"Sleep when the baby sleeps" is one of those pieces of parenting advice that results in a practically involuntary grimace. It's so cliché, and it's much easier said than done (as any mom knows). Still, there are definitely times when "sleep when the baby sleeps" is solid advice, even if you might want to throw me a dirty look for even subtly suggesting it.
Getting rest is my number one piece of mothering advice, honestly. A rested mom is more patient, peaceful, and present with her baby or kids. Then again, a rested mom is also pretty much an oxymoron because, at any given time, there are at least 72 things on your to-do list that could be getting done in those precious minutes of peace and quiet. So sleep when the baby sleeps necessitates permission and practice; you have to give yourself permission to invest in your future mom self and you have to practice shutting your brain off and ignoring the dishes piling in the sink.
For the first few months of my daughter's life, I considered her first nap to be an extension of my night's sleep. Even though I'm the type to want to get the day going by putting on clothes and drinking a cup of coffee, I tried to trick myself into thinking my day didn't start until after her first nap. I'm convinced that trick allowed me a little extra sanity in those first few months. The dishes and laundry and dirty bottles will literally always be there, so sleeping when the baby sleeps every so often won't set you back that far.
At Any Point In The Three Months
I was originally going to suggest sleeping when the baby sleeps at any point in the first month, but I'm giving you permission for at least three months instead.
During baby's first month, they sort of sleep all the time but could wake up at any time, making it harder to get long stretches of sleep. However, within a few months they're picking up a bit of a schedule that you can rely on for your own rest.
During Any Kind Of Sleep Regression
Sleep regressions are the worst. Just when you think your baby is going to doing some real sleeping-through-the-night action, they're up 15 freakin' times and you just want to pull your hair out and/or drown your sorrows in 11 cups of coffee before noon.
If your kid is going through a sleep regression, you have permission to sleep whenever they sleep during the day.
When Someone's Minding Other Kids
Obviously, if you have older kids who need your supervision, you can't really check out for a nap while your youngest sleeps. However, if someone else has your older children (like if they're in preschool or daycare or a grandparent happens to be around) give yourself permission to nap while your baby naps and don't feel bad about it for a minute.
After Or Before A Night Out
Every mom needs some time out of the house with girlfriends or her partner to feel like a real human once in a while, but staying up even past 10:00 can throw me for an exhausted loop the next day.
Sleep when the baby sleeps is great advice either before (so you're a little more fun past dinner time) or after, so you can catch up on a little missed sleep. Heck, sleeping when the baby sleeps before or after a night out is a great idea altogether.
When You Can Leave The Baby Monitor With Someone Else
One of the hardest things about sleeping when the baby sleeps is that inevitably the baby will wake you from a deep sleep approximately seven minutes after you achieved it. That first moment of hearing your baby cry is just painful, almost negating all the good that nap did for you. Always sleep when the baby sleeps if there's someone who can listen for him or her to wake up. Better yet, if they can entertain that baby for a little while and extend your nap!
When The House Is A Mess
Part of my typical get-up-and-start-the-day routine always involved getting dressed, drinking coffee, and putting the house back together from the day or night before. Very Type-A, yes, but we all have our hang-ups. It wasn't the easiest thing for me to get used to sleeping when I could have been cleaning up bottle mess from the night before or emptying the dishwasher.
Then I got over it.
I gave myself permission to rest so that I could feel human more of the time, and it made all the difference, dishwasher be damned.
When Your Baby Isn't Necessarily Asleep Yet
I used to lay in my bed, scrolling through Instagram, waiting for my daughter to be fully, fully asleep before I tried to get to sleep myself. Bad idea. As long as your baby isn't screaming the house down and you have a reasonable expectation that she'll fall asleep on her own eventually, hit the sack and don't look back. It used to drive me nuts that I wouldn't know exactly when she fell asleep so I couldn't say exactly how long she napped, but honestly, the extra time I had to fall asleep mattered much more.
When They Have A Predictable Nap
When your child is old enough to have a predictably long nap, like when they're 9-18 months and sleeping less often but in long one or two hour stretches, sleep when they sleep. The heck with those unpredictable younger baby naps of 45 minutes, older baby naps are longer and relatively predictable, meaning you can sack out for a few hours and feel way more refreshed after.
When You Know You Won't Make It Through The Day Without It
This is the catch-all permission. Permission for when you shouldn't really even need permission to take a break and a rest. When you're exhausted and just don't know how you're going to make it through the afternoon with your kiddo, that's when to sleep when they sleep. Don't feel guilty, don't make excuses, just get some sleep and wake up knowing you're that much closer to bedtime.