Understatement of the century: being a new mom is freakin' hard. One of the little gifts of new motherhood is this magical thing called a "nap," and the newer the baby supposedly the longer and more frequent the nap. Ideally, a new mother is supposed to sleep when the baby sleeps to make up for all those night time wake ups. For a mom whose baby refuses to sleep, however, she is in for a rough time. You might wonder what the best things you could do for a mom whose baby won't sleep might be, besides paying for a night nurse or offering to stay up with the baby (wouldn't that be nice). Turns out, there are quite a few small things you can do that would make a huge impact on a mom whose baby refuses to sleep.
My first baby was definitely of the no-sleeping variety. He never napped for more than 20 minutes at a time (on a good day) and it took Herculean efforts to achieve even that. I knew that almost everyone else's baby around my son's age was napping during the day and sleeping during the night a lot more than mine, and I didn't understand what was wrong with me or with my son. I bought every sleep book and read every article I could find. I tried all the methods suggested to me by my mom friends that "worked" for their babies. I decided either I was doing it wrong or my baby was broken. During that period, however, I wasn't leaving the house and I wasn't encouraging visitors because I was set on creating the "perfect sleep environment" and setting up a "nap routine" that could not be messed with.
After a while, I realized there was no point in being alone in my apartment, striving for this elusive thing called sleep that was just not going to happen for us. When I started allowing and inviting friends to come over and keep me company instead of struggling alone, and soon after that, began to leave the house to go on adventures with my sleep-despising baby, life got a lot better. However, I could not have done it without the friends who helped see me through it all by doing the following things with me:
Join Her On An Endless Walk
Moms of sleep-hating babies take a lot of walks. And you know what they would like a lot of the time? Company. If you are wondering what you can do to help your friend with a baby who doesn't sleep, it can be as simple as going with her on a long walk. The walks are great for her baby, because the baby can stare at the world, take in the sights, and be soothed by the sounds and the feeling of being pushed in the stroller or worn in the carrier. They're great for mom, because of all those feel-good endorphins.
Plus, if you want to make that walk even better for mom, you can add in a dose of friendly conversation. You know, where she can vent about the moms she doesn't necessarily like, complain about her vexing family members, and talk smack about her partner's shortcomings as a parent. Fun stuff like that, right?
Make A Museum Date
When your baby doesn't sleep it is kind of pointless to stay home all day. Eventually I learned that it was key to get out of the damn house. So I made dates with friends (especially my dear mom friend who also had a baby who never napped) to explore the city and hit up the museums we had always meant to visit when we were working office jobs.
These jaunts were almost never very culturally enriching, and we didn't get to linger much on the art, but it felt really good to, a) be out in the city and, b) at least be "near" art and culture. It was great to feel an approximation of being productive in some small way, and to do that with friends, since my baby wasn't sleeping anyway. A lot of moms don't even think of this option because they are petrified of leaving the nest. Do your mom friend a favor, and recruit her on a museum date with her baby. Tell her that her baby may as well not be sleeping next to Gaugin and Picasso instead of her Sleep Sheep.
Come Over Her House For "Dinner"
I say "dinner" in quote marks because "dinner"usually conjures up relaxing images of wine and kicking back with some good food and conversation. However, dinner with a mom whose baby doesn't sleep means one person gets to eat (i.e. shoves food in her mouth, chugs wine) while the other person holds the baby, and then they switch. It is not relaxing, but you do get fed.
Offer To Come Over For Moral Support (Or So She Can Shower)
I was super lucky to have some amazing friends when my first son was really little. I had friends without kids who would come over and spend hours sitting with me while I nursed my always-awake baby, then held him and bounced him as he stared at them (completely alert, not sleeping) so I could walk the dog without having to wear the baby, too.
I had friends with small children who were at a slightly more manageable age who would come over for the half an hour I needed to shower. I had friends with babies the exact same age as mine (who were good sleepers) who would come over to keep me company while their babies napped. The important thing is, if you have the time and ability, a mom with a baby who refuses to sleep just could use someone to chill with and who can occasionally watch her baby so she can pee without cradling a baby (or shower without the curtains open as she stares at her baby in the bouncer).
Listen To Her Vent And Let Her Cry
If you are in the presence of a mom whose baby refuses to sleep, prepare to be inundated with many complaints, a lot of "woe-is-me's" and lots and lots of crying. A baby who never sleeps comes hand-in-hand with a sleep-deprived mama, and sleep-deprived people tend to cry. A lot.
It isn't necessarily because they are unhappy, it is just that, well, they don't have a lot of coping tools at the ready. When my first born wasn't sleeping, it was pretty much all I could talk – and cry – about. Anyone who ended up making the brave decision to come over my house would have to prepare herself for a long saga of all the things I had done that day to try to achieve a good day of sleep for my baby and how it all went to hell, and how I was the unluckiest person in the whole world. If any of my friends had dared try to point out a bright side to any of this, she would have received a whole lot of side-eye.
Watch The Baby So She Can Go For A Walk By Herself
Even if it is just for 10 minutes, she will feel like a changed person. And if you've never been alone with a baby before, chill. Your friend can put the baby in a swing on that crazy fast setting that you would think would make a person vomit but that somehow makes her baby eerily calm but never puts him to sleep (as advertised on the box).
While you watch the baby swing back and forth and back and forth while listening to a super saccharine version of Ba Ba Black Sheep, your friend can feel what it is like to have a sense of personal agency again, if only for a few minutes, as she walks around the block without holding, bouncing, pushing, or nursing another human being who refuses to sleep.
Bring Her Flowers
If you know her favorite flowers, even better. But just a simple bouquet of anything cheery will help lift her dreary spirits. A lot of people showed up to my house with food and baby gifts when I was a sleep-deprived mama with a colicky and non-sleeping child. I appreciated these things, of course. But there were a few people who came simply bearing flowers, and it gave me such a happy thrill to see something so fresh and vibrant entering what I felt was my own private circle of newborn hell.
Make Sure Her Window Shades Are Open
Sleep deprivation is depressing. It really is. The effects of constant sleep deprivation on a person can mimic some of the symptoms of real depression, so it is important that a person be surrounded by as many uplifting things as possible. Natural light is a mood lifter.
So, if you go to your friend's house whose baby won't sleep and you notice that she hasn't even had the energy to lift her shades up for days, pull up her shades, open the curtains, and maybe even open the windows themselves to let in some refreshing outside air. It is a little thing, but it can make a big difference in changing the energy of the room, and maybe adding some much needed energy to your sleep-deprived mama friend. And even though she might worry that the light will definitely keep her baby awake, point out that if her baby hasn't slept all night or napped during the day with the blinds closed at this point, it probably won't make a difference either way. So why should she suffer in the dark?
Whatever You Do, Do Not Offer A Sleep Solution (Unless She Asks)
You might be a seasoned mama who has gotten through your own baby sleep battles and lived to tell the tale. Or you may be a professional sleep specialist, like, for your job. Regardless and whatever you do, your friend does not want your advice right now (unless she has asked for it, specifically). She wants to simply be listened to. She most likely has scoured the internet, crowdsourced her Facebook groups, and been inundated with "advice" from everyone's mother-in-law and sister's cousin's friend about how to get her baby to sleep better. So unless she asks, it is basically your job right now to just sit there and listen.
Also, please do not tell her to savor these precious moments in the moonlight with her child, or how lucky she is to have a healthy baby, or that her baby is bound to sleep "one day". Unless, again, you enjoy being the recipient of a lot of side-eye.