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How to Avoid Sleep Deprivation as a New Parent

It doesn’t take long after a pregnancy announcement for the unsolicited advice to start rolling in. “You better sleep now!” is one of the classics, and one of the most annoying to hear. Because naturally, catching extra zzz’s while you’re pregnant won’t help you avoid sleep deprivation with a newborn. You know that newborns need care around the clock, but can it really be that bad? The truth is, there are ways to avoid sleep deprivation with a newborn, and planning ahead is key. However whether you’re pregnant or deep in the trenches with a new baby, we’re here to help you avoid sleep deprivation as a new parent. 

What causes sleep deprivation as a new parent?

Many people don’t realize that newborns need to eat every 1-3 hours in the early weeks. When a feeding can take 45 minutes, plus burping breaks, a diaper change or two… the feedings can quickly roll right into each other with hardly a break in between. This leaves little time for parents to do anything else – let alone sleep. Sleep deprivation can hit quickly when you’re never getting more than a couple of hours of sleep at a stretch.

Is sleep deprivation with a newborn inevitable?

Having a child is going to cause a lot of things in your life to change, and your sleep schedule is certainly one of them. But no, we don’t believe that sleep deprivation with a newborn is inevitable. With the proper support and self-care, new parents aren’t doomed to be total zombies. 

How to avoid sleep deprivation as a new parent

There are two main keys to staying well-rested as a new parent: support and self-care. Your support system (partner, family, professionals) provides the physical and emotional care needed so that you can sleep better and more often than you could if you were going it alone. Good self-care improves your overall quality of health and allows you to feel rejuvenated in other ways besides sleep.  

Support: Gather your village

Nighttime shifts

If you have a partner, consider how you can work as a team to avoid sleep deprivation. At night, partners can swap out being on baby duty, so the other can sleep deeply. Bottle feeding parents can take totally separate shifts, with one parent sleeping in another part of the house if needed. For example, Dad could do the bedtime routine and bottle while Mom sleeps. Then when the baby wakes up for their first nighttime feed Dad can make the bottle then hand the baby off to Mom and head to bed himself. Nursing and pumping moms can maximize sleep by taking on solely feeding at night, while Partner does everything else: burping, diapering, swaddling, soothing. 

Call in help from family and friends

We really aren’t meant to go this parenting journey alone. There are so many ways your community of family, friends, and neighbors can support you as a new parent. Dropping off meals, taking out the garbage, and folding a basket of laundry are simple ways to lighten your load. If you have older children or pets, plan for care for them so that everyone best gets their your needs met. Ask trusted family members or experienced mom friends to hold your baby while you shower or nap. Avoiding sleep deprivation as a new parent takes a team approach: how can your community take some things off your plate, so you can conserve precious energy?

Hire professional support

Experienced postpartum support is as old as time. New mothers have looked forward to the loving care they would receive from experienced caregivers after birth for many generations – and now shouldn’t be any different! Hiring professional postpartum support makes a huge positive impact on your experience of new parenthood. A postpartum doula or Newborn Care Specialist can work with you during the day or overnight to help you integrate as a new family. Postpartum doulas and NCS’s help you avoid sleep deprivation in several ways:

  • Provide reprieve from baby care so you (and partner, if applicable) can rest
  • Provide sleep conditioning so your baby learns to sleep better and longer from the get go
  • Educate parents so they can care for their babies more easily and confidently

Basically, professional postpartum support helps your whole family sleep better, more often, with far less 2AM Googling newborn care questions. They can also help you manage your whole household better so you’re more relaxed in general. 

Self-Care: Put on your own oxygen mask

Sleep hygiene for the whole family

Many new parents are frustrated with this common experience: they finally get their newborn baby fed, diapered, and to bed – and they can’t drift off themselves. Adrenaline is no joke in the early days. While it’s meant to help you rise to the task of keeping a tiny person alive, adrenaline can also kick start you into a relentless bout of sleep deprivation. This is where sleep hygiene comes in: do everything you can to promote a healthy sleep environment for the whole family. Here are some sleep hygiene basics to help you avoid sleep deprivation as a new parent:

  • Keep lights low, use a dim, ideally red light for night feedings
  • Avoid the use of screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • Keep bedroom at a comfortable temperature (68°-72°F is safest for babies, if room sharing) 
  • Avoid big meals close to bedtime 
  • Be as consistent as possible with your bedtime, i.e. going to sleep as soon as you get your newborn to sleep between 9-10pm (don’t worry, their bedtime will move earlier soon, we promise!)

Naps are your friend

The whole “sleep when the baby sleeps” adage frustrates many parents because it feels impossible. However, it’s a well-meaning piece of advice. While some people find short naps more accessible and refreshing than others, the universal truth is that brand new parents deserve to prioritize rest whenever they can. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” means rest over laundry or dishes. Nap instead of writing those thank you cards. Pregnancy and birth take a major toll, as do being a main support person. Naps are your friend as a new parent!

Nourish yourself

Good nutrition, hydration, and gentle movement play a significant role in how you’ll feel postpartum. If you’re tired, hungry, dehydrated, and sore, new parenthood can feel pretty miserable. But take away a couple of those variables, and the exhaustion doesn’t hit so hard. Enough protein and lots of healthy fiber and fats will help you recover more smoothly. Always keep your water bottle within reach. Try gentle shoulder stretches after each feeding to help you avoid muscle pain. All of these little pieces of self care help you feel better, and therefore sleep better, too. 

Plan logistics ahead of time 

Lastly, plan logistics ahead of time to lighten your mental load postpartum. Ideas include:

  • Stock up on freezer meals or have a friend organize a meal train
  • Make sure all bills are set to autopay
  • Save grocery lists for grocery delivery after baby arrives
  • Stock up or set to subscribe and save on household items like TP and laundry detergent
  • Consider keeping some paper plates in the cupboard as a backup when dishes feel impossible

When you don’t have to plan meals or remember to pay bills on time, your stress levels go down. And with that, not only do you have more time to nap or go to bed earlier, you also can drift off without running through a long mental list of to-do’s. 

Sleep deprivation as a new parent: it can be avoided!

Sleep deprivation and new parenthood do not have to go hand in hand. While some disrupted sleep is unavoidable, you aren’t doomed to be a walking zombie for the first few months. Gathering your support system, automating and/or delegating household logistics, and great self-care can all make sure that you get the sleep you need – even if it might have to come in shorter chunks of time. Good sleep hygiene like early bedtimes, dark bedrooms, and white noise help the whole family sleep better. And even after tough nights of many feedings, the lack of sleep won’t hurt as badly when you’re otherwise feeling healthy and supported. To truly avoid sleep deprivation as a new parent, you have to plan ahead. But if you find yourself bleary-eyed with a newborn already, it’s not too late to turn it around and start getting the rest you need. We’re here to help!