Ask IM: How to Survive the New Baby Sleep Deprivation

Ask Instinctual Mothering

I am humbled and honored every time a mom, mom to be, or even the occasional father contacts me for advice or information. It never occurred to me that people would actually value my opinion enough to seek out my perspective, it is a shock every time! But it is truly an honor and a privilege to be able to share my perspective and experience with you all.

I thought it may be helpful to publish the questions I receive on the blog in a series titled “Ask Instinctual Mothering”. Remember, the answers are only my perspective based off of my own experiences and what I have read or researched. I will never claim to know all there is to know about pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding/parenting because I am still learning myself (and have no true accreditation besides a breastfeeding counselor certificate)! However; helping, encouraging, empowering, and sharing information with others is why I’m here typing. It is a true passion and gives me great fulfillment and I hope I can be of service.

I promise to only share real questions from real people and always with their permission (and never their name). If you find yourself pondering something yourself, please feel free to contact me with ANYTHING – even critical feedback! You can contact me through facebook, E-mail at, or through the contact form at the bottom of this page.

Okay, enough blabbing. Here is the third “Ask Instinctual Mothering” installment! This was a message I received via Facebook.

The BIG SLEEP Question

Hi Tara,

I just wanted to reach out and see if you had any tips or words of advice that could help me and my daughter get better sleep.  I have a dockatot coming Tuesday and I’m hopeful she will like it.  She has reflux so I know I’m going it have to prop it up a bit.  She was doing well for a good 2 week stretch in her rock and play swaddled… sleeping anywhere from 4-7 hour stretches!  Then last Monday rolled around (the day before her 3 month) and all this crazy fussy no sleep at night happened.  Let me correct myself there, she sleeps but wakes ever 1-2 hours wanting my boob in her mouth.  Even if she’s not really nursing it’s comforting to her it seems.  She’ll fall back asleep within 10 mins but then transitioning her back to the rock n play is hard or it seems she doesn’t get into her deep sleep…(waking after 45mins -1.5hours).

I try to only keep her awake an hour and 15 – 1.5 hours then get her down for a nap before she is overtired and crying.  It’s a struggle tho.  I feel like I have no life.  Any tips or just what works for you would really be appreciated.  Thanks so much and I hope you and your family are doing well!


Sleepless in the Suburbs


Dear Sleepless in the Suburbs,

I think this question is the most asked by anyone who is dealing with a newborn and is one of the biggest challenges of having a new baby.  Let’s face it, we’re going about our lives going to bed whenever we want, sleeping for as long as we want, and sleeping uninterrupted… then all of the sudden we have a baby and the entire way we view sleep has changed. This is one of the biggest adjustments we have to make as a mother of a newborn.

I just want to start out by saying I know it’s not easy and I know not sleeping is rough and do not want to downplay your experience. I’ll give you my take and maybe it will help some but you’ll find that everyone has their own way of doing things and advice/opinions etc. My advice is to take it all in and then do what YOU feel most comfortable doing. Oh, and PUT DOWN THE GOOGLE ha. You are not doing anything wrong, you are not “ruining” your baby’s sleep. There is no magic formula or schedule to follow, I promise. You will eventually fall into a routine but it will most likely be dictated by your little one. If you feel your baby isn’t getting enough sleep during the day, try babywearing and letting her snooze in the carrier. Follow your baby’s lead, she will not lead you astray.

I just want to normalize some things first. Babies (like any other mammal) are designed to be close to their mother when they are so vulnerable. You are her food source, her comfort, her protection, etc. It makes sense that babies will protest when they can no longer smell and feel the warmth of mom. They think they are in danger and their survival instincts kick in. Frequent night waking is completely normal, natural, and healthy in infants; especially breastfed infants. Breastmilk is easily digestible therefore requiring frequent feedings. Night waking has also been more recently regarded as a protective factor against SIDS. So why do so many of us obsess about our infant’s sleeping habits?

Think about this quote for a second.

