to nurse. It got progressively “worse” around growth spurts, “wonder weeks”, teething, colds and whatever else you can think of. When she had her major vocabulary burst at 23 months, she literally stopped sleeping. I mean, normally once they “break through” they are supposed to sleep better, right? Wasn’t the case with miss T: she woke up every 15-30 minutes just to latch and unlatch and repeat several times, getting angry and depriving herself of sleep and me too. We both had dark circles under our eyes. I thought it was the time to wean and I did it as gently as possible in the course of about 5-6 weeks. I will be honest: first 3 months of my daughter’s life because she was waking up so often, I felt like a failure and reading all happy STTN stories and my mom telling me that she should STTN by 3 months were not helpful! I cried every single day – I was sleep deprived, I was grumpy, I was stressed and probably a little depressed. However, I had a great support team member with me – my husband – and thanks to him I pulled myself out of self pity, did more real research and understood once and for all that this is what most of the babies do. And the percentage of those who STTN or pull long stretches is very low compared to the above!
With my 2nd daughter, first three months were a bit of a disaster as well. But my mom was here in the first months and literally held her for 3 hours at a time swaddled and close to her body so I could sleep. Once she left, baby wearing was a saviour during the day – she had a bad reflux and while we didn’t resort to medicine, I wore her for all her naps and she was comfy in the carriers. By the time she was 3 months, she started pulling what is called STTN (5 hours stretch when she was down for the night, then 3 hours and then another 2-3 hours). During the day she napped for 3-4 hours at a time and I had plenty of time to do whatever I pleased. She was also breastfed and self-weaned at 18 months when I was pregnant with our baby #3. She started sleeping full night from 8pm to 6am before she weaned.
With this baby #3, the first month was tough: he is tongue-tied so he couldn’t latch nor nurse properly. He was getting tired, losing the breast and he was also jaundice until he was 10 weeks old. He woke up every hour. My mother was here and she did the same with him as with baby #2: she would swaddle him and hold him so I could rest or take care of other 2 children. Still he wouldn’t sleep long stretches. As he crossed over 1 month, he started sleeping a little longer but not until he found his 2 fingers. So while during the day he can go onto cluster feedings, he does pull 3-4 hour stretches for the night and he goes to bed earlier for the night than my girls, so it gives me time to prepare them for their night time and also spend some time with my husband or, like today, work on something (my blog, my translation gigs, doing household chores and more).
So… my own advice to all first time moms: you are having a baby. A being is coming into this world which is foreign to him/her. He/she is feeling insecure, every change make the baby disturbed. Please, prepare yourself mentally that you won’t sleep for at least a year or 2 (or 3?). What we think is abnormal – sleeping in 1-4 hours stretches – it is absolutely normal for the baby. Whether you formula feed or breastfeed, the baby has the same patterns: they wake up when hungry, when the diaper is dirty, when they didn’t finish burping, when the sudden noise scares them, when they feel insecure being away from you. There are many more reasons I can add.
So, what can you do when your baby’s sleeping patterns are not to your liking or go against your own? I won’t tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps – it NEVER worked for me. I could just as successfully count sheep and elephants all 1-2 hours and have no sleep in my body. But here are a few tips that will help you cope:
1. Plan your activities around your baby’s… sleeping place. If you have ironing to do – keep the laundry basket in the area, along with the ironing board and iron. Need to cook? I don’t know how your house is, but I would not do all the cutting and peeling in the kitchen – I would bring it into the dining/living room so I could still hear the baby and the distance between me and the baby would be shorter.
2. If you have other children: use those moments to do something with them – read a book, cuddle, check their homework. If it is a younger child, be prepared for noise which will possibly wake the baby up. It is ok to get frustrated: God knows, I still do get frustrated when my toddler runs into the bedroom when I JUST put Mini-man down, and yells out his name! Having some toy, book, stickers in your reach will distract your toddler from the baby. I still find stickers in my bed and in my clothes – I just let miss A go wild with those as they keep her occupied and quiet, and while she is busy with them I can stretch my body (oh, and my body and clothes get decorated too!).
3. Cook for a couple of days in advance or try freezing food for later. Only recently I started cooking almost every day. But it worked very well cooking for 2-3 days in advance and warming up small amounts.
4. Hydrate. Breastfeeding or not, we often forget to drink enough and being dehydrated makes us more tired.
5. Stock up on favorite shows, movies and books. When I have to hold my children for a long time on me so they get enough sleep while getting over whatever that is bothering them, I watch my favorite shows/movies or read something.
6. STOP Googling “Why my baby doesn’t sleep?”. Ok, perhaps if your baby REALLY doesn’t sleep you could Google. Or better – consult a pediatrician. But remember that a breastfed baby sleeps stretches anywhere from 40 minutes to few hours. So, unless your newborn is up for several hours, don’t be in a hurry to label him with some sleeping disorder. And if you are still concerned about sleeping patterns – consult pediatrician. We, moms, tend to exaggerate and brag about how well our children sleep. What you may not read is the methods that are at times used to make babies sleep longer (e.g. introducing “crying out” method before 6 months – basically making poor newborns whale themselves to sleep). Of course, there are plenty of no-cry sleep solutions, but read those carefully and check what age group is recommended for them before starting that sleep training.
I could go on and on, but I would also like to share some tips from fellow blogger moms of KBN and MKB on how they coped with sleepless nights! Feel free to click on the links next to the names and check out these awesome blogs!
