There’s a satirical storybook sold on Amazon on this subject. It’s a very serious subject: parenthood and sleep. As a certified birth doula and an experienced single mother, I can relate to this subject from both professional and personal levels.
Human beings need sleep. When a pregnant woman sleeps, her body relaxes; allowing for the amazing science of the body to preform functions that benefit her and her unborn baby.
Sleep rejuvenates the body and uses less energy to do so. It is scientifically based; the human body’s temperature decreases during sleep. A woman in the pushing stage of labor falls into a deep, resting sleep in between contractions allowing her body to rest before pushing again. This is the true essence of a ‘power nap’.
After the birth, the new mom’s adrenaline is still going strong. A few hours later, she will feel the exhaustion of her labor. With the support of her partner, labor and delivery staff and her doula, she can get some rest… maybe. If the mother has a Caesarean- section or any other complications from the birth such as excessive bleeding, she will continue to be closely monitored by the labor and delivery staff every 15-30 minutes for her blood pressure, temperature and to check her uterus. Once stable, the new mother will be monitored less frequently. Many women say they cannot sleep in the hospital after the birth no matter how the medical staff implores her to rest. This can be the result of the environment (bed, lighting, noise, room co-sharing) or policy (frequent vitals checks).
Once the parents go home with the new baby, there is a transition of assimilation to the environment for the baby who just spent the last ten months in the mother’s uterus. The new mother also adjusts to her hormones reverting back to non-pregnant, normal self. This will include hot flashes, restlessness, hair loss, etc. The new mom is also adjusting to breast/bottle feedings, counting wet/poop diapers, bowel movement, stitches, moving around and more. Family and friends come to visit, everyone is excited to see the new baby. Everyone has a gazillion questions and photos. It’s smart for the new parents to ask for cooked meals from the visitors; it’s a great help. The mother needs something else: sleep.
Sleep deprivation is used as a training tool from the military to medical school. Sleep deprivation is defined as a condition of not having enough sleep; this lack of sleep affects organ function and cognition. It is also known to cause clumsiness and poor judgment. Having a lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, weight gain/loss and heart disease. Lack of sleep in addition to giving birth places the mother’s body in a no-win situation. Many fatal accidents involving infants are the result of parents not having enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation and the new mother equals a higher incidence of postpartum depression in the new mother. Mothers are usually hesitant to disclose their fatigue; society projects the “suck it up” and “the rite of passage for the mother” attitude. Many new mothers are reluctant to admit to sleep deprivation for fear of being labeled as ‘weak’ or ‘complaining’ this social expectation can kill. Every year there are fatalities of infants where the exhausted parent fall asleep holding them.
Many new parents experience insomnia from anxiety; there is fear present that something may happen or go wrong with the baby if parents go to sleep. Post Partum Maternal Anxiety is real. This is anxiety that something like SIDS will happen to the newborn if left unattended. The new mother experiencing this anxiety will watch her newborn constantly, be reluctant to put the baby down, and more. Sleep deprivation, the lack of sleep/rest places the body into ‘overtime’ with major organs such as the heart and brain suffering the most. Mothers will often forgo sleep to complete chores, tend to pets, other children in the home and of course be the perfect hostess to the constant flow of visitors. Many moms simply cannot go to sleep unless someone is up watching the newborn. This new mom may also have trouble sleeping if she hears her baby crying even with the other parent taking care of the baby.
There’s a solution. For the first 45 days after birth, limit the amount and duration of visitors to the new mom/baby. Delegate household chores and responsibilities in advance to those who are willing and reliable. Hire a postpartum doula to support the family with sleep solutions for newborn care while providing security to the family (especially Mom) the baby is well cared for while they sleep. Teaching new parents about newborns safely sleeping on their back, in a clear crib/bassinet and no co-sleeping. It’s vital to acknowledge Post Partum Maternal Anxiety by working with the new mom in her sanctuary (home) building trust, comfort and reasonable goals as a new mother. Fathers and partners can also experience Post Partum Parental Anxiety. Successful motherhood is not just the birth registry, the shower or the birth; success continues with postpartum support that provides security for the family to enjoy the miracle of life.