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Don't Sleep When The Baby Sleeps: Real-life Self-Care For Moms With Young Babies & Toddlers

February 8, 2019

 

Take a moment, and imagine what would make it easier for you to be a mom right now. To be the very best mom you can be. What would that look like? How would it feel?

 

Maybe you pictured something something like “have time, feel rested, not worry so much”?

 

Let me show you how to actually get to a point like that, with inspiration for you to do some real-life, practical self-care. Even if it seems like an impossible dream right now even to get just 5 minutes to yourself in the shower. It's possible. And I mean soon – you won't have to wait until they're all off to college.

 

All it takes is a few practical ideas. But to make them work, we first need to get rid of a few common obstacles.

 

 

Why it's so hard to be good to yourself


In this lovely day and age where self-care, body and mind balance and self-awareness are so highly praised, sadly moms with young babies and toddlers are often left out.

 

Why? To begin with, purely practical reasons. Looking after yourself takes time and peace of mind, not givens when you've got little ones around. And a household to run, a job to go to, friends and family to connect with.

 

And not only that; there's also the shame or guilt many of us still feel when taking any sort of me-time. Even if everyone on social media tells us it's cool to escape to the bathroom and hide from the kids for a bit. Even if we have kind and helpful partners, family members and friends. We can still feel like we should be able to do it all. And feel bad if we don't.

 

I'm here to tell you once and for all that you need me-time. More now than at any other moment in your life.

 

You're entitled to it. And you need it, not only for a greater sense of well-being and to safeguard your health. But to be able to keep a clear head, to be able to cope with all that's going. Essentially to be able to take good care of your little one(s). Last but not least, being good to yourself sets a really important example for your own children.

 

 

Don't sleep when the baby sleeps


Yes in theory, “sleep when the baby sleeps” sounds like a great idea. Easy advice to give, right? But to follow that advice isn't that easy.

 

In reality, not all babies nap as easily or as long as we want them to or settle smoothly for the night. Also, nap time quickly becomes finally-get-those-chores-done time or dinner-prep time.

 

And even if you did manage to take the time for a nap yourself: no guarantee you can sleep on command, right? And how about the guilt you might feel (not necessary at all, but I know many of us feel that way!) for sleeping during the day?

 

Let's explore these 5 pillars for truly doable self-care: 1. Be nice to yourself, 2. Ask for help and accept it, 3. Take 5-minute breaks, 4. Do stuff you like and 5. Use clever
no-guilt sanity-saving hacks.

 

 

1. Be nice to yourself

 

Decide to be really and truly nice to yourself. This very simple thought can actually be very complicated. Have a good think about what this means for you.

 

For most of us being nice to ourselves starts with letting go of all feelings of guilt when doing something fun. With agreeing that you're entitled to me-time and nice things and with allowing yourself to ignore all judgement by others. That includes your mother in law saying “oh how nice that you get some rest” in that mildly sarcastic tone with those annoying slightly lifted eyebrows. But most of all it includes ignoring your own inner voice saying “I should be doing something useful”.

 

A few examples of being nice to yourself: treat yourself to your fav Starbuck's coffee, enjoy a super yummy chocolate bar, watch a few seasons of your favorite series, don't criticize yourself that hard when something's not working out, don't force yourself to chat with friends who don't really support you, etc.

 


2. Ask for help and accept it


You need support. We all do. Please don't feel like you have to it all by yourself. It's never been like that in society before. There used to be moms, sisters, aunts, grannies, ... whole villages available to help a young mom through the baby years. Our society these days doesn't have that by default anymore, but that doesn't make you any less entitled to support.

 

If you're lucky to have loving and supportive people around you, that's great but don't forget to (dare to) accept their help if they offer. And ask them for help if they don't offer or don't offer the right kind of help. This can be as simple as “can you please get me a coffee” or “can you look after the baby for just half an hour”. It can also be “please sit and talk with me for the afternoon”.

 

Whatever the kind of support you need: know that you're being a strong mom asking for it. Taking care of yourself is a super-mom move!

 

If you don't have supportive people around you, look for any and all ways to get support. This could be a professional babysitter who can look after your little boy or girl for an hour now and then so you can get some time to yourself. Or it can be a friend who maybe isn't that great with babies, but can definitely make you a good cup of coffee!

 

 

3. Take a 5-minute break at least once a day, every day


5-minute breaks are magical.

 

Whatever you've got to do to make it happen, make sure that at least once a day, you take 5 minutes to breathe.

 

 

This can be as simple as being by yourself for 5 minutes. Or it can be 5 minutes of conscious breathing or meditating, with or without your baby near. Of course at all times, make sure your baby is 100% safe and monitored while you take a mini break.

