Before our son was born my husband and I heard from almost everyone that you really need to sleep when the baby sleeps. Then, I was a bit surprised when we were being discharged from the hospital and the doctor said the same thing. For some reason, I wasn't expecting that. We certainly hadn't been doing that in the hospital and when we got home we really had a hard time sleeping when he was asleep.
I think it's a relatively common belief among new parents, whether they'll admit it or not, that you must maintain visual contact with your child in order for them to keep breathing. If you're not watching, you never know what could happen. And, in general the wachfulness does seem important, practically every baby product came with a warning about leaving children unattended. However, the last night in the hospital I was paranoid about every little noise he made, and could feel the lethargy in every part of my body. My husband didn't seem much better off. I'm pretty sure neither of us were in the best condition to be attending a child in any meaningful way.
Luckily, my mom volunteered to watch our sweet new baby sleep, and therefore keep him breathing, while my husband and I got some much needed rest during those first two days from the hospital. When she left she encouraged us to tag-team, and we figured out how to really do that and give each other some mostly uninterrupted sleep. I have to admit this would be a lot easier if my husband could also nurse him, though.
But even as we got better at sleeping when we could and trusting our son's respiratory health to last while our eyes were closed, it was still difficult to sleep during the day when he was napping because all you wanted to do, really, was sit and stare at him. Children, and particularly newborns truly are amazing. The only thing I was motivated to do for quite a while was admire this new little person that had been hanging out with me for the last nine months. Plus, my own sleep patterns told me that night time was for sleeping, not the day. Also his sleeping was sporadic, 30 minutes here, 3 hours there. I never knew how long I had.
Now my husband and I have started shifting between napping with our son and using that time to get things done. And that's one thing I wish they would tell you in the hospital or on the steet corner, or in the grocery store, or wherever else new advice is handed out to new parents: how long are these instructions good for? I know very few, if any, parents who nap when their 2 year-old is down for his or her afternoon nap. But sleeping with your child, napping in the afternoon, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable sleeps you cen get. If you look at the time stamp for this message you'll see that maybe the sleep thing isn't going all that much better. But it is. I can very easily sleep during the day now!