Okay, I’ll confess, this section of the book intimidated me. I mean, trying to help moms get sleep when they have a new baby would, on its face, appear to be an impossible task. But, but, but—and this is a big but—sleep is so critical to your mental well-being that you and I have to do everything we can to try to help you get more of it. So I’ll do my part if you will do yours. You in?
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SLEEP AND MOOD DISORDERS:
“For some women, sleep deprivation is associated with significantly worsening mood and often more anxiety,” says Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “If you’ve ever battled depression or anxiety at some point—which is a good chunk of women—you need to be mindful of getting enough sleep. The same goes for women who say, ‘Yeah, I need my sleep. If I don’t sleep, I feel terrible.’”
“Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor,” says Jill Krause, the straight-talking mom behind the popular blog Baby Rabies, who experienced both postpartum anxiety and OCD after the birth of each of her four children. “It can trigger a lot of scary things. For me, it triggers bad anxiety, which means I am useless to the entire family. You have to come up with a plan of how you are going to protect your sleep.”
BETTER SLEEP = BETTER PARENTING:
“Parents spend so much time educating themselves about everything they can do so that their children have the best possible experience, but you can’t be this amazing parent if you are exhausted,” says Janet Krone Kennedy, PhD, author of The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby (and You). “You don’t have the patience or the mood stability. You’re irritable. Everything feels like a challenge. You lose the insulation around your nerves, and it feels like your nerves are on the outside of your body.”
SHARE NIGHTTIME DUTIES EQUALLY:
If you are parenting with a partner, he or she should absolutely be doing as much of the nighttime care as you are. “One of the things I have heard from women is that when they had help available to them during the night from their partners, they felt guilty accessing it,” says sleep specialist Leslie Swanson, PhD. “They had this sense they could do it all, and that’s just not true. It’s impossible. Women’s bodies have gone through the biggest changes they will ever go through in the postpartum period, and they need to recover.”
“It’s really important to advocate for yourself,” says Kennedy. “Maybe the other partner has to get up and go to work, but if you are home with an infant, that’s hard work too.”
Splitting nighttime duties is a little more straightforward if you are bottle-feeding, but there are plenty of ways breastfeeding moms can plan for uninterrupted sleep. For instance, “pump right before you go to bed and then have your partner give your baby a bottle of expressed milk so that you can at least sleep through one feeding,” says Kennedy. As the baby grows older and no longer needs to feed at every waking, the non-nursing parent can more easily handle the soothing back to sleep, because, says Kennedy, “if the baby smells breast milk, she’s going to want to feed.”
GET OUTSIDE HELP AT NIGHT:
Another way to get an uninterrupted block of sleep at night, which is especially critical for solo moms, is to have a friend or family member take on some night shifts. Or consider hiring a night nurse (a professional caregiver who will come to your house and handle infant care overnight). Now, before you tell me there’s no way that fits in your budget, see a quote from my childhood friend MeiMei in “Been There, Done That” here. She has twins and put night nurse sessions on her registry. Best piece of advice in this book? You decide.
QUALITY MATTERS MORE THAN QUANTITY:
By sharing nighttime duties, you can guarantee that you and your partner will get good blocks of uninterrupted sleep, which are so critical to your mental health and energy. Aim, at a minimum, for three-hour chunks. That will enable you to go through an entire sleep cycle and get to the deeper, restorative time of sleep.
KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF YOURSELF (AND YOUR PARTNER) LOW:
“Recognize there are deficits that come along with sleep deprivation,” says Robyn Stremler, RN, a sleep researcher and associate professor at the University of Toronto. “Your brain is not going to be working as well as it does when you are well rested. You can’t modulate your emotions as well.” This ties into the idea of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt (see here) when it comes to conflict in this sleep-deprived, non-optimal phase of your life together.
WHEN IT’S NOT WORKING, REEVALUATE YOUR ROUTINE:
If you find yourself dysfunctional from sleep deprivation, take a look at the big picture of your current routine and see what needs to change. Try going to bed earlier or sleeping later. “If you feed the baby, she’s down to sleep at 8:00, and you’re tired,” says Stremler. “There’s no reason you can’t go to sleep then. If you feed the baby at 6:00 A.M., he goes down, and you feel like you could still sleep, then go back to bed.”
Been There, Done That: Moms Share Real Stories About Sleep Deprivation and What Helped
With a newborn waking around the clock, I had to rely on my husband to take over for a bit so I could rest. We had a pretty good routine where he would come home from work and take the baby on a walk so I could get an hour or so nap.
—AMANDA, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Hubs and I would break the night into two shifts. I would get up with her 10:00 P.M.–2:00 A.M., and he would get up with her 2:00 A.M.–6:00 A.M. That way, we would each get four hours of “rest” a night. We would rotate each night too, because we knew the second shift was the toughest.
—ERIN, DETROIT, MICHIGAN
You know that saying “Sleep when baby sleeps”? Do it. Always.
—TIFFANY, HOUSTON, TEXAS
I put night nurse sessions on my baby registry and would recommend other moms do the same, especially if you’re older or know you can’t deal without sleep. We hired a night nurse to come three nights a week. I couldn’t have survived preemie twins without her. Getting three to four hours of uninterrupted sleep, then pumping, then going back to bed for another three hours or so was a godsend. Having a night nurse is way more valuable than just about any “stuff” you could need, other than car seats!
—MEIMEI, HONOLULU, HAWAII
I hate the notion that a stay-at-home mom should always be the one to get up while a working father sleeps. I work just as hard every day as he does, and he knows that, so he gets up too.
—NATALIE, HOUSTON, TEXAS
My husband got up every night with our baby, even if he just brought her to me so I could feed her, then he went back to sleep since he was working. So at least I didn’t feel like it was all up to me. We always went to bed early (like 9:00 or 10:00) and got up two to three times in that twelve hours, but it was manageable.
—MEGAN, DECATUR, GEORGIA
If someone offers to stay over so you can sleep at night or take a nap, for God’s sake, take them up on it!