The Sleep Situation When There's a Newborn in the House


“I had no idea” he said.  “I just didn’t realise that you could be this tired. That tiredness could make you feel like this and act like this. That it could make your brain slow down, your hands shake, make you giddy but feel as if you’re moving in slow motion.”

My friend was tired. His firstborn was taking a few weeks to learn night from day. He and his wife were grabbing what sleep they could but he was turning up to work with a couple of hours sleep, exhausted.

I felt for him. There’s no tiredness like newborn baby tiredness. Except maybe newborn baby and toddler tiredness.

I assured him, as I suppressed an empathetic yawn that it was all normal. In our house we called those early weeks “survival mode”. We came to expect it and in some way got used to it by the time our third baby was born, but by then the usual advice didn’t work, if you “sleep when the baby sleeps” then the toddler is roaming unsupervised. And when does the baby do the laundry or cook the dinner?

Looking back I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how my husband did it. It sort of happened and I was there, in a dazed state while it happened around me. We got through it.

This is what tiredness looks like with a newborn, a 2 year old and a 4 year old Image: Sinead Fox


I remember when my eldest was 3 weeks old phoning a friend. I was sitting on the couch in my dressing gown in late afternoon, the early autumn sun was streaming in the window but I was freezing, the tiredness was in on me.  My friend asked how I was and I cried and cried. It was so hard. I was so, so tired. She talked me down, told me it was normal. It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.

My mother said she was surprised the first time that she came to stay that I presented her with a bottle of expressed milk, moved Ciarán’s crib into her room and went straight to bed. That’s how tired I was, I handed over my newborn and went to bed. I knew other people could keep the baby alive, I just needed my duvet, to close my eyes and let someone else carry all the responsibility for an hour, maybe an hour and a half.

The tiredness of caring for a newborn is like no other tiredness I’ve felt. Mothers are still recovering from the birth and have raging hormones, and leaking boobs (among others). Dads, especially first time dads, while not needing physical recovery feel the burden of the additional family member and try to do it all. It’s exhausting.

By the time we’d had our third baby we had learned some lessons. Take ALL the help that’s offered. If it’s not offered ask for it. It doesn’t matter who sleeps where, sleep when you can, wherever. I slept upright in the middle of our bed many nights after a nightfeed with baby asleep on my chest. I was horrified the first time that it happened, it wasn’t planned, but it wasn’t the only time I fell asleep while winding the baby and only woke a couple of hours later. But everyone got some sleep. It’s OK for dads to sleep in the spare room, it’s OK for anyone to sleep anywhere in the early days if as many people as possible are getting as much sleep as they can. Sweet, sweet, sleep.

Photo of a newborn asleep in her crib. What's seldom is wonderul Image: Sinead Fox
Photo of a newborn asleep in her crib. What’s seldom is wonderul
Image: Sinead Fox

Parents give one another sympathetic nods, acknowledging the bags under eyes. Nobody gets it until they go through it. And everyone who has a child has gone through it. So if you’re going through it now, don’t think you’re alone. Ride it out, take help, don’t forget to eat. Don’t think any less of yourself for feeling completely overwhelmed by it. Science tells us it’s normal to be a mess without sleep, so go easy on yourself. And most of all remember, this will pass. It might not feel like it today as you operate on empty, but it will. And then someday you’ll look back and remember it like it was a dream, and wonder how you got through it. Because you will get through it. I did, three times and I lived to tell the tale. (Just don’t mention the teething).



11 thoughts on “The Sleep Situation When There's a Newborn in the House

  1. Great post!

    I remember saying to my husband, a couple of weeks into “first baby” sleeplessness “How does anyone go on to have another child when they know what is ahead of them?” . I meant it at the time too, we were baffled with the incredible lack of sleep and wondered how no one had told us. OK so they may have mentioned it but really to get the point across you should grab someone by the shoulders and shake! We got over that eventually and went on to have two more so , as you say, you do survive!

  2. Also did it three times and lived to tell the tale. It’s a killer but we all survived. First trimester tiredness now that almost killed me first time around. Also a secret killer.

  3. Great post! I have a 10 mth old and a just gone 3 yr old so been in the newborn and toddler phase! And you cant snatch sleep second time around when your toddler is with you all day so it is a killer. But as I did those night feeds and night cuddles with number 2 I remembered the words of a friend who said she really savoured it second time around as it might well be the last. I too made a point of enjoying it second time as I thought it would be the last also. Not feeling brave enough to do it again yet! At the mo I am trying to wean the night feeds with a baby who likes to be breastfed half the night tucked in beside me. I almost feel bad as its her quiet time for attention after a manic day with the toddler. But I havent slept a full night in 10 mths and work again soon so needs must. I would love a post on the emotions of stopping breastfeeding what is very possibly your last baby….

    1. Thanks Fiona. I’ve an unpublished post drafted on weaning, I breastfed mine to 6 months. I felt I couldn’t publish at the time but your comment is the push I needed to review it again. Watch this space 🙂

      1. I would love to read this also! My almost 11 month old feeds more in the night than she ever did as a newborn, every 2 hours at the minimum. It’s hard as everyone expects you to be ‘back to normal’ by now I think. I plan to night wean in the next month before weaning altogether but I’m not sure how…

  4. I have a 4 week old and am in the middle of this. Exhausting! I am still wondering how people go back for a second, seems like insanity from here! She is starting to sleep more at night, but then there is the panic that she’s not eating enough, suffering from extreme dehydration etc… The crazy just keeps on going!

  5. I’ve a two year old and her future accomplice in crime will be here come May. Kind of terrified, but this is reassuring. We know we’re not the first parents to go through this, but still.

    1. Hi Conor, it basically means that everyone who is already a parent has been through this before, knows how hard it is and will hopefully cut you some slack, and maybe even make you some dinner!

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