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From the experts: the importance of sleep for new moms

From the experts: the importance of sleep for new moms

When I became a mom, I didn’t expect to be so sleep deprived.

That sounds silly because everyone around cautioned me when I was pregnant, “you better sleep now while you can.” I still felt ill-prepared. It never crossed my mind that not all babies were born “good sleepers.”

Needless to say, I took a crash course in sleep deprivation. New motherhood created in me an unhealthy obsession with my son’s sleep. Sleep is a biological need—not a luxury. What many people don’t know is that it’s also a psychological need. Our mental health depends on restorative sleep.

Ashurina Ream

Meet our expert

Dr. Ashurina Ream, PMH-C

A.K.A. @psychedmommy

Boy mom and licensed clinical psychologist with advanced training in perinatal mental health

I knew this as a psychologist who has counseled many patients on the need to improve sleep hygiene, but I was beginning to understand this personally. I didn’t feel like myself when I didn’t sleep. I wasn’t a good mom when I didn’t sleep. I was increasingly irritable when I didn’t sleep. 

And this wasn’t just my personal opinion—researchers have found that sleep disturbance may increase the risk for postpartum depression[1]. Conversely, improvement in a child’s sleep is often associated with a decrease in maternal depression. In other words, sleep is just as vital to your health as it is to your baby’s.

But the question remains: “if my child isn’t sleeping, how do I sleep?”

Beliefs regarding sleep practices in new motherhood are varied. The topic is often met with tension, debate, and judgment. But here’s something I need you to understand: you have to do what works best for you and your family. 

mom with baby

How to get more sleep as a new mom

No matter what your methods, you have to find ways to get more sleep. That either means getting your child to sleep for longer stretches or having additional support with your child so that you can sleep during the day. 

If your family functions best utilizing a more attachment-style parenting approach, then that’s what you should do. If the best solution for your family is working with a sleep consultant, then that’s what you should do.

5 things you should consider before working with a sleep consultant

  1. Be sure you understand his/her sleep philosophy
  2. Ask yourself, “does this align with my own views on sleep?”
  3. Communicate your non-negotiables as well as your needs
  4. Ask friends and family for personal recommendations
  5. Know that if something isn’t working or doesn’t feel right, you can change your mind

If working with a sleep consultant or sleep training isn’t an option for you, I suggest you find alternative ways to get the sleep you need, especially if your lack of sleep is impacting your mood.

6 ways to start getting more sleep

  1. Alternating night feeds when possible (with your partner or support person)
  2. Use gently weighted Zen Sleepwear™ to help your baby sleep better and longer
  3. Nap when you can
  4. Have a friend, sitter, or relative help with childcare so you can sleep
  5. Look into mother’s helpers and/or postpartum doulas 
  6. Make your environment conducive for sleep and create a space for quick night waking when possible
  7. Contact your provider if you are unable to fall asleep even when given the opportunity

New motherhood can be an extremely difficult time, but it’s critical that you continue to choose to care for yourself in the process. How you choose to care for yourself may look differently than how others choose, and that’s okay. 

Whatever decisions you make, it’s important to do what best suits you and your family and not what others want you to do. Surround yourself with people that are non-judgmental. Find friends that support your decisions, rather than try to sell you on their own. 

Lastly, know that you can change your mind whenever you choose. We’re always allowed to pivot when needed.  

 

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Sleep tips for expectant mothers 

 

[1] Dørheim, Signe Karen, et al. “Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study.” Sleep, vol. 32, no. 7, 2009, pp. 847–855., doi:10.1093/sleep/32.7.847.

Christina Alario

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