Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Adjust to a Newborn

Newborns and Sleep Disruptions

A generation or so ago, young mothers were told to put their new babies on a strict four-hour feeding schedule and leave them in their cribs between feedings. We know better now. Babies don't tell time with clocks; they're governed solely by their needs to be fed, changed, and comforted. They are far too young to be trained or taught to adapt to the schedule you might prefer to set up, and for about the first three months of your new baby's life, you will both be better off if you adjust to his schedule, haphazard as it may be.

This isn't easy. Day and night may blend for you into an endless round of feedings, diaper changes, laundry, and rocking or pacing the floor with a crying infant. It may seem all the good care you gave yourself when you were pregnant -- the rest, the nutritious diet, the healthful exercise, the mental stimulation, and the social activity -- is impossible to maintain. But this is the worst time for you to ignore all of your needs and operate in a state of exhaustion. You need to be at your best to care for your new baby properly.

In this section, we'll deal with sleeplessness and offer some tips on compensating for your lack of rest.

Coping with Loss of Sleep

Interrupted sleep at night is perhaps the most difficult change to which you must become accustomed. Sharing night duty with your partner helps. A father can handle a bottle-fed baby very well and can give a bottle of expressed milk to a breast-fed baby. Many fathers look forward to and enjoy the quiet times alone with their infants. At the very least, a father can deliver the baby, changed and ready for nursing, to a breast-feeding mother in her bed. Sometimes the best way to share the night awakenings is to alternate feedings, but at other times a whole night of sleep for one parent while the other takes over completely is better. A grandmother or another person who has come to help can assume responsibility for a night now and then, too, even if your agreement is that she does the housework and you care for the baby.

However you arrange things, the fact remains you are not getting enough sleep, and you're not getting it in the time period you're used to. You need every nap you can possibly take to make up for some of the lost night hours and to restore your energy. You may feel you should catch up on the housework or the laundry when the baby sleeps, but you should resist this temptation. You need to sleep, or at least rest, whenever your baby sleeps, whatever the time of day. Go to bed, or settle into a comfortable chair with your feet up. Close your eyes, breathe deeply to release the tension you feel, and clear your mind of every thought except peace and relaxation.

Try to ignore the clock at night; it doesn't matter to the baby whether it's 2 A.M. or 4 A.M., and it won't do you any good to know. And don't keep track of the number of hours of sleep you get; knowing it was only three, and divided at that, won't make you less tired. Reward yourself with small luxuries or conveniences to make night feeding more pleasant: a thermos of hot cocoa, a good book to read, an old movie on television, soothing music on radio or tape. Remind yourself often that sleep experts say you do not need to replace lost sleep hour for hour. What you need is deep sleep, technically called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the stage during which you dream and which you slip into easily when you are very tired.

Remember, too, this period in your life will come to an end, and during those long, wakeful nights you are not alone. Thousands of other parents are struggling with exhaustion as they feed or comfort their babies in the middle of the night, just as you are doing.

One of the most physically demanding changes that you deal with as a new parent is the sudden disruption to your sleep patterns. On the following page, we'll deal with the mental and emotional trauma new parents often experience, and provide some guidelines to modifying your expectations.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.