How to Sleep When the Baby Sleeps

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Late in my pregnancy with Bean, the advice changed from how to survive my pregnancy to how to survive the first few months as a new mom. Without a doubt, the most frequent advice I heard was, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

Hearing that before I had any children, it seemed a little silly. Of course I’d sleep when the baby slept! What else would I do? But within one day of having Bean finally in my arms, I realized how much there was to do!

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For one thing, I’d had a c-section, and so I had to take care of my own healing body, but that would have to wait until he slept because I couldn’t change bandages with a newborn in my arms.

And there was the laundry. Oh, Lord! The laundry! Epic amounts of laundry because I insisted on changing Bean’s clothes every time he touched anything and because we went through so many blankets and burp cloths on a daily basis.

And there were other tasks, too, like sending thank you notes, cleaning up the house for the next round of visitors, and preparing meals. I started to understand very quickly why everyone gave that advice, but I still didn’t know how to follow it. With so much to be done, when would I ever sleep again?!

It really wasn’t until Gracie was born that I finally figured out how to sleep when the baby slept. The first thing I learned was to lower my expectations. I learned to accept that my house wasn’t going to be tidy and neat every day. Some days I managed it, but other days I didn’t. And on those days when the house looked like it had imploded, I just let it go. Because in the grand scheme of things, dishes in my sink or laundry piles on my floor weren’t the worst things to happen.

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Another tip I learned was to get “close enough.” Gracie was a colicky baby, and on days when she cried for hours straight, I settled with getting the laundry “close enough” to the washer, and so I’d collect all the dirty laundry from around the house and throw it into piles on the floor of the laundry room. And then (this is my favorite part!) I’d shut the door and walk away. I did the same thing with dishes. We bottle-fed, so I had bottles everywhere. And we ate when and where we could in those first months, so that always left a trail of dishes.

Then there were the guests who were stopping in to visit, which meant there were coffee cups and snack trays sitting out. Dishes were everywhere, and when I had a few minutes free, I started getting them “close enough” to the dishwasher. I’d make a sweep through the house with Gracie in one arm, collecting all the dishes and throwing them into the sink with the other arm. I’d get to them later.

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Getting “close enough” made my whole house feel neater and organized because at least the messes were contained in specific areas, and the rest of the house could be salvaged. That did wonders for my new-mom psyche.

In the evenings when Chris got home from work, he and I would work together to actually DO the laundry and WASH the dishes. Having that extra set of hands to help was such a blessing after long days at home with a newborn!

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The last thing I learned was to let people help – and not just Chris. When my parents offered to come over and help for an afternoon, I asked them to do some laundry. When my Grandma asked if she could come bring us a meal, I said yes (and I even let her do the dishes!). Before I had kids, I would never have asked someone to do my chores for me, and even with my first I had a hard time. But by the time Gracie was born, I learned that that’s just what people DO. Anyone with kids knows what position you are in as a new mom, and it makes us feel useful if you let us help. We feel like we’re passing the torch, and what a heavy torch it can be!

Using these simple little tips throughout your busy days as a new parent will actually free up some time for you, and you’ll be surprised that by the time the baby is ready for a nap,  so are you!

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18 thoughts on “How to Sleep When the Baby Sleeps

  1. I really love this post. I honestly got upset when people would tell me to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” It isn’t that easy. Especially when living thousands of miles away from friends and family.

    They’d tell me to just leave the laundry and dishes and go for a nap. OK, I’d love to but since we’ve eaten off of paper towels the last few days and I’m still wearing the same clothes I was 2 days ago…that is a problem. The house work still does need to get done. I’m not a perfectionist in anyway. So trust me, I had no problem letting my house go.

    Nobody offered to help or bring us meals. That would have been really helpful and nice. My husband isn’t a very good helper either so it was all up to me. Everything.

    It took awhile and my son is now 15 months but I’d say around the 1 yr mark is where I started getting my system down a little bit better. I always take a nap when the baby does now and there are at least 2 days per week where my house should be condemned. But, I’m OK with that. We need our sleep. Period!!

  2. Claire

    Thankyou for this post, Katie! I’ve read your blog for years, ever since I was a very newly engaged woman, and now I’m expecting my first bub. I’m now hungrily re-reading all of your early-Bean posts, trying to pick up all the advice I can!

  3. I heard this, too, and I didn’t take this advice…which really was a bad idea because I was exhausted. But you’re right – it’s hard to do that when you think there is so much else to do.

  4. Lisa J

    Oh my goodness! I am currently going trough the same thing! I have a 2 week old and a 3 1/2 year old and that makes for an exhausted mommy with a dirty/cluttered house. Not to mention that we moved into a new house 1 week before I gave birth. It’s nice to know that someone else shares my philosophy.

  5. Casey L.

    Sleeping when baby sleeps is the best advice but the hardest thing to accomplish! When I had my second daughter my husband was deployed to Iraq and my family could only help for a little over a week. This was a blessing in disguise because with a c-section it forced me to learn real quick that I had to let things go to survive. Before baby I always did most of my cleaning when my oldest took her nap but once baby came I managed to get her to nap at the same time just so I could. Those 2-3 hours in the afternoon where the only thing that saved me in the first few months. So what if there was always a rotation of laundry sitting by the machines, dirty dishes in the sink and all over the counter? My kids were healthy and happy and I could function. And when I felt up to it, I’d put the baby in a sling and get some laundry done or load and unload the dishwasher. But no one and nothing was going to get in the way of my daily afternoon nap!! Thank goodness my husband will be here when baby#3 is born in a few weeks. . . . I will be taking full advantage of his presence!!

