Dr. Linda, my baby is 10 days old and I haven’t been able to sleep more than a few hours since she was born. I’m trying to sleep when she sleeps but I can’t! I’m exhausted. Is there anything I can do?

Yes, there are definitely things you can do to get you sleeping better! But first, you need to understand a few things about newborn sleep patterns and how they affect you.

Newborns sleep between 14-17 hours a day, they just don’t sleep when we want them to! They sleep long hours to keep up with their rapid growth, it may look to us like all they’re doing is eating, pooping, peeing and, crying but they’re doing so much more: They’re learning how to live outside the womb, how to communicate with you and train you to give them what they need, all this while their bodies and brains are growing at an amazing rate. It must be exhausting!

Unfortunately for parents, even though newborns need lots of sleep, they can’t sleep for long stretches like older kids. They need to eat and get their diapers changed every 1.5 -3 hours and they need to snuggle and bond with you and dad frequently. Knowing this will help you plan when you are going to rest and when you are going to do what you need to do during the day.

Here are a few pointers to help you navigate this trying time.

Sleep when your baby sleeps

Since you can’t change how long and when your newborn sleeps when they’re very young, it’s very important to sleep or at least to lie down and rest. Even if you can’t sleep, it’s important to take the time to relax. These times may be random in the beginning so if you’re a mom who loves a schedule, choose two times per day when you’ll catch up on your sleep. Many moms choose the time right after the morning feed to nap or rest and again after the late afternoon feed. Choose what feels best for you.

Arrange for help with nighttime feedings

Ask your partner or a trusted family member to give your baby nighttime feeds 2-3 nights a week if possible. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to wait till your baby is 4 weeks old before you introduce a bottle for the nighttime feeds, but, if your baby is bottle feeding you can start out early on. If your partner is the one taking the nighttime feeds, make sure to let him know how much you appreciate his help, men love positive reinforcement!

When my son was born I wanted to be supermom and do it all myself. I didn’t want any help with feedings because I was afraid that my son would love the other person more than me! I ended up totally exhausted and frustrated which made him fussy and unhappy. I am so grateful that after a few weeks my mom stepped in and made me take a break! I got a lot calmer and so did my son!

Now, even though you’re exhausted, you may have problems falling asleep because, in response to sleep deprivation, your body releases stress hormones. These hormones give you the energy to carry on even though you’re exhausted, but, they can make it hard to fall asleep.

Get outside in nature

Getting out in nature is good for you on many different levels: exposure to the morning sun will help set your biological clock and make it easier for you to fall asleep at night. The mild exercise a walk gives you will help relieve your stress and lower your stress hormones so you can fall asleep when you try. And, taking your baby with you exposes your baby to new things which stimulate the development of the brain and senses and strengthens your bond so she can feel more relaxed with you.

Watch your diet

Stress lowers your Magnesium levels and magnesium is important to help moms relax and sleep. Instead of reaching for caffeine to make you feel better, try snacking on some healthy alternatives that are high in Magnesium like pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and brazil nuts. Add whole wheat bread, brown rice, baked potatoes, and kidney beans to your diet and, if you’re not intolerant, and your baby doesn’t react, make sure you get enough dairy. Dairy products not only give you the magnesium you need but they’re also good sources of Calcium, vitamin D which help you relax. They also supply you with tryptophan which is an amino acid that helps with sleep. If you can’t do dairy, meats and fish, spinach, broccoli, avocado, apples, carrots and raisins are other good sources of magnesium.

Don’t forget to breathe

Stress causes most people to either take shallow, rapid breaths or to hold their breath. This, in turn, causes the body to release stress hormones, which cause more of this rapid shallow breathing in a vicious cycle. Deep abdominal breathing where you take a deep breath in through your nose to a slow count of 4 hippopotami and then releasing it slowly through your mouth or nose to a slow count of 8 hippopotami will break this cycle and activate the rest and relax cycle in your body.

Consider taking ‘breathing breaks’ throughout your day, especially when you’re feeling extra stressed. Take a few moments to take three deep abdominal breaths in a row and notice how much better you feel. Set a timer on your phone to remind you. This habit won’t just help you, it will also help your baby because she feels what you feel.

When you get in the habit of deep breathing, you’re more likely to remember to breathe deeply when you need it the most: when your baby is crying, when your partner irritates you or when you need to relax or fall asleep.

I’d like you to remember that this too, shall pass. Before you know it, if you train your baby properly, you’ll be able to get longer stretches of sleep. In the meantime, please make taking care of you part of your daily routine!

Please share this with whoever you think might benefit.

Have a happy, healthy day,