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Staying Home Instead

Dealing with Sleep Deprivation

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 5, September-October 2000, p. 174

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"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.


I decided to stay home with my children because I wanted to enjoy being with them. Since my baby's recent birth, I often feel too exhausted to enjoy my older children or my baby. I try to nap when I can, but my toddler doesn't always nap at the same time as his baby sister. My husband does what he can, but since he works during the day, he isn't home at the times when I am likely to be able to nap. Evenings are busy for us and my baby is often fussy then. How do other mothers deal with sleep deprivation without turning into screaming shrews?


My son was born 21 months after his big sister. Although newborns sleep a lot, it is sporadic, and my baby's naps almost never corresponded with my toddler's nap. I found myself falling asleep sitting up, even while reading to my toddler! All of a sudden, I would feel my daughter nudging me and hear her saying, "Mommy! Wake up!"

The good news is that with time, after your body has recuperated from the birth, you will get more and more sleep and feel better and better. Meanwhile, here's what I did to avoid breaking into tears of exhaustion.

Go outside whenever possible. Put your baby in a sling and go outside for a walk around the neighborhood with your toddler. Avoid major trips out, since if you stay close to home you can easily return for naps when someone is tired out. Try not to schedule more than one outing a day, including running errands, since these will always tire you out.

As soon as your toddler naps, try lying down and nursing your baby. This would not always allow me to sleep but at least I was resting. I was also getting good one-on-one bonding time with my baby, which is hard to do with a toddler around!

When all else fails and my body just aches for sleep, I remind myself that the reason I am so exhausted is because I have been blessed with two amazing, beautiful little children. We should all be so lucky!

Laura Truschke
Plainfield IL USA


My husband takes charge of our three-year-old son, Aidan, at night. As soon as Ronan, our 14-month-old, is asleep, I am free to go right to bed myself, catch up on some reading, or soak in a warm bath. They enjoy baby-free time to play games or do artwork. It would be easy for me to try and get housework or other responsibilities taken care of during this time, but I resist the temptation and do something I find soothing. Also, when Aidan wakes up, my husband gets him back to sleep or serves breakfast and keeps him entertained until Ronan and I get up. I am still up a few times at night nursing Ronan back to sleep, but at least I am in bed or relaxing until we get up for the day.

A behavior change that I gleaned from NIGHTTIME PARENTING (available from the LLLI Online Store) has worked surprisingly well for me. I try not to focus on how many times I am up overnight, for how long, or at what time. Checking the clock each time you are awakened can easily serve to fodder foul-mood daytime thoughts of, "I was up at 11:30, 1:00, 3:00, and 5:30 for twenty minutes each time! This is like torture!" Groggily stumbling through whatever I needed to do to get the baby and myself back to sleep while sparing a minimum of awareness on recording the "sleep-deprivation-torture pattern" has helped me feel better during the day.

Andrea Kelly
Silver Spring, MD USA


When I had babies and toddlers, I created a large "playpen." I would completely toddler-proof a room; removing anything that was not nailed down and making sure all electrical outlets were covered up. I then would put baby gates on the door openings, sometimes one on top of the other to discourage climbers. Next, I would make a bed on the floor. I would have a sippy-cup of water and some not-too-messy snacks laid out, as well as some soft toys and cloth books that would not hurt too much if they were thrown around. I also had a television with a VCR and would put on an innocuous children's videotape that I could ignore. Also, I turned off the phone.

Then, I would pop in the tape, lie down, nurse the baby, and get some needed rest. I can't say it was a deep sleep, but it was enough to get me to a functioning level. Another important point to remember is that as much other work as possible should be eliminated from your day. If you were working on a large project or trying to meet an important deadline at a job outside the home, you would not expect to have all of your housework done or homemade meals every night. Our culture supports and understands the extra effort to succeed in a moneymaking endeavor but frequently minimizes the struggles and the benefits of being a good parent.

Rita Ascenzo
Glen Ellyn IL USA


Having more than one child can be a challenge to parents. The key is to compromise. Include the baby in your daily activities with your other children. Put the baby in a sling or stroller and spend time outside with all the children: go for walks or to the park, do light gardening, or put the sprinkler on for them to run through.

