Ever woken up at 3 am with a baby on your lap with no idea how he got there? I have. I remember placing my son back in his crib in a daze, but to this day I have no recollection of ever picking him up. My first year as a mother was remarkably similar to auditioning for a role on ‘The Walking Dead’. I moved in slow, zombie-like motion with my eyelids permanently at half mast, and it often felt like my grey matter was oozing out of a hole in my head. Sleep deprivation could do that do a person. My son slept in three hours shifts, which lead me to wake up at odd hours of the night. You never realise just how precious your sleep is until a one-month-old wailing baby snatches it away from you.
Childcare is not just the mother’s responsibility
When you are pregnant, you hear a lot of, “Enjoy your sleep now, because there won’t be any later!” I don’t know how many fathers hear that, but almost every mom I know has been fed this line. Once the baby comes, normal life, as we know it, goes flying out the window only to be replaced by some chaos and sleeplessness. And who is at the front lines battling it out? The mother, of course. When the baby is hungry, wet or unable to sleep, it’s up to us to rise up and deal with the situation. It’s not that fathers don’t help out. Yes, they do. But we seem biologically programmed to wake up when our babies do.
What happens when mothers lack sleep?
Poor quality of sleep or constant sleep deprivation can result in a number of issues like:
- Functioning at reduced capacity due to the constant tired feeling
- Becoming forgetful (moms can’t remember they have sterilised the baby bottles, given prescribed medicines etc.)
- Lowered immunity hence increased chances of falling sick
- Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure
- Difficulty to focus or multi-task, at work or at childcare
- Get cranky, frustrated and angry far quicker
- Can trigger postpartum depression
- Can affect hormones that lead to decreased production of milk
Your infant is fragile and needs you constantly. Your state of sleeplessness can affect your abilities to care for your child. Which is why you need proper sleep.
How to get more sleep as a new mother
As a new mother, you’re going to wake up several times a night to feed or soothe your newborn baby. This cycle, of feeding through the night, will continue for at least 6 months, if not more.
many babies do not reach the milestone of sleeping through the night before 12-24 months of age. Even if you baby is trained to sleep through the night, there are growth spurts, teething troubles, common illnesses, etc. which are frequent in the first 2-5 years and almost always entail with sleepless nights for the parents.
Do you really want to be sleep deprived for so long? Which is why you need to find ways around it. Think smart, and figure out a sleep schedule that will let you get your shut-eye, while still caring for your baby.
1. Sleep once your baby sleeps
During the early days, a newborn’s schedule is erratic. The routine that many of us are so used to goes for a toss. Managing a never-ending list of things at home, work along with baby care makes it difficult for many mums to sleep at an early hour.
You probably think that you rather do more productive things when your baby is sleeping, like catching up on ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix. However, sleeping at midnight only to be woken up a few hours later, isn’t conducive to health, especially if its repeated every night.
Sleep with your baby, and you might squeeze in a bit more sleep time to regain your sanity. It might seem odd at first to keep baby sleeping hours, but it will be worth it. This is something your GYN and paediatrician will recommend as well, especially in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum.
2. Take as many naps as you can
If you cannot sleep through the night, carve out a small chunk of nap time during the day. Maybe you can sleep when your baby is napping. Or you can hand over the baby to another family member (after you’ve fed, burped and nappy changed, for your peace of mind). You’ll feel fresher, better rested and that terrible brain fog will clear up. Enabling you to play another ten rounds of ‘peek a boo’ once again.
Once you resume work, you could sneak in a power nap post lunch. Simply lay your head on your desk and catch a few zzzs for 10-15 minutes. Try it and see how much it helps improve your productivity!
3. Improve the quality of your sleep cycle
Stay away from caffeine and heavy food around bedtime. Also, dim the lights down and shut down your wi-fi enabled devices.
When it gets darker, the sleep hormone, melatonin, is released which sends signals to the brain that it’s time to sleep.
If your baby is more than 8 weeks old, you can do some light exercises during the day once your doctor gives you the green signal. Exercise helps to relax, improves metabolism and helps one sleep better. One may think that when it is difficult to squeeze time for sleep, how to squeeze out additional time for exercise? But food, exercise and sleep form the golden triangle for good health. And we moms need to find that time out, even 10-15 minutes a day can make a huge difference.
Closer to your bedtime, some light yoga stretches can relax the muscles and help you sleep better.
4. Declutter your mind
It’s difficult to feel restful when you have a dozen thoughts buzzing through your head.
One way to deal with it is to make to-do lists and prioritise the REALLY IMPORTANT things through the day and let the minor things slide down. So before bedtime, this will free up your mind a bit and allow you to relax.
If you still find yourself stressing, try meditation, drinking herbal green tea, listening to some soothing music or anything that relaxes you (but don’t make it as an excuse for that glass of wine daily ;-)).
5. Share the night shifts
Don’t try to do it all and be a super-mom. If there is another caregiver in the house, delegate. Maybe the father or a grandparent can occasionally take over the night responsibilities. Train them to handle the baby in your absence.
There are times your baby will wake up for a nappy change or because he is unable to go back to sleep. Let your husband handle that while you sleep. When breastfeeding round the clock, if you’re really exhausted, you can even express some milk and your husband (or caregiver at home) can keep it ready for the 4 am feed.
6. Hiring help
If you live in a nuclear family or you’re a single mom, you might want to look into hiring professional help to take a load off your shoulders.
Managing childcare along with professional and personal responsibilities is a challenge. Doing it with little or no help can be even more taxing. Mother’s sleep is usually the first thing sacrificed in such situations. As already mentioned, constant sleep deprivation can result in severe health issues, emotional breakdown, disappointing performance at work, lack of focus, strained relationships, etc.. And all these things eventually affect the quality of childcare as well! The importance of sleep for a mother cannot be emphasised more.
Remember the old and wise saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. In urban settings, we have lost the village. Hence hiring help, even if it burdens one’s finances, especially during the initial 1-3 years, is recommended by many experienced moms.
As a new mom, you’re going to do whatever it takes to care and love your baby. But to do that, you need to take care of yourself first. Sacrificing your sleep and sanity will not do good to anyone. Mothers need sleep to ensure their best at childcare. Only a healthy and happy mother can raise a healthy and happy child.