If you ask a new mum how she felt during the first few months of having her newborn baby at home, you may find that she really can’t remember too many specific details beyond that she had never felt so tired. Most new mums (and mums-to-to-be) often feel wiped out at some stage of their pregnancy or in caring for newborns - and let’s face it, mums (and dads) quite often feel worn out coping with babies, toddlers, children and teenagers as well.
Recognising that you need sleep
It’s important to first recognise that you (or your partner, friend or daughter) are suffering from exhaustion or extreme pregnancy tiredness. When you are too tired, the body simply doesn’t function well - you may have slow reaction times, feel irritable and weepy, and find that even the smallest problem seems impossible to solve.
The experts say that sleep deprivation can be nipped in the bud with two nights of full sleep (anything between seven to eight hours). However, if a full night’s sleep is something you can only dream of, then good old ‘power naps’ or ‘nanna naps’ can really help too. A 10-minute nap during the day can benefit you for several hours. If you need to nap, try to put your head down early or mid-afternoon when you will get the most benefit from your nap. Late mornings or two hours before your usual bedtime are the worst times.
Tactics for getting more sleep whilst pregnant
Sleep deprivation can start in the last few months of pregnancy, as finding a comfortable sleeping position becomes increasingly difficult due to the size of your bump or simply the fact that your mind is working over-time. Here are a few suggestions to help cure pregnancy tiredness, fatigue and insomnia:
- Have a relaxing, warm bath followed by a warm, milky drink or a bowl of cereal before bedtime.
- Practise relaxation techniques and massage (talk to your midwife or qualified practitioner before trying any alternative therapies).
- If your blood-sugar levels fall at night, you may wake up due to hunger or nausea. Try to keep your diet rich in calcium (yoghurt, milk, almonds and sesame seeds) and vitamin B6 (green leafy vegetables and wholegrains).
- Regular exercise will help you feel tired at the end of the day and ready for sleep.
- In bed, try to keep still so the baby will settle too. Sleep on your side with an extra pillow between your legs and below your bump. A couple of extra pillows under your head, or raising the head of the bed slightly, may also help with heartburn.
Tactics for getting more sleep with a newborn or small baby at home
Following the birth of your baby, you may continue to suffer the effects of pregnancy tiredness. To help maximise your sleeping time and minimise your sleep problems, try to:
- Recover from sleep deprivation with two nights of unbroken sleep, if possible.
- Nap during the day when your baby naps (try for 10-20 minutes, but no longer or else you hit deep sleep).
- Have someone you trust watch the baby (or take the baby for a walk) so you can relax and take naps without feeling over-anxious about the baby.
- Try for one 90-minute sleep, which will really help you get back on track.
- Get outside with your new baby - this can help you both sleep well as daylight stimulates the hormone seratonin, which converts to melatonin improving sleep quality.
- If you can’t sleep, try to unwind and relax instead. Rest when your baby rests and try to conserve your energy.
- Look after yourself by eating regularly and choosing nutritional choices.
- Accept all the help you can get with household chores.
- Prioritise your household chores - don’t waste your energy on anything that’s not essential.
- Don’t try to do too much - you don’t have to be superwoman and run a mini-marathon on the weekends.
- Take it turns with your partner to have a lie-in on the weekends - knowing you can catch up on sleep at least one day a week can really help you get through the other six days!
Getting help for sleeping problems
If you are finding it difficult to cope with your baby through lack of sleep, don’t soldier on without seeking some help. Talk to your midwife, your doctor or your parents’ group. They can all offer advice and support.
Don’t be shy in asking your friends or family for help. New grandparents usually love the idea of taking their new grandchild out for a walk by themselves - yes, it gives them the opportunity to show off the baby too! New friends from your antenatal classes will understand how you feel, so why not help each other?