Getting the most rest after your baby's birth can depend on what you learn before it. Dr. Amy Wolfson, professor of psychology at the College of the Holy Cross and author of The Woman's Book of Sleep, studied couples drawn from Lamaze classes. "Half of them were given instructions before their babies were born about how and when to help infants learn to self-soothe, and the other half weren't," she says. "Not only did the half given the information get more sleep, and their babies got more sleep, but the parents also had much higher scores when they rated their marital satisfaction."
Consider these general post-baby sleep principles:
- Learn about sleep before your child is born—before your brain turns to mush—and make a realistic decision together as to how you're going to handle the nighttime duties. Don't wait until it's 3 AM and your baby is screaming and you haven't slept in months to try to think things through clearly. Don't expect to function normally (and don't expect your partner to).
- When you're trying to get your baby to go back to sleep, don't stimulate him. It sounds counterintuitive, but up picking your baby or rocking him or singing to him may be giving you what you need more than what she needs, which is a way to calm herself down without your help. Researchers have videotaped sleeping babies whose parents claimed their child slept through the night and discovered that "sleep through the night" is a misnomer. Those babies wake five to six times a night, like everybody else, but when they do, they find a way to go back to sleep without assistance.
- It's hard to do this, and it's a cliché perhaps, but try not to use too much of the time your child is asleep to get things done, even though for many parents that seems to be the only time you have to yourselves, or for each other. If your child sleeps 16 hours a day, that's your opportunity to carve out eight for yourself. Consecutive hours are best, but broken hours are better than none, and even short naps help. Don't think getting up early to work is a way to get ahead, because what you gain in time, you lose in productivity—in effect, it's a wash.
- Get support. That doesn't mean talking to friends when you could be napping, but rather finding friends who can babysit while you zonk out. Swap time with other new moms, hire a sitter to come spell you while you're upstairs dozing, or hire a cleaning person if you don't have the time to get the housework done yourself.
- Rather than both parents rising in the night at the same time, let the mom pump her milk and store it so the other parent can do the first feeding while mom sleeps. Taking turns is better than both of you waking to do half the task.