  6. Candice

    It’s great advice but I found it impossible to follow. Our son wouldn’t nap unless he was in someone’s arms and hated slings. Sometimes he’d sleep in the swing a little, but that was it. He was awake a lot and wanted to be held… My husband worked a long day and didn’t have it in him to help when he got home, so I had minimal help from him. And you must have extra nice family and friends because no one offered to help me, even though they all live nearby. We were (I was) on my own. If I ever do this again, I am going to have ASK for the help (and demand it of my husband). That’s what I learned – that if no one’s offering, there’s no shame in asking.

  7. I am dealing with this right now, with my 5 month old daughter who is teething. She just cries if we put her down so my house has to wait. When I asked for help from my family, I didn’t get help so much as I got rude comments about how I couldn’t handle it.

  8. I had trouble with this after my first son was born because I felt like I needed to accomplish something else during the day, in order to prove . . . something, I don’t know what, to myself. Thank goodness I have a strong, grateful husband who reminded me that caring for our child each day was plenty–I only wish I’d listened sooner and stopped stressing myself out! Never again.
    I am blessed with family and friends who wanted to help–both after the birth of my first child and my miscarriage with my second. The first time, I allowed them to help, but at times it was hard. The second time, emotional as I rightfully was, I got frustrated with people saying they would do “whatever they could” and was much happier when people offered concrete things to do. Now when a friend has a baby, I just bring over freezer-ready food (quiche and banana bread goes over well). I know I want someone else to do that kind of thing for me!

  9. “and what a heavy torch it can be”. So perfect! Another great post and GREAT advice. If it’s any comfort for you new mothers, you WILL eventually get the knack of dropping off in a moment. Unfortunately, you will be 45 and snore by then, and it can happen in public. Sorry to be the one to tell you but know that it will happen to you. lol
    I am now going to employ the “close enough” method with all the stuff I need to get rid of in my house. I’m just going to make piles. Piles of pictures from the children’s lives that need to be put in albums. Now that they’re grown….you get the idea. Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Love this :) I think a lot of moms have that same problem: they don’t want to ask for help. But, my dad said something to me once that helped a lot. He said that we must allow others to help us when we are in need because they need to fulfill their calling from God to serve others. This reminded me of that :)

  11. Anna

    I definitely struggled with the concept of sleep when the baby sleeps – especially during the first month. I would always try to get one more thing done before going to sleep… and by the time I finished what turned in to two or three things, she was awake again. My husband finally realized he just needed to make me go lie down as soon as the baby went to sleep. That’s now my advice for others – during those first two months don’t try to get one more thing done – if baby is asleep, lie down and get rest. Because when your baby doesn’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time, every hour of sleep/rest is important.
    I really like the idea of ‘close enough.’ Getting things in the general area of where they eventually need to be seems like it could be mentally helpful without taking very much time.

  12. Teresa

    I had such a hard time with this when my first child was born. It resulted in a stressed out momma with PPD. Then the twins were born and I had to let people help me because I was falling apart! I had one twin with awful reflux and the other was had colic. Not to mention they were pre-term so we were setting our alarm clock at night to do feedings. Oh…and I was attempting to breast feed. Cue round two of PPD!! So many new moms have this unrealistic idea of how things should be and it doesn’t go that way for most of us. I was blessed with a husband that knew the warning signs of PPD and a family that would do anything for me…including taking charge of the older child so she wouldn’t feel left out. The twins are now 17 months and I still take all the help I can get. I love your “close enough” style! I also recommend that new moms make a list of chores. That way when someone offers to help you can just say…here is the list! And know that you are not alone when you enter survival mode no matter what society shows you!

  13. I love the close enough mind set. I still have days where close enough is all I get. Looking at my house right now I think I need to do a close enough sweep through before bed then actually clean tomorrow. Today was one of those days.

  14. Sullivan was an awful mapper for the first two months so the theory of sleep when the baby sleeps never worked. What DID work was doing a dream feed. Mac would do the dream feed while I slept. I usually got a solid 6-7 hours at night that way. It was enough to keep me going during te day do I wasn’t a total zombie.

  15. tabs

    Such. Good. Advice. No, GREAT BEST EVER advice. Ever.

  16. Keiko

    What a great post! I am currently going through this with my 7 week old and I have a hard time napping cause nothing gets done when I do. But I have learned quickly that I need to nap for the sake of my 5 year old. And no kidding about the laundry! It seems like it never ends! We seem to go through lots of burp cloths and blankets…. I absolutely love the close enough mindset! Containing the ‘messes’ makes a huge difference in how your house looks and feels… Will be following that starting tomorrow!

  17. […] ”Sleep when the baby sleeps?!”: This is the HARDEST advice for me to follow, which is why I’m just now getting around to it. You’ll find that, even though this seems like an easy piece of advice to follow, it 9 out of 10 times is rather impossible. Or, at least, I did. LO’s bassinet is directly next to my bed (due to a lack of room in the house for a nursery) and, even then, I am not comfortable enough that I would respond fast enough if she started crying and I passed out. However, I am learning! Some tips: LOs will cry, and loudly, when they want something. If you’ve taken the precautions to avoid suffocation, strangulation, choking, and other things of the like, you’re probably worrying over nothing! Seriously! Amazingly enough, when the precautions are taken, your LO is pretty self-sufficient while sleeping and all they’ll give you the satisfaction of, while they’re sleeping, is watching them sleep (though, to be honest, I do sit and watch my LO for hours, just because I’m still so amazed by her). Some advice that I found helpful is http://marriageconfessions.com/2012/05/07/how-to-sleep-when-the-baby-sleeps/. […]

  18. Anonymous

    I don’t understand. I’m a husband… and I do all of these chores with a smile on my face. It doesn’t take that much time. Just need to be efficient and get it done. Happy wife, happy life!

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