Sleep Support for New Moms
As you settle in to your new life as a parent, you are going to experience many changes. One of the most profound being the lack of and changes in sleep patterns. Although it can be challenging for both parents, new mothers tend to be affected more profoundly and will especially benefit from extra care and attention. This guide will provide you with information and tools to navigate through the challenges of sleep as new parents.
Remember that, like all things in life, this is just a phase along the journey and better sleep will return again. In the meantime, taking steps to improve the sleep you are able to get will help to alleviate the strain of excessive exhaustion.
Loss of sleep and lack of quality of sleep can be associated with the baby’s need for feeding and diaper changes throughout the night. There is also a component of anxiety and stress involved while adapting to this new lifestyle as a parent and getting used to the needs of your baby.
The loss of sleep can pose potential health risks including mental and physical fatigue and risk of postpartum depression (PPD). Sleep loss can also raise cortisol levels, promoting hormonal fluctuations as well as making you more susceptible to colds, flus, and infections.
Mental and physical fatigue is often viewed and accepted as an inevitable part of motherhood. You may feel overtired, forgetful, mentally foggy or physically exhausted. Although it is normal to be tired and feel fatigued, when it becomes chronic and unaddressed it can lead to more serious issues.
Some of these issues/concerns include:
Muscle soreness which can lead to strain and even injury
Lethargy and drowsiness which can lead to accidents and injury
Increased stress and anxiety which can lead to mental health issues and postpartum depression
The ability to be fully present, enjoy the experience of motherhood and properly care for the child can become hard to maintain
Managing new and existing responsibilities can become difficult and unmanageable
Postpartum depression (PPD) is very common among new mothers and is often associated with sleep deprivation. Although PPD can affect both sexes, it is most common among women. It is characterized as a mood disorder that is associated with childbirth and often involves anxiety, low energy, episodes of crying, irritability, and changes in sleep patterns.
Sleep is essential for the body to cope with the mental and physical stress that it has been exposed to throughout birth and now care of your child. Lack of sleep can cause mental and physical exhaustion which may inevitably lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
It is not uncommon for new mothers to experience feelings of overwhelm, inadequacy and discouragement as they are navigating a whole new world. A lack of support and guidance may lead to a more serious and prolonged mood disorder such as PPD.
Support for Fatigue and PPD
Mental and physical fatigue as well as PPD have various implications and can lead to more severe depression and lack of care for the child. It is important to care for yourself so that you can best care for your baby and family.
There are many things that you can do to make your health, and particularly your sleep, a priority:
Ask for help and communicate with your partner and family - this can help reduce stress and anxiety while helping you feel supported and nurtured
Try to sleep when your baby sleeps - although this may seem like an opportune time to get things done, sleeping or resting when your baby is sleeping will help you to make time for relaxation and allow your body to rest
Take turns with your partner - this is a great way to divide the time of caring for the baby and taking time for yourself
Practice patience - this might be the hardest, but try to be patient with yourself and your baby as you are both becoming familiar with each other and this new way of life
As a new mom who is feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, you may be tempted to use prescription or over-the-counter medications. Although they may help you to fall asleep, they often have multiple negative side effects and are highly habit forming which can cause the body to depend on them for sleep. Also, keep in mind that whatever you put into your body is also going into your baby’s body via breast milk. So be mindful of what you are ingesting while breastfeeding.
There are some herbal sleep aids which safe to use while breastfeeding. Try one of these as a warm tea
Relaxants (help you relax so it is easier to fall asleep): chamomile, lavender, lemon balm
Sedatives (relaxing but may also induce sleep, therefore stronger): hops, valerian, passionflower
Using a white noise machine, black-out blinds and keeping the lights out during night time wakings will help your body settle back into sleep after night time feedings and diaper changes. Also, though it may be tempting, do not use your cell phone while awake at night for night-time feedings. The blue lights emitted from electronic devices disrupts your neuro-pathways and stimulates the excitatory sensors in the brain - making it very difficult to return to sleep afterwards.
Getting Some Sleep
The challenges of sleeping as a new mother may not be a simple or quick fix, but there are steps that you can take to help reduce sleep deprivation and its negative effects on your health and possibly your baby’s health:
sleep when your baby sleeps
create an optimal sleep oasis
avoid caffeine and alcohol