Parenting a Newborn No SleepWhat do newborn babies and zombie bites have in common?

They can both make you a creature of the night.

While there’s no cure for a zombie virus, there are ways to deal with the plague of sleep deprivation that accompanies every new baby.

And don’t worry, these tips won’t require any brain-feasting or fantastic choreography.

Swaddling and Sleepwalking

I’ve been through quite a few events in my life that left me really short on sleep.

All-nighters of (ahem) studying in college, overnight hospital visits with seriously ill relatives, long road trips and the occasional need to care for sick children that just can’t make it through the night without you.

However, the birth of a new child offers a unique challenge to parents.  Newborn babies rarely sleep through the night for several weeks, and there’s really nothing that you can do to avoid waking up to feed the little angels every few hours…without exception.

If you have children, then you have surely experienced life in the frazzled, drowsy, confusing state of sleep deprivation.  You know what it’s like to live as a zombie parent!

5 Tips for Dealing With a Lack of Sleep

As you may know, we welcomed our third child (Avery) into our family less than two weeks ago, so I’m right in the middle of life with little sleep.  However, as my experience living as a undead new parent has grown, I’ve found some great ways to cope with a lack of sleep.

Next time you’re faced with sleepless nights, try these tips to keep your head in the game.

1. Team Up

If you want to maintain your sanity and avoid total burn-out, it’s really important that you share the demands of parenting a new baby (and any other children you already have).  This is a time when you can serve your spouse by stepping up and being fully involved in the child-rearing duties, especially those that happen under the cover of night.

In our house, that means that I do all of the overnight diaper-changing and then hand off to my wife to feed our newborn.  This split in responsibilities helps my wife get a little more sleep but, more importantly, it demonstrates that I’m willing to do what I can to help care for our baby and “be there” as a husband and father…even at night.

By the way, single parents simply amaze me, and these experiences make me more aware than ever that Moms in general are incredible.  There’s no way I could handle the demands of parenting a new baby on my own, and I applaud anyone who has been through it.

2. Back Off

If you’re like most of us, you lead a very busy life that keeps you hopping between responsibilities inside and outside of your home.  During the most stressful first few weeks of your new baby’s life, you should step away from optional commitments as much as possible.  Your church groups, civic organizations and your softball buddies will surely understand that this is a time to focus on your family and spend your time and energy at home.

For me, that’s meant a little less time writing here at Engaged Marriage, missing a meeting at the Knights of Columbus council where I am usually quite active, and taking a week off of work to be home and get to know our new daughter.  It can be tough to unplug, but there is simply no way to get these special moments with your new baby back once they’ve passed.

3. Exercise Your Body & Your Brain

It may seem counter-intuitive to use up your precious energy by exercising.  However, there is simply no better way to relieve stress and give your body a boost than by following a regular workout routine before and after the arrival of your new baby.

I know that very new moms are limited in their ability to exercise, but many can take an easy walk depending on their health status.  If physical activity is out of the question, it can really be helpful to simply  “exercise your mind” by taking a little time to read, solve puzzles and just stimulate your brain a bit.

This is been a real lifesaver for me over the past two weeks.  It’s tough to find the time, but the regime I follow only takes 30 minutes to complete, it has a lot of variety to keep it interesting, and I can do it at home.

Most days, I’ll take our two older kids downstairs with me while my wife stays with Avery.  The kids only need to stay clear of an about 6-foot by 6-foot area where I workout, and my son actually likes to join me for some of the moves!

4. Embrace Help

In most cases, new babies invite lots of interest and offers of help from friends and family.  You should gratefully accept the assistance of your loved ones, and take advantage of their help, as it will keep your energy levels up.

Plus, it will make your family and friends feel like part of your newborn’s life, which they’ll love!

Bethany and I have been blessed to have several friends bring over delicious meals for our family since we arrived home from the hospital.  Not only does this save us the time, energy and money of buying groceries and preparing meals for ourselves, but we really enjoy the short visits that come along with the food drop-offs.

It sure helps break up the cabin fever.

5. Smile

Above all else, always keep in mind the reason behind your fatigue and lack of sleep.  Remember that all of this sacrifice is needed to care for a precious gift from God.

The struggles of sleep deprivation are temporary, but the joy of parenting is forever.

Sure, Avery is costing us some sleep and probably adding a few gray hairs in the process, but there is simply no better way to spend our time and energy than caring for such a beautiful child.

We are blessed to be parents, three times over, even if we do sometimes feel like zombies in the process. 🙂

I’d love to hear your favorite ways to deal with a lack of sleep when a new baby arrives, so please share them in the comments.

I’ll read them later…I need to feast on the brains of the living go to bed right now! 🙂

(photo source)


About the author 


Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. I don’t envy you on this one. With our first child, we used to spend hours driving around so he would go to sleep. We learned our mistakes with him and things were a lot easier with our other two children.

    1. I have heard similar stories about driving around with colicky babies, Eric. Fortunately (*knock on wood*), we haven’t had to do anything that extreme with any of our babies. We’ve also learned along the way that babies get conditioned to sleeping with noise and lights around if you start early…so that you don’t have to tiptoe around for their entire infancy. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the tips as we are expecting #2. Its definitely a challenge, being so tired all the time. I especially agree with you on #1. There are so many couples I hear of where the Mom wakes up every time every night so the Dad can get sleep and go to work. I sit at a desk all day, being a full-time mom is much more tiring, so I tried whenever I could to make things easier for her (whether its getting up with her to help her, like you mentioned, or getting up to bottle feed and letting her sleep)

    1. Congratulations on the upcoming #2, Eric! Yeah, I have a desk job too, and it’s *way* easier than being home with these three kids all day!

