Sleep When the Baby Sleeps!

You may be more exhausted than you have ever been. Whenever people are sleep deprived they are more subject to swings of emotion and to feelings of inadequacy. This, by itself, is enough to cause a blue period (ask any practicing pediatrician).

To make matters worse, research has shown that women with the postpartum blues tend to have babies who cry significantly more than those of their counterparts. It hasn’t been proven whether the fussy, crying babies make moms sadder, or whether the sad moms make the babies less happy – but it seems to me that both are true, and that the crying can become a vicious cycle.

A true grief reaction, at a time of great stress (and insistent noise), in a person who is chronically sleep deprived, all built on a shifting foundation of tremendous hormonal surges – it’s a wonder that postpartum blues aren’t more of a problem. Most of the time, though, the powerful positive feelings that also accompany this time of new beginnings soon displace the sadness.

But if the ride is turbulent, and the oxygen masks should fall from the ceiling of the plane, first put on your own mask, so that you will be able to help your children. If the sky is falling, do the same thing – taking care of yourself is often the first step to being better able to love your baby. This is also a good principle to follow if you are having the best time of your life.

Get as much sleep as possible. If you are breast feeding, you will probably feel sleepy just after nursing. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Once nursing is well established, you may want to give your baby some bottle feedings (ideally of pumped breast milk), both to give Mom a break, and to allow Dad the treat of feeding his baby. If you are bottle feeding from the beginning, share the responsibility, if practical.

Eat delicious, healthy food – hopefully that somebody else prepares!

Get out of the house. Even brief breaks (particularly if it’s time the two of you can spend together) can be very restoring, especially if you get outside.

Clearly, this requires teamwork. Teamwork as a couple, as an extended family, as a community, or as baby care support such as a Doula that you arrange to work with you. An online community can be another source of support and wisdom. We’ve found the online community at to be a great way for new parents to connect with new and experienced parents when they need it most, right from their own homes, without having to get dressed, go out, or look presentable.

Wherever you turn for teamwork, you don’t need in-laws or anyone else to come in and seem to be bossing you around. On the other hand, little is more valuable than concrete, loving assistance in caring for their baby – on your terms and in your timing.

Would you like someone to change more diapers? To join you in reading baby care books? Do the laundry? Call your pediatrician with questions? Rock the baby to sleep? Run out and buy supplies? Ask.

You have just done something magnificent in creating a new life. It’s normal and fine for parenthood to be an unfolding process. It doesn’t have to feel great right now to feel great in the future. You might feel like smiling all the time. You might not. But, take time to smile at your baby even if you don’t feel like it. Smiling may make you feel a little better, and your baby a lot better – which in turn will help you. You might also try laughing until it is funny. Seriously, try laughing out loud until you get tickled! If you have a hard time doing it, grab your partner by both hands, look into each others eyes, and laugh. Soon you won’t be able to stop.

This is an excerpt from: From First Kicks to First Steps: Nurturing Your Babys Development from Pregnancy Through the First Year of Life, McGraw-Hill, 2004, Pp. 200-201

Published on: September 08, 2006
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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