Coping With Loss of Sleep with a Newborn
April 6, 2015
First comes baby, and then comes exhaustion. If you’re tired with a newborn, you’re not alone! Read on for tips to get you through this time:
I distinctly remember sitting on a bench, holding my month old daughter on my lap. The exhaustion I felt was so deep; I literally had a hard time focusing my eyes. A sweet, older woman was walking towards us. In my mind, I was saying things like “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t even know what I am doing! It’s never going to end!” when the woman stopped to smile and compliment my baby. As if she had heard my thoughts, she said “Oh! It’ll be over before you know it! They grow so fast!” In my mind, I retorted, “Not soon enough!”
I learned a lot with my first child’s newborn phase, and here’s what I found most important:
You take care of the baby; someone else takes care of you. Do whatever you can to make this a reality for as long as you can, at least the first few weeks after baby’s birth. If you don’t have family or close friends to support, you can also hire help. Many doulas also offer postnatal support.
Sleep when they sleep. It’s so true; it’s cliché! It can also seem impossible advice to follow given that newborns sleep so shortly and sporadically. And there are so many good excuses to not sleep when they sleep. Your newborn’s nap can feel like your only chance to eat, shower, or just do something with both arms. Or maybe you have never been good at napping? Then it’s time to learn! Especially in the early weeks, it will help you and your newborn have a better recovery.
If you can’t sleep when they sleep, rest when they sleep. Resting really is better than nothing, and still more important than just about anything on your to-do list. Besides that, it’s pretty likely that if you do lie down with your eyes closed you will catch some first stage sleep without realizing it. And even just a few minutes of stage two sleep has some restorative benefits.
Don’t have a To-Do List. Or if you are really stubborn, make yourself a To-Don’t List. You know how when you have the flu it’s totally okay not to load the dishwasher or shower? Extend the same kindness to yourself when you have a newborn. Your body just made a human being; that’s a lot of work! Consider yourself in survival mode and let go of a lot. You’ll be surprised how much laundry, cleaning, email and lots of other regular, daily things can wait. And wait. And wait. And embrace it! When else do you have a pass to stay in your pajamas all day? And, with the cutest company ever, no less?!
Nourish Yourself the Easy Way. Nourishing yourself is important to your recovery, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Prepping a Chef Salad is probably too ambitious at this point. Go for a peanut butter sandwich instead! Once your baby gets older, you can make meals a priority. But, for now, don’t think of making meals; think in terms of what you can eat one-handed: trail mix, crackers, fruit, cheese sticks, vegetable sticks, and protein bars to name a few. Same goes for other children you might have at home. Keep stashes for both you and your littles anywhere you nurse. Invest in paper products for the duration.
Get sunlight and fresh air every day. Besides nature’s stress lowering effects, this helps keep your circadian rhythms intact. All of your body’s basic systems, sleeping, eating, digestion, energy levels, and mating, are governed by your circadian rhythm–the biological system that keeps your body in sync with day and night. The “tired and wired” feeling happens when you get out of sync, definitely not something you want to experience when your baby finally starts sleeping longer stretches. And having healthy circadian rhythms helps your baby’s development later on. Plus, your baby is getting melatonin from your nightly breast milk if you’re producing it. Avoiding artificial light at night and keeping things quiet, whether or not you are sleeping will help keep your circadian rhythms strong.
Ask for Help. Besides being considered a form of torture, sleep deprivation has serious consequences. Some that we can laugh and joke about, like slower reaction times, foggy brain, and confused senses (but are still serious when it comes to safety), and some that have profound long-term effects, like postpartum depression and other illnesses. Know when to ask for help. And really, what friend or relative is going to say no to cuddling a newborn for an afternoon so you can get two or four consolidated hours of sleep? Even for the mother strongly committed to breastfeeding, giving your baby a bottle of milk so you can sleep and be more responsive to the baby is a wise coping strategy.
Don’t Judge and Don’t Compare. All babies and all parents are different. And just as surely as we are doing the best we know how, we all put on our best faces when we go out. Don’t compare your worst to their best. We don’t see each other at 2 a.m., but if we did, we’d be more kind to ourselves.
Don’t be in a rush to resume a normal life. Until your baby is “sleeping through the night,” don’t sign up for anything beyond the basics. The newborn stage can be such an opportunity to heal and rest your body, to bond and get to know your baby, to develop foundational communication skills with your baby, and to discover new depths in your strength and emotions as a parent. Take advantage of it. It really does end. And you might even miss it.
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