Your eyesight’s fuzzy, you’re always cranky, you’re constantly ravenous, your head aches. In short, you feel as if someone’s dropped a rock on you. This is sleep deprivation, newborn-style. You knew it was going to be hard, but no one told you exactly how it would make you feel.
It’ll come as no surprise that new mom sleep deprivation means surviving on an average of just three-and-a-half hours’ sleep a night for the first four months of your baby’s life, and that your sleep satisfaction further declines in the first year after the birth of a child.
So, we’ve ‘fessed up with the bad news. Now for the good news – there are ways to manage! Here, we explain why your newborn baby is up all night (nope, they’re not doing it to torture you), how to deal with sleep deprivation and give you our essential tips for coping.
Your Newborn Baby’s Sleeping Patterns
What is the fourth trimester, anyway? Why does my newborn baby wake at night? And why does my newborn feed ALL the time? To get a handle on why you’re so tired all the time, it may help to understand your newborn baby's sleeping patterns – and why they don’t fit in with yours.
Welcome To The Fourth Trimester
This 12-week period is when your newborn adjusts to the real world – and they don’t really like it! This is because they’re getting used to life outside your warm, comfy womb, where the food was on tap and life was pretty sweet.
Cue fussing and crying! Your baby doesn't know the difference between night and day and needs comforting all the time. All this translates into exhaustion for you.
Every Baby Is Different
Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day, but your baby will have their own individual sleep-wake schedule. Friends, family and even strangers will be quick to offer advice, which can be confusing and stressful. Try to go with your gut and do what suits you and your baby best.
Frequently Waking Up Is Normal
Right now, your little one can only manage stretches of about two to four hours’ sleep. It’s normal for your baby to wake up regularly, night and day, as their body clock adjusts. Their tiny tummy means they need to feed little and often, including at night (when you’re desperately trying to catch those ZZZs). Our advice? Just go with it. Your baby will soon adjust.
Are You Tired Or Actually Sleep Deprived?
Tiredness and fatigue are not one and the same. Tiredness magically disappears after a decent night’s sleep. But fatigue can make you feel bad-tempered, stressed, highly emotional, unable to concentrate or make decisions and super-hungry, even when you do get some rest.
This is because, as well as getting less deep sleep, you’re also getting less dream or rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. Dreaming allows you to process that day’s events, helping you think clearly when you wake up. Not getting that all-important REM dose causes forgetfulness and brain fog (as in: ‘Didn’t I just feed you/change that diaper?’).
When Should You Seek Help For Sleep Deprivation?
Chronic fragmented or insufficient sleep can’t always be fixed by rest. If you think you’re suffering from long-term sleep deprivation, reach out to your health professional for advice. Insomnia may also be a trigger for and a sign of postpartum depression (PPD). Here’s what to do if you think you may be showing signs of this serious but entirely normal and treatable illness.
Watch your mood
‘Baby blues’ are normal on day three after giving birth. You may feel weepy, anxious, sad, lonely and tired – and this should soon pass. But feeling hopeless, exhausted, inadequate, anxious, obsessive, panicky, disconnected or having difficulty bonding with your baby can signal PPD.
Talk about how you feel with your partner, friends and family so they can support you, and get in touch with your healthcare practitioner right away.
How To Deal With Sleep Deprivation
A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved
When you’re feeling tired all the time, it can be tempting to stay in and not see people. But feeling lonely can make coping with lack of sleep worse. Tackle loneliness by joining baby groups or baby-friendly exercise classes.
Be brave and ask for other new moms’ numbers. Spending time with other parents who are going through the same as you is extremely heartening. Going for a coffee, meeting for a walk and sharing experiences will make you feel less alone and distract you from the fatigue.
Beware The Overwhelm
In the good old days, new mothers would have had an army of support, ranging from extended family members, neighbors and friends, right on their doorstep. These days, many of us have moved far away from our families and have to raise our babies on our own.
If this is you, accept that you’re going to have to let some things slide, like the housework, so you can prioritize your sleep.
Everything Is A Phase
It’s difficult to keep perspective when you’re dog-tired, your baby needs feeding for the umpteenth time that night and your partner’s blissfully snoring away next to you. Remember, this too shall pass: eventually you will get better sleep.
What’s Normal Newborn Sleep Anyway?
Your newborn’s sleep patterns are your family’s normal. This may mean waking every hour on the hour throughout the night. When you compare this to your friend’s baby who sleeps through until 7am, life may seem very unfair.
Don’t worry! You’re not alone (although it may feel that way at 3am). Most parents will have their own tales to tell about sleepless nights. Try seeking out other people’s stories online to reassure you that you’re not the only one awake in the middle of the night. But don’t get sucked into perfect images on social media – these families may seem like they’ve got the newborn sleep issue licked, but they’ll only be sharing the highlights.
New Mom Sleep Deprivation: 7 Tips For Coping
You may not be able to avoid the nighttime feedings and fussiness, but we’ve got the tips you need to ensure you recharge your batteries. You can also read our article, Postpartum Care: Preparing For Life After Giving Birth.
1. Eat For Energy
Cake and coffee are essentials when you’re getting used to life with your newborn, but ensure you also eat snacks that release energy slowly. Fresh fruit with yogurt, vegetable crudites and hummus, sandwiches filled with ham and cheese, and dried fruit, nuts and seeds are all easy-to-grab, simple and nutritious snacks to keep you going.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, herbal teas and diluted juice.
2. Stay Active
Movement is key, as soon as you feel up to it. Don’t go crazy – no one’s expecting you to start back with your old exercise routine. Take a walk with the buggy or carrier, get some fresh air and feel the sun on your face. Or do a few simple stretches at home.
3. Nap Whenever You Can
Napping is so important. When you’ve finally got your baby to sleep, don’t be tempted to clear up. Go for a lie down – the old food plates, dusting and vacuuming can wait. If you have older children, there’s no shame in popping them in front of the TV while you get some much-needed shut-eye.
4. Swaddling Your Newborn
Swaddling protects your baby against their natural startle reflex, which means better sleep for both of you. We like the Halo Micro Fleece Sleepsack Swaddle. Or, try the Crane Baby Swaddle Wrap, which you can repurpose later on as a lightweight blanket, diaper change mat or nursing cover.
5. Ask for help
If you have family nearby, don't be afraid to ask for help. They’ll be only too happy to restock your freezer with home-cooked meals, do some housework or watch your other kids while you have a snooze.
Or enlist friends and neighbors to help. You could even consider hiring a night nurse, just for those first few weeks, if finances allow.
6. Share night shifts with your partner
If you’re a two-parent household and you both have similar schedules, splitting up baby care duties, such as overnight feeds, diaper changes, burping and getting your baby back to bed, can help you grab a few extra hours’ sleep. Work out who does what, be flexible and go to bed as soon as your baby goes to sleep at night.
7. Practice safe sleeping
If you’re tired, worries about the best way for you and your baby to sleep safely may increase. Expert advice says that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a separate crib or bassinet basket in the same room as you for the first six months. (We love the Halo Bassinest Swivel Sleeper 3.0.)
Or, it may be easier for your family to co-sleep. Find out how to do this safely in PishPosh Baby's Safe Sleep Guide For Babies.
New mom sleep deprivation is tough! But looking after yourself, sharing your experiences with others and snatching sleep whenever you can will see you through. Good luck!