5 expert ways to cope when you’re up all night with your newborn

Here's how to take care of yourself when the baby is Up. All. Night.

newborn up all night

When I was pregnant with my first child, I dreaded the infamous sleep deprivation of the newborn stage. I was more nervous about how I'd handle sleep deprivation than how I'd handle childbirth!

Even an "easy" baby is still going to wake you up at night (usually many, many nights). And night wakings aren't just physically tiring—they're emotionally exhausting as well.

You're worn out from labor and delivery and desperately need sleep to recover. You feel alone and isolated because it seems like literally everyone else in the world is asleep except for you. If you're breastfeeding, you might be in physical pain—and seething with resentment that your partner is still peacefully dozing. And once your baby hits that 4-month sleep regression, you might be wondering if you'll ever get a full night's rest again.

None of these things mean that you're a bad mom or that you're doing something wrong—babies simply have a different sleep schedule than adults do. They aren't born knowing the difference between day and night, they haven't learned to self-soothe and transition from one sleep cycle to the next, and their tummies are so small that they need to eat every few hours.

Rest assured that newborn nighttime wakings are a totally normal and expected part of new parenthood. I know that doesn't make it any easier when your baby is awake for the fourth time in one night, but you can make them work for you.

Here are some expert tips for emotionally coping when your newborn is up all night.

1. Make it as enjoyable as possible—for you.

Set up a comfortable spot with everything you need in arm's reach: remote, charger, water, snacks, pillows and whatever supplies you may need to feed your baby. Then find a book or a new show on Netflix that you're really excited about so that when you wake up, you think, "Oh good, I get to find out what happens next!"

A friend of mine told me recently that she actually looked forward to nursing her baby at night because it was the only time she could watch her shows without getting interrupted by her toddler. I've even been known to stay up reading even after my son fell asleep because I was so involved in my book! You know you'll be awake, so you might as well make the most of it.

2. Check your thoughts.

Our emotional responses follow our thoughts. If we're stumbling through the dark thinking, "This is the worst thing ever! I'll never sleep again!" (this is called catastrophizing, by the way, and it happens to be my favorite way of tormenting myself at night), then we'll be emotional messes. Telling yourself, "This isn't fair, I shouldn't be awake!" only makes you more resentful and doesn't help convince your baby to go to sleep. "I can't handle this anymore!" makes you feel like you're at your breaking point.

Check your thoughts at the nursery door and gently challenge your thinking. Tell yourself, "This is totally normal. All babies wake up at night, and all babies eventually learn to sleep." The most helpful thing that I repeat to myself is, "I will sleep again. I will not be awake forever. I am tired, but I can handle this." Now that's something that should be embroidered on a pillow for a baby's room.

3. Set a time limit.

My personal time limit is two hours. If I'm awake longer than that, my coping skills disintegrate. Our family arrangement is that I handle most of the night wakings, but my husband knows that he gets tagged immediately if I pass that two-hour mark (or if I've been up a certain number of times already). I highly recommend discussing a backup plan for those really difficult nights. I know many partners are willing to help, but an exhausted mom often gets stuck and unable to find the escape hatch. Make the plan ahead of time so that you're not trying to decide at 3 am if you should wake up your partner because you feel like you're going to crack if you don't get some sleep (hint: you probably should).

4. Go to bed early.

This one seems pretty obvious, but so many of us fall into the trap of staying up later than we should in order to clean up after dinner, veg out in front of the TV or get a few more tasks done. When you're in the baby trenches, prioritize sleep over all of that. You literally can't function without sleep, so make sure you squeeze as much into your schedule as possible.

I'm not going to tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps, because I know babies sleep at weird times and you most likely have a house/job/other children to care for. However, if you know the baby will be waking up three-plus times a night, go to bed as soon as you can. Nurse or feed the baby one last time, hand them over to your partner to rock or bounce to sleep, and hightail it to bed. Leave the dishes, turn off your phone, get a sleep mask if it's still light outside, and sleep as much as you can before the night shift starts.

5. Get help if and when you need it.

Many moms report that nighttime wakings lead to some of their lowest points with a new baby. If you've been awake for hours at a time with your newborn, you might even experience scary moments.

Let's talk about those scary thoughts postpartum. If you ever feel that you might physically harm your baby or you start imagining horrible things happening to them, it is absolutely okay to wake up your partner or set the baby down safely and walk away. Sleep deprivation is literally used as a form of torture so if you've been awake for more than a few hours, you might be approaching an emotionally unsafe state. Do not hesitate to seek help if and when you need it.

Even for mamas with great coping skills, there will still be nights when you'll think you can't survive another minute awake. But to my knowledge, no new parent has literally died of sleep deprivation (although many of us think we will *raises hand*). This phase is so hard, and while no tips or tricks will make it easy, I hope that these suggestions will at least make it a little more bearable.

Just remember: You WILL sleep again. I promise! Until then, take care of yourself.

They say necessity is the mother of invention—and nothing makes you more inventive than motherhood.

Sometimes that means fashioning a diaper out of paper towels and your older child's underpants (true story). Sometimes that means creating an innovative and life-changing weighted baby sleep sack and totally crushing it on Shark Tank. Tara Williams is the latter.

Keep reading Show less

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

Keep reading Show less