The Importance of Sleep Postpartum

You’ve done it. You and your partner created this beautiful bundle of joy, a brand new life. Your lives are forever changed. You get home and can’t stop staring at your new baby. At their perfect little lips and tiny fingernails. You joyfully announce every full diaper, respond to all the noises they make, celebrate every time they eat, and soak in all it means to be a new parent. You’re exhausted, elated, full of hormones, and ready for a good night’s sleep. 

It’s sometime within the next few days, as you’re awake for yet another feeding, having just gotten your new bundle of joy to stop screaming, that you suddenly have a horrible thought; what if I never sleep again?

Sleep deprivation is part of being a parent, especially during the first few months. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is utilized as a torture tactic – it’s absolutely detrimental to everything in your life if you are sleep deprived. Unfortunately, it’s also inevitable at times when you are a new parent to be running on little to no sleep, at a time when sleep is so important. 

How Much Sleep Do New Parents Need?

Studies show that 7-8 hours of sleep a night is considered an adequate amount of sleep for adults. Studies also show that only 10% of new parents are achieving those hours, most only getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night, especially if you are the parent who is breast/chestfeeding. 

What Happens if You’re Sleep Deprived? 

Postpartum sleep deprivation at the very least is difficult for everyone involved. It can make you cranky and emotional, causing more disagreements and tension between new parents than before baby came along. Couple that with surging, ever changing hormones, and you have a recipe for some potentially disastrous days where it just feels like you can’t keep it together. 

However, sleep deprivation can have far more dire consequences if gone unchecked. Postpartum Depression (PPD) is much more probable if you are sleep deprived, especially if you are already predisposed to or diagnosed with depression prior to giving birth. Mental health in general is jeopardized when sleep takes a backseat postpartum, and can create safety concerns within and outside of the home. For example – would you drive drunk? Absolutely not, however if you’re driving sleep deprived, your reaction time is similar to when you’re drunk. 

What Are Some Signs of Sleep Deprivation? 

If you and/or your partner are sleep deprived, you may notice: 

  1. Increased moodiness, such as particularly short temper, crying easily, or closed off/withdrawn affect. 
  2. Clumsiness and lack of depth perception. If you’ve got a case of the dropsies and keep bumping into door frames, you might be sleep deprived. 
  3. Increased or decreased appetite. For some, sleep deprivation creates hunger, as you are awake for longer periods of time. For others, sleep deprivation completely saps your appetite, and eating can be a total struggle. The latter can be a point of concern, especially if you are a breast/chestfeeding parent and may not be eating enough calories to produce what you need to feed your baby!

Who Else Does Sleep Deprivation Affect? 

The short answer? Everyone. Partners, additional children, and new baby all suffer when sleep is scarce in the home. Your baby does their best growing work when asleep, and if you’re struggling and stressed from lack of slumber, they are most likely going to pick up on those vibes and follow suit. Some think that an overtired baby equals a good nights sleep, but often it’s the opposite. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re cranky and uncomfortable. Imagine feeling that way in a tiny, newborn body? Sounds pretty awful! 

The long answer is, sleep deprivation and the most detrimental side effects typically affect the birthing and/or breast/chestfeeding parent the most. Some reasons behind that can include: 

  1. If the birthing parent isn’t working due to parental leave or being a stay at home parent, they often may feel guilty asking the working parent to do anything, especially at night. 
  2. If a parent is breast/chestfeeding, they may think it’s “easier” to just do it themselves, especially if their newborn hasn’t or won’t take a bottle. 
  3. Some birthing parents feel that they can do it better, don’t trust their partners to care for the baby “the right way”, or some are single parents who don’t have a choice but to do it all. 

What Can You Do To Prevent Sleep Deprivation? 

The best way to combat sleep deprivation is to get on a schedule. Make a plan with your partner or support person around when you will sleep. Some split the sleep schedules into chunks of time, such as 7pm – 12am is parent number 1’s time on, and 12am – 5am is when parent number 2 is primary caretaker. Some alternate when baby wakes, taking turns so the other can continue to get shuteye. 

Some hire help in the form of an overnight nanny or postpartum Doula, or enlist help for the first few weeks from family or friends. There is a saying, “it takes a village to raise a child”, and that is no joke. 

If you feel you are experiencing postpartum sleep deprivation that is affecting your day to day life, you are not alone. Please reach out to speak with one of our postpartum doulas today and see how we can help you get the rest you so desperately need!