Getting Rest with a Newborn

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated July 28, 2017.

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Getting rest with a newborn!  It’s one of those things we all need. . . everyday. . . and yet seems impossible to get enough of when you have a new baby.  But a new baby does not have to be synonymous with exhaustion.  I have four children and I’ve tried a lot of different things to get rest since becoming a mom (some have worked, some have failed miserably).  Here are some strategies to help you get rest when you have a new baby.

  1. Breastfeed. On Demand.
    Did you know solid research shows that moms who breastfeed their babies actually get MORE sleep than their formula-feeding counterparts?  Perhaps its because a mom must arouse from sleep much more to mix, feed, and then sterilize a bottle, or perhaps it’s because a mom is so in tune with her little one that even if she’s not giving the bottle she usually wakes thinking of her baby (and then must deal with pumping and/or engorgement).  But breastfeeding on demand also satisfies your baby’s needs, allowing him to find contentment and peace knowing his needs are met. . . and by the person he loves most in his big, new world.  Nursing on demand also helps to protect against engorgement, which allows mom to get rest when the opportunities arise since she won’t be in pain from too much milk.
  2. Co-sleep.
    Sleeping with your baby nearby, whether in the same room, in a side-sleeping cot, or bed sharing (when all safety criteria are met) will allow for more rest for mom while baby breastfeeds throughout the night. For families that choose to bed share, it is essential that all of the “Safe Sleep Seven” criteria are met: exclusive breastfeeding; no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco use by either parent; no pets or other siblings in bed; covers are low on the bed and there are no cracks, unsafe surfaces, or possibility of baby falling out; baby sleeps on back when not nursing; unswaddled; and baby is full-term and healthy. Mothers instinctively use the cuddle curl position to protect baby as she sleeps (which is an innate protection mechanism). 1 We know that when mom and baby are sleeping together, mom exhales carbon dioxide which stimulates baby’s breathing. While there are always risks with exhausted mothers, newborn babies that eat throughout the night, and sleeping options, the evidence of SIDS deaths shows that the four biggest risk factors involve smoking, baby sleeping on stomach, formula-feeding, and baby unsupervised during sleep. 2 Families need to be aware of the safety precautions that should be taken for safe bed sharing, as well as hazards that can occur if mom falls asleep with baby on a couch or other unsafe surface.  The risks of early-weening due to exhaustion and the known dangers of formula feeding must also be weighed in regards to sleeping space.  Bed sharing can not only be practiced wisely, but also with exceedingly low risk for families that meet all seven safe sleeping criteria. 3
  3. Nap when your baby naps.
    Though it’s tempting to try to get other things done when your baby is napping, try not to do too much too fast after having a baby and make resting while your baby does a priority.  Researching on the internet, using social media, cooking, cleaning, etc. can all wait.  If you have other children you are caring for, allow them to have a “quiet time” at some point each day as well.  Whether they learn to play quietly in their room, read books, or watch a video, it is okay for them to have this down time while you and your baby rest as well.
  4. Let others serve you.
    Now is not the time to be supermom!  Accept all offers of help whether it’s cleaning your house, doing laundry, cooking meals, or going grocery shopping. . . don’t turn anything down.  Let your spouse, family, and/or friends help you out while you focus on feeding your baby.  And, don’t feel guilty about “not doing anything.”  You are doing a lot!  You are feeding and nurturing a new life!
  5. Get a sling.
    Sometimes a new baby doesn’t want to nurse, but doesn’t want to be set down either.  A baby can get so overly tired he finds it hard to then go sleep.  A sling or wrap can allow your baby to snuggle in close to mom (and hear her comforting heartbeat) while you still have two hands to get other necessary things done.  Sometimes these rests are just what your baby needs to be able to sleep better at night and throughout the day – sleep begets sleep.

Show 3 footnotes

  1.  Wiessinger, D. T. (2014). Sweet Sleep. Random House LLC.
  2. Wiessinger, D. T. (2014). Sweet Sleep. Random House LLC, p. 335.
  3.  Wiessinger, D. T. (2014). Sweet Sleep. Random House LLC, p. 335.