Tiny tweaks -- in your day and you baby's sleep schedule -- that add up to a lot of energy
As a new mom you face certain inevitable truths: You will no longer sleep for eight uninterrupted hours. You'll also devote untold time to activities such as contemplating the color, scent, and consistency of your child's poop. The end result: You are zonked. What can you do to perk up -- short of putting yourself on a Starbucks IV for the foreseeable future? "Regaining energy is about making a slew of little changes that quickly add up to a powerful shift in the way you feel," says Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., author of Fight Fatigue. To combat a case of the Wiped Outs, heed these rejuvenating bits of wisdom. There's not a single latte in the lot.
Practice saying no
"It's a huge energy preserver!" says Dr. Bauman. Ixnay any extra obligations you can. Send your regrets for that party you're not jazzed to attend; put off those visitors you're less than thrilled to entertain. "New moms get trapped when Baby arrives and everyone wants to meet him," Dr. Bauman says. "You end up cooking and cleaning, which takes effort."
Let go of all expectations
"The more you try to control, the more exhausted you'll be," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Body for Life for Women. "The fact is, things are different. Don't fight it! Wake up each morning and tell yourself you're going to approach the day as if it were a box of Cracker Jack: You just don't know what surprise you're going to get. It could be your kid's first gummy smile or a screaming-all-day colic-fest. You'll save energy if you go with the flow." Mommyhood is, after all, a daily (sometimes hourly) lesson in the art of being more chill.
Be nice to yourself
Dr. Bauman's orders! "You are constantly giving of yourself right now," she says. "Your energy bank will hit empty if you don't refill it."
Eat for oomph
Make sure every meal or snack contains both protein and a fiber-rich carbohydrate. This combo takes a while to digest, delivering sustained energy and keeping you satisfied longer. Nosh on low-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries and walnuts for breakfast; an apple with almond butter for a snack; and a tasty salad (bagged lettuce is as easy to pour into a bowl as chips), dried fruit (fiber!), and precooked rotisserie chicken for lunch. Try to eat every three or four hours to keep your blood sugar up. If you lose track of time, set your phone to ping reminders.
Put one foot in front of the other
Worried about wasting what little zip you have left have on the elliptical machine? In fact, expending energy actually gives you energy. Studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise (like a 30-minute power walk) fights fatigue and releases feel-good endorphins. Plus, when you're fit, your body works more efficiently, so everything you do will feel easier and you'll be better able to get through your day without hitting a wall of exhaustion. In fact, working out for 20 minutes three days a week lowers feelings of fatigue by a whopping 65 percent, according to a University of Georgia study. New mom Cheryl Rogers, of Colorado Springs, rises at 5:40 a.m. five times a week to go running. Yes, that's early, but "afterward, I feel energized for the entire day!" she says. Not happening? Join a pal for a stroller walk once a week, then gradually add a few more meet-ups to your calendar. Your friends won't let you miss a gabfest, er, workout.
Make a weekly date
Have lunch with a friend, join your sister for a movie, or try that tapas bar with the girls. Experts say estrogen time can keep you from dragging. "It helps you feel connected, gives you an opportunity to vent worries and frustrations, and just plain maintains your sanity," Dr. Peeke says. It's easy to let the week slip by without making plans -- after all, you've got your hands full -- so plot out a bunch of get-togethers several weeks ahead, Dr. Bauman suggests. Once "Mani with Monica" is on the calendar, consider it nonnegotiable!
Take a power nap
Between 10 and 30 minutes of shut-eye is optimal for rejuvenation, a study from Brock University, in Ontario finds. Just closing your eyes for ten minutes without sleeping can recharge you as much as a catnap, Dr. Peeke says. Doze longer than a half hour, though, and you might wake up even more wiped out than before. "You'll enter a long cycle of deep, slow-wave sleep, and if you get up in the middle of it, you're going to feel fuzzy," Dr. Peeke explains.
See some green
"I like to sit in the yard with my baby," says mom Amy Wyatt, of Waynesville, North Carolina. "I find it refreshing both physically and spiritually." Research bears this out. Being in the sunshine can make you happy: It increases brain levels of serotonin, a chemical linked to mood. There's also evidence that the vitamin D your body produces when you're outdoors helps with mental acuity (so long, mommy brain). Finally, Dr. Peeke says, it's beneficial to simply bust out of the house: "The stimulation of being around other people and looking at something different is revitalizing on its own."
Call in a sub
Okay, no one is more awesome than you. Truly. Mom rules. But still, you need -- and deserve -- a break now and then. Blow the whistle, run off the field, and call in your partner to change the diaper, warm the bottle, or spend a few hours cooing to Baby while you nab "me time." Go for a jog, or just take a long, uninterrupted bubble bath with a book you'd be embarrassed to read in public. Hire a babysitter for an evening so you and your honey can steal off for some coveted couple time. MVPs need a breather once in a while too!
3 Traps that Zap
The tactics may seem to promise pep, but they're buzzkills. Pass!
Nibbling a few jelly beans
Yeah, there's an immediate sugar high, but you're only going to crash a short time later, says Dr. Bauman. Such refined simple carbs send blood sugar levels on a roller coaster. Avoid those sweet temptations by keeping healthy snacks, like fruit and nuts, on hand.
Ordering a late-day latte
After six hours, roughly half of the caffeine you sipped is still coursing through your body, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which means a cup of joe can interfere with that night's sleep. It's best to skip caffeine after 2 p.m. Perk up with a brisk walk around the block instead.