Here’s what they replied when I asked how they coped with sleepless nights during newborn stage:
  • Katie of Playing With Words 365:  Co-sleeping and coffee. 
  • Jodi of Meaningful Mama: My husband encouraged me to sleep when I could. I had to let some things go and be more laid back with my expectations of myself. If the baby was sleeping, I was sleeping or resting too.
  • Kim of Life Over C’s After three straight years of sleep deprivation, I should have this down to a science…LOL! My best tip is to automate as many functions as you possibly can: If you have a child who regularly doesn’t sleep well, make sure you schedule all your bills for auto-pay, double up recipes and freeze them or do once a month cooking so that you have something to pull out of the freezer on the really bad days. If you homeschool pick an automated curriculum, something that you don’t need to do lots of prep with. Have someone clean your house once a week (even if it’s a friend that you barter with). These simple things will take a lot of stress off when you are sleep deprived. 
  • Jen of Mama.Papa.BubbaOn really hard, sleepless nights I’d sit and rock my baby and remind myself that one day {too soon} the nursing / rocking / shushing filled nights would be over with and I’d never get to go back to that stage of life with my little girl. Seems sort of silly, but it got me through.
  • Brittany of Love Play and LearnAdjust your expectations for yourself and family. When you are sleep deprived, just do the bare minimum for you to survive and thrive. Being in a survival mode while you have a new baby is perfectly okay so be forgiving to yourself! 
  • Nicola of Multicrafting MummyMake sure to have a good book on your kindle so you can nurse your baby in one arm and read in the other without turning on the lights. This helped pass the time for me until my littlest on eventually slept the night!
  • Cindy of Two Muses HomeschoolDon’t feel guilty if the only place you can get the baby to sleep is the swing. The baby won’t fit in it forever. Embrace it, and get the rest you need while baby swings away. 
  • Ute of Expat Since Birth: Co-sleeping helped us a lot, especially with twins who woke up at different times up to 8 times per night when in their own bed. And relaxing exercise for the mum: keep your eyes closed as much as possible, no lights on and practice mindfulness! Don’t think ‘but I must sleep’ or get irritated or upset (consumes way too much energy!), do focus on what you can do to have some rest (even if you don’t get a proper sleep). And keep everything you may need for the babies within reach so that you don’t need to get up all the time… This topic brings back memories and the feeling that once you survive this period, you feel like you’ve reached the top of Mt Everest.
  •  Rachel of Adventures in Wunderland:  Haha, COFFEE! And knowing that they won’t be newborns forever and eventually you will sleep again 
  • Anna of Russian Step By Step ChildrenWith my second we had a system: I pumped at some point during the day,and when the baby first went for the night I breastfed and then went to bed (BTW, 7 to 8 pm depending on the night), so my husband would take care of the other kid and the next feeding was my husband bottle feeding the baby ( it was around 10 – 11) and then he went to bed so even when the baby woke up around 1-2 pm again I got a decent stretch of sleep. By 11 month she finally started sleeping 10 hours in a row ( 8 pm to 6 am) Also,with the second I already knew that it is temporary, after 6 months it got easier. 
  • Ayesha of Words and NeedlesMy top tip is to feed the baby every two hours starting at 6am everyday from the first week onwards. It isn’t possible with some very sleepy babies but try as much you can. After two weeks they get into a pattern and quickly set their schedule to feeding often during the day. They will get up 2am for a few weeks more but once a night is tolerable! Through the day, drink as much water and eat protein rich foods because the lack of energy is what gets us down. Sleep when the baby sleeps. The chores can wait. I have a post that I wrote when I was feeling like a supermom… 
    Culturally, we are from India. We have a tradition, in our part of the country, that all new moms are given a protein and fat rich traditional mix made up of dried fruits of various kinds, some herbs and coconut that is fried in butter and mixed together. It is made in large quantities and the mum has to finish this within 40 days. Also, an iron piece (something like a horse shoe) is placed in the drinking water vessel that she drinks from. Everyday, the pitcher is filled with boiled water and when it cools she drinks from that. They say it gives iron in the water for the mother. It is ancient… not many people do it now but it is so striking and I remembered it. That dry fruit mix is called ‘panjeeri’ by the way. Pakistani people, North Indians and some south Indians make it.
  •  Angela of CreatifulkidsTry to feed as much as you can during the day, so that he takes most of his calories intake then…but with a new baby the nights are tough so just take it as it goes. Some babies are better sleepers than others. Remember that you do nothing wrong and that’s just a phase. Just sit it out and it will phase and you’ll get your rest again..slowly. Don’t stress- if you can .
  • Becky of Kid World CitizenThis is not what I recommend, but all of my in-laws in Mexico say to put rice cereal in the baby’s bottle right before bed so they won’t be hungry. I always nursed, so I didn’t follow the advice, but they swear by it! My advice (US) is to walk with the baby outside everyday- bundled up if necessary, but in the sunlight. I think the vitamin D and the light helps to set their circadian rhythms. I also would never pull the shades in the day when they were napping, and not be super quiet. They get used to the noise, but I think they start to realize that daytime is daytime, and nighttime is nighttime. Also I would wake my daughters in the day (by picking them up from their crib and carrying them around) if they were sleeping too long. There was a time that my oldest had her days and nights confused and it was soooooo difficult for us:).
  • Elisabeth of Spanish MamaWe co-slept and I think that was the reason I didn’t experience awful exhaustion. When baby stirred, we would cuddle up and nurse and neither of us fully woke up, so getting back to sleep was super-easy.

