Before your first child is born, it’s common to see parenthood as a bit of a lark! Some expectant mothers even worry about what they will do all day at home, or worry that they will be bored.
The reality? Once the greeting cards have begun to gather dust, the visitors have all gone home and your partner goes back to work, it can be a struggle to get through the day on little sleep and while you’re constantly feeling tired. If you have other children, they add demands of their own. Once you return to work, the fatigue increases even more. With increasing rates of birth intervention, many new mothers are also recovering from c-sections, episiotomies and other postnatal medical issues.
One thing that all new mothers have in common: they all want more sleep! Here are the best things you can do when you need more sleep.
#1: Use Other People’s Energy
The best way to conserve energy is not to use it! Think about online shopping for groceries; home delivery for things like bread, milk and fresh produce, and paying a cleaner every few weeks to keep on top of bathrooms and other hot spots. A postnatal doula is heaven sent for many new mothers.
If services aren’t available locally or your budget is stretched tight, look to your circle of family and friends for support. Perhaps a work colleague who passes by your home each evening might drop by with essential groceries.
If people ask what they can buy for presents, a voucher for cleaning services is more valuable gift than a set of baby china. Or, a cuddle with baby while you shower might be an exchange friends are only too happy to make!
#2: Sleep When The Baby Sleeps… Unless You Have A Toddler!
The (sometimes frustrating) advice to sleep when your baby sleeps is wise when you are at home with a baby. Make a nest in your favourite cozy spot, and surrender to your to-do list while you snuggle with your baby.
If you also have a toddler or pre-schooler, coordinating naptimes can be a big challenge. But if you do get the timing right, take the chance to rest, rather than madly trying to get everything else done before they wake.
If your older child no longer has a sleep in the afternoon, then initiating a quiet/rest period for everyone can help. Even lying down and reading stories can be restful, and if you make it a special time together, you can recharge everyone before the dinner/bedtime demands begin later in the day.
#3: If You Are Breastfeeding: Don’t Be Fooled By Formula
Your family and friends – even some health professionals – might suggest you partly or fully introduce formula (or rice cereal) to help you both get more sleep. While this might seem a tempting idea, the reality is that breastfeeding mothers get approximately 40 minutes more sleep per night than mothers who give their baby formula. And formula fed babies might seem to sleep more, however research shows breastfed infants have greater night-time sleep duration than formula-fed infants. Even if your partner is the one offering to give the baby a feed while you sleep, the reality is that they are also tired and often struggling to cope. Read more about formula and baby sleep here.
#4: Learn How To Breastfeed Lying Down
Learn how to breastfeed lying down in bed. Accidentally falling asleep while sitting on a couch or armchair is dangerous and goes against SIDS and Kids safe sleeping guidelines. When you are very tired, taking precautions to make sure you are feeding in a safe environment and being prepared for sleep is important.
Firstly, make sure your bed is a safe sleeping space by removing potential hazards like excess pillows or doonas. Place your baby in the middle of your bed, on his back, and lie down on your side beside him. Have your head on a pillow but make sure it is not near your baby’s head. You might be more comfortable with a pillow between your knees or one against your back. With practice, you will get your set-up comfortable alone, but to begin with, your partner or other helper can tuck pillows into place for you. Your arm needs to be clear of the baby’s head – he will rest flat on the bed, not your arm.
Position your baby so his nose is in line with your nipple and roll him onto his side. As you pull him close to your body, he will feel the nipple touch his face and gape for the breast as he does when you sit up to feed. As with anything new, it might feel awkward at first but with practice, you and your baby will soon get the hang of this new position. Your midwife or IBCLC lactation consultant will be able to help you get comfortable, especially if you are recovering from a c-section.
Learn more about safe bed-sharing here.
#5: If You Are Bottle-Feeding, Use Feeding Time To Rest
It might be tempting to hand your baby and the bottle to visitors, your partner or even prop the bottle to feed while you do other things. However, propping to feed can be unsafe and means you both miss out on important time together, and letting others feed while you organise a meal or refreshments, tackle the washing or other housework can leave you even more exhausted.
“Bottle nursing” is a technique where babies who are formula or exclusively fed expressed breastmilk still get a close association with their mother at feed times, as she is the primary feeder. Held close to her chest, with lots of eye and voice contact, the mother feeds the baby according to feeding cues, rather than a schedule. Skin-to-skin contact, switching sides during the feed and pacing the feed are all ways of simulating a breastfeed. Feed times can be peaceful break from other tasks, which both mother and baby will enjoy more.
#6: Go To Bed Earlier
If your baby falls asleep after dinner, head to bed yourself. It’s tempting to use the evening to catch up on all you didn’t get done during the day. However this typically low-energy time of day is best used for sleep, not housework. By sneaking in an extra couple of hours before your usual bed-time, you can gain extra sleep points. Oh – and when you finally get into bed, turn your phone off! That ‘downtime” you spend on social media can be a huge time-suck and before you know it, you’ve lost an hour or two of valuable sleep time.
By looking after the mother, we look after the baby. Making the most of the sleep you can get and adapting your life around the impacts of broken sleep can make all the difference. Being gentle with yourself and having realistic expectations of what you can achieve apart from infant and self-care can help you accept these temporary changes in your life.
Find out how babies really sleep! Baby Sleep Myths: 4 Major Myths Busted