As a new mother, you may have heard that sleep deprivation is just part of the job. I disagree. Newborn babies don’t need a sleep routine – but newborn mums do.
Your baby will sleep whenever and wherever. It’s normal and healthy for newborns to catnap throughout the day and night. You, however, need 3-5 hour chunks of uninterrupted sleep in a quiet, peaceful space on a regular basis. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally. You’ll struggle with ordinary tasks, you’ll feel cranky or weepy, and your long-term health may suffer. And your relationships may suffer, too.
I’m not telling you this because I want you to feel guilty about not getting enough sleep. Motherhood is peppered with too much unnecessary guilt as it is. And I’m not going to tell you that it’s your responsibility alone to tackle your sleep deprivation.
So whose responsibility is it to make sure new mothers get enough sleep?
For over 1.8 million years, human beings have practiced a form of parenting called alloparenting – shared care of infants and children. Mothers didn’t evolve to look after their babies 24/7 without proper sleep, so if that’s what you’re doing, no wonder it feels unbearably hard. If the sleep deprivation gets so bad that you experience hallucinations, it might even feel like torture.
Massive chronic sleep deprivation has been an expectation of new motherhood only in the last couple of hundred years, barely a blip in our evolutionary timeline. And we only see this unrealistic expectation in industrialised nations. All over the world, villages are raising newborn babies – and well-rested newborn mothers. You may not live in a traditional village, but you can build your own village and protect your precious sleep.
Here are three ways to get the sleep you need:
1. Share the load with your partner
If your partner is getting a full night’s sleep while you wake every 45 minutes, something is terribly wrong. Your partner may not be able to breastfeed, but they can take the edge off your tiredness. They can bring the baby to you if you’re not co-sleeping. After a feed, your partner can get baby back to sleep. Or, if this approach leaves both of you feeling unrested, you can do the majority of the night-waking and then have your partner get up with baby while you have a long sleep in the morning.
2. Rally your friends
Make a list of 3-5 trusted friends. Ask each one to come over and hold baby while you have a siesta. Set up the days and times beforehand (you can even use a roster system through mealbaby.com or mealtrain.com.) Don’t wait until you feel exhausted to ask for help; ideally, you would set up a mama sleep schedule while you are still pregnant.
3. Hire help
If friends and family aren’t available, it’s time to pay for help. You wouldn’t starve yourself of food – you make it a priority to buy groceries. In the same way, you shouldn’t starve yourself of sleep if you can afford to pay for it. As a postnatal doula, my premium packages include home visits so that I can ensure you are getting quality sleep. If you’re not local to me in Canberra, do a Google search for postnatal doula + your area. You could also connect with a reputable nanny or a trusted teenage neighbour.
With enough sleep and support, you will feel contented, relaxed and able to enjoy this precious time with your newborn. What can you do today to ensure your village is looking after your sleep needs?
When women are nourished and nurtured after giving birth, they feel calm, connected and confident. My passion is to provide this high level of postnatal support to women in Canberra and worldwide. I guide expectant parents to create a vision for life with baby, and give them the practical tools to make their vision a reality.