Menu
You're not imagining it: Mothers are sleep deprived for the first 6 years of parenthood

No one expects to get a ton of sleep when they have a newborn at home, but most of us believe that we'll get more sleep when the kids are older.

New research suggests that's a myth that sets parents up for frustration because parents (particularly mothers) are still sleep deprived four to six years after bringing a baby home.

The study examined the sleep patterns of 4,659 German parents who had a child between 2008 and 2015 and found that parents' sleep duration and satisfaction don't recover to pre-pregnancy levels until the first child is in first grade.

Parents of older children often feel like they shouldn't be as tired as they are since they no longer have a baby at home, but this study proves that sleep deprivation doesn't end when your child starts sleeping in a big kid bed. It continues, and we can't address the problem if we don't acknowledge it.

"While having children is a major source of joy for most parents it is possible that increased demands and responsibilities associated with the role as a parent lead to shorter sleep and decreased sleep quality even up to 6 years after birth of the first child," says Dr. Sakari Lemola, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick.

And moms get less sleep than dads, a trend that starts right away and lasts until elementary school. Researchers found that in the first three months after a baby is born, mothers sleep on average one hour less than before pregnancy. In those first three months, dads lose out on about 15 minutes.

"Women tend to experience more sleep disruption than men after the birth of a child reflecting that mothers are still more often in the role of the primary caregiver than fathers," says Dr. Lemola.

By the time the kids in the study were 4 to 6 years old the moms were still missing out on about 20 minutes of sleep, while dad's sleep deficiency remained steady at 15 minutes below the pre-kids duration.

"We didn't expect to find that, but we believe that there are certainly many changes in the responsibilities you have," Dr. Lemola told The Guardian, explaining that kids may stop crying at night as they grow up, but they may wake up feeling sick or due to nightmares, and that stress related to parenting can also keep parents up at night.

First-time parents lose the most sleep compared to more experienced parents, the research notes, and in the first one and a half years of a child's life, breastfeeding moms lost more sleep compared to bottle-feeding moms.

It may seem kind of bleak to think that you'll still be losing sleep when your child is in kindergarten, but it's important for parents to know this so we can set realistic expectations and give ourselves grace when we need it.

You can have a 4-year-old and be almost as tired as you were when they were 4 months old. It's okay if you need to sneak in a nap today, or if you fall into bed tonight with your mascara on.

There's nothing wrong with you, there's nothing wrong with your kiddo. It's just a part of parenting.

The good news is, parents don't get more sleep deprived the more kids they have. Whether you have one under six or three under six, you're still only going to lose 20 minutes.

If you are feeling really sleep deprived, don't be afraid to ask your village for help. If your partner, co-parent, a grandparent or trusted babysitter can stand in for you overnight, let them help you and get the sleep you need.

One day your kids will sleep through the night, but it's okay to ask for help until that day comes.

You might also like:






They say necessity is the mother of invention—and nothing makes you more inventive than motherhood.

Sometimes that means fashioning a diaper out of paper towels and your older child's underpants (true story). Sometimes that means creating an innovative and life-changing weighted baby sleep sack and totally crushing it on Shark Tank. Tara Williams is the latter.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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

Shop

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

Keep reading Show less
Life