Sleep deprivation is a way of life for me; something doctors would shake a finger at. But with three kids, ages 5, 3.5, and 1, it’s tough to get much of anything done, let alone a full eight hours in bed.
For new moms, getting a full night’s sleep is not only difficult, but it’s also impossible without help. That’s because many new babies need to eat every 2–3 hours, day or night.
Whether you’re in my situation with small children at home as you get ready for another addition or you’re a first-time mom preparing for your first bundle, it’s important to rally the troops in your life so you can rest. Not only is it difficult to live on little sleep; it can be dangerous.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving, such as driving your infant to the pediatrician when you have had little or no sleep, is responsible for an estimated 100,000 crashes each year. Sleep loss can also increase a new mom’s risk of postpartum mood problems.
Although you will want to press on without sleep, doing it all yourself, you must try to take care of yourself from time-to-time or your entire family will suffer.
Check out these tips from WebMD.
1. Talk about your sleep needs.
This may be the most difficult of all because some partners just don’t get it. You can talk about how tired you are until you’re blue in the face, but your significant other may do nothing. If this is the case for you, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Force your significant other to take care of your baby. Don’t laugh. There is nothing like a true-to-life inauguration to spark understanding. Leave your partner alone with the baby for a bit – go to a friend’s house, the store, a movie, a drive, a hotel, whatever – and see what happens. I promise the baby will be okay.
- Talk with other family and friends. If you have a significant other who won’t budge, talk to your family or close friends about your need for a nap. People will come to help.
2. Use the hospital nursery.
There are some hospitals who advocate the mother-baby bond from the beginning and don’t even mention that there is the option for a nursery, but it may be your saving grace. After a long labor-and-delivery, your body is spent and you need sleep. Handoff baby to the nursery and get some much-needed sleep.
3. Just say no to added responsibility.
You will need help with this one as well. While no one can substitute for special time with mommy, calling a favorite aunt or cousin to come to play with your older child will be a huge help. Don’t be afraid to shower your child with toys and gifts because this is a huge adjustment. When you do need that special time, have someone else take care of your new baby for a bit while you snuggle with your older child.
4. Sleep when your baby sleeps.
This is the one I laugh at, only because I struggle so mightily with this. I haven’t met a woman who doesn’t. With the constant responsibility that comes with a new baby, our gut instinct is to do something for ourselves once the baby falls asleep. That might be reaching out to friends online or over the phone, watching TV, or getting chores done around the house.
WebMD tells us to fight that urge with every fiber of our being in the name of safety. “If your baby takes a nap, put everything aside and take a nap too,” says Susan Zafarlotfi, Ph.D., clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “Everything can wait – except the baby.”
5. Say yes to help.
In addition to the ways mentioned above, accept meals from friends and family, allow others to bring over gifts for your older child, and don’t be too proud to allow someone to clean your house, hold your baby, or let you take a shower. It’s so much fun to snuggle a newborn — let others have the pleasure while you take care of yourself.
6. Don’t worry that you won’t hear your baby cry.
I’ve had those moments in the middle of the night where I’ve forgotten to turn on the monitor only to be awoken by a screaming baby from down the hall. It sucks! But the bottom line is that you will hear your baby, even if you fall asleep. Whether you use a monitor or have him or her next to you in a bassinet, don’t worry that falling asleep will keep you from being able to take care of your child.
7. Outsource tasks.
Make sure your significant other, family, and friends are helping with your housework and your baby. The tough part of this is if you’re breastfeeding – you will be the one who wants to feed your child to nurture your breast milk supply. But once that is established, consider pumping milk for your partner or someone else to feed your child in a bottle to give you a break.
8. Keep your eye on the prize.
Your baby will sleep through the night eventually, but you’ll have to go through this tough period for a while. Focus on the fact that you will get sleep someday!
9. Don’t ignore the baby blues.
Your mood is directly tied both to the amount of sleep you get and your endocrine system, so it’s no surprise that women who have just had babies are at high risk for depression. Don’t ignore the baby blues, especially if they don’t go away. It can mean you have fallen into depression and need outside help.
10. Rule out underlying sleep disorders.
Make sure you’re getting quality sleep. Disorders like sleep apnea can develop as a result of weight gain during pregnancy, so stay on top of symptoms.
By being aware of the issues surrounding postpartum sleep can help you develop strategies that will allow you to sleep better and longer. Sweet dreams!