In the Postpartum Period
Talk to any new mum and the topic of sleep, or lack of, soon arises. It’s something that all expectant mothers know is on the horizon, but nothing can quite prepare you for those sleepless nights in those early weeks and months. Contact naps, unsettled evenings and frequent night feeds are all biologically ‘normal’ in that postpartum period, but disturbed nights for months, or maybe even years on end is not sustainable and can really take its toll.
Lack of sleep directly impacts our concentration, cognition, productivity, and memory function. The phrase ‘brain fog’ never rings truer than for a sleep deprived new parent!
A 2020 analysis found that adults who slept fewer than 7 hours per night had a 41% increased risk of developing obesity1. It is thought that a lack of sleep impacts our hormone levels, motivation to exercise and desire for sugar which of course can all increase the likelihood of gaining weight.
Lack of sleep leads to irritability, low mood, and anxiety. It has been found that there is a strong link between mental health concerns, such as depression and poor sleep2. This is particularly concerning for new mums, as a lack of sleep has been found to increase the chance of developing post-natal depression and is also linked to suicidal ideation in women with post-natal depression3.
Sleep is also incredibly important for our physical health. Lack of sleep has been found to impair immune function and therefore make us more susceptible to illness4. Poor sleep is linked with increased inflammation in the body. Over time chronic inflammation has found to be linked with conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, particular cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease5.
We are more at risk of accidents when sleep deprived, as our reaction time and ability to focus is impaired. Lack of sleep can also really affect our ability to parent in a positive way as we are not able to regulate our emotions as effectively and are more prone to irritability.
- Minimise screen time in the hour before bed and during the night. The blue light that is emitted from TVs, laptops, phones etc inhibits the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone) so impacts sleep. Maybe even put your phone in a different room overnight so you’re not tempted to doom scroll at 3am when up with your baby.
- Keep your room cool – a lower core body temperature results in better melatonin release and deeper sleep.
- If you can, share overnight duties with your partner. This could be alternating whose turn it is to give baby their bottle, or if you are breastfeeding, you could have your partner wind and settle baby back to sleep.
- Be comfortable with saying no! There will be plenty of people who want to come and meet the new baby or inviting you out to coffee catch ups and walks in the park. However, if you are just too tired get used to politely declining and focus on getting some well-deserved rest at home.
- Nap when you can, the dishes can wait! There will always be a list of chores that need doing, but the priority should be rest and recovery for any new mum – after all you just did grow and birth a baby!
- Reach out to a sleep consultant if you are still up with your 6+ month old baby frequently throughout the night. We can find gentle sleep solutions that can help get baby (and you!) sleeping better.
It serves as the foundation for physical and mental well-being during the challenging transition into motherhood. Adequate rest not only helps mothers recover from childbirth but also enhances their ability to provide the best care for their new-borns. Sleep fosters emotional resilience, cognitive clarity, and overall health, enabling mothers to tackle the demands of parenthood with greater effectiveness and joy. Recognising the significance of sleep and seeking support to prioritise it can make a world of difference for both new moms and their precious little ones.
1.Bacaro, V., Ballesio, A., Cerolini, S., Vacca, M., Poggiogalle, E., Donini, L., Lucidi, F., Lombardo, C. (2020). Sleep duration and obesity in adulthood: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis
2. McEvoy, K. M., Rayapati, D., Washington Cole, K. O., Erdly, C., Payne, J. L., & Osborne, L. M. (2019). Poor postpartum sleep quality predicts subsequent postpartum depressive symptoms in a high-risk sample.
3. Sit, D., Luther, J., Buysse, D., Dills, J. L., Eng, H., Okun, M., Wisniewski, S., & Wisner, K. L. (2015). Suicidal ideation in depressed postpartum women: Associations with childhood trauma, sleep disturbance and anxiety. Journal of Psychiatric Research
4. Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., Haack, M. (2019). The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. 5. Irwin, M. (2019). Sleep and inflammation: partners in sickness and in health