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Challenge: Bedtime Secrets

Ideas to Help New Parents Avoid Sleep Deprivation

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It’s common knowledge that sweet newborn babies have not-so-sweet alter egos as little sleep thieves. You go into motherhood knowing this. I did -- and if you’re a mom, I’m sure you’d been well warned about it, too.

But when I gave birth to a milk-guzzling newborn who wanted to nurse what seemed like all day and all night, every day and every night, it still caught me unprepared. I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around how hard it would be to deal with sleep deprivation on such a massive, consistent and prolonged scale.

But, after talking to some other parents about how they dealt with those first challenging days of new parenthood, I realized that there are ways to make it MUCH easier. These ideas worked for me, and for other parents before me. I am sharing them in hopes that perhaps some of these suggestions will work for you, too.

Putting your child to bed in a crib has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the greatest disadvantages is that, if your baby falls asleep outside her crib, she is likely to wake up immediately as soon as you attempt to put her in it. Then you have to soothe her back to sleep again – only to have the entire cycle repeat itself one zillion times until you are at your wit’s end. Instead of sleeping, you will spend your night trying to get your baby to sleep in her crib.

This is not ideal.

There is an easy way to avoid this frustrating scenario. My midwife was the one who recommended this approach to me. She has 3 kids. Along the way, she tried just about every approach known to womankind -- and this is the one she thought worked best. I would never have thought of this on my own. But, now that I’ve tried it, I think it is utterly genius.

Here’s what she suggested to me: Instead of putting your baby to sleep in a crib, place a mattress on the floor, or get a Montessori bed. When it’s time to feed the baby, simply join her on the mattress. Feed her, cuddle her and soothe her to sleep. As soon as she’s asleep, stealthily work your way out of bed like the ninja mom you are. Get in your own bed, and enjoy the unexpected opportunity to sleep.

There’s another big advantage to the Montessori bed. When your newborn grows into a toddler, she won’t have to go through the hard transition of outgrowing a crib and adjusting to a new “big kid” bed. For some kids, this transition is relatively easy – but for others it can be a hard and perhaps even life-threatening experience (like it was for me).

When I was a toddler, one morning I awoke in my crib and started crying for my mom. For whatever reason, my mom didn’t come to get me – so I decided I’d go find her. I attempted to climb out of my crib. I ended up at the emergency room with a concussion.

True story.

I survived -- but needless to say, you definitely don’t want anything like this to happen to your little sweetheart.

In contrast, if your toddler awakens in her Montessori bed, nothing will hinder her from crawling around the room and playing with her toys. Assuming you thoroughly childproof the room ahead of time, this is yet another opportunity for you to squeeze in a little more sleep. As long as she is happily exploring all the delights her room has to offer, and not crying for you to come get her, it won’t be an emergency for you to wake up the moment she does.

This mattress-on-the-floor approach worked well for us, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

How many dozens of well-meaning yet misguided people have advised you to “just sleep when she sleeps!”?

Yeah. Right.

If your newborn is like mine was, she probably sleeps for about 12 minutes straight, once every alternate Thursday (but only if the moon is full). The rest of the time, she alternates between waking and sleeping so quickly that you don’t even get a proper chance to lie down before you have to get back up again. So you can basically just hurl that “sleep when she sleeps” advice right out the window.

But, if you can manage to sneak in an afternoon nap some days, do it. It will help.

If your partner is agreeable to sharing some of the nighttime baby feeding and caretaking responsibilities, you could take turns getting up at night to care for the baby. Obviously, this won’t work at times when you want to nurse the baby yourself; but if you’re able to pump a bottle full of milk before bed time, or if you formula feed, this could be a workable solution.

Even if you share the responsibility of nighttime caretaking, it is likely that whichever one of you has to get up will wake the other one. But, you can minimize these types of disturbances if you get the right mattress.

When you roll over and get out of bed on an ordinary box spring mattress, your partner will feel every last motion. What you need is a mattress that only moves in the spot where you touch it, leaving your partner’s little patch of the bed completely undisturbed.

A memory foam mattress will achieve this goal beautifully. A mattress topper can also accomplish the same goal. When you get out of bed (or toss and turn) on memory foam material, your motion doesn’t cause ripples that spread to your partner’s area of the bed. This can help both of you awaken less frequently and sleep better each night.

When you feed the baby at night, it’s wise to avoid turning on an overhead light. Getting blinded by bright light several times each night can disrupt your circadian rhythms, and baby’s.

On the other hand, you also don’t want to be fumbling around the nursery in total darkness.

A night light is the ideal solution. It allows you to see what you’re doing, yet remain in a relatively dark and sleep-friendly environment. These were the hacks that worked for us in reducing sleep deprivation as new parents. I hope one or more of these ideas could help you get more sleep, too.

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