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Sleep deprivation with a newborn

The first few months following the birth of your baby can be a huge adjustment for the both of you.

As your little one learns to adapt to the outside world after nine months in the womb, you’ll be getting used to the new responsibilities of being a parent.

Whilst having a new baby is an exciting time, it can also have its challenges. Considering the different feeding options, managing any ‘baby blues’ and figuring out a routine that works for you and your family are just a few examples.

Sleep deprivation with a newborn is also an experience that many new parents share. Here we’re taking a look at how to get more sleep with a newborn and how to parent when you’re exhausted, as well as providing some handy sleeping tips for new parents.

I’m a new mum having trouble sleeping

‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’. You may have heard or even had this advice from a number of different people. And whilst it’s not wrong, putting it into practice isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Sleep deprivation with a newborn is very common, so if you’re experiencing this you’re definitely not alone. If you’ve got a partner, a close family member or a friend who can offer any help, don’t be afraid to take them up on it. Any support you can get with taking care of your new baby or household chores will enable you to get some much-needed rest, even if you’re not able to sleep.

It’s important to keep an eye on how you’re feeling, and the amount of actual sleep you’re getting. If you find that you’re feeling tired all of the time but unable to sleep, or you start to feel low in mood and are struggling to find enjoyment in the things you usually would, speak to your doctor or midwife. It could be that you’re experiencing postnatial depression1 and would benefit from some support - don’t struggle alone. 

How to get more sleep with a newborn

Not all babies are the same when it comes to sleep. Whilst some babies sleep through the night from very early on, some will take much longer to do so, and adjusting to their sleep patterns can take some getting used to.

As a general rule of thumb, your baby will need anywhere between 8 and 18 hours of sleep a day in the first few months of life, although this may not happen in long stretches and instead come in short bursts. It’s also likely that they’ll wake during the night to be fed2.

If you’re wondering how to get more sleep with a newborn, take some time to get to know your baby’s sleep patterns, as this will allow you to plan your own time to sleep and rest. If and when you’re ready to establish a routine, helping your baby get used to the difference between night and day is a good place to start, and at nighttime you might find it helpful to3:

  • Keep the lights down low
  • Avoid talking, or use a quiet voice
  • Put your baby down as soon as they've been fed and changed
  • Only change them if they need it

How to parent when you’re exhausted

Whether you’re a first-time parent or adding to your growing family, sleep deprivation with a newborn can be tough to take. It can also leave you wondering just how you’re supposed to parent when you’re so exhausted. There’s no magic solution here, and it’s all about finding the things that work for you.

Whilst household chores do need to be done, they’re not the most important thing, so try not to use all of your free time doing them. Unless something needs doing urgently, try putting your feet up and watching some TV, or lean on others to help you around the house so that you can rest and spend time with your baby.

Don’t put yourself under any pressure to have lots of visitors. Give yourself the time you need to get to know your baby and spend time with your older children if you have them. Baby and parent groups can also really help when it comes to spending time with your baby, and building a support network of like-minded people who are all in the same parenting boat.

Coping with sleep deprivation as a new parent

Coping with sleep deprivation as a new parent isn’t easy, and can leave you feeling stressed, anxious and low in mood. Trying to get enough sleep can sometimes feel like a vicious cycle, so it’s worth exploring some of the things that might help you to relax and feel more energised.

You might try:

  • Having a warm bath before bed
  • Doing 5-10 minutes of relaxation throughout the day
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet and drinking plenty of water
  • Doing some exercise, this can help to give you more energy and feel less tired4

It’s really important to talk to others about how you’re feeling, and seek support as and when you need it. Remember that this won’t last forever. As your baby grows and settles into the world around them, they’ll begin to sleep for longer periods of time, leaving you to catch up on those all-important 40 winks.

How much sleep do new parents get on average?

When it comes to how much sleep you’ll get as a new parent, there’s simply no way to know. There are so many factors that affect the sleep that you get, for example how often your baby sleeps, your own feelings and mood and the quality of your sleep environment.

Whilst it can be easy to compare you and your baby’s sleep patterns with other families, no one parenting journey is the same. There’s no right or wrong here, and what really matters is whether you’re getting enough sleep to feel well and function.

If you find that your lack of sleep is interfering with how you’re functioning day-to-day or affecting your mood, always seek advice from your doctor or health visitor, as they’ll be able to signpost you to the support you need.

Sleeping tips for new parents

Being a parent doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and at times, overcoming sleep deprivation can feel like an impossible task. However, rest assured that it won’t last forever. Here are just a few tips in the meantime to help you and other exhausted new parents to get more sleep:

  • Try going to bed earlier and getting an earlier night5
  • Where possible, share the night feeds with your partner, and keep your baby in the same room to reduce the amount of disruption when they wake for a feed6
  • Spend some time outdoors with your baby during the day, as this will help their body clock adapt to the difference between day and night7
  • If you feel up to it, try doing some exercise, as this can help you to sleep better8
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime9

If you’re still struggling to find a routine that works for you, it’s worth making an appointment with your GP or health visitor to get some advice about the right support for you.

Can lack of sleep make you emotional?

A lack of sleep, particularly for prolonged periods, can really take its toll. You may find that you’re more irritable than usual and start to feel anxious or depressed10.

Whilst a lack of sleep can certainly exacerbate things, it’s also possible that you’re experiencing the ‘baby blues’, and this is perfectly normal in the first couple of weeks after giving birth. However, if you continue to feel low in mood and it begins to affect your daily life, it’s a good idea to seek advice from your doctor, health visitor or midwife.

I'm Leanne Fraser, a certified Sleep Consultant for babies and young children.  

Every day I coach and support families to get better sleep for their child, and for themselves. Sleep is a basic human need, we can't function without it- I'm a Mum myself I know exactly how it feels to be exhausted!  

My approach is completely non-judgmental- if what you are doing is working then there's no need to change it, but please know that if your sleep situation is un-manageable then there is help available. 

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Important notice:

Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, you eat a varied, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breastmilk, and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. The social and financial implications of using an infant formula should be considered. Improper use of an infant formula or inappropriate foods or feeding methods may present a health hazard. If you use an infant formula, you should follow manufacturer’s instructions for use carefully – failure to follow the instructions may make your baby ill. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health visitor for advice about feeding your baby. 

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