Getting sleep the first three months postpartum

One of the hardest adjustments I made when I became a mother was to live off 2-3 hour chunks of sleep in the night. I’d wake up for the 6am feeding and be so exhausted when my baby was full of energy and ready to play. Then when I had someone help in the daytime so that I could rest I had the hardest time falling asleep in the daytime hours. Even if the night feedings only lasted 15 minutes, I’d lay in bed about 45 minutes before I would drift off to sleep again. If the baby slept for 3 hours straight (between feedings) I would feel incredibly lucky! In fact, last night my baby slept 7 hours straight for the first time. He was extra hungry before he fell asleep so he got an extra full stomach before he slept. So after 4 months of figuring out how to maximize sleep hours between my husband and I, we’ve come up with the following strategies to share.

  1. Rotating shifts: I’ll ask my husband to rotate feedings with me so that each of us can have at least 4-5 hours of sleep in a row. If my husband takes the first feeding at 10pm, then I take the 1am feeding so that he can sleep from 10:30-4am. Then I sleep from 1:30am until the 7am shift when baby is ready to start the day. This works well if the person who takes the later feeding goes to bed early, like around 8pm when the baby goes down. As new parents, we started sleeping between 7-9pm which has mad a huge difference in the amount of sleep we get.
  2. Let the baby sleep in his own room. This is important for two reasons. When we have the baby sleep in our room, we notice he doesn’t sleep as long, especially if he’s in the same bed. Since we shift around and snore at night, the baby is more prone to being disturbed. The second reason is that the person who is ‘off’ doesn’t get bothered while the baby is being fed by the partner.
  3. Swaddle your baby. Although it seems like your baby is fighting off your attempts to swaddle him, we’ve noticed that once he’s swaddled and soothed (by shushing or watching his mobile), he’ll fall asleep faster and STAY ASLEEP longer. Research also supports this finding.
  4. Get to his cries faster. When our baby first utters a cry, we typically stay in bed until it turns into a scream. The problem with this approach is that he gets more frustrated and aroused than he needs to be. The sooner you can get to his cries and feed him, the easier it is for him to feed and then settle down again.
  5. Pump milk so your partner can help with a shift. This goes hand in hand with the first tip on this list. If you have bottles of milk in the fridge available for anyone to feed, you, as mom are able to skip a feeding and sleep longer.
  6. Bottle feed at night. Something else we’ve noticed is that when we breastfeed our baby at night, he seems to need to feed a lot sooner than if he is bottle fed. Studies have also shown that breastfed babies take longer to learn to sleep extended hours during the night than formula fed babies. Although we feed breastmilk through a bottle instead of formula, it seems to get him to drink more so that he sleeps longer between feedings. The challenge with this method is that mom still has to pump milk at night to relieve the fullness of milk which is an additional 15-20 minutes of time taken away from sleep.
  7. Get some exercise. I can usually fall asleep within 10 minutes of laying my head on my pillow, but since my third trimester I’ve been having trouble falling asleep. It takes me up to 2 hours to fall asleep again when I wake up for a night feeding. What I found helpful was to get at least 30 minutes of exercise during the day. This helped me fall asleep faster and sleep sounder so that when I woke up the next morning I didn’t feel as groggy, even if I only got 6 hours of noncontinuous sleep.
  8. Get a hypnotherapy soundtrack. Once I decided I wanted to have a hypnobirth, I researched everything I could about how it works. I even took a local community college course on hypnotherapy. I found some free ‘instant sleep’ tracks on my iPhone from Glenn Harrold. I really like it and have been listening to it since my third trimester with my husband. It helps us get to sleep almost immediately so for the longest time we never knew what the end of the 30 minute soundtrack consisted of. The hypnotherapy also helped me stop shaking uncontrollably after delivering our baby. More on that later.
  9. Have a snack by your bed. I’ve never been a night feeder until I was pregnant. I would wake up from an empty stomach and this continues to this day since breastfeeding also saps my body of energy too. When I wake up hungry, I just pop a few pretzels in my mouth and then go back to sleep instead of having to get up and prepare something.
  10. Keep water by your bed. I have never drank as much water as I did when I started nursing. Now I wake up with a dry throat and have to drink a few sips of water before going back to bed.
  11. Get a nanny. Even if you can only afford one night every two weeks, it helps you recuperate from sleep deprivation. Get the nanny from 12am to 8am. Do it once and you’ll wish you could do it more often. You can also enlist friends or family to help with it, especially if they’re visiting from out of town and staying with you!
  12. Get an electric double breast pump. Nursing moms who have lots of milk like myself can’t sleep through the night even if the baby does. Our breasts get so full of milk, its uncomfortable to go any second longer without pumping the milk. So invest in an electric double breast pump. This helps you get milk out faster than if you were to hand pump or use a single pump. Even after nursing my baby on one side, I’ll have to pump the other side to relieve the engorgement.

Things you can do for baby

  1. Put a pacifier in his mouth. If your baby likes pacifiers, keep one in his mouth when he sleeps. I find that our baby stays asleep longer when he has one in his mouth. He’s able to suck even while sleeping. If it falls out, he’ll wake up and then cry until we put it back in.
  2. Double feed just before bedtime. What I’ve noticed with our baby as he slept longer stretches at night was that he got hungry after one hour of his feeding right before bedtime. So if we feed him at 6pm, he’ll be hungry again at 7pm and then sleep for 4-6 hours. Then he’ll go back to feeding every 3 hours after that long stretch. This tip may only work during growth spurts, so try every once in a while until it works.

Do you have any other tips that have worked for you? Have you tried any of the above tips? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “Getting sleep the first three months postpartum

  1. Hui Laspee on

    I used to be able to fall asleep within 5 mins once I laid down, but now it may take 2-3 hours sometimes because once I get up in the middle of night to pump, then feed baby then burp her, I become so awake. btw, could you make a post about baby food when you get the chance? My daughter is turning 4 months this week and I’m planning on giving her food around 5 and half months, I read the 3-8 months registry post you wrote and planning on buying some of the feeding tools, but I don’t know about like the food I should give her and how much and did you make your own? Thank you very much.

  2. Hi Ellen,

    I came across your site from another blog about traveling with infants. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

    I see that this particular post about “getting sleep” is from almost 4 years ago. I just wanted to ask you how did you go with weaning your baby off the pacifier? Our baby seems to settle better with a pacifier at night when he’s sleeping, but we are a little worried that it might be a nightmare later on when we try to take it away from him. Could you share your thoughts on this please?

    Thanks I advance!


    • Ellen on

      Sorry this response is so late! But I still wanted to respond…we simply took the pacifier away and it was never a huge problem for both my kids. My personal anxiety around weaning was greater than reality…the paci just disappeared from sight and the kids never wanted it again. We didn’t do it over time, just did it cold turkey.

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