I’m happy to bring back our series on Postpartum Self-Care, with a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: SLEEP. I’m a huge fan of #teammoresleep and so I’m thrilled to introduce you to Katelyn, the fabulous sleep consultant and owner of Sweet Pea Sleep Solutions. She shares a load of empathy and plenty of great tips for getting more sleep — which is a huge piece of postpartum physical and mental health. Don’t miss this, mamas!
When I became pregnant with my son, I was beyond excited. I was the oldest of five children, with a degree in child development and 10 years of nanny experience under my belt. I felt like I was made for motherhood.
While being a mother to my son is one of the most incredible blessings in my life, I was completely and utterly unprepared for my experience as a new mom. When the zen tub birth I’d envisioned turned into a 47-hour labor with multiple failed epidurals and a birth injury which took months to heal, it only set the tone for the coming months.
Enter my sweet high needs bundle of joy, Jackson, equipped with colic, lip and tongue ties, and bad silent reflux, and my easy breezy vision of motherhood was quickly scratched and replaced with confusion, frustration and a terrible sense of inadequacy. My “baby blues” lasted way beyond 6 weeks and I developed crippling anxiety. Because of his reflux and high needs personality, Jackson was not a naturally good sleeper from the very beginning. He woke anywhere between 5-9 times per night and would go hours and hours during the day without napping, even as a newborn.
When people asked me how things were going with Jackson around 5 months on, I either put a smile on and felt like crying inside or I worked up the courage and answered “Actually, things are really tough. He wakes about 7 times a night and doesn’t nap very well.” Sometimes I was met with empathy, but all too often I was met with, “Oh yep! That’s how babies are! You’ll never sleep again!” These types of reactions often made me feel that I just wasn’t good or unselfish enough to do this whole parenting thing.
As my sleep debt grew month over month, I found myself unable to sleep at all. I laid in bed feeling every muscle of my body tight, completely exhausted but also wired at the same time. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I sat waiting for the next cry from the monitor and worried about every possible horrible scenario in which something could happen to my precious baby.
One morning I confessed to my husband that all I did the night before was worry that one day Jackson and I would have a car accident on a bridge over water and would be trapped in the car, and then sheepishly showed him the Amazon email confirming I had bought window breakers and seat belt cutters at 4 in the morning.
I was experiencing horrible postpartum anxiety, which I believe was almost single-handedly caused by my lack of sleep. However, in the fog of anxiety and sleep deprivation, I thought all of my worries were perfectly legitimate and highly possible.
Luckily, my husband and my close friends saw what the lack of sleep was doing to me, and encouraged me to do what was best for our family. When we sleep trained, the cloud of anxiety lifted. And eventually, I was able to learn to sleep well again. I found joy in my motherhood and in parenting my sweet little guy. I began to help friends and family with their babies, and loved helping other moms so much that I eventually pursued a certification in pediatric sleep consulting.
Now removed from my own experience of sleep deprivation, I feel so passionately about this because sleep is essential. You have to sleep to live.
This WebMD article lists the top ten side effects of sleep deprivation: prone to accidents, impairs cognitive processes, leads to risk of serious health issues such as heart disease and stroke, lack of sex drive, causes depression and anxiety, skin aging and sagging, memory loss, weight gain, impaired judgment, and finally…risk of death from all causes. (You should note that this study followed people who cut their sleep from 7 to 5 hours per night. I for one know that I got less than 5 hours of sleep many nights with my little night owl!)
Scientists may not know exactly why the body needs sleep, but they do know that, in a nutshell, you will develop psychological issues and then probably die without it. It is as important to your body as food, yet somehow it is often treated differently when it comes to being a mom.
Hypothetically, if a mom confided in you that she had not eaten in three days because her baby cries in the car seat and she didn’t want to allow him to cry for 15 minutes so that she could get to the grocery store, what would you say? My response would either be, “Oh my gosh! I will go to the store for you! Or I will watch the baby! You need food!” Or if that’s not possible, I would encourage her with everything I had to allow her baby to fuss in the car seat for 15 minutes because she absolutely needs food.
Now replace “food” with “sleep” and this is how we should respond to mothers who have been in the cycle of extreme sleep deprivation for weeks or months.
If you are a mom struggling with PPD or PPA and sleep is contributing, here are some tips.
- Realize something’s gotta give. You are not a robot. You either need more help (from your spouse, family, or paid help) so that you can get an adequate amount of sleep, or you need to decide on some gentle modifications for your baby’s sleep. Start with finding out what your baby’s appropriate wake time is and making sure their schedule is conducive to healthy sleep habits. Next, make sure they have a safe, comfy sleep environment that is dark, cool and calm. Finally, start weaning them off of sleep props and help them learn to fall asleep independently. This may sound intimidating but there is lots of help out there. You can find methods online and in books, or hire a sleep consultant for a more customized approach to your situation. The important thing is deciding on a method that aligns with your situation and values and staying consistent.
- Self-care is not optional. As moms we happily sacrifice so much of our time and energy for our babies. But we need to remember that we have to keep ourselves happy and healthy, or everyone who relies on us will suffer as well. Decide what feels like self-care to you. It may be a moms morning out, a hot bubble bath and a glass of wine a couple nights a week, or getting 30 quiet minutes a day to yourself to do yoga. Important note: adequate sleep is not self-care. It’s survival. Don’t think you’ve met your self-care goal if you got 6 hours of sleep last night.
- Talk to somebody. Share how you’re feeling with your spouse or a trusted friend, and find a good therapist. It’s essential that someone holds you accountable for proactively working towards feeling better and getting healthier.
I believe sleep is just one piece of the puzzle to postpartum health, but it’s a big piece!
As moms, we deserve to not feel guilt when taking care of our basic needs, and we also deserve to find joy in our motherhood instead of constantly “just getting by.” The important thing to remember is that you have options when it comes to getting the sleep you and your family needs, and constant sleep deprivation does not have to be your reality.
Katelyn Thompson was born and raised in Georgia, and is the oldest in a family of five children. She received her degree in Child & Family Development from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) in 2014, the same year she married her husband, Rick. Katelyn and Rick welcomed their sweet and feisty son, Jackson, in 2016. After a difficult postpartum experience with sleep deprivation, Katelyn became passionate about helping babies sleep better. She became certified as a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and founded her company, Sweet Pea Sleep Solutions. Her goal is to get as many moms as possible to join her on #teammoresleep, by helping them and their babies learn to sleep well using gentle, responsive sleep methods. In her free time Katelyn loves to go on dates with Rick, read (preferably in a hammock), practice hot yoga, and play outside with Jackson. You can follow her for sleep tips and all things motherhood on Facebook and Instagram.