Sleeping in on the weekend
You may be desperate to make up for lost zzz's whenever possible, but experts say that inconsistent sleep patterns can throw off your body's internal clock. Try to train yourself to go to bed and rise at around the same time each day. Bonus: Your cherub's middle-of-the-night wake-up calls might become more tolerable.
New-Mom Energy Makeovers
Try the tricks that helped these women perk up.
Carrying a Load
Kirsten Wilson, of Eugene, Oregon, mom of 5-month-old Cieran
Then: Cieran wanted to be held constantly. Come naptime, a delirious Wilson seized the rare chance to clean up the house. "I was definitely dragging," she says.
Now: At the encouragement of Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., Wilson helped Cieran get used to playing in his infant seat for up to 15 minutes. "If he saw me, he'd cry, so I peeked in to check on him," Wilson says. She straightens up while her son hangs out, which allows her to rest while he naps. "I'm rebooted!" she says.
Jessica Hughes, of Pearland, Texas, mom of 4-month-old London
Then: Hughes is a single mom who works six days a week, and she spent every other available moment by her daughter's side. London even slept in a bassinet next to her bed. "I heard all the movements she made, so I never slept deeply," Hughes says.
Now: Dr. Bauman convinced Hughes to transition London to her crib -- a shift that went well, because she was already napping there. Hughes is a new woman: "It's that quality rest that helped my energy level."
Toiling too late
Marie Rafferty, of Los Angeles, mom of 6-month old Josiah
Then: Rafferty and her hubby own a business and work from home, "so we tag-teamed caring for the baby throughout the day." Instead of getting to bed early, "I wound up working late into the night," she says.
Now: A sitter watches Josiah for a couple of hours a day so Rafferty can buckle down. It's also given her time to exercise (a big rejuvenator!) or hang with her honey. "We even went to the movies," she says. "I'm more rested and happy these days."
Get your baby to sleep like a dream
There will be no tossing if you turn to these simple snooze rules.
1. Make his crib sleep central.
Letting Baby doze in the stroller can allow you to blitz through errands, but a little one who is used to snoozing in motion may find it hard to drift off in his crib, says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., author of Sleeping Through the Night. Plus, catching zzz's on the fly means naptime won't be consistent. "Parents tend to let babies sleep when they want to, but it's important for them to realize, This is rest time, and this is wake time," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist in Wexford, Pennsylvania. Try to organize your day so Baby can conk out in his crib. If he's resistant, make the transition slowly, Dr. Mindell suggests. "Focus on having him fall asleep in the crib for one nap a day, then move on to all naps.
2. Create a relaxing routine.
In the very first weeks of Mom-dom, it seemed as if feeding and rocking your baby was pretty much all you did, so it was only natural that you ended up feeding and rocking your sweetie to sleep. And that was just fine. "During the first few months, babies don't have their own strategies for soothing themselves, and they don't form bad habits," says pediatrician Ari Brown, M.D., author of Baby 411. But that changes: As they near their fourth month, little ones start developing a sleep routine, so if nursing or cuddling
is the only way to get your cherub to dreamland, you're in trouble. "Babies wake up two to six times a night, which means that whatever you're doing to get him to sleep at bedtime, you'll need to do that same thing whenever he stirs," Dr. Mindell says. Instead, create a bedtime routine that will help your baby associate new activities with sleep: Give him a bath, put on his pj's, read a story, then dim the lights. "If the same thing happens every night, he'll eventually start to understand that sleep is soon to come," Dr. Mindell says. Put Baby in his crib drowsy but not asleep, so he connects sleep with being in his crib, not in your arms, and can learn to conk out by himself. Work up to this gradually by reducing rocking time. Next: Keep your hand on his belly as he drifts off. Once he's okay with that, you can try sitting where he can see you till he falls asleep. Soon, you should be able to tiptoe out after putting him down.
3. Ballpark a regular bedtime.
Although your newborn may naturally go to bed later because her sleep patterns are jumbled, by 5 months old or so, she'll be ready to hit the sack at 7 or 8 p.m. If your baby tends to doze off about an hour before then, start treating that as her bedtime rather than as a nap: "Wash her, put her in pj's, and call it a night," Dr. Mindell recommends. You can also roll bedtime forward by 15 minutes every few days until you reach 7 p.m. or so. Night, night!
Better naps for baby
You probably noticed that newborn-hood is a total free-for-all when it comes to sleep. But by 3 months, start setting a loose nap schedule. "Putting your child down to nap at the same times every day will set her internal clock to be sleepy at those moments," Dr. Mindell says. Peek at this sample napping snapshot:
- If Baby wakes up at 6 a.m., put her down at 8 a.m.<?LI>
- When she wakes, let her stay up for two hours until nap two. <?LI>
- Repeat for naps three and four. <?LI>
If she fights sleep, check in on her at regular intervals (every 5, 10, or 15 minutes) for about an hour, suggests Jill Spivack, L.C.S.W., coauthor of The Sleepeasy Solution. "Stand next to the crib without touching her, and say something like, 'I love you. You can do it,' in a soothing voice." Then leave the room so she has a chance to lull herself to sleep. It helps to have a naptime routine -- sing a lullaby, read a story. And be sure to keep the room dark (room-darkening shades help) and reasonably quiet.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of American Baby magazine. Updated June 2013.