10 Tips to Improve Sleep for New Moms

Sleep deprivation and motherhood don’t have to go hand-in-hand.

From the WebMD Archives

Oh baby! Motherhood is a little different from what you had in mind. Of course, you love your baby more than you could have ever imagined. But you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks -- maybe months. And this sleep deprivation isn’t likely to let up anytime soon!

It’s not easy caring for your baby -- not to mention the rest of your family -- when you are sleep deprived. It’s also dangerous. Drowsy driving, such as driving your infant to the pediatrician when you have had little or no sleep, is responsible for an estimated 100,000 crashes each year, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And sleep loss can also increase a new mom’s risk of postpartum mood problems.

So what can you do about it? A lot, experts tell WebMD. Follow these 10 expert tips for improving your sleep while bringing up baby.

1. Talk about your sleep needs.

Do it early, before you bring baby home. “Once you become pregnant, discuss your ability to handle sleep deprivation with your partner,” says Margaret Park, MD, an assistant sleep specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Her experience is both personal and professional: She’s the mother of a 3-month-old and a 2 1/2-year-old. You may want to think about saving now so you can get help such as night nurse or babysitter.

2. Use the hospital nursery.

It’s there for a reason -- do not feel guilty. “This is your time to recuperate from birth,” Park says. “Let a trained professional take care of your baby for the night or two that you are in the hospital.”

3. Just say no to added responsibility.

If you feel guilty about spending less time with your oldest child, you may want to volunteer to go on a trip with his class or take him for a special excursion to the museum. Think twice. “Do not take on any extra responsibilities when you have a newborn at home,” advises Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

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4. Sleep when your baby sleeps.

Any experienced baby nurse will tell you that the key to staving off postpartum sleep deprivation is to sleep when your baby sleeps. “If your baby takes a nap, put everything aside and take a nap too,” Zafarlotfi says. “Everything can wait -- except the baby.”

Park agrees. “It is very tempting to try and do chores, wash dishes, do laundry and clean floors when your baby is asleep. But accept that your house is dirty and messy and go to sleep because once baby is up, you have to be up too,” she says.

Do not use this time to make phone calls or catch up on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, 24, or other favorite shows that you have been recording.

“I don’t care of you have piles of laundry all over the house -- if you are too tired to drive your child to the pediatrician, you have a problem on your hands,” says Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep and the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Ariz.

5. Say yes to help.

“Accept any help that you can get,” Park says. “Many people are resistant, but whether it is a family member, friend, or babysitter, accept help, so you can get a few hours of sleep,” she says. “People think of sleep as a luxury, but it is a medical requirement.

“When you do get to nap, avoid television, radio, and looking at your clock so you don’t focus on how much time you have left,” she says. A cool, dark environment is also optimal for napping.

6. Don’t worry that you won’t hear your baby cry.

“A baby is a natural alarm clock and mothers tend to be attuned to their baby’s crying,” Park says. If you are concerned that you won’t hear your baby or if the nursery is far away from your bedroom, buy a monitor and keep it near you. Remember that your baby is safe, and if he cries for a few minutes before you hear him, he will be OK.

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7. Outsource tasks.

If your baby takes a bottle, ask your partner to take on some of the feedings. If you’re breastfeeding, says Park, “Consider pumping and giving someone else a turn to feed.” Try to divide up all your household responsibilities as best you can.

8. Keep your eye on the prize.

One day -- maybe tomorrow, maybe when your infant is 8 months -- she will sleep through the night. And so will you. Some babies sleep through the night earlier than others. If your baby is crying all night, talk to your pediatrician as there may be a medical reason -- such as acid reflux or too much gas -- that can be treated.

9. Don’t ignore the baby blues.

Sleep loss can lead to mood changes, and new moms are at risk for baby blues or the more serious postpartum depression. “If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, talk to your doctor to address them,” Park says. Mood changes may be made worse by sleep deprivation.

10. Rule out underlying sleep disorders.

“Short naps should revive you somewhat, but if you don’t feel like they do, see a professional as there may be an underlying sleep disorder that can be treated,” Park says. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea -- pauses in breathing while you sleep -- are very common among people who gain weight, and may develop due to the weight gain of pregnancy. A sleep study, in which you are monitored while asleep, can identify sleep apnea. Treatments are available.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 19, 2010

Sources

SOURCES:

Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director, Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders, Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, N.J.

Mark Mahowald, MD, director, Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, Hennepin County.

Michael Breus, PhD, clinical director of the sleep division, Arrowhead Health, Glendale, Ariz.

Margaret Park, MD, assistant sleep specialist, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago.

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