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Desperately Seeking Sleep

Smart Sleep Solutions

As a new mother you'll go to any extreme to protect your infant's sleep  --banishing the dog, hushing your husband, pacing the floor for hours with your baby in your arms. But are you taking your own sleep seriously? Before exhaustion overwhelms you, fight for your own right to rest. Here, solutions to help save your sanity.

[BOLD {Pump it up}]
If you're nursing exclusively, you'll likely find yourself bearing the brunt of night duty. In this situation, a breast pump (which you can rent or buy) can be invaluable, allowing you to work out a nighttime shift system with your partner to maximize sleep for both of you.

[BOLD {Work out a shift system}]
Even if your husband has gone back to work, talk with him about doing his share at night  --after all, taking care of a baby is hard work too. For example, a nursing mother could pump a bottle of milk and then go to bed at 9:00 p.m. Dad gives the baby the bottle the first time he wakes, and Mom is on duty the second half of the night. That way each parent gets a solid five- or six-hour stretch of sleep each night, plus a few interrupted hours.

[BOLD {Ask for night help}]
When people ask you how they can lend a hand, take them at their word. While spending a night with your baby may seem a lot to ask, most people can weather a single night of sleep deprivation without too much trouble. And they'll take pleasure in knowing they've given you something a lot more valuable than another casserole or pair of footed pajamas.

[BOLD {Turn visitors into nap nannies}]
If an overnight stay seems too much to ask, consider asking visitors to watch the baby for a couple of hours so you can take a nap. Even if the baby is napping too, you'll sleep better knowing someone else is on call. Another option: Have a babysitter come early in the morning before Dad leaves for work. For example, if Dad takes the 6:00 a.m. feeding, and the sitter arrives at 8:00 a.m., you get to sleep from 5:00 a.m. until noon.

[BOLD {Let Momcome to visit}]
If your parents or in-laws offer to come stay for an extended visit, say yes. Have Mom do one of the late-night or early-morning feedings to ensure your rest. This may be the one time in your life when you're nothing but glad to have your mother-in-law come visit!

[BOLD {Hire a night nurse}]
A night nurse will come to your house and take full responsibility for after-hours care  --feeding, changing, and soothing your baby while you get some much-needed sleep. Even if you are breastfeeding exclusively, a night nurse can greatly reduce your time awake by bringing the baby to you and putting her back down once she's finished her midnight meal or by feeding the baby bottles of pumped breast milk. Night nurses are expensive (sometimes running upwards of $20 an hour), but even if you can't afford one on a regular basis, bringing someone in for a few nights when you are at the end of your rope may make all the difference. To find a night nurse in your area, contact the National Association of Child Care and Referral Agencies at 800/424-2246, or visit its website at

[BOLD {Consider night care}]
Some childcare centers are open around the clock. While most cater to shift workers who work nights on a regular basis, they may have openings for the occasional emergency  --like a mother who is about to collapse from sleep deprivation. To find childcare in your area, try the National Association of Child Care and Referral Agencies.

[BOLD {Take a sleep vacation}]
New parents are often advised to make time for romantic getaways to keep the flame alive during the transition to parenthood. That's great, but if you're lucky enough to have friends or relatives who can take your baby for a night or a weekend, you may want to hold off on that tryst with your husband and try a "sleep-in" instead. Consider treating yourself to a hotel room and putting up the "Do Not Disturb" sign.

[BOLD {Turn off the monitor}]
If your baby really needs you, he'll let you know. In the meantime, lying awake listening to every flutter and murmur on the intercom can be counterproductive.

[BOLD {Start sleep training}]
While it's unrealistic to expect your baby to sleep through the night before 3 to 6 months, it's never too early to start good sleep habits. Learn about the different methods of sleep training to find one that's right for your family. Two helpful books: [ITALIC {Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby,}] by Tracy Hogg, and [ITALIC {Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep,}] by Jodi Mindell, Ph.D.

[BOLD {Practice good sleep hygiene}]
Even the most exhausted mother may have a hard time dropping off to sleep when her mind is racing from a nonstop day of childcare. Practicing basic "sleep hygiene" techniques can help ward off frustrating postpartum insomnia. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet; don't use your bed for working or watching television; schedule exercise, like a brisk walk with your baby, for the late afternoon; and try taking a warm bath a couple of hours before bedtime.

[BOLD {Talk to your doctor}]
Even after a baby is sleeping through the night, it takes most parents two to four weeks to break their own night-waking habit and start sleeping well themselves. If you're still having trouble sleeping after a month or so, a thorough checkup can rule out a medical cause such as thyroid problems, which are common in the postpartum months. Your doctor can also refer you to a therapist who can help determine whether your sleep loss is due to hormonally driven postpartum depression, sleep deprivation, or both.

[BOLD {See a sleep specialist}]
If you just can't bounce back from the disruptions a baby has made to your schedule and your biorhythms, consider seeing a sleep specialist to help you get back on track. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine can help you find an accredited sleep center in your area (507/287-6006;

[BOLD {Avoid driving drowsy}]
If you absolutely must drive after a rough night, take a nap before you get behind the wheel (even 20 minutes can make a significant difference). According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, many sleep-related crashes occur during the afternoon hours, when most people experience a natural drop in alertness, so schedule errands that call for the car in the morning hours. To learn more about sleep contact the National Sleep Foundation at 202/347-3471, or visit