“So, is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” Do you ever have the thought that you want to punch people in the face when they ask you this question? (I do not condone violence but I’m okay with a snarky response). Do I LOOK like I have slept through the night? Did you notice the dark circles and bloodshot eyes or the fact that my hair that hasn’t been washed in… what day is it…. I don’t even remember?
Everywhere you go people are giving you advice that you better be sleeping! Sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep as much as you can. The house chores can wait. Everything can wait. Just get your sleep! You’re not getting enough sleep! Sleep!
We all know that sleep is vital for our health and well-being. Most of us, even those without small children, could use more of it. Lack of sleep significantly increases the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress. But you didn’t need a professional to tell you that. The day most women leave the hospital, they’re already more sleep deprived than they’ve ever been in their life. No one told you that you’d be interrupted at the hospital every 30 minutes by the nurse, doctor, pediatrician, housekeeping, room service, photographer, family members, and friends. For a society who constantly promotes “more sleep” we sure are good at preventing new moms from getting any. You probably haven’t been sleeping well since the third trimester of your pregnancy. And, if you’ve had a difficult pregnancy or birth, you’re even more worn out that you probably thought could be possible. You’re running on empty and now you’re supposed to get some rest while caring for your newborn. How can the words “rest” and “newborn” even be used in the same sentence?
The problem I experienced with a newborn was that I couldn’t sleep. I tried. I tried a lot. I was exhausted. I was fortunate to have family come over and hold the baby for me so I could have the opportunity to nap. However instead of napping, I’d lie there awake, thoughts racing through my head. How long until she’s hungry again? How much time can I sleep for? What if she starts crying? What if she won’t stop crying? Will they come get me? I hope so. Just fall asleep. Hurry. The clock is ticking. Why is this so hard? Why am I so sad? Will life ever be the same again? I just need to sleep so I can feel better. Please please just fall asleep.
There is nothing like pressuring yourself to fall asleep to make it impossible to sleep..] The harder you try, the harder you fail and the more anxious thoughts enter your mind. In addition to the stress of taking care of a newborn, yourself, and your home, you are also experiencing a sudden drop in hormones along with changes in amino acids, neurotransmitters, and thyroid hormones which can all affect your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It’s the perfect storm of sleep-deprivation. Hurricane Crazy.
The longer you continue in a state of sleep deprivation, the more likely you are to have significant problems with depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and stress related health problems. Getting 5 consecutive hours of sleep per day can provide a great boost to your emotional health. When you are emotionally healthy, you will be an even better and more responsive mom. But how do you get those five glorious hours? By the way, if you had told me in my college years that I would feel “rested” after 5 hours of sleep I would have LAUGHED in your face. But as a new mom, five hours of sleep can feel like a week. But how do you get those sacred 5 hours? For most new moms, these hours won’t just magically appear. You are going to have to make a plan and take action.
- Make a plan with your spouse or partner where you have a set at least 5 hours of time to sleep while they are in charge of the baby. For example, you sleep from 9pm-2am or from 2am-7am. During this time your partner can feed the baby a bottle of pumped milk or formula. If you do not want to bottle feed, make arrangements for your partner to bring the baby to you to nurse and immediately take the baby back after they nurse (to do the burping, diaper changing, putting the baby back to sleep, etc). The idea is for you to have a long stretch of time where sleep is possible and likely.
- Wear earplugs and/or an eye mask to block out sound and light.
- Download and listen to a 10 minute Guided Meditation for Sleep when you lie down (you can find these through amazon, itunes, or youtube.)
It’s not just your baby waking that may be keeping you from sleep. Frequent visitors as well as distractions of a chaotic house may be impairing your ability to get the rest you need.
Many women have this idea about “being the perfect hostess” or “not hurting people’s feelings.” Now is the time to be the best hostess to yourself, so that you can give the best care to your baby. Below are some suggestions on empowering yourself to allow others to help as well as setting boundaries.
- Keep a running list on the refrigerator of tasks people can do to help you. Example: “unload the dishwasher, put the laundry in the dryer, take the trash out, wash bottles.” Often your friends and family really DO want to help you, but they don’t know what to do. Holding the baby is great, but wouldn’t it be even better if they could take care of the tasks that you really don’t have time for?
- Set a “do not disturb” schedule during the day in which friends/family are not allowed to visit so that you can nap when the baby naps.
- Empower yourself to cancel planned visits. This is a big one. It always seemed like every time my baby would finally fall asleep, I had some friend or family member who had planned to come over and see the baby. All I wanted to do was sleep but I felt like I had to allow them to come over and keep the plans. Text them and say “Need to take this opportunity to rest. Let’s reschedule.” People will forgive you.
- Ask yourself, do I really need to be present? If you are having friends or family over, is it possible that they could hang out with your spouse/partner and the baby, while you stay asleep?
If you find that you just can’t sleep, regardless of whatever you try, please talk to your doctor about checking your blood work to assess a variety of factors which may be contributing to your insomnia. (Iron levels, thyroid, etc)
If you are struggling with insomnia, anxiety, worry, or depression, therapy can help too. If your mind is full of rules and reasons that are holding you back from setting boundaries or making changes that might improve your sleep, therapy is an ideal avenue for working through these.