The one piece of advice that literally everyone will tell you once your new little bundle of joy has arrived is to “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” And there’s no arguing the fact that this is really good advice.
Yes, a Little Extra Sleep Would Be Nice
You’ve just given birth to a tiny human (who grew inside your body for 9 months and then you had to expel him from your body) and now you are responsible for keeping that tiny human alive. As much as you need to focus on your own health and recovery, there is also a helpless little being that can’t survive without you. You don’t sleep through the night because that tiny human needs you, probably every couple of hours.
When you and baby are awake, your energies are focused on what baby needs; is he hungry again? (probably), does he need a diaper change? (most likely, yes), is he ready to take another nap? (of course he is). So you’re feeding him, changing him, holding him, and rocking him to sleep in a continuous loop all day. All things considered, it makes perfect sense that when the baby does go down for a nap (which is quite often during those first weeks) that you should take advantage of that time to catch some extra zzz’s yourself.
But, let’s face it, the reality of you taking a nap at any given time of the day while your baby blissfully catches some shut eye is highly unlikely. Yes, in a perfect world this is wonderful advice and, yes, there were a few times that I did actually get some extra sleep this way. However, it just doesn’t happen as often as you might think or want.
Why Sleep is Hard to Come By (besides the obvious reason)
Because there is so much to do! For me, it was usually about eating. I was constantly hungry. When my boy was sleeping during the day, I had to decide what I needed more; sleep or food (because his naps were rarely long enough to accomplish more than one thing at a time). Food almost always won.
*Helpful tip for breastfeeding mommas: keep healthy snacks like trail mix or protein bars by your bed to help curb your hunger between late night feedings and save you the time and energy of wandering into the kitchen*
Also, because most of our bodies are hard wired at this point to be awake during the day and to sleep at night, it wasn’t that easy for me to just lie down at 10:30am and fall asleep. I had just woken up, my day had started, and my brain just couldn’t shut down that quickly. Not matter how tired and zombie like I had been during that 2am (and 4am and 6am) feeding.
You know what else napping is good for, getting absolutely everything else done in your life. Like, I don’t know, showering and maybe washing your hair (sometimes that hot water on your back feels better than any nap ever could). And how about that pile of clean laundry that needs folding? Or those dirty dishes in the sink? Or those thank you notes you’re still working on? Or those emails already clogging up your inbox?
And sure, we’re not supposed to be worrying about those things. Especially during the first couple of weeks (please don’t answer any work emails during your first week home with baby). Let the house get messy, don’t worry about the grocery shopping, work can wait, there will be time for all of that later. That’s what they tell new moms anyway. But eventually, for me it was around week 3, you do start thinking about everything else you want/need to be doing and napping yourself seems like a luxury that is saved for those days when you actually don’t have enough energy to do anything else.
So, what do we do? How do we get the rest we need as new moms to keep moving forward through another day? How do we carve out the time we need to enjoy this new little person that’s entered our lives and needs so much of us? How do we keep the rest of our world turning at the same time? Of course, the answer is balance. And learning how to be present and enjoy moments of quiet when they arise.
Just an Hour of Quiet
One of these quiet moments came for me when my little one was less than a month old. He was still sleeping in the room with us, and most nights I was very aware of his presence. He was a noisy sleeper. Something I don’t miss at all about him being in his own room now.
He started stirring sometime around 7:00 am on this particular morning, and it sounded like he was going to wake up. But I didn’t get up and go to him right away. I waited. I took a tip from one of my favorite pregnancy reads Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman; “La Pause”. If you are a new momma and haven’t read this book yet, I recommend you go out and get your hands on a copy. It is a fun and easy read, full of great insight and perspective. Basically, the theory of pausing is that babies move a lot in their sleep and they’re noisy, so if we jump up and pick them up right away we often actually wake them up before they are ready.
Therefore, I paused. And in truth, he wasn’t actually ready to wake up, he stayed asleep. And now here I was, wide awake. Sure, I could have rolled over and tried to fall back asleep. But instead, I did a crazy thing. I got out of bed. I put on my robe, stepped into my slippers, and left hubby and baby sleeping in the room. I walked into my kitchen, turned on the tea kettle, and made myself the perfect cup of English Breakfast tea (with a spoonful of sugar and a splash of milk). Then, I proceeded to enjoy a full cup of tea (without having to reheat it 2 or 3 times) and sat down with a good book. My sweet angel (along with the hubby) slept for another hour after I woke up, and I was able to have some blissful quiet and some quality “me” time. This was worth more to me in that moment than the extra hour of sleep.
Rest Doesn’t Always Mean Sleep
Ultimately, sometimes getting that load of laundry done actually helps me feel more rested because I don’t have to spend any more energy worrying about getting it done. Remembering to eat, and to eat well, often gives me that extra boost to get through the next few hours. Check out the 10 to 12 Pinterest board “Breastfeeding Nutrition”, for some great ideas to help you eat well. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, keeping yourself nourished is key to keeping up with baby.
Other ideas for increased restfulness: Sneak in a 5 minute meditation or yoga stretch will your hubby enjoys some baby time. Taking an extra long shower (when I know baby will be asleep for a while) still has an incredibly relaxing effect on me and my body. And, more often than not, spending a little time doing something I love can have the same impact on my day as a 20 minute power nap.
If you can, in fact, sleep when baby sleeps then absolutely do that as much as you can. But also remember, that sometimes resting the body and mind can look a little different. Find those moments that refill your soul, recharge your heart, and center your mind. This will be different for each of us, so don’t feel like you have to fit into some cookie cutter mold of “shoulds” that surround you during this time. Just like you know what’s best for baby, you likely know what’s best for momma.
I’d love to hear what these moments look like for you, my fellow mommas. Share in the comments below about a moment of bliss you remember having or that you intentionally carve out for yourself regularly. Let’s all learn from each other!
A New Momma