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Challenge: Bedtime Secrets

How to Survive the First Sleepless Weeks of Parenting

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It was exciting at first. After two nights of being poked and prodded by nurses and (not) sleeping on a hospital bed, I finally walked through the door of our home with our newborn daughter.

We were welcomed home with flowers and phone calls and all of the well wishes in the world – but soon the phone calls died down, and the mail no longer had cards wishing us well and we were were officially on our own and had to take care of a helpless, tiny human being who seemingly never slept. Ever. I will never forget those days. I loved them and hated them. I look back with nostalgia knowing that tiny babies don't talk back the same way toddlers do.

It took my daughter forever to sleep through the night. I stopped nursing at 18 months – and she started sleeping through the night a few weeks later.

Here is how I survived the first few weeks - and really - 18 months of sleepless nights with my tiny human.

Share the Feedings

I was always planning to nurse and I consider myself lucky to have had no troubles with it. Except for the endless cluster feedings.

What the bus and I did worked great for us, and I would recommend it to anyone else in a similar situation. I breastfed our daughter, but I also pumped milk to save and have my hubby bottle feed with.

I would pump to relieve the pain in my swollen breast on nights where little one favored one breast over the other – which is actually quite common - and then my husband would manage it. Some of the milk was saved in the refrigerator for the night. Some was put in freezer bags and labeled for future use. The goal was to have baby willing and eager to “eat” whatever we offered her. This way, my husband could feed her as well. We shared the burden and the limited sleep time.

Share the Sleep

Babies actually sleep a lot, they just don’t sleep when you want them to. I remember both my husband and I praying she would just sleep in a chunk of hours — but that’s just it — they don’t. They sleep here and there, and they wake up looking to nurse. Our sleep suffered not only from her waking up, but from us anticipating it. We had times where we couldn’t sleep when she was asleep, even though we were exhausted.

There were times when my daughter refused to sleep and we brought her to bed with us. Say what you will about co-sleeping - we never planned to do it – it just happened naturally. We would block off the area with cushions to avoid a disaster. Even a fussing baby was no match for my husband’s unnaturally warm body. He would hold her snug against his bare chest, and she would be out in no time. On occasion, I would wake and see my daughter sound asleep on my husband who wasn’t. It warms my ovaries just thinking about it....anyway. Hopefully, you and your partner can work out a sleep sharing schedule.

Enjoy this time while it lasts. You have no idea what is coming soon!

Eat and Be Merry

Two A.M. feedings were always the worst - baby was hungry and so was I after being milked like a cow for 10 hours a day. I wouldn't have survived without Nick at Night, my giant water bottle, and an endless supply of cinnamon roasted almonds. Sometimes I’d go crazy with some chocolate covered ones if I was really at my wit's end. Keep snacks and drinks within arms reach at all times. Even if you aren’t nursing, having a bit of healthy boost in the wee hours of the night can stop you from feeling like a zombie.

And seriously, don’t worry about your baby weight the first few months. It will come off naturally as you recover. You are in charge of another human being’s life, and you must do everything you can to keep your energy, your health and your sanity! Eat! I always had a supply of snacks and water within reach of our bed and on our couch for late night feedings. You can lose weight later. This is a time to eat healthy, but also to eat whenever you want.

Stay Ahead of Chores

Do laundry every day. Some people aren’t going to be able to do this, but it worked for me. I left the lid of the washer open, and I threw in whatever need to be washed — sorting be damned! At the end of the night I washed whatever was in there. This way, the laundry never piled up. I did the same with other household chores. It’s amazing how much better you rest when you’ve proactive about laundry!

I was lucky enough to have my mother-in-law around all the time. My mother-in-law took charge of what I needed help with and stayed out of what I didn’t. She made wonderful dinners for us and kept up the household chores. If you can have a visitor like this, do it. Don’t do it if you anticipate entertaining a needy guest.

Raising a baby, especially in those first few weeks, is really all about sharing the responsibility with your partner. Hopefully, you are fortunate enough to be with someone who shares that opinion. Men can’t breastfeed, but they can do everything else. My husband is a funny man, but his jokes fall flat at 3 am when I am breastfeeding. That said, he was up with the baby as much as I was.

The baby’s needs came first, but we took care of each other, too. We knew when each other’s fuses were short, and we knew when to not talk to each other. Speak up when you are feeling angry, hurt or overwhelmed. Help each other out.

When your partner drops the ball, pick it up and keep running. Just don’t drop the baby! Your baby will sleep through the night eventually, and so will you.

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