FOR MOST NEW MOMS, sleep deprivation goes hand-in-hand with motherhood. Your baby is, of course, a blessing and brings you joy, but many new parents are bewildered by how sleep deprived they get during those first few months. Waking up to change wet diapers does involve some lost sleep, but breastfeeding or getting up to prepare a bottle creates a real sleep deficit.
Difficulties of the Sleep Deprived Mom
Sleep deprivation can cause a number of difficulties for you as a new mom. It can:
- Impact Your driving. Sleep deprivation impacts your normal daytime functioning. Daytime sleepiness is a huge risk factor when you’re performing critical tasks, like driving a car. For instance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2013 around 72,000 accidents were due to drowsy driving with over 40,000 injuries and 800 deaths.
- Impacts your health. New moms often neglect their own needs which can affect their health. It can also affect your ability to take care of your baby. If you don't get enough REM sleep, it can impact your cognitive abilities and lead to memory lapses. Even a small task like changing your baby's diaper can be a challenge.
- Worsen postpartum depression. Sleep deprivation can also cause severe depression, which could influence how you handle your baby. One study shows that moms with postpartum blues have worse depression symptoms when they’re sleep deprived. They wake up more often and have less REM sleep than non-postpartum women. Their poor sleep quality can also affect their mood.
How to Prevent New Mom Insomnia
Here are some steps new moms can take to try to get better sleep:
- Time tasks accordingly. Don't perform tasks that are stressful at night. Avoid eating a heavy meal and caffeine before you go to bed, and avoid exercise during the two hours before you go to bed.
- Promote sleep. Make your bedroom dark and quiet to help induce sleep. Use a machine that makes white noise if needed, and use window shades to block out light.
- Follow a sleep routine. Take a bath, read a book, or do the same thing every night before you go to bed. Having a sleep routine helps signal to your body it's time to go to sleep. Go to bed at the same time each night if possible.
- Get professional help. Certain sleep problems like insomnia can be symptomatic of an emotional or physical illness.
Realize that your sleep deprivation won't last forever. Once your baby sleeps more and more through the night, you'll catch up on your needed sleep.
How You Can Help a New Mom
If you're the new dad, you can help by roatating nightly feeding and changing your infant’s diaper. Get up with the baby for his/her feeding one night, and she can get up the next night. This way you both can benefit from sleep. If mom is breastfeeding, have her pump some milk so you can share the feeding responsibility.
Other things you can do to help include:
- Take on added responsibilities.
- Watch the baby (and other children) so the new mom can take a nap.
- Encourage her to seek support and connection with other mothers.
- Make sure she’s eating three wholesome meals a day.
- Send her off for a massage, regularly if possible.
- Draw her a bath.
These are only some things you can do to help her. New moms spend a lot of time nurturing; mom needs to be nurtured too.
Chronic sleep deprivation poses real risks — risks that many new moms may not fully understand. You have to remember to take care of yourself too. Start by getting more sleep. When you get enough sleep, you can care for your baby much better and be a more involved and loving mom.
Enjoy your first Mother's Day - and try to spend some time away from your baby!