 

If you know a meditation or relaxation breathing technique, use it for your 5-minute breaks. Otherwise, start with the simple technique of 4-7-8 breathing.

 

The downside of this sort of technique is that it's easy to lose focus. Even for just 5 minutes, concentrating on our breathing can be very hard – our thoughts just come rushing up and distract us, which is frustrating.

 

That's when guided meditation exercises can help. The Headspace app (free version) is a really good one because you can do super brief guided breathing or meditating without any fuss or weird stuff. There are daytime meditations that help you sleep indirectly and there are the so-called sleepcasts, guided mediations that are designed to help you doze off.

 

For an even more powerful – and frankly easier to do – form of guided meditation, look into Yoga Nidra. It's the no-movement minimal-effort form of yoga that anyone can do, anytime and anywhere (couch, bed, yoga mat): you just lie down and listen to a recording. It induces total physical, mental, and emotional relaxation so it's no surprise that it also improves your
sleep. I only recently discovered yoga nidra myself and I'm fascinated by how powerful it is, and to be honest, it's also really fun to do! My personal hack to get started: if you have an account with a music streaming app, do a search for 'yoga nidra'. You'll find that different recordings have different styles, different voices etc. so try out a few to see which ones you like best.


4. Do something you really enjoy


The main problem with “sleep when the baby sleeps” is the idea that you need to sleep in order to relax or rest. But here's the thing: doing something your really enjoy can be 100 times more efficient than a nap.


So, while your baby naps or someone from your support circle is looking after your baby: do something you truly enjoy. If that's watching Netflix for a bit, that's great. If you love yoga or dancing, do a quick session at home or go to a class if you feel up to it. Go for a simple walk or a shopping spree. Coffee with a friend. A super long shower. Simply sit outside with a cup of tea.


Anything and everything goes. Just pick things that you really like and you'll find that they're the very best at recharging your batteries.



5. No-guilt sanity-savers

 

These are my favorite sanity-savers:


1. Carry your baby. Especially in those first months, with colic and witching hours and not napping easily; you may find you don't get any time for yourself and can't get anything done. Baby wearing around the house doesn't only help with that in a practical way, it also improves bonding and nurtures a couple of important sleeping skills.

 


2. Do naps on the move. Naps on the move get you outside for a walk, or at least a drive, take the stress out of at least one nap, and help your baby with extending naps – connecting sleep cycles – and settling into a regular sleep schedule.


3. Skip bath time. I still often get questions about whether a daily bath is really necessary for a young baby. It isn't – unless if it was a muddy day at the park or your pediatrician told you to bathe daily for a medical reason. So never hesitate to skip bathing, it can really take the stress out of your evening routine. In fact, contrary to the often recommended “warm bath before bed”; for babies who don't really enjoy bathing or get super excited by it, skipping the bath can make their evening routine so peaceful that it helps them with settling more easily for the night.


4. Lower your clean-house standard. The house is fine even if it's a bit less clean than usual. The toilet will do with a quick soak'n'brush and the floor with a speedy vacuum. The toys will clean themselves up once in a while.


5. Easy dinners! Yes ideally you might want a healthy home-cooked dinner every night. But hey, go easy on yourself from time to time! Don't hesitate to order food or make a super quick freezer dinner. To get easy home-cooked meals anyway, look into recipe box deliveries in your area: they can help you fix meals in no time and without having to go shopping. Or, use a slow cooker to prepare easy one-pot wonders: start it up during a quiet daytime moment to avoid dinner time rush hour.

 


Once you're on board with these principles of taking good care of yourself, you'll discover more daily opportunities to treat yourself and truly enjoy it, guilt-free. Even if you only manage a few moments a day, you'll get your energy back, little by little and both you and your baby will feel better for it. Go for it, you deserve it!

 

Heidi Holvoet, PhD is the passionate baby sleep consultant behind Baby-Sleep-Advice.com. Since 2007 she's been helping thousands of parents and their babies sleep with her trademark gentle yet effective no-tears techniques. Parents worldwide love the improved sleep they see, as well as Heidi's truly supportive, never-judging and no-nonsense approach. Heidi's sleep programs and website have won several awards over the years and she was featured on a variety of
baby sleep podcasts and live online TV shows. A physicist by trade, with a lifelong fascination for all things sleep,

 

Heidi re-oriented with training as a lactation consultant, in infant mental health and development and perinatal mental health – most recently with the PSI and 2020 Mom certificate program.

 

Originally from Belgium, Heidi has lived and worked in Cambridge, MA, in Paris, France and currently resides in London, UK with her husband, two teenage children and their super sweet and gorgeous labrador Storm.

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