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Staying Home Instead

Dealing with the Sleepless Nights of Motherhood

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 4, March-April 2004, pp. 67-71

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

Since I don't work outside the home and my husband works long hours at a stressful job, we have decided that I should have primary responsibility for caring for our baby at night. The problem is, I feel truly exhausted, and I'm beginning to resent my husband's ability to sleep when I can't. I admit I don't always "sleep when the baby sleeps," though. Do other mothers have suggestions for getting more rest?

Response

Your situation sounds very similar to mine when my children were babies and toddlers. It was suggested to me that my husband could get the baby during the night and bring him or her to me. This never worked because my husband never even heard our babies during the night. If I had waited for him to bring me a hungry baby, the poor dear would have starved!

Like you, I thought it was important to let my husband get his rest, as he was the sole breadwinner for our family. I was able to do a few things to help me get a little energy back when I was exhausted. My advice is to start sleeping when the baby naps during the day. Close the blinds, turn off the phones, and grab a cuddly blanket. It was hard to do at first, but I came to look forward to snuggling up with my baby(s) and toddler(s) for our afternoon naps. I didn't seem to mind losing a little sleep in the night when I knew I would make up for it the next day. My husband also didn't mind getting up by himself in the morning, so I would sleep in until the children woke up, which also gave me some extra rest.

Penny Sholl
Pleasant Lake IN USA

Response

My husband and I have had many challenges at night with our children, 18 months old and three months old, who are both still nursing. My husband has a demanding job where he needs to be both physically and mentally alert. He is also a very light sleeper, we we agreed that it was best if I have primary responsibility of caring for both children at night.

Our 18-month-old rarely sleeps through the night, and when he wakes up, he lets the world know how angry and distressed he is. The only way to soothe him is to nurse him and co-sleep. Luckily, my three-month-old has a much more mellow disposition. I have used several methods to save energy that will probably help you, too.

First, don't worry too much about chores, just do what absolutely must be done. My 18-month-old is now getting old enough to "help" me with certain tasks, so we can spend time together straightening up the house and I can conserve a little energy. We have a large toy box on wheels that is very useful because my child and I move easily from room to room and put all the toys on the floor into the box. It's also useful to have locks on every drawer in the kitchen to keep pots and pans off the floor. My two teenage step daughters also help out a lot. They are responsible for dishes, they do their own laundry, and they help watch the babies when I need a break.

During morning or afternoon naptime, I have to choose whether to rest or work. If I'm tired, I try to sleep. Even just closing my eyes and resting for a little while makes a huge difference. If I had enough sleep the night before, I put on some music and catch up on chores or spend some time just doing whatever I want. By doing what I want, I can recharge my spirit for when I need to be going full-speed again.

Having a positive attitude makes all the difference in the world. Like you, I also went through a period where I resented my husband going out into the working world and sleeping at night when it seemed as though I had to stay home all the time with a baby crying at each breast. I snapped out it, however, and realized that I was not in this alone. I knew that if my husband was able to sleep at night, he would be more than willing to help me in the evenings when he got home and on the weekends.

Anna Downen
Ferndale WA USA

Response

I have a five-year-old, two-and-a-half-year-old, and three-month-old to take care of while my husband works 12 to 14 hours a day. We decided before the children were born that he wouldn't get up with any of our children at night because that would impair him at work. Co-sleeping with each newborn helped me save a lot of energy. Being able to nurse the baby in bed without waking up completely really helped me get more rest.

You don't say if you have other children -- I know this can make it impossible to "sleep when the baby sleeps." What I do instead is reserve weekends to catch up on all the sleep I miss during the week. My husband takes care of the other children and I nap when my baby does during the weekend. This way, I can start out the week with a fresh reserve of sleep that keeps me going until the next weekend, and my husband gets to spend some quality time with the children. We have also hired a cleaning person to come in during the week so that I can go to bed early instead of staying up every night to do chores.

Keep in mind that this is a period of time in your child's life that will pass relatively quickly. You will sleep normally again when it is over. This thought helps me deal with those feelings of resentment that can creep up along with exhaustion.

Lastly, be aware that you need to maintain a good diet. Don't skip meals and stay well hydrated, since hunger and dehydration can make you feel really tired all the time. Best of luck with this and with breastfeeding!

Christie Davidson
Purchase NY USA

Response

My husband also works 70 hours a week or more. I'm the primary caregiver of our three boys who are seven, five, and 13 months old. My youngest still gets up every two to three hours. This is what works in our house.

