But not everyone can fall asleep on a dime. "Sleep when the baby sleeps" sounds blissful in theory. In reality, taking catnaps throughout the day can be a tall order for new moms. Still, there are things you can do to increase the odds of sweet slumber.
1. Lie down, even if you can't sleep.
"Get off your feet, relax on the couch, and stay off the phone," says Diana Lynn Barnes, a Los Angeles therapist and president of Postpartum Health International.
Don't stress if you can't fall asleep. "Just lying down for a half hour can be very restorative," she adds.
2. Enlist help for nighttime feedings.
One of the best ways to get a solid stretch of sleep is to have your husband or visitor work the night shift for you. (My mother-in-law was perfect for this job as she lives for the 2 a.m. late-night movie.) It's easier to turn feedings over to someone else if you're bottlefeeding, but moms who are breastfeeding can introduce a bottle of breast milk early on so that someone else can provide relief in the middle of the night. An extra bottle of pumped breast milk can be liquid gold, equal to an extra two or three hours of sleep. Or you can pump at night to have the expressed milk on hand during the day.
"If the baby falls asleep after only one breast, I pump the other so that my husband or my mother can feed him in the morning while I get some additional sleep," says Sonia Park, of Brooklyn, New York.
And while breastfeeding moms may assume their bottlefeeding peers are getting more rest, that's not necessarily the case. A 2002 Australian study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that nursing mothers get more deep sleep -- the type of sleep that heals muscles and repairs the body. Nursing mothers can thank the growth hormone prolactin, which surges during lactation.
3. Keep baby close.
Another idea for nursing moms is to get a bassinet that attaches to the bed or sits next to it. This is what Leslie Lido, of Merrick, New York, did when she nursed her twins.
"When they began to stir, I'd scoop one up, nurse him or her, then put him or her back in the bassinet. My feet never had to touch the cold floor and I hardly woke up at all," says Lido.
4. Find snooze-inducing activities.
For those moms who have trouble falling asleep even after a draining day of caring for a new baby, it might be tempting to decompress in front of a computer or television. But that may be counterproductive.
"The light from the computer or television can be very stimulating and keep you up," says Amy Wolfson, PhD, author of The Women's Book of Sleep (New Harbinger).
Elizabeth Lunday, of Fort Worth, Texas, found the radio to be the perfect sleep aid. "I'd often have trouble going back to sleep after waking up to breastfeed. I would turn on the public radio station that played the BBC World News from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., so I would lie there and listen to the cricket and soccer scores from around the world. Sometimes I would pass out before hearing a word. Now the radio is a surefire sleep inducer."