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Get better sleep as an exhausted new mom

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

Beat sleep deprivation

Expectant parents get plenty of warnings about sleep deprivation. "Get your rest while you can," you're told. But you're not worried — it's charming to picture yourself sacrificing some sleep to lovingly tend to your new baby.

Mother and baby girl sleeping

Photo credit: Tetra Images — Jessica Peterson/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Then baby arrives and You. Are. Tired. Beyond tired, actually, to a degree that you never thought possible. The exhaustion is brutal.

You need sleep

No one has to tell you that you need more sleep, but the fact of the matter is that you're not getting enough. Your body requires adequate sleep to ward off physiological and mental health problems. Without sleep, you may feel depressed, anxious and less joyful about your baby.

Babies sleep, but they do so in initially irregular spurts. This makes it unlikely that you will get the uninterrupted sleep you need to feel rested. Ironically, you need more rest than ever now that you're experiencing increased worry and stress, lots of additional laundry and plenty of baby-loving visitors.

Learn strategies for addressing sleep deprivation >>

Nap with your baby

Believe it or not, your baby will develop a sleep routine. Before long, you can anticipate the longer morning and afternoon naps, and the best thing you can do is join her. When your baby naps, you should nap, too.

Get yourself ready. You prepare your baby to nap with a diaper change, dimmed lights and perhaps some soft music or white noise. Prepare yourself to nap as well. Wear comfy clothes that will enable you to relax, lock the doors and turn off the ringer on your phone.

Turn day into night. Your baby may have her days and nights mixed up, but your body still knows when it's light out. "I highly recommend a sleep mask to block out light," says syndicated columnist Amy Alkon, The Advice Goddess. "This encourages your body to fall asleep even when it's bright daylight."

Tune out the world. "Quality noise-canceling headphones will not block out speech or your baby's crying," says Alkon, "but they will block low tones like the rumbling of trucks and other neighborhood noises that might interrupt your nap."

Establish healthy sleep habits for mom and baby >>

Make a plan for the night

If you're still dragging when you put the baby down "for the night" (yeah, we know), consider turning in early, too. Avoid stimulating foods and activities that make it more difficult for your body to get into proper sleep mode.

Prep your body. From early evening on, eat lightly, skip caffeine, turn off the TV and computer and choose relaxing exercises over heart-pumping ones.

Be vigilant about taking turns. "Be intentional about trading off with your partner," says Holly Klaassen, editor of The Fussy Baby Site. "If one parent is on the night shift, the other parent should wear ear plugs. If you can hear your partner dealing with the baby, then you're far less likely to have a restorative night's rest."

Use a co-sleeper. Keeping the baby close at hand throughout the night means that you can feed her without having to get out of bed. "Keep baby in a bassinet or co-sleeper in your bedroom, right next to the bed," says Deena Blumenfeld of Shining Light Prenatal Education. "When baby is hungry, bring her into your bed." Breastfeed while lying on your side, and place baby back into the bassinet when you are finished — you don't have to get up so you don't fully awaken. "This is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for SIDS prevention," says Blumenfeld.

Utilize the nursery. Co-sleepers are not for everybody. "Many parents do not get a truly restful sleep when their baby sleeps in the same room as them," says Klaassen. Consider moving your little one into his own room. "This way, you will hear the baby if he cries, but you won't be awakened every time he stirs."

Accept offers of help…

Do not hesitate to call in reinforcements. You've heard the phrase "It takes a village," and taking advantage of postpartum offers of help is always a good idea. During the day, enlist an extra set of hands for two or three hours a day who can manage day-to-day tasks while you tend to baby and yourself.

"Having a grandparent, sister or friend stay over (or take the baby) for a night gives both parents a break," says Klaassen. "Do what you must so that you can get a full night of restorative sleep."

Some babies sleep far less than others — they may be high-need babies, colicky or just plain fussy. The "sleep when the baby sleeps" advice doesn't work when you have a baby that rarely sleeps, and you have to pull out all the stops to get enough decent rest to recharge for the next round with your little one.

… or hire help, if necessary

Sleep is so important that professional help is springing up around the nation. Let Mommy Sleep, an overnight baby nurse and newborn care franchise, provides evidence-based education as well as nighttime relief to area parents who are simply not able to "sleep when the baby sleeps."

"We have seen how the overnight care we provide allows mothers to heal properly, helps build parents confidence and enables parents to be present for their older children and newborns during the day," says agency director Denise Stern.

Hush Hush Little Baby offers a team of Newborn Care Specialists and RNs that care for newborns during the night hours. "Most of our families benefit from just one night (one eight-hour stretch) of sleep a week and many of our families have care three to five nights a week for four to six weeks," says the agency's Haleigh Haggerton Almquist. "When families start out with quality sleep, they reduce their risks of PPD and are able to function during the day with their family."

The specialists come into your home and provide one-on-one care with your newborn. "They help with feedings, changing the baby and getting baby back to sleep on a basic level," says Almquist. "They also offer sleep training, breastfeeding support and management of reflux, colic and multiples on a more advanced level."

Stern encourages exhausted moms to look at this service as a necessity, not a luxury. "This model of care is becoming an accepted form of help for new parents."

If this type of service is not available, consider online help. Night Nannies is a service that is part of Helpouts by Google, which connects you to experts — live and face-to-face over video. Night Nannies professionals specialize in sleep training, early childhood development, midwifery and breastfeeding who work with you to develop a sleep plan that works for your unique situation.

Make sleep a priority

When the house feels like it's getting away from you, try changing your paradigm. Add "get some sleep" to your ever-growing list of responsibilities. When it's written right there on your massive to-do list, you'll feel better about checking off "sleep" instead of "clean the bathroom."

Don't try to convince yourself that anything is more important than sleep. Let everything else come in second to catching some Z's with your precious little one.

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