  3. I remember those sleepless nights! I think one of the hardest things for us was embracing help. We all hate to admit that we need assistance, but new babies automatically qualify all of us for it. I hope new parents out there take your wise advice!

    1. Thanks, Jeff. We’re definitely more inviting of help now that we were with our first child. Despite having no idea what we were doing, we also had a bit of misplaced pride in those early days. Not any more…bring on the help! 🙂

  4. We’re going through all this right now as well as we just welcomed our baby boy into the world 3 1/2 weeks ago. I can relate to the newborn turning you into a zombie – we had a particularly trying night last night with the baby waking up every couple hours to cry for no particular reason. *sigh. It is tough!

    I agree with the need to have others around you help you out during this time (we’ve had help from the in-laws and from my folks) and for the need to step back from other optional activities. Just take time to enjoy your new baby – and take the time to bond with them!

    Congrats to you!

    1. Congratulations on your new baby, Mr. Money Smarts! I’m sorry to hear about your long night, but I’m sure you’d agree that it’s well worth the temporary struggles.

  5. This probably goes along with exercising under the general category of taking care of yourself – taking 10 to 15 minutes just to shower everyday made me feel a lot more human when my boys were newborns. I hear other parents mention they were unable to shower for days and wandered around in their pjs. I figure it is bad enough I am tired. At least if I am clean and have fresh clothes I don’t have to feel icky too.

    1. That’s a wonderful tip, Elizabeth! I know it makes a huge difference for me when I am showered and dressed for the day. If I go a day without showering or getting out of my pajamas, I get crazy cabin fever. 😉

  6. I agree with all of those! I would imagine Baby 3 will bring different challenges than Baby 2, just like Baby 2 was a bit different than Baby 1. I don’t see myself waking Jason for night feedings, just because if this baby is like the first 2, they tend to fill their diaper mid-feeding, so I wouldn’t get any extra sleep out of the deal. I do have some sleep contingency plans for sleep: (1) Having the older siblings sleep over at the grandparents’ house a couple of nights a week so Baby and I can sleep in (e.g. “embrace help”), and (2) Having the older one in Kindergarten during the day and putting my second child down for a nap as soon as the baby decides to sleep in the afternoon so we can all nap (even if it only turns out to be a 30 min power nap).

    The only other thing I can say about those newborn weeks can be summed up in two words: Boot. Camp. (Or is that one word?) You just have to tough it out and know, like you said, that the baby is definitely worth it!

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Wendy! I LOVE your contingency plans for extra sleep, especially the sleepovers at the grandparents’ house. Unfortunately, that won’t work for us very often. And when Bethany returns to work, the midday napping idea will be out the window, too. But it sounds like these strategies will be awesome for you!

      1. I’m hoping Miss Avery will be giving Bethany much longer stretches of sleep by the time she returns to work! My contingencies are really the most important during those first few crazy weeks when Bethany wouldn’t be back at work anyway. In the past, my babies were giving me at least a 6 hour stretch of sleep by 8 weeks, and working up to an 8 hour stretch by 12 weeks. Hoping for similar “luck” this time around.

  7. Another great article, Dustin. Thanks!

    When we had our first, we got great advice from a coworker that we used for our first two. We went on 3-night shifts. For 3 nights, I would get up and do everything for the baby. For the next 3 nights, my wife would get up and do everything for the baby.

    It was a good way to balance the workload, get 3 good, solid nights of sleep when you were “off”, and let your partner have the same when they were off. It was pre-determined (no looking at each other through fake sleeping eyelids in the middle of the night) and it was fair.

    It worked particularly as my wife returned to work at the end of the maternity leave both times.

    We didn’t use the method for the third, only because that one ended up being a C-Section and she needed a lot more TLC, so I did almost everything with that one.

    But the “shiftwork” night plan worked well for us, and we would recommend it to others.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Michael. I really like your strategy of doing shifts. Unfortunately, since my wife is breastfeeding, that won’t work for us. I could try to feed Avery, but I don’t think she’d care too much for that. 😉

      I hope others read this and can put it to work, though!

      1. Ha! True, that’ll put a damper on it. My oldest tried to latch onto me once when he was a few weeks old. Since then, I’ve avoided that like the plague and kept my t-shirt ON during my “new baby shifts.”

  8. Well I have to say that I feel where you are coming from!! This hits home for us too! I, fortunately, don’t “need” as much sleep as my hubby and our new little darling is sleeping no less than 6-7 hour streches every night… So I feel that we are very lucky right now and are getting a bit more sleep with our third than we did with our first two. I remember being “afraid” to sleep when our first was born, now I know so much better!! Not too much watching our baby sleep here, not at night at least. I am hopeful to start a bit of excercise when I am relased by my dr. in a few weeks and am truely enjoying this time, no matter how sleepy we are here!! Great post, as usual Dustin!!

    1. Ha Ha Jaycie, I knew you could relate to this post for sure! You guys are getting quite lucky with that little girl who likes to sleep so much at night. And I’m with you on worrying much less about the babies at night as we’ve gained some experience. 🙂

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  10. I was so blessed to have a postpartum doula after our 4th was born. I needed it! I am really bad at asking for help and it was so great to have someone here to clean while I enjoyed the new baby.

  11. Very insightful and definitely something parents should at least explore – sleep deprivation is not fun for anyone and makes for a miserable person!

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