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Postpartum insomnia is real—and here’s what you can do about it

Yes, you're going to be tired—but you don't have to be THIS tired.

postpartum insomnia

In the third trimester of my first pregnancy, I began fantasizing about post-pregnancy sleep. The ability to sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time without having to get up to pee, or needing to roll over to relieve pressure on my hips, or drag myself down to the kitchen because I was starving.


I couldn't wait to sleep on my stomach again. Or without every pillow in the house carefully arranged to support my gigantic belly. Sleep was going to be glorious.

In the hospital after delivery, I hardly slept for three days. Between the uncomfortable bed, regular checks from nurses, sweating out all of my IV fluids, and a baby who wanted nothing to do with sleeping in that little plastic box, I nodded off from time to time but didn't really sleep. All I wanted to do was go home, shower and relax in my comfy bed with my new baby.

As expectant moms, we know that sleep is going to be very different after baby arrives. We'll be up at all hours of the night feeding, soothing and rocking. We know this and expect it. So the bone-tired exhaustion on the fourth day home from the hospital came as no surprise.

What was entirely unexpected was my trouble sleeping during the times that my baby was sleeping. What was this nonsense? I was so tired. My bed was so comfortable. My husband was peacefully snoozing next to me. A quick peek at the bassinet beside me reassured me that baby was sound asleep.

But not me. I was wide awake, tossing and turning.

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Postpartum insomnia is much more common than many women know. Some women struggle to fall asleep initially at night, while others have difficulty staying asleep.

Whatever form it takes, postpartum insomnia is a real thing that can have a negative impact on a new mom's life and adjustment to motherhood. Luckily, there are lots of things that can help. I recommend starting with some of the sleep basics—things that can help anyone struggling with sleep.

Careful with the caffeine

First, what is your caffeine consumption? The reality of new mom exhaustion means there may be more caffeine than usual in your life. Seeing if you can reduce it by one serving, or limiting consumption after 2 pm is a great starting point to make sure that caffeine is not negatively impacting your sleep.

Make your bedroom a sleep haven

Next, is your sleep environment sleep-friendly? Your bedroom should be reserved for two things: sleep and sex. If possible, it should not be the place you also spend time playing with your baby, hanging out with your partner, watching TV, or spending much time during the day. You want your body to know that it's sleep time as soon as you walk in.

You also want to check the temperature in your room. Sleep experts say the ideal sleep temperature is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit for adults. For babies, it's recommended to be 68-72, so you'll want to adjust a bit if the baby is sleeping in your room.

Watch for anxieties and overwhelm

Caffeine and sleep environment are important factors for everyone, but there are some additional things to consider for new moms. Anxiety is a big one.

When you're trying to fall asleep, what's going on in your mind? Concerns about baby's safety and a compulsive need to check on them frequently are very common in women suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. If this is part of what's going on for you, it would be a good idea to reach out to your OB, midwife, or therapist to discuss other possible symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety that you may be experiencing.

Being overwhelmed by all you have to do is also a very common cause of sleep disruption for new moms. Your life has just changed drastically, and there is a lot on your plate. If thoughts about everything you need to get done are keeping you awake, try keeping a notepad and pen (not your phone!) next to your bed. Write down your to-do list or any thoughts you need to remember—jot them down and let them go until the morning.

Assess the night wake-up situation

Frequent night wakings to feed and soothe your baby are part of life for new moms, but these wake-ups can become problematic if you're having trouble falling back to sleep once the baby is snoozing with a full tummy.

A common culprit here is the environment. If you're bottle feeding, you may be waking up, walking to the kitchen, turning on the lights, and standing around for five to 10 minutes while you prep the bottle. That's enough time and stimulation to fully wake up, making it much harder to go back to sleep when you're done.

If you're nursing, you may be able to avoid turning on lights, and you don't have to spend time prepping anything. But if you're like many moms, you're probably on your phone to pass the time while nursing. Unfortunately, the light and activity from your phone are not conducive to keeping your body in sleep mode.

So what can you do to make nighttime feedings less disruptive? Set yourself up for minimal-effort success during the evening. Measure out the water for formula bottles and keep them in the fridge. Set burp cloths and nursing pillows out where you'll need them. Refill your water glass that you know you'll be reaching for. Do whatever you can so you can stay sleepy through that night's feedings—while staying safe, of course.

Keep it dark

It's also important to keep light to a minimum. If you're going to be up in the kitchen mixing a bottle, try using a nightlight plugged into one of your counter outlets. It should provide just enough light to see what you're doing, but not so much that your brain thinks it's morning. There's no need to bring your phone out for night time feedings. Enjoy the quiet time with the baby and try to stay as relaxed as possible.

Do remember the American Academy of Pediatric's recommendations on safe sleeping, and don't fall asleep with your baby somewhere unsafe, like the couch.

Relax, mama

Speaking of relaxation, it's a good idea to get familiar with a few relaxation techniques that can help ease your anxiety when you're in bed trying to sleep.

One of my favorites is belly breathing:

  • Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  • Take a deep breath through your nose into your belly.
  • You should feel the hand on your stomach rise, while the one on your chest should stay still.
  • Breathe in, hold the breath, and then slowly exhale through your mouth, feeling your stomach fall back down.
  • Do this for as long as you need to return to a calm state – or until you fall asleep.

Another technique I recommend for those nights when you seem unable to turn off your brain is the alphabet game: Get comfortable in bed, close your eyes, and pick a category—restaurant chains, girls' names, cities, etc. You then want to name one thing for each letter of the alphabet.

For example, if I was doing this with US cities, I might say Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, El Paso, and so on. Once you finish one category, go on to another. This gives you something to focus on so your mind isn't wandering, but it's boring enough not to keep you awake. Many people who use this game for sleep find that they fall asleep in the middle of a category.

Using relaxation techniques or distractions that help lull you to sleep are important in breaking the "I didn't sleep last night, and I'm afraid it's going to happen again, so now I'm anxious, which makes it even harder to sleep" cycle.

Remember, you're not alone.

When should you seek more help? If you have other symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety, reach out for help. Or if the lack of sleep is interfering with your daily functioning—making it so you can't function at work or drive safely—it's time for additional help. Yes, some amount of new mom fatigue is normal and to be expected, but when it crosses into something more severe, there is no need to suffer or try to get through it alone. Lack of sleep can make many other things, including depression and anxiety, worse, so ask for help if you're struggling. A good night's sleep is crucial to your wellbeing.

True

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.

Boom.

I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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