How Do You Cope With the Exhaustion of Early Parenthood?

My favorite act of support is bringing a meal to the family of a newborn.  Why?  Because I remember. I remember the piles of laundry and dishes.  I remember that crazy insatiable hunger of early breastfeeding.  But more than anything, I remember the free falling fatigue—and the creeping terror that I would never be able to sleep for more than three hours ever again.

We’ve just recently had a run of challenging nights, which puts me back in that familiar fog.  I feel unable to track my own thoughts, I struggle with patience, and more than anything I just want to be able to lay my head on my pillow.  (And I find myself daydreaming about unexpected opportunities to nap.)

I cope by just accepting the fact that I have no control over sleep—and many other parts of my life now that I’m a parent.  Also, I rely on caffeinated beverages.

How do you deal with exhaustion?  Are you lucky enough to have family members that can provide you with a break? Are you naturally nocturnal?  Are you currently in the middle of sleepless struggles? Do tell!

For more sleep-deprivation support, read Pregnancy Exhaustion and the Importance of Self Care, Post Partum Exhaustion and Coping With Less Sleep, Exhausted Eco-Friendly Motherhood, and Sleep Vs. The Planet.


  1. I also have a little one (4 months). i’m fine during the day, but when I get woken up in the middle of the night for a feeding, I feel like my body just can’t do it. But you know what, it always does. I’m lucky my baby goes back to sleep quickly after feeding. As for dealing with exhaustion, I just try to get to bed a little bit earlier on days where I’m feeling tired.

  2. Three things come to mind – one for those preparing for baby, one for those in the thick of it, one for everyone.

    For the those preparing: make and freeze as many meals as you can. Freeze in single portions (easily done by portioning out onto a cookie sheet and freezing, then putting the frozen entrées in a tupperware/freezer bag). Do this with cookie dough too – you will thank yourself. Ideas: lasagna, soup, chicken in some sort of sauce, ratatouille…just about anything really. We did this to such an extent that when my family arrived with their contributions we had to go buy a small chest freezer for the basement. But it was AWESOME.

    For those in the thick of it: lower your expectations. Forget email. Forget snail mail. Forget thank you notes. People understand and will get back in contact later. For bills, well, those you need to deal with, but (especially if you’re a bf’ing mom) let another parent/adult take over on this one. You’d probably screw it up anyway due to sleep deprivation. 😉 More things not to worry about…showering or getting dressed comes to mind.

    For everyone – feel free to sleep! This sounds like weird advice, but all new moms I know were so afraid their baby was going to stop breathing that it affected their ability to sleep. This piece of advice is really difficult to implement, for me I had to give my daughter to my husband or parents to really relax and sleep deeply. Otherwise I was unable to turn off the high alert. And I’m normally a very practical, logical person. This lasted for about a week and only went away (I think) due to sheer and utter exhaustion.

  3. Lower your expectations.

  4. “Creeping terror” is the perfect way to put it. I wish I’d had someone there to assure me that feeling wouldn’t last!

  5. “Creeping terror” IS the perfect term! My 2nd is almost 1 and I am still experiencing this feeling. The worst part is laying down in my bed, unable to fully relax because I know it’s only a matter of time before I hear her on the monitor. I don’t have any advice to offer, but I’m glad I saw this post. It comes at the perfect time for me.

  6. well, i drink lotz of water everyday, it helps anything.
    first it helps to produce more milk, and also good for my metabolism.

    about stay up all night, just put your baby besides you on your bed, and when they cry, breastfeed them… they will get back to sleep easier when they know they are beside you. you can train them to sleep alone when they’re 3 months and more, when they ready for night time sleep 🙂

  7. To be honest, “coping” isn’t really the word we use around here; we’re barely surviving! In addition to all the normal post-partum healing, it quickly became apparent that we’re blessed with a non-sleeper. Awake all day, frequent wakings at night, “sleep when the baby sleeps” has been THE most useless piece of advice I received. After 5 months of sleep deprivation, the only way we can hang on to a shred of sanity is to go to bed with the baby around 7pm (if we’re lucky) so we are in bed as long as possible. DH tries to take the baby for a walk on the weekend days so I can try and take a nap. But really, by Friday I’m usually crying with exhaustion and ready to collapse.

  8. Co-sleeping really helped me the first few months with both my babies. This time I don’t have caffeine to rely on because it keeps the baby awake for DAYS. For those of you with non-sleepers it might be worth a desperate try to cut out the caffeine and see if it helps. Even tea affects my daughter. Of course, with my last baby nothing helped. At 3 years old she finally goes asleep alone and sleeps through the night. Brutal, but we survived

  9. Rachel Zylstra says

    co sleep with your baby; it regulates both of your heart rates and helps you sleep plus makes night time feeding easier because neither of you has to become fully conscious.

    Get rid of the monitor, especially with older babies, you don’t need to hear every sound they make. I found at four months my babies REM cycles were waking me and I was in turn waking him up. Unless your too far away to hear a cry (which has to be really far…) you don’t need to hear the rest.

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