The Sleepless Challenge
Battling Postpartum Fatigue
For me, it was “welcome to motherhood”. Ready or not, I was in for a wonderful experience. But my first challenge was to overcome the first few months of literally no sleep. It was my first baby, and I felt the pressure of doing everything “just right”. I wanted to be a perfect mom. But I quickly learned that parenting was going to be a lifelong journey and that I would make plenty of mistakes along the way.
After stumbling out of bed frequently for middle of the night feedings I’d wake up around 6 a.m. to my newborn crying a joyful solo for yet another feeding. After about three weeks of this, and then another month I was completely worn out! Following a cesarean section, I immediately thought I could be Supermom, Grand Interior Decorator, and the House Cleaning Company all at once, and of course I thought I could simultaneously juggle the responsibilities of a baby that I was so certain would sleep through most of the day and night.
After a few restless nights, and having noticed that my sweet infant was rarely sleeping at all, be it night or day, I began to really wonder about her. Was this going to be the norm? Did infants really stay awake for hours at a time demanding a feeding every hour and half? Was I doing something wrong? I couldn’t help but wonder if this pattern would ever end. I’d read all the many parenting articles that tell you when your infant should stop waking up so frequently and begin sleeping peacefully through the night. Well, I dare say that my little one kept waking up again and again for nights on end. After a few months I began to think I was the only mother out there suffering from severe sleep deprivation! Of course, I knew that I wasn’t REALLY the only one, but it sure hits home when it happens to you.
My young one is now an active toddler, and things have definitely improved as far as her sleeping habits go, but I learned quite a few things during those seemingly never ending nights of sleeplessness and days of extreme fatigue. If I had to do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t have tried to be the Grand Interior Designer and the House Cleaning Company (and following a c-section at that)! Here are some handy tips that I should have used and will keep in mind when I have my next baby:
• Rest, rest, rest! Okay, it sounds trite, and while pregnant you’ve probably heard everyone in the world tell you to rest, but once you’ve given birth it’s even more important that you still adhere to the resting phase the first few days you are home from the hospital. I can’t even begin to explain how much rest is needed after a cesarean section…but in either type of delivery, your body needs time to recuperate, so take it easy. What does resting mean? It could mean using paper plates so there are fewer dishes to wash. It could mean having a friend or relative come sit with you a few hours a day and help you around the house (which is especially helpful if you have other younger children). And if you have older children, it could mean having them help out with more chores around the house. Most of all, it means to just let some things go. The dusting doesn’t have to be done right away…perhaps it can wait a few more days, or weeks even.
• People say to sleep while the baby is sleeping. Well, that didn’t work for me, mostly because I was attempting to get things done around the house that I couldn’t do efficiently when my daughter was awake. So here’s what I say: REST while the baby is sleeping. Sit down, take a break. Schedule that time, and give yourself at least 30 minutes to do absolutely nothing.
• Thicken baby’s milk. I breastfed my daughter for several months. In the beginning nurses were telling me that breastfed babies need to get fed more often because breast milk apparently “goes right through” their systems. After my daughter was a few weeks old they gave me the go-ahead on thickening her breast milk with rice cereal (about a teaspoon full). It did wonders for her nightly waking ritual. Instead of waking up every hour and half she slept about two hours longer than usual. I say that’s good for mom and baby! Of course, check with your pediatrician first, and again, there are differing views on thickening baby’s milk, so do (or don’t do) what you feel is best.
• Breastfeeding mothers take a break. For mothers who nurse, I highly recommend pumping so the baby can be given a bottle by other members of the family while you rest up. Breastfeeding is a demanding job and takes quite a bit of energy reserves. Did you know you burn approximately 500 calories during one nursing session? That’s equivalent to the amount of calories I burned on the treadmill a few days ago. So there’s another reason for you to take a breather.
• Take your prenatal vitamins. Keep taking these. You’ll need them, especially during this time of recovery. Your body needs all the minerals and vitamins necessary to boost your immune system and promote overall health. You’ll be glad you took them daily.
• Continue to eat for two. If you are nursing, this is an especially important concept, since you’ll need to eat enough to keep your milk reserves flowing. It’s very easy for postpartum women to want to begin dieting right after giving birth. However, the healthiest choice is to simply continue the intake of nutritious foods, and to eat enough to keep your energy levels up, because you will definitely need energy in the wee hours of the morning! In addition, doctors recommend that postpartum, nursing women intake anywhere from 2000-2400 calories per day. So eat, and eat healthy.
• Keep others in your life. Don’t ever feel alone or isolated. If you don’t have relatives nearby who can help, seek for help within your community: churches, civic groups and non profit organizations, as well as friends. In addition, there are a host of online communities and discussion groups specifically geared toward pregnancy and parenting issues that are helpful for new moms.
Most of all, do the things you like to do most: read, meditate, write, and work on crafts. Do something you truly enjoy every day for as much as you can. With time, your baby will start sleeping through the night, and one day you will realize that you can finally catch your “z’s”.
Demetria Zinga is the founder and owner of Faith Media, a technology and consulting firm which specializes in web design and hosting, graphics and print designs, internet marketing, and e-training. She is also the founder of Christian Ladies Connect, an interactive ezine, blog, and podcast for Christian women.
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I can certainly relate to this one - my children were 19 months apart and neither one of them were good sleepers which basically meant I went three years without a good night's sleep! Thankfully, they are now 4 and 2 1/2 and for the most part those days have past. Sleep-deprivation is one of those things that you can't fully appreciate until you have been through it. Thank you for your article!