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New Moms Want More Sleep: 7 Ways to Sleep with a Newborn

Earlier this year, a “groundbreaking” study enjoyed a good bit of popularity on social media and other corners of the internet, in part because it confirmed what so many of us already knew: moms are more sleep deprived than dads.

It was tempting to poke fun at the findings, which noted that while the presence of children in the home did nothing to alter the sleep patterns of men, over half of the women in the pool of 5,805 total participants reported getting insufficient sleep. Insufficient sleep, in this case, is generally considered to be less than the optimal 6-9 hours of sleep a night. But when you consider that as a whole, America is already sleep-deprived and suffering the detrimental health impacts of that, the way that moms — particularly new moms — are disproportionately affected is really no laughing matter. The study, authored by Georgia Southern University’s Dr. Kelly Sullivan — and other studies like it — paint a less than peaceful nightly picture for moms:

This all matters because sleep deficiency is so much more serious than the “mombie” trope of bedraggled, foggy new moms who pour breast milk into their coffee and coffee into a bottle. Prolonged lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to reduced cognition in the short term and heart problems in the long term. It can put moms at serious risk for depression and is tied to reduced marital satisfaction, and a study in PLOSone found postpartum sleep deprivation as far out as 4 months to be “medically significant,” putting it on par with shift work disorder and sleep apnea. And just as chronically fatigued individuals risk accidents during daytime tasks, so too do new mothers.

But what can we do about it? How can a mom get more sleep? Some sleep loss is inevitable, but the rest can be mitigated. Take a look at the next page to find out.

Coming up: 7 ways new moms can get more sleep

1. Set boundaries and speak up

Before baby ever arrives, consider sitting down with your partner, support network, and loved ones to talk about your boundaries. Do you expect your partner to split nightly infant care with you 50-50? 40-60? 70-30? Whatever your expectations are, and whatever that looks like in practice should be laid down before you ever start to push.

Let others know that you are no longer taking responsibility requests and then stick to it. No, you can’t plan that office party. Sorry, you won’t be making the cookout that’s scheduled for the weekend after your due date. The postpartum period is hard. Don’t expect yourself to be able to pick up all your usual duties right away, and be firm with people who do.

2. Sleep when the baby sleeps (if you can)

This can be an irritating concept. Sure, sleep when the baby sleeps. You can hollow out a small den in the pile of unwashed laundry, right? Or curl up under the desk where all your bills are waiting! But if you can, sleep when your baby sleeps. If you can’t, demand naps. Ask your partner to cover for you, or a friend or family member. Sleep when the baby sleeps, or sleep when someone else is watching the baby. Just sleep.

3. Trust your instincts

You will hear your baby. You will hear your baby. You will hear your baby. Don’t stay awake, afraid that you won’t hear your baby when they need you in the middle of the night. You will hear them. Repeat that in your head until you fall asleep.

4. Get flexible about feeding

A lot of new parents have a stringent idea of what they think feeding a baby looks like. Breastfeeding, for all of its benefits, has a major drawback: unless you’re lactating, you can’t do it. That leaves out most women’s partners, and can lead to late, lonely nights. Understand that parenting requires a lot of flexibility. If your partner wants to help, let them if you’re comfortable with it: pump and take the night off, or feed your little one and pass them to dad for a diaper change so you can roll back over and sleep.

5. Break up the day (and night!)

Take shifts if that works for you. Switch nights with your partner, or take the 11 PM to 3 AM shift and hand the rest of the early morning off to dad. This gives you both enough time to get a solid sleep-wake cycle in.

6. Make sure you’re not adding to a sleep disorder

If you’ve always been insomnia-adjacent or notice that an increase in sleep doesn’t give you even a modicum of energy, don’t just write this off as “mom of newborn” normality. Our bodies change a lot in the process of transitioning to motherhood, and that means fun new health hiccups. Or, an underlying sleep disorder can go from mild to moderate when baby arrives and your sleep quality tanks. If you don’t see improvement at about 5 months postpartum, start talking to a sleep health physician.

7. Get serious about postpartum depression

Sleep-induced dysthymia and PPD are two different beasts, and the former can often feed the latter. If something isn’t working; if the sleep deprivation is too skewed, or if you really can’t drag yourself into the shower to rinse the spit-up off of you, and you begin to understand why sleep deprivation is an effective form of torture, say something.

Just because moms are expected to take all of this in stride doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Ignoring feelings of dread, depression, or harmful ideations to be a ‘good mom’ won’t help in the long run. It’s more common than you think, and nothing to be ashamed of. Get the help you need.

With Mother’s Day just past, moms everywhere are recovering from their day of “relaxation” while kids and partners nurse the goodwill they earned by booking a brunch date or presenting a macaroni necklace to the woman of the house. And while pancakes in pajamas or personalized pinch pots are lovely gifts, we’d like to make a suggestion to anyone who is married to or has a mother for next year. Let her sleep. Let her sleep like a baby (that already sleeps through the night, not the brand-new kind) and then when you’re about to wake her up, turn around and do literally anything else. Moms aren’t mysteries. They might say they love those carnations, but what they really wanted — what they still want — is solid, uninterrupted, quality sleep.

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