A Survival Guide for the Sleep Deprived New Mom
Sleep deprived new moms lose on average 44 days of sleep during the first year of their babies life.
Studies show that new moms lose on average a total of 44 days of sleep during the first year of their baby’s life, and can be “dangerously exhausted.” Most mothers don’t get enough sleep, but it is actually the disjointed sleep that causes the most damage. Waking up frequently throughout the night will prevent you from going into deep restorative sleep cycles, which are needed for your daily concentration and performance. As a result, sleep deprived parents may show precarious behaviour patterns, like accidentally falling asleep while holding the baby in a rocking chair or in bed.
Researchers refer to this as “drunk parenting” because chronic sleep deprivation creates deficits in cognitive and motor functioning similar to those of being legally intoxicated. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to trouble breastfeeding, marital strife, and an increased risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including parental postpartum depression.
These risk factors show just how important it is for parents to create healthier sleep habits from the very beginning!
What you can do to improve your family’s sleep habits?
Trying to change habits and improve your baby’s sleep can feel overwhelming and confusing. With all of the books and information out there, where do you even begin? Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:
Discuss sleep expectations early on.
Make sleep a priority to protect everyone in the family. Before having your baby or once you realize that sleep is an issue, meet with your partner to discuss each of your sleep needs. Create a plan for how each of you can get the sleep they need! This will set the entire family up for success. Many parents I have worked with find it helpful to carve out time for each parent, like sleeping in on the weekend or taking naps. Other families decide to split night duties in half or alternate nights. No matter what works best for your family, tackling sleep head on is the first step!
Use a dream feed.
A “dream feed” is a feeding you give to your baby while they’re still sleeping. When you’re exhausted, go to bed at the same time as your baby, and have your partner give them a bottle right before your partner’s bedtime. This will give you a longer block of sleep (ideally 4-5 hours) so that you get the restorative sleep you need to function the next day. If you are nursing or your baby is having trouble taking a bottle, you can give your baby a dream feed right before your bedtime and sync up your longer stretches of sleep together this way. Either way, a 5+ hour stretch of sleep is helpful to prevent chronic sleep deprivation from setting in.
Create an ideal sleep environment.
I am a big proponent of using sleep props. But for older babies, I recommend sticking to those that don’t involve needing your help. I recommend that everyone use white noise and black out blinds in all bedrooms – even yours! For a new baby, white noise turns on the calming reflex and keeps a baby soothed and asleep for longer periods. For older children and adults, white noise helps drown out creaky house noises, loud siblings, or the TV downstairs. Black out blinds protect sleep in the same way! Keeping the room as dark as possible removes external stimuli that could be nudging your baby awake more often.
Use a consistent schedule.
Using a consistent and age appropriate schedule is one of the best (and relatively easiest) ways to improve your baby’s sleep. When babies are younger, they benefit more from routine. But as they develop out of the fourth trimester, using a schedule that is designed for their age can help prevent being overtired. Despite popular belief, keeping a baby awake for longer periods does not result in longer naps or sleeping through the night. Being overtired is one of the most common contributors to more frequent waking! When a baby becomes overtired, the stress-response system becomes activated and makes it harder to settle into a deep sleep. Use a schedule and adjust it to your baby’s needs to remove this variable from the sleep puzzle.
Consider sleep coaching.
It’s controversial, I know. But if your baby still wakes frequently after you’ve implemented a healthy sleep schedule and optimized their sleep environment, it’s time to consider alternatives. Perhaps everyone in the family would be happier if you removed baby’s sleep props and helped them learn to sleep on their own. Researchers call this “self soothing” and studies show that improving a baby’s sleep through sleep coaching is linked to improved maternal mental wellness and lessened symptoms of depression. If you’re worried about your baby crying, know that there are various methods out there to choose from. Every method can work successfully, from no-cry to cry-it-out, as long as the parents are committed and consistent!
About the Author: Jennifer Howard
Jennifer Howard, of Mommy-SOS, is a pediatric sleep expert and Licensed Professional Counselor in Virginia. Having experienced sleep deprivation and postpartum depression herself, she became passionate about helping new moms find their footing and thrive in motherhood. When not working with clients, blogging or chatting with moms in the Mommy-SOS Sisterhood, she can be found painting, doing yoga and chasing her two crazy kiddos around.