We’re all aware of the unfortunate consequences of sleep deprivation – forgetting your wallet, doing everything a little bit slower and maybe snapping at your co-worker when they speak to you in the morning. Everyone experiences sleep deprivation sometimes, but when you’re a new mother it can start to feel like being well rested is a distant memory from a past life, because it’s just never going to happen again.
However, even if it feels like getting enough sleep is a luxury you can’t afford, it’s important to remember that it’s also medically essential if you want to function properly. Some things, like driving, can be dangerous if you’re suffering from a severe lack of sleep.
Looking after a newborn can be a confusing and overwhelming time – Nutricia FAQ is a great resource for new mums who are looking for reliable information – but there are steps you can take to make things easier for yourself.
Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
This is probably the number one tip for new mums who are trying to fit in the sleep they need. When your baby is up, you have to be up too; so it makes sense to sleep when they’re down. You might be tempted to catch up on household chores while your baby is napping – don’t do this. After your baby, everything else can wait. Even if the dishes are piled up on the sink from the night before, there’s dirty laundry strewn all over the house and a new episode of your favourite TV show queued up and waiting for you on your laptop; sleep first. A newborn can sleep up to 17 hours a day (though not consecutively) so if you take these opportunities when you can you’re likely to feel a lot less tired.
It might be difficult to rearrange your sleep schedule so that you’re able to take naps during the day, especially if you’ve never been the sort of person who sleeps when the sun is out. Getting regular exercise or going for a walk in the morning may help you sleep better. If you are worried that you won’t hear your baby crying when you go to sleep, and the anxiety is keeping you awake, you could purchase a baby monitor.
Divide Up The Responsibilities
In the first few months of motherhood, when your baby can’t yet sleep through the night, you’re probably going to have some very fragmented sleeping patterns. Your baby’s sleep cycles are different to adult sleep cycles – it takes them less time to fall into deep sleep, so they have a higher percentage of REM sleep; but they also wake up more easily. Having to constantly attend to your baby during the night can leave you more scattered and foggy during the day than if you had just gotten 4 or 5 consecutive hours of sleep.
It can be tempting to allow one partner (usually the mother) to look after the baby during the night every night because the other partner has to be up and alert for work. This might seem like the best option if the mother is on maternity leave, but it can be incredibly exhausting for one person to take care of round the clock feeds. The mother also has an increased risk for postpartum mood problems if they are severely sleep deprived.
Try rotating nights occasionally, so that each partner has the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep.
Give Yourself Room to Breathe
Of course, your newborn baby will be your number one priority, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your own needs. If you are able to, you could consider hiring a night nurse or a babysitter every once in a while when you need a night to yourself. You should try not to be resistant to accepting help and support from family and friends that you trust – you don’t have to do everything yourself.
When you have a new baby at home, you should avoid taking on any other extra responsibilities where you can. For example, if you have other children, now is probably not the best time to volunteer for their sports teams or at their school. You will have time for that later.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, or you have other sleep or mood related concerns like snoring, involuntary sleepiness, severely reduced reaction times or memory loss, you should speak to a doctor immediately.