By Chelsea Skaggs: Postpartum Coach
Becoming a mother is a journey that is brimming with joy, love, and let’s face it, sleepless nights. One of the most significant challenges new moms face is managing sleep deprivation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, new parents can lose up to 44 days of sleep in the first year of their baby’s life. In this post, we’ll explore some effective strategies to manage sleep deprivation, so you can continue enjoying this precious time with your little one.
Risks of Sleep Deprivation as a New Mom
The risks of sleep deprivation for new moms cannot be understated. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to issues such as postpartum depression, slower recovery from childbirth, weakened immune system, and cognitive impairments. It can also lead to weight gain and increased risk of accidents due to lack of focus and slower reaction times. Ultimately, lack of sleep can make it more difficult for you to care for your baby and enjoy the journey of motherhood. As stated by William Dement, a pioneer in sleep research, “You’re not healthy, unless your sleep is healthy.”
As a new mom, I wish I had taken this more seriously. If I could go back to my first postpartum season, I would have prioritized sleep over hosting, cleaning up, trying to get out and be social, and stressing over my baby’s new habits by frantically googling everything.
Developing a Sleep Schedule
I’m not talking about the schedule for the baby. That will come, and some will argue with me on this, but I think focusing on when YOU can get sleep needs to come before trying to get the baby into a specific routine. In the realm of new parenthood, sleep can often feel like an elusive luxury. However, developing a regular sleep schedule can help your body adjust to this new normal. Try to align your sleep time with your baby’s or take short power naps whenever possible. Think of the tasks you can skip around the house, just for this season, so you can sleep instead. Say “no thank you” to an invite if it’s going to drain you even more.
Effective Night Feeding Practices
Night feedings are an inevitable part of new motherhood. Unfortunately, your baby doesn’t come with the common knowledge that we don’t eat at nighttime. But by making the night feedings more efficient, you can catch a bit more rest.
4 Tips for More Efficient Night Feeding
- Prepare Ahead of Time: If you’re bottle-feeding, consider pre-filling your bottles with water and have formula at the ready. For breastfed babies, you might want to try a hands-free pumping bra (cozy enough to wear at night!) that allows you to pump while you do other things, so you can store breastmilk for nighttime feedings (if you don’t have good breastmilk storage bags, grab some here).
- Dream Feeding: This strategy involves feeding your baby before you go to bed, but after they’ve already started their night sleep. You may gently wake the baby just enough for them to take in more milk, increasing the chance that they will sleep a longer stretch at night (and you can too!)
- Co-Sleep Safely or Use a Bedside Bassinet: Having your baby close to you can save you time and energy during night feedings. If you choose to co-sleep, be sure to follow the safe sleep 7 safety guidelines to reduce the risk of SIDS. Alternatively, a bedside bassinet provides the convenience of co-sleeping while giving your baby their own safe space.
- Minimize Stimulation: Keep lights dim and avoid playing or talking to your baby during night feedings. This helps to reinforce the idea that night time is for sleep and can help your baby to go back to sleep more quickly after feeding. A nightlight with a dimmer setting can be handy to ensure you’re not startling the baby with bright lights.
Night Feeding Partnership
If you are a dual-parent family, night time feedings are time for teamwork. Just because one person birthed the baby doesn’t mean that one person does all the night duties. There are a couple of ways to approach this teamwork, and you have to find what works for you.
Here are two options I introduce to my clients:
- Take shifts overnight. This might look like partner A taking care of baby needs from 10-2 am and partner B taking care of baby needs from 2-6 am. This way, each parent gets a guaranteed longer stretch of sleep each night. Obviously you can set the timing for what works for you.
- Do night needs together. Partner A does the feeding. Partner B does bottle/supply clean up and diaper change. This means you are both more likely to get back to sleep more quickly.
(I am a certified life & relationship coach and I do take a limited amount of new parent coaching clients so if you could use support in this area, contact me.)
Healthy Eating Habits
It might surprise you, but what you eat can significantly impact how you handle sleep deprivation. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbs can help keep your energy levels up. I know how tempting it is to load up on any and everything you can find, but try each day to be mindful to get enough variety in your diet to keep your body in a good place and help you be able to sleep.
Additionally, try to avoid caffeine when you know you will have the chance to sleep. Try for alternatives like non-caffeinated tea or a a sparkling water with lime.
Consider a subscription to a healthy meal delivery service to ensure nutritious meals without the hassle of cooking.
Staying hydrated is crucial, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. Not only does hydration affect your milk supply, but it also impacts your energy levels and overall well-being. It’s not the same “drink up” as you may have heard pre-baby, but I mean it. Drink your water! If you get easily bored of plain water, grab some flavorings to help you keep chugging. Liquid IV is a really popular mixer that also boasts other health and wellness benefits.
This is also a great time to have a larger-than-life sized water bottle on hand to keep you accountable.
Physical activity might be the last thing on your mind when you’re sleep-deprived. However, research published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that regular physical activity can improve the quality of sleep.
A quick walk around the neighborhood with or a gentle yoga flow with a cozy yoga mat can make a world of difference. Don’t think of this as your 30-60 minute power sessions. Think of it as gentle, restorative movement that helps your body in this season.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Whether it’s your partner, family, or friends, let them share the load. Enlist a reliable babysitter for a couple of hours or seek help from a postpartum doula so you can catch up on some much-needed rest. We weren’t meant to do this in so much isolation. I believe the movement towards individuality in families has created a huge lack for parents, and we feel it. (Read more about that here!)
In conclusion, while sleep deprivation is a rite of passage for new moms, implementing these strategies can help you navigate this challenging yet rewarding journey. Remember, it’s a phase that will pass. So, take it one day at a time, practice self-compassion, and know that you’re doing an incredible job. After all, motherhood is the ultimate balancing act, and every step you take contributes to your remarkable growth. You’ve got this, mama!