As for getting more rest, sleeping with the baby really makes a difference. Go to bed with the baby, even if it is "early," and have your husband put the older children to bed if possible. This way, if you are unable to get a nap during the day, at least you have gotten a few more hours of total sleep. During the day, read stories to the older children while nursing the baby.

Also, lower your standards on house cleanliness. If the older children have an area where they can be sort of messy you won't be getting upset thinking of the time and energy it will take to clean up! This makes for a happier mother and happier children.

Paula Salvucci
Waterdown ON Canada


Having several children is hard, no doubt about it. A few months before my daughter was born, I was so tired that I realized that I just had to get a nap in the afternoon. I began slowly teaching my older daughter to spend time by herself. I began with very small amounts of time, just five or ten minutes, and worked my way up to a half an hour. She was old enough to understand when I told her how tired I was and that I needed a nap so I could continue to take care of the family (and her), play games, and fix yummy food. I'd set her up with books, books on tape, music, and other quiet toys. I'd set the kitchen timer and I was very firm about her not interrupting me until it went off. It took some time, but she did learn to entertain herself for a short period and I eventually got a much-needed nap.

When I had my third, the weather was mild and I'd often send the older two out to play in the sandbox while I rested. Even putting my feet up or nursing while lying down was better than nothing. With four, that became more difficult so I hired a mother's helper to come in several afternoons a week. Her job was to entertain the children so I could nap with the baby. I also took advantage of offers from dear friends to take the children for an afternoon. It helped to keep in mind that my children would grow older and not only would there come a time when I was no longer exhausted, there'd also come a time when I could somehow return the favor.

Mary Wagner-Davis
Roseville CA USA


While in my ideal world I would not have a television or VCR in my home, I found it very useful during pregnancies when I was feeling exhausted and during my babies' first year or so when I needed a rest but still had a preschool child to look after. I would put on a favorite videotape and let my older child/children watch, either in the same room or an adjacent room while the baby had a nap, and I laid down with him (phone unplugged, of course). I justified the use of the videotape as a substitute for an absent grandma telling them stories. After all, an hour of watching a video was not at all bad compared to being mothered by a sleep deprived mother for the rest of the day! Now that my children are older, they do not watch much television.

Léda Skeens
Great Britain


Take heart, it gets easier as time goes by and the baby grows. If you have children that fall asleep in the car, you might try a well-timed afternoon drive. I found it very helpful. It got me out of the house, the children slept, and I got a well-needed mental break. Once the children were asleep, I'd park in the shade, roll all the windows down, and snooze or read a good book. Since it's important to never leave little ones alone in the car, I always stayed with them. Also, taking advantage of weekends and napping when your husband is available can keep you from feeling run down.

If you have had any offers of help, take advantage of them now, such as child care, meals, errands, or housework. Keeping a positive attitude is helpful, as well as practicing deep breathing when things get tense.

Ellen M Nason
Bainbridge Island WA USA


I remember well the time when I would describe myself to others as never fully asleep or fully awake. Our first four children were born within a five-year span. I survived these times by trying to add rejuvenating activities for myself into my day. I was lucky in that I enjoyed cooking. Although our meals were always simple, I tried to include one brand new recipe per week. WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY (available from the LLLI Online Store) was a well-used source which nourished my creative side.

It helps to have good communication with your partner, as sometimes one of you will find a task much easier than the other does. For example, during the night my partner always used to get up and bring the awakened child to me. He could accomplish such a feat in his sleep. I would settle the child concerned in our bed (or nurse if the visitor was still nursing), which allowed me to wake up slowly. For me a gentle awakening allowed me to drop back to sleep quickly.

These specific solutions may not work for you but maybe these three principles will help: find something creative or rejuvenating which fits into your daily routine; discern which is your greatest "bugbear" (need) on the housework front and ensure that task has high priority, and capitalize on you and your spouse's strengths and likes.

Mary Roache
Dunedin New Zealand

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