The baby's last nursing in the morning is usually around six o'clock. After he goes back to sleep, I get up and get ready for my day. I also take this time to do productive work since I'm feeling fresh and energetic. I also rest when the baby naps. I can do chores at another time. It'll always be there, but the opportunity to nap may not. I start dinner in the early afternoon so I don't feel rushed and crazy when the other two get home from school. We eat our evening meal at 6 pm, get ready for bed by 7 pm, and my husband reads bedtime stories with the two older boys. I settle down to bed with the baby and fall asleep after he nurses, usually around 8 pm. We don't take phone calls after that. I really limit my evening social engagements. Another thing is to make sure you are eating fresh, healthy foods, not just empty carbohydrates, which can make you feel even more sluggish. Get your exercise, too. Even taking a walk or doing yard work for a few minutes can wake you up.

Lastly, I found pampering myself with a pedicure once a month is another cure for the tired and weary. A massage every three months is also a way to pat myself on the back for a job well done.

Melissa Lawlor
Pleasant Valley NY USA

Response

Remember, you are working long hours at a stressful job, too. Your husband should share this responsibility in some equitable way. My husband and I have devised a system that works for us. I am responsible for feeding, he is responsible for diapers. If our son wakes up and really needs comforting, I try to do it on week nights and my husband does it on weekends.

I have to force myself to take a nap when my baby does, since I am compelled to use that time to get things accomplished, but it makes the whole family happier if I sleep a little during the day. My son and I both sleep very soundly when we lie down together. I try to use his morning nap time for chores and his afternoon nap for sleeping. My husband often says, "Remember to get a nap!" on his way out the door, and it does remind me that this is time well spent.

It is also a wonderful treat to have a grandparent or friend come over to play with your baby for an hour while you nap. Good luck!

Debby Popkin
Southington CT USA

Response

I was in a similar situation when my daughter, Emily, was born last July. In the beginning, after three or four weeks of getting up every two hours and feeding and rocking her to sleep in the living room while my husband slept peacefully in our bed, I decided to try co-sleeping. She was already sleeping in our room in a bassinet, but I took her to bed with me when I was ready to go to sleep. Sometimes this was as early as 8 pm, other nights as late as 11 pm. I was still taking care of the baby by myself at night, but I barely noticed it. Other than switching the baby from one side of me to the other, I was only awake for a few minutes before falling back to sleep in the middle of nursing.

By the time she was nine or 10 weeks old, I noticed she was sleeping six to seven hours without waking up to eat. I switched her back to the bassinet so I could sleep a little less cramped, but still put her in bed with me when she woke up to feed. She went back to every two to three hours for a while, and slept next to me again during that period. Even after moving her to a crib in a separate room at three months old when she was too big for her bassinet and had started to show signs that rolling over wasn't too far away, I still brought her into bed with me when I was too tired to deal with sitting up and feeding her. The move to the crib in a separate room also allowed for my husband to help out. Since he stays up later than I do, he takes the first shift. We have two baby monitors, one in the living room where my husband watches television or surfs the Internet, and one in our room. I don't turn the one in our room on until my husband comes to bed. He can check on all those little noises she makes, and only wakes me if she seems inconsolable. He felt so proud the first night he was able to rock her back to sleep on his own. This way, I usually get at least a few hours of sleep before she wakes up hungry.

She's almost five months old now, and sometimes still ends up in our bed, nursing next to me while we both fall back to sleep. I wouldn't trade that for the world. Working with my husband's late-to-bed sleep habits have benefited us both -- I get more sleep and he gets the joy of comforting our daughter, which makes him feel more secure in his role as daddy!

Karen Stull
Venice FL USA

Response

I was in a very similar situation. In fact, when my first son was born, the biggest challenge I faced as a new mother was learning how to get enough rest. Not only does your husband "work long hours at a stressful job," you do, too! Mothering has very long hours because you are on call day and night, seven days a week. When I realized this, my husband and I began working as a team so I could get some more sleep.

The most helpful thing has been taking an early morning nap a few days a week. My husband sleeps through the frequent night nursings, so when the baby is all finished sleeping at 5:30 or 6 am, he takes care of her while I sleep a little longer. This does require my husband to get up an hour early so he can be showered and dressed for work on time. My husband enjoys spending this time with our baby because the baby is refreshed and in a good mood to play. These early morning naps really help me to have the energy I need to get through my day with two high need, spirited boys. Weekend mornings are almost always spent this way, too.

Also, If you don't always "sleep when the baby sleeps," remember to at least rest while the baby sleeps. I can feel refreshed by reading or working on my children's scrapbooks while they sleep. In order to be the best mother you can, you need to get some rest! Good luck.

Fran Weintraub
Madison WI USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 24, 2006 by njb.
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