    I had to work part-time with my first baby and
    was gone from 7am-1pm every day from the time he was six weeks. I always thought I would be the strict scheduling type, but it simply didn’t work for us.  Co-sleeping helped make up for the hours we were apart and those were some of my favorite moments as a mother so far! It goes against the grain in the US, but like so many things here, families do what works best for them. My Peruvian husband was totally fine with it too and we loved bonding with baby so much those first months. Later we did train him to sleep on his own on a schedule.

    Also, it was really useful when we traveled to Peru for 6 weeks with a 5-month-old. Most of the houses we stayed in didn’t have a crib and it was no problem!

  • Ilze of Let The Journey Begin:  A wrote a post on this topic a few months ago. Speaking of my own sleep, I have never been able to follow the “sleep when the baby sleeps” mantra. Daytime naps make me feel like crap. And during the night there’s two things that bother me – having to get up to nurse and sleeping next to the baby (I feel like I get less deep sleep). Co-sleeping is a solution to the first, baby having her own bed is a solution to the second. Thus my method is a mix of both: baby sleeps the first stretch in her bed, and continues sleeping next to me after the first night meal. If me or my husband are awake enough at some point in the night we move her back to her bed.
    Here are few more links on the subject:
Canberra Mummy  – How I took on Sleep Deprivation and Won
Mama Smiles20 Ways to Cope with Sleep Deprivation
Trilingual MamaHelping Babies Sleep Through the Night
Toddler ApprovedSleep Tips for Serious Sleep
The European Mama4 Tips for Surviving Sleep Deprivation
How do you/did you cope with sleep deprivation and what are your tips for helping your baby to sleep?
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3 thoughts on “Baby Care Series: Surviving Nights With A Newborn

  1. Great tips, especially number six 🙂 Something I tested this week is getting the baby tired, probably wouldn’t work with a newborn but my 6-month-old will sleep magical 8 hours at a piece (and tops it off with another 3) if I do two long walks during the day and let her power herself out by playing.
    Ilze recently posted…Interview with Robyn: Embracing New CulturesMy Profile

    • Thank you for contribution, Ilze, and thank you for more tips! Yes, it does work for some older children – it worked great when I was weaning my older one. But sometimes it also means they might get overly tired and have a meltdown – had it both ways.

  2. Pingback: Baby Care Series: Mommy and Baby Blues – Coping Technique | Creative World Of Varya

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