A situation all new mums can relate to: 3.30am, third, fourth or fifth feed of the night (you can’t remember) and scrolling through the Google results for ‘is it possible to die from sleep deprivation?’
A saying that has been widely applied to the coronavirus pandemic but also applies to the sleep disruption experienced by new mums is ‘we’re not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm’. No matter how ‘well’ your baby sleeps for the first weeks and months, you are very likely to experience significant disruption to your sleep, and how resilient you can be to it depends very much on the resources you have (internal and external) and support you have around you.
In some cultures, new mothers are surrounded by extended family and supported to rest, be fed and be relieved of any household chores, perhaps even moving back in with her parents for a few weeks to aid the healing and transition to motherhood. This might not seem possible for many families in Western cultures (and certainly, the pandemic has made this all the more tricky) but there are ways to optimise what support you have. Here are five strategies to cope:
- Get some help. This is so obvious, but worth revisiting if you are tired and perhaps haven’t thought through all your options. Could you try sleeping in shifts with your partner? Even if it meant moving other commitments around? If you are breastfeeding, could you sleep in a separate bed and have your partner bring baby to you for a feed, then take them back to their room to change and settle them? Can your partner or someone in your childcare bubble be available in the morning for a couple of hours so you can rest in bed?
- Get your environment sleep-ready. Again, obvious, but we don’t always focus on these things when super tired, and often when we have the opportunity to sleep, we don’t want to waste time getting the room ready. Make sure the lighting is dim or dark, and ensure you are really comfy, with clean pyjamas and bedding (ask someone else to do a couple of loads of laundry!). Try a sleep spray on your pillow (try this one by This Works).
- Stop the spiral. If you are struggling with worried, racing thoughts, try writing them down before you try to sleep (you could use your copy of Mama Notes which has plenty of space for lists) or try a simple breathing exercise. Imagine a calm place such as a beach, or a cosy armchair, and breathe slowly, ‘I breathe in calm, I breathe out stress’.
- When you’re awake, be awake. The dreadful feeling that you could ‘drop off’ at any moment when sat playing with your baby or doing something around the house can make you feel really lousy. Try to get pockets of fresh air throughout the day, do shorts burst of moving around and stay hydrated to help you feel more awake and clear headed. Of course, if you have the opportunity to rest during the day, do it! But don’t worry if ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ doesn’t work for you – it sounds very easy in theory but rather more tricky to put into practice.
- Message your friends. Make sure you are in contact with other mums with babies of a similar age and send them messages of solidarity throughout the night. Of course we know it’s not great to look at your phone during the night, and certainly not when you could be sleeping, but the emotional benefits of a validating message of ‘I’m up too’ can far outweigh any downsides. Look at this wonderful image below by @common_wild. Try to picture all the other mums in your road, your village/town/city silently scrolling through their phones at 3:30am whilst feeding or soothing their babies. You are not alone.