“It is better to work with Mother Nature rather than against her,  for she will always win”

In my opinion, the sleep deprivation new mothers feel is because of this concept of working against Mother Nature. Parenting was not intended to be so hard! When my first daughter was a newborn I remember being afraid to have her in my bed. Not because I was afraid I would accidentally roll over on her like I had heard would happen, because I actually always felt very in tune with her while she slept next to me. I roused easily and was subconsciously aware of where she was at all times. Kind of like how you are aware of where the edge of your bed is. I was afraid because of all of the scary stuff I had heard. There is a lot of stigma and fear surrounding bed-sharing and a lot of emphasis on “sleeping through the night” and “sleep-training”. It makes me laugh to think that we believe humans have to be “taught” how to sleep. Imagine seeing other mammals in nature “sleep training” their young, first of all their crying at night would attract predators (and if we were in the jungle days – so would ours- which is proof to me it’s not natural)- but I digress…

It started that I would only put her in bed next to me when I was really tired because I knew she would instantly fall asleep this way. One day I just had this ah- ha moment. If she slept better next to me, and I slept better with her next to me, and I no longer had to fully wake and get out of bed in the middle of the night- why the heck was I not doing this all the time? I began to dig into the research behind the safety of bed-sharing or more recently called “breastsleeping” because I just didn’t understand how something that seemed so natural and common sense was deemed so “wrong” in our culture. To my surprise, the research showed it wasn’t as “scary” as everyone had made it seem and has even been deemed more beneficial (for breastfed infants).

I have bed-shared with both of my babies from very early on (from birth with my second). They always start the night out in a bassinet next to my bed then spend the rest of the night in our bed next to me after their first waking. Besides the first month or so when you are up changing diapers in the middle of the night, I can honestly say I have never really felt sleep deprived. I do not “sleep through the night”, but have I ever? We all wake occasionally to pee, get a drink, adjust covers etc. That’s how it feels when my daughter stirs against me. She never has to fully wake and neither do I. She inherently knows that her comfort and food source is close by and that I will respond to her cues. I sleepily roll over, curl her against my breast to nurse and we drift back to sleep. Side-lying nursing can seem intimidating at first, but it just takes a little practice. Look up some Youtube tutorials of side-lying nursing.

Some night wakings are more frequent than others (every 1-2 hours sometimes) but honestly I rarely notice. I chock this up to growth spurts, a developmental milestone, teeth, illness, or just the rare bizarre night. I realized when I changed my mindset about sleep, it changed how I felt the next day. If I woke up and counted all the times I woke up and tallied all the hours I “slept through”, I would feel exhausted and anxious about not getting enough sleep. If I woke up and thought “Wow I slept three hours uninterrupted” I would feel refreshed and well-rested. It’s an adjustment, but our bodies DO adjust. A trick I like is to not have any digital clocks within sight so you really CAN’T keep track. But all in all I think accepting waking up every few hours as your “new normal” will help you look at your situation differently.

Now, I know that not every person’s parenting style works for everyone or for every baby for that matter (However, I will always be very against sleep training, the thought of leaving an innocent, unknowing, vulnerable infant to cry alone in distress is a heartbreaking thought to me: my most read post on the topic here). And I think some people will make the argument that because I’m a Stay At Home Mom , I don’t “need” sleep… but trust me, I am up at 6:00 am everyday and do not stop moving. I guess the point I want to get across here is do not be afraid to try bed-sharing. If it works and everyone gets more sleep; it probably works for a reason. Also, regarding the reflux… try cutting dairy out of your diet for two weeks and see if you notice a difference in her behavior.

I’ve attached a few articles I like relating to bed sharing and realistic expectations regarding infant sleep. If you plan to bed-share, there are a few safety precautions to take so wanted to start with that first.

Safe Cosleeping Guidelines

A LOT of Good Information here (and lots of statistics) ! ISIS: Infant Sleep Information Source

Pondering something? Contact me!


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