By Sarah Cummings
TV and films have conditioned us to believe that once the pushing is over and the baby is born, most of the hard work is over. Clearly, those hot-shot execs have a lot to learn about parenting. Because after leaving the hospital, we then have to take care of our little bundles. (As if squeezing new life out of our bodies wasn't enough!)
But we're happy to do it. We want to be the best parents we can possibly be. In fact, sometimes we're so eager to be the perfect parents in those first few months that we neglect to take care of ourselves. We forget to eat properly, go outdoors for fresh air, practice basic hygiene like showering or brushing our teeth. And what we often neglect the most, which can be the most detrimental to our health, is sleep.
During the scattered hours when our newborn sleeps, we're up fretting about when they'll wake. Or we're washing a bundle of onesies. Or expressing bottles of milk like there's no tomorrow. All the advice around 'sleep when the baby sleeps' goes out the window as we turn into sleep-deprived, wild-eyed versions of our former selves.
Why do we need to sleep soundly?
Well, because sleep is vitally important for our mental and physical health at any stage of our lives. And it's especially important for new parents who have the added responsibility of caring for a brand-new munchkin.
When we don't get enough sleep, our weakened immune systems makes us more susceptible to viruses and infections. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression. (It can even affect the quality of your breast milk, if you've made the decision to breastfeed.) Chronic poor-quality sleep has even been shown to increase the risk of conditions like diabetes, strokes, high blood pressure and heart disease. It's not exactly the healthiest state for great parenting!
Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep as a new parent seems to be accepted as the norm nowadays. In fact, parents joke that they'll sleep once their kid leaves home for college...how fair is that?!
There's got to be a better way.
Fortunately, there is! Here are three quick tips to help you beat postpartum sleep deprivation so you can be the healthier, happier person that you and your baby needs.
Ways to Deal with Postpartum Sleep Deprivation
Ask for help
Let's start with something that should be so easy but always seems impossible - asking for help. Many new parents, and especially women, feel that they're being judged-- by their peers, partners, step-moms, etc, etc. They think they have to be 'Supermom' and do it all alone. Let's get this straight, once and for all: You don't!
Being a parent is the hardest thing you will ever do. But you don't have to do it alone. Ask for help. And if help is offered, by all means, take it! It could mean asking your parents to babysit, or a neighbor taking junior for a walk around the block. In whatever form the help comes, as soon as you have a moment alone, get some rest.
Embrace the power nap
That well-meaning advice of 'sleep when the baby sleeps,' is repeated again and again for good reason. You need your rest -- more than your baby does!
So resist the urge to do all those chores that have been piling up, and put yourself to bed for a good, old-fashioned nap. Note: this does not mean checking social media, or binge-watching daytime TV, or gossiping with friends. These activities might help you to unwind somewhat, but they're not providing the benefits of proper shut-eye.
It might be hard to get to sleep at first; if this is the case, try lying still and just closing your eyes for a while. When you do this, you free yourself from distractions, helping you to re-energize for the rest of your day.
Do your research
If sleep deprivation has become a constant part of your life, it might be time to bring in the experts. Check out resources like The Sleep Advisor website, where you can find tips relating to all things sleep. From meditation exercises to posts about finding the right snoozing position for your personality, they might just help you find the things you need for more sound sleep!
Resolve to sleep better, and do everything you can to achieve this resolution. Trust me, you'll feel much more capable and less overwhelmed as a parent than you do right now! And you'll be in a better position to be the great parent that you want and your baby deserves. Sweet dreams!