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7 New Mom Sleep-Saving Tips

woman sleeping

Let a loved one take the 2 a.m. shift for you. If you enjoy thinking of yourself as the exclusive source for all of baby's nourishment, get over it. "One component to postpartum depression is sleep deprivation," says Marjorie Greenfield, MD, ob-gyn at the University Hospital of Cleveland and Case Medical Center. "So if you've really bottomed out, you need one full night's sleep -- even if that means giving the baby a bottle of formula."

Delegating feedings is how Julianna Caplan, of Washington, D.C., stayed sane after the birth of her twins, Norah and Josephine. Every week or two, she handed off a 3 a.m. shift to an overnight guest -- her mother, a dear friend, or a regular babysitter (at $10 an hour). "Getting six hours of uninterrupted sleep made me feel like the Energizer Bunny," Caplan says.

Before going to bed, Alison McGrath, of Denver, would give her husband a bottle of milk she'd expressed with a breast pump. He'd take the dead-of-night feeding, which allowed him some bonding time with their baby, Ava. "For the first three weeks, skipping a feeding made my breasts fill up during the night, and it was painful," McGrath says. "But eventually my breasts held tight for eight hours at night." If you try this, make sure to wait until your milk is coming in regularly, which takes a few weeks. Another tip: "Pump one hour after your morning feeding, when your milk supply is best," says Dr. Greenfield.

You know the one: "Sleep when the baby sleeps." Yes, you have a lot to do, but baby's naptime isn't the only possible time to do it. "Get a bouncy seat and a baby carrier so you can be productive when baby's up, and her naptime can be just for you," says Heather Flett, coauthor of The Rookie Mom's Handbook. Flett also suggests learning to nurse while lying down. "The sooner you master this, the sooner you'll learn to drift off while your baby feeds," she says.

Even type A moms can take time to doze, with some preparation. Pamela Clark, of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, says she couldn't nap "while knowing that the laundry needed to be done, or that there was a pile of dishes in the sink." So she hired someone to clean her house and asked someone else ("usually my mom") to spend an hour or two each day with her newborn, Grace. "Then I could turn off the monitor and allow myself to fall into a deep sleep," Clark says.

Experts have long disagreed over where baby should sleep -- crib versus family bed, within or out of earshot, and so on. Don't count on a definitive verdict anytime soon. Instead, follow this rule of thumb: if your sleeping arrangement is keeping everybody up, try something else.

Sheri Allain, of Toronto, preserved her sleep by putting her daughter Layla's crib in a nursery, one floor below her bedroom. She awakened only when Layla's wails were loud enough to signal real distress. "Babies naturally cry during sleep," Allain says. "You don't always have to rush to them." Fans of this approach also say that a well-rested mom is probably a better mom during the day.

Jennifer Hunt, a co-sleeping mom, took a far different approach. "I haven't been deprived of sleep with either one of my children," says the Colorado Springs mom. Like all infants, her sons, Jackson and Creede, would wake up at night to eat. But, Hunt adds, "They didn't wake me up by crying, because they had an all-night buffet of breast milk right next to them." Sherry Feldberg's infant daughter, Lily, spends half the night in her crib and the rest in Mom's bed, where breastfeeding is more comfortable for both of them. "I'm not getting eight hours of sleep, but the arrangement is working," says Feldberg, who lives in Framingham, Massachusetts. "Having a king-size bed helps!"

Tired as you are, it's not easy to doze on command. Gwen Haynes, of Bowie, Maryland, found that caring for a newborn who slept erratically threw her own clock off kilter. "I would be up at night watching reruns of old '70s shows and crying because my husband and Miles were asleep and I wasn't," she says. For a month, Miles would wake up just as Haynes was dozing off. This lousy phase passed -- as will yours, if you have one.

In the meantime, when sleep opportunities do come, give yourself extra help to relax. "Experiment with earplugs, an eye mask, or a white noise machine," Flett recommends. "Ask your partner to take the baby out for a stroll. Having them out of the house is way more relaxing than lying in bed wondering what they're doing."

When her son, Connor, was a newborn, Dana Berry, of Centennial, Colorado, hedged against ill-timed insomnia with high-thread-count sheets, room-darkening blinds, and a scented mist by Molton Brown. "I turned my bedroom into a sanctuary," she says.

"Ask her about using an over-the-counter medication, such as Benadryl, which can be okay while nursing," says Dr. Greenfield. Depending on your situation, your doctor might recommend something stronger. "Just taking something one or two days a week can make a new mom feel more together," she adds.

And a little rejuvenation could help you to put things in perspective. "I tell my friends with newborns that everything gets significantly better after the first six weeks, especially sleep," says Greensboro, North Carolina, mom Kathryn Whitaker, whose daughter Hannah is now 20 months. "I think it helps them to have a deadline to look forward to."

Originally published in American Baby magazine.

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