When you’re expecting a new baby, people tend to give you a lot of unsolicited advice. But there’s one frequently repeated bit of advice that seems to rankle parents more than most: sleep when the baby sleeps.
New moms Caitlin and Leah welcomed their baby in January, so they’ve likely heard this tip a lot. They recently posted a video on their popular TikTok account that demonstrates exactly why so many parents find this particular suggestion obnoxious, and their hilarious video sparked an important conversation about how new moms and dads can take care of themselves.
It’s just not possible for new parents to sleep on the job
In their video, Caitlin and Leah take turns pretending to literally sleep when their newborn sleeps. First, one of them is doing dishes and notices the baby is asleep, so she lies down right there on the kitchen floor. Next, the baby falls asleep in the stroller, so one of the moms drops to the ground outside and goes to sleep mid-walk. “Why do people say this?” they ask in the video’s caption.
They even posted a followup video poking more fun at the advice. Parents can obviously relate on this one.
Their videos are meant to show how impractical it really is to expect a new mom or dad to actually be able to sleep any time their baby does. Sure, that’s great advice if you live in a mansion with a full-time staff who can tend to your household’s every need while you catch up on your beauty rest. But, for a normal parent who still has to keep up with things like dishes, laundry, showers and possibly other kids, it’s not quite so helpful.
“It’s so easy. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Also, vacuum when the baby vacuums, do dishes when the baby does dishes [and] do laundry while the baby does laundry,” one person writes sarcastically in the comments.
Another person puts it more bluntly: “Sleep when the baby sleeps is, in fact, the worst advice I received while pregnant.”
Is it actually unrealistic to sleep when the baby sleeps?
Though plenty of Caitlin and Leah’s TikTok followers agree with their video, some of them pushed back on the idea that it’s impractical for parents to get rest anytime they can. First of all, one person says, the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps isn’t meant to be taken quite so literally. “It means don’t worry about all the things that need to be done. Take care of yourself when you can,” she explains.
Other moms say they like the advice because, even if you have chores to do, those shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of your rest and well-being.
“I actually did chores while my baby was awake and happy, and took naps when he napped,” one mom offers. “I noticed my mental state and well-being was way better.”
“I pretty much always slept when the baby slept,” another mom adds. “I survived on those naps. Left all the housework for hubby to do.”
It’s normal for new parents and especially new moms to feel pressure to do it all. To-do lists don’t magically disappear just because a new baby has arrived. In many cases, U.S. moms are even expected to go back to work just weeks after giving birth. But just because it’s normal or accepted to demand so much from new moms doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK.
The bottom line on sleep for new parents
Parents lose a lot of sleep when they have a newborn in the house. One survey found that, on average, parents lose about 109 minutes of sleep per night during the baby’s first year, and that doesn’t even account for parents who spend more time awake breastfeeding particularly fussy babies or caring for infants with complex needs. Over time, all of that sleep loss can add up and contribute to things like anxiety, stress and postpartum depression. One study even shows sleep loss for new moms in particular contributes to premature aging.
Sleeping when the baby sleeps may not be easiest or most convenient solution to this problem. If it was, there wouldn’t be so many parents giggling at the mere suggestion. But, if you’re planning for a baby, it’s still a good idea to consider how it might be possible for you to get more rest, whether that’s hiring overnight child care or just devising a schedule with your partner that allows for each of you to catch a few extra Zs.
It’s true that you can’t just lie down on the sidewalk whenever your newborn takes a stroller nap. But, perhaps what people are really trying to say when they recommend sleep to new parents is this: Sleep whenever it’s humanly possible, because newborn care is no joke and you deserve it.