Strategies to Improve Mom's Quality of Sleep
For new moms, sleep is so important to aide in physical recovery and prevent or minimize postpartum mood disorders. Unfortunately, the circumstances of being a new mom and caring for a brand new, dependent human make getting quality sleep incredibly difficult. But, there are some strategies that can be implemented to help you get more sleep and function more optimally. Many of them require making thoughtful changes to your daily routines, habits, and even reviewing your thoughts and goals.
1. Evaluate your sleep circumstances
While we won’t get into the details and benefits of bedsharing in this post, I advocate for education about safe co-sleeping because research has shown that moms who bedshare get the most sleep. Know that it can be a great option when safety criteria are met. If you are interested in learning more about co-sleeping, please visit HERE for tons of helpful research and recommendations to support your decision. Even if you don’t intend to bedshare, I strongly recommend setting up your sleep space to safely accommodate sleeping with baby because 60-75% of breastfeeding mothers will bedshare, even if they don’t plan to, and 40% of breastfeeding mothers have fallen asleep on a couch, chair, or recliner. The dangers of co-sleeping come into play when people unexpectedly fall asleep with baby, not with planned and prepared bedsharing. Preparing your sleep space to allow you to safely share it with your baby can ease your anxieties and allow you to get much needed sleep in a pinch.
If co-sleeping isn’t right for your family, consider whether you can move your baby closer to you. Try to eliminate the need to get out of bed to get your baby if possible, or at least minimize the distance required to walk to your baby. Consider using a bassinet or side car beside you.
Evaluate the methods you are currently using to get your baby to sleep. Many moms find themselves losing sleep over time spent trying to get their baby to fall asleep by themselves or “self-soothe”. Understand that it is not biologically possible for babies to self-soothe, and there is nothing wrong with nursing, cuddling, or rocking to sleep. Many babies need to be assisted to sleep and that is totally normal. Try to rid yourself of the idea that these are “sleep crutches” that will create bad habits. Transition your goals from getting baby to sleep independently to optimizing quality of sleep for everyone in the family. Nursing to sleep is often the quickest and most efficient way to help baby fall asleep (in addition to the benefits it has on baby’s development), so if this is true for your baby, use this normal, physiologic response to your advantage!
2. Use your resources and ask for help
ALL moms need help and there is no shame in asking for it. In fact, moms NEED to ask for help for their own mental health and well-being. Most of us have heard the phrase, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”, and while this is crucial for mom’s health, it’s not always easy. It’s all too common for moms to struggle with napping when baby is napping because how will the laundry, cooking, and cleaning get done? I strongly believe that women should do nothing but rest and care for baby for at least the first several weeks postpartum. Understandably, that is not always an option for new moms, so let’s talk about some of the ways you can get additional support to reduce your load. Make a list of your local support system. Do you have family, friends, neighbors, members of your church who can come over for a couple of hours to care for baby while you get a much needed nap, or complete some chores for you while you nap with baby in your prepared, safe sleep space? Think about how your significant other can help to relieve you of some things on the to-do list. Many moms feel guilty asking for help if their significant other works while they stay home with the baby, but being a mom of a newborn and recovering from childbirth is also a full-time job, and you are worthy of receiving support. Here are some simple ways that your partner can assist you:
· Making you breakfast before he leaves for work
· Preparing next day’s lunch for you at the same time he packs his own lunch
· Doing laundry on the weekends
· Cooking dinner when he comes home
· Caring for baby when he gets home from work while you nap for an hour
· Doing one housekeeping task each night
· Shifting his work schedule so that he goes into work earlier and gets home earlier in the evening
· Changing baby’s diaper before he leaves for work
· Assisting with diaper changes during the night
· Bringing baby to you for a feed in the middle of the night
Explore options with your significant other and see what works for your situation. Have an honest discussion about your needs. Postpartum is not the time to be supermom and put too much on your plate. If you do not have a large support system local to you, consider making room in the budget to hire a postpartum doula or housekeeper for the first several months.
3. Frontload your days for restful evenings
Try getting the things you need to get done in the morning or afternoon while baby is napping. Many moms have success with getting chores done or errands completed while baby wearing. Do you find yourself rushing to get certain things accomplished at night? Instead, try finding a time you can get them done either before or immediately after dinner. Front-loading your day in this way will allow you to mindfully create restful and relaxed evenings. Try getting ready for bed- putting on your pajamas, brushing your teeth, washing your face- early on in the evening so that when you start to feel sleepy, you are ready to head to bed.
Be mindful of how you are spending your evenings. Many of us stay up too late scrolling social media on our phones or catching up on our favorite shows. This is something that I am definitely guilty of! How can this affect our ability to sleep? The blue light from electronic devices can suppress the body’s melatonin levels, and melatonin helps regulate sleep cycles, so that even when you are ready to go to bed, it may be more difficult and take longer to fall asleep. Consider turning your electronics off or on airplane mode an hour or two before bed and participating in a favorite relaxation promoting activity instead. Try a warm bath, prayer or meditation, reading a book, or journaling. Even just laying in your bed and relaxing during the hour before you actually go to sleep can help you to expend less energy and feel more rested even when you are not getting much uninterrupted sleep.
A few more sleep tips!
Since sleep is a precious commodity for the new mom, make sure you are making the most of the time you have to sleep. Keep your phone away from your bed and make sure not to get on it and start scrolling if you are awake in the middle of the night. This will only make it more difficult for you to fall back asleep for reasons listed in the last section. If you wake feeling stressed or overwhelmed with racing thoughts of your to-do list, consider keeping a notepad and pen next your bed. Jot down the things you need to remember to look into the next day, and this can help you relax enough to fall back asleep.
Check in on your diet. Make sure you are avoiding caffeine in the afternoon as this can affect the quality of your sleep. Avoid refined sugar (all day, but especially in the afternoon and evening).
Try to spend time outdoors daily, especially in the morning and late afternoon to help balance your circadian rhythm.
Try to sleep in a cool, pitch black room. The optimal temperature to sleep in ranges from 62-68 degrees.
While sleep deprivation is common for new moms, it doesn’t have to be that way. Being mindful of how you are structuring your day, making the most of the time you have available to sleep, and using relaxation strategies to wind down before bed can help you increase your sleep and feel more rested. I’d love to hear from you- have you tried any of these strategies? Are there any other strategies that have worked for you?