Sleep deprivation is one of the most common struggles of being a new parent. Between the feeding schedule, night waking, nursing, pumping and meeting the many, many needs of a new baby, you and your partner may only be averaging a few hours per night. Despite it seeming as though sleep is the last thing you have time for right now, it is very important to prioritize your own rest and well-being while caring for your little one. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood and many cognitive abilities including alertness, reaction time, memory, verbal fluency and our ability to handle everyday tasks. Too little sleep can lead to increased negative emotions and even make us more likely to develop depression. One study found that people who are getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night are 4-5 times more likely to be involved in a sleep-related car accident. Needless to say, our own need for sleep cannot be taken lightly even in the throes of parenthood. Check out these top 10 tips for coping with sleep deprivation to start getting your rest back on track.
1) Nap when baby naps: You’ve heard it a million times from friends. “Nap when baby naps,” they tell you. But when in the world are you supposed to get the dishes, the laundry, the cleaning and a simple shower in if you nap when the baby naps? Especially in the early days, you need to make rest a priority. Your body is recovering from giving birth and you need your sleep too. Be purposeful with your baby free time and if it’s not a nap then choose to do something else that will rejuvenate and energize you. Even lying down for a half an hour and not sleeping can be healing for the body.
2) Learn to nurse lying down: You will find this is an invaluable skill if you want to take naps with your baby. Not sure how? Ask your lactation consultant or postpartum nurse for some tips.
3) Be productive when your baby is awake so you can nap when he naps: You may think this sounds impossible but this is one of the many reasons babywearing is a great practice. Not only does it promote bonding, breastfeeding and lots of other wonderful things, it allows you to be hands-free to complete tasks around the house. For more cool facts about baby wearing, check out Eight Reasons to Wear Your Baby.
4) Accept help from family and friends: If your mother-in-law offers to come over and hold the baby for an hour so you can sleep, say yes. If a friend says she would like to help you out with cooking and laundry, accept! The first months with baby are not the time to be prideful about doing it all yourself. If your friends and family want to help you and catch a glimpse of your precious baby, let them!
5) Share night duty with your partner: It can often feel like you are on your own if you are breastfeeding and your partner is unable to participate. Consider pumping for one late night bottle that your partner can give to the baby while you get some extra sleep. It’s best to wait to do this until after your supply is established as you don’t want to miss a feeding session during the critical time period. By 3-4 weeks of age, you should be able to safely introduce a nightly bottle.
6) Consider co-sleeping: Though there are many differing beliefs about the practice of co-sleeping, safe bed sharing is a great way to simplify nighttime nursing and get more rest of your own. For more information on safe co-sleeping practices and other breastfeeding resources, check out the website Kelly Mom.
7) Shut off all screens 30 minutes before you go to bed: Although it may seem tempting to catch up on your favorite shows while dosing off to sleep or to check your Facebook News Feed in bed, the bright lights of the screen can actually stimulate the brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Be sure to choose sleep-inducing activities before bed like a warm bath, reading or listening to calming music. This will send the signal to your body that it’s time to sleep!
8) Keep up with self-care: Even if you are sleep deprived, be sure to take care of yourself in other aspects of your life. This includes eating a healthy, balanced diet, staying hydrated, getting enough physical activity (once you’ve been cleared by your care provider), showering regularly and taking your daily vitamins. If you are taking the time each day to take care of your body, healthy sleep practices will follow.
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9) Limit caffeine: You may feel like caffeine is your best friend at this point but the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends that breastfeeding moms limit their intake to one serving per day. In addition to the transfer to your breast milk, caffeine may make it difficult for you to fall asleep when you have the opportunity to nap during the day or even at bedtime if it’s consumed in the afternoon.
10) Remember, this won’t last forever: If nothing else works, take comfort in the fact that this phase of no sleep is just a blip on the radar of your life with your new precious child. Your baby will eventually sleep more than a couple hours at a time, and even through the night one day. It may be hard to believe right now, but you WILL get through this.
In case you were too tired while reading this to absorb all the information above, the main take home points are to sleep when your baby sleeps and take care of yourself during this major life transition. Your baby needs you to be healthy and rested in order to keep up with his ever growing needs. Give yourself some grace during this period and remember that no one expects you to be able to do everything. For more information about postpartum care and any and all maternity related questions, contact Health Foundations to schedule a free consultation with a midwife and a tour of our Birthing Center.