Did new mothers get any sleep? Even slipping outside for a walk now seemed like an impossible task when I was suddenly faced with bringing not only the baby, but a ton of baby paraphernalia as well: bottles; diaper; wipes; pacifiers; and a bulky, blue twenty-pound stroller.
“No matter how long you’ve been planning to have a baby,” says psychologist Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., “the reality of actually becoming a mom is likely to be more tumultuous than anything you imagined.” So what can a new mom do? While there’s no way to completely eliminate the adjustments a new baby brings, there are some tips that will make the transition a lot easier.
1. Create a Routine
After you come home from the hospital, there’s probably nothing you’d rather do than collapse into bed for at least a month. Yet the sooner you establish a routine, the sooner you and your baby will reap the benefits.
“The importance of an infant schedule is well recognized,” says Robert Bucknam, M.D. According to Bucknam and other physicians, following a predictable, regular routine is one way to begin instilling security and confidence in you as a new parent and in your baby. So what is a good routine for a newborn?
Dr. Bucknam suggests starting with a feeding and diaper change, followed by a wakeful period that could include playing with the baby, singing, stories, baths, and getting together with friends. Then put the baby down for a nap (if you’re one of those moms who are good at napping and can resist doing other chores while the baby sleeps, here’s where you could conk out too). Repeat the cycle throughout the day, timing feedings about two and a half to three hours apart. At night, put the baby back to bed after feeding.
“Following a routine not only taught my baby when to sleep,” says mother of three Shawn Borup, “but it gave me a sense of accomplishment. When I didn’t follow a schedule, the whole day would go by and I wouldn’t have done anything.”
2. Catch Your Zs Getting enough sleep was one of the toughest challenges I faced as a new mom. Sure, I knew I was suppose to get some sleep—lots of people, including my doctor, mentioned it—but in the whirlwind of feedings, diaper changes, cries, and comforting, I didn’t know how.
Within a week I was exhausted with my baby alternately crying and sleeping in short, two-hour spurts. Days and nights became meaningless.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is time-honored advice and works for many mothers, but it didn’t work for me. I wasn’t used to sleeping in short two-hour spurts day and night. My solution? My husband and I created a separate sleeping schedule. It wouldn’t have won any awards for romance, but it was just the ticket for getting some desperately needed shut eye until the baby caught on to the nighttime cycle and slept longer.
Marge Jackson, mother of two, started finally catching some valuable sleep when she began noticing what soothed her colicky baby—in her case, warm, gentle baths. “I was giving her baths three times a day,” Marge admits with a laugh.
3. Break it Up
Ask any mom what surprised her most about motherhood and she’s apt to say, “that there aren’t any breaks!” Moms are on call twenty-four hours a day, including between soggy bites of cereal, while they’re perched on the toilet, and just as they’ve eased their weary bones into a steamy, hot tub. Nights and weekends not excluded.
“Taking care of my first baby consumed my life,” says Diana Johansen, mother of four. “I started resenting the baby, my husband, everything.” Which is exactly why it’s important to make time for you. How? Consider hiring a babysitter for a little while. Or, you could do what lots of other moms do and swap babysitting with another mom from your neighborhood, church, or community center. You’ll watch her baby for three hours, if she’ll watch yours for three hours. It’s a deal made in heaven. Just imagine sashaying through Macy’s all by yourself, indulging in your favorite author’s new mystery, or just stretching out for an uninterrupted jaunt to dreamland—even if just for a few hours.
Planning regular breaks will not only give you something to look forward to, but it will be a welcome relief when your sense of humor has all but disintegrated under the onslaught of ear-splitting shrieks, showers of spit up, and barrages of swampy diapers.
4. Rock On
With hundreds of colorful baby items out there blinking, chiming, and crooning for your attention, it’s easy to overlook one of the most practical items that has been soothing moms and babies since colonial times: the rocking chair.
“Your baby is born accustomed to a great deal of motion,” says Sandy Jones, a recognized authority on babies. “The baby’s been rocking with your every movement for the past nine months. They are soothed by being walked, rocked in a rocking chair or a cradle, swung in a swing, or jiggled in a baby carriage with springs.”
5. Relax and Enjoy
The good news is that you will sleep again. Your life will fit together again, in a different and marvelous way, and your baby won’t be in diapers forever (really). “Forget perfection,” says Cheryl Linden, mother of four. “Enjoy the baby. You’ll get your life back.”
So in the hush of a quiet morning, enjoy the precious miracle that’s joined your family. Kiss each sweet finger and toe. Nibble on the silkiest hair in the world. In a year or two, who knows? With all your experience, you just might be ready for your second child.