Zombie Mama: Dealing with Postpartum Fatigue
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The stork has arrived, and your days of drifting peacefully to sleep are long gone. You're a new parent, tired all the time, and may even feel as though your brain has shut down from lack of shut-eye.
It's no secret that kids keep you up at night—a 2007 Center for Disease Control study revealed that parents are more likely to report insufficient sleep than adults without children, with moms specifically getting the least amount of sleep.
Nothing can prepare you to feel dead on your feet—while simultaneously being at your infant's beck and call. There are diapers to be changed, feedings, and bonding moments to take place, so when do you squeeze in sleep? Here are a few tips for the walking weary.
- Follow baby's sleep pattern. You've heard the saying sleep when your baby sleeps; now it's time to heed that advice. During the first 3 months, your tiny tot's programmed to sleep in 2- to 4-hour chunks. Although it's tough to sleep throughout the day, it's crucial you seize the moment. The dishes may pile up in the sink and emails in your inbox, but even a 20 minute power nap can work wonders on your alertness, motor performance and muscle memory.
- Nap after breastfeeding. If possible, opt to nurse your baby instead of bottle-feeding. Recent research suggests that breastfeeding mamas rest easier than their formula-feeding counterparts. "When mothers start supplementing or exclusively use formula, they get fewer total hours of sleep, feel more tired during the day, and take longer to fall asleep than women who exclusively breastfeed," says Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., author of Breastfeeding Made Simple. Breastfeeding's a natural sedative, so take advantage and catch some zzz's when your baby has finished. If you're feeding in bed, place your baby in a bassinet and curl up under the covers.
- Alternate late-night feedings. One thing you'll eventually find yourself teaching your baby is to take turns, so heed your own advice. Rotate nights with your spouse, so one person is in charge of feedings during the night and the other can sleep. This gives one person the chance to get a good night's sleep, instead of both of you walking around like zombies.
- Optimal environment. When it's time for shut-eye, make your bedroom a sleep haven. Turn off electronics, skip turning on a flick, and shut off your phone's ringer. Close your curtains, so your room is dim and relaxing. If you're still having trouble dozing off, try putting on some nature sounds or white noise to help you lull yourself into dreamland.
- Request help. If you're too proud to ask for help, it's time to swallow your pride and enlist the troops to pitch in with your newfound duties. "We are not meant to struggle through this time all on our own," says Dr. Kendall-Tackett. "Ask for help from your partner or friends, or hire a postpartum doula." Chances are a close pal will be happy to lend a helping hand, whether that means holding the baby as you nap, or washing a few loads of laundry. Be it babysitting or household chores, little things add up to an extreme help.
- Take care of you. Your mind's in baby mode, but it's important you take care of yourself—you'll be in a better position to take care of your bundle of joy. Eat well, avoiding sugary snacks, and drink lots of water. "Take omega-3s, get some moderate exercise, get some support, and try to get out of the house at least once a day," Dr. Kendall-Tackett suggests. Taking a hot bath, a short walk, listening to music, or yoga will help relax you, coaxing you into sleep when you have moments of downtime.
- Get support. There's no one who better understands your sleep-deprived state quite like other new mamas. Consider joining a local support group for new parents—at a hospital, library or other community arena. Here, you'll get sound tips and advice from parents who are also struggling with sleep issues.
- Don't be super-mom. You might feel the urge to don the cape, but don't try to be super-mom. Yes, it's rewarding to head up the local bake sale, organize a friend's baby shower, or participate in a local group, but during the first few weeks of your baby's life, go slow. Don't feel the need to volunteer to help and if you're asked to participate, it's okay to say no. Others will understand.
- Shower up. It's easy to stay in your pajamas all day, but you'd be surprised how jumping in the shower and getting dressed can refresh and give you new energy. Have someone watch the baby while you rinse off or bring the baby in the bathroom with you and place her in a bouncer close by, so you can see her.
The postpartum fatigue hasn't let up yet, but rest assured—you'll sleep through the night again one day. Prolonged exhaustion after a few weeks could signal something deeper. "If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, it might be depression," says Dr. Kendall-Tackett. "Talk with your health care provider or check into some of the alternative treatments...don't ignore depression."
For now, try to enjoy the time you have with your baby. Even though your sleep has departed, the stork has brought a special delivery. Despite the diapers, midnight feedings and general zombie state, you'll eventually be back to yourself—with a baby that was well worth the effort.