Prioritizing Mom’s Sleep and Well-being After Birth
Welcome to a special guest blog post by Erin Meinel, a Sleep Coach who specializes in holistic and personalized strategies for kids 0-10 years!
After working with children my whole life, earning my B.S. in Elementary Education with a focus on Early Childhood Development and Education, having YEARS of classroom teaching experience as well as directing at a childcare facility, I thought I knew what to expect when I finally became a mom myself.
Having a baby is the best thing, but it can also rock your world. And we often don’t expect that. It’s just one of those things that you need to experience to really know. Ya know?!
Now that I’ve been through the postpartum period twice (once through a pandemic), and am out of this season of motherhood, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on how you can try to prepare for the fourth trimester, those first few months after your baby arrives.
Here’s my best advice: Prioritize care, feeding, and sleep for both mom and baby. If you get nothing else done those first few weeks or months, that’s okay!
This is a time of transition, both for the parents and for the baby. As a woman, and if this is your first time, you’re now a MOM. Amazing!
You have a whole new title and a whole new role. And your baby, well, all they’ve known is the safety and comfort of the womb for the past nine months, so this is quite literally a whole new world for them, too. It will take time for all of you – mom, partner, and baby – to settle into this new life, and that’s why this time is famously referred to as “The Fourth Trimester” by Dr. Harvey Karp.
In this post, I’m going to share with you what you can *try* to prepare for in advance, as well as what you can do after your baby arrives to help this time go more smoothly.
Things to Prepare Before Baby Arrives
Besides getting a nursery set up and all the things you need for your baby, you’ll want to figure out what you’ll be doing for feeding and sleep, the two main things you’ll need to focus on once the baby is here.
Prenatal education is super important when it comes to both of these topics because once the baby is here, your hands will be full (literally) and you’ll be too tired to read anything.
I’d highly recommend preparing for how you will feed your baby, whether you’ll be breastfeeding, formula feeding, pumping, or any combination of these options. Many hospitals offer classes and there are plenty of online courses as well.
Many first-time parents, myself included, focus solely on this and forget all about sleep. And then we find ourselves in the thick of sleep deprivation with a newborn at home and wish we would have done more to prepare for that as well. (Want a quick-start guide to sleep for your newborn baby? Check out our Newborn Sleep Guide!)
So, let’s start there – preparing for sleep with a newborn baby!
The Sleep Space(s) and Other Helpful Areas
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the baby sleeps in the same room as the birthing parent on a separate, safe sleep surface – a playard, bassinet, or crib – for the first six months of life.
This makes it easier to tend to your baby and offer feedings at night, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
I’d also recommend having some white noise playing in the room where you and your baby are sleeping, around 50-55 decibels. Newborn babies are LOUD sleepers and will grunt, wiggle, and even cry out in their sleep. This is normal. Being in close proximity to them offers a protective factor against SIDS, but it also makes it harder for the mom to sleep.
If your baby wakes at night, pause for a minute or so and make sure they’re truly awake before tending to them. Looking back, I don’t know how many times I inadvertently woke my oldest son up when he was just making noise in his sleep.
There may come a time when you decide it’s time to put your baby in their own nursery. Make sure it’s set up in a way that’s conducive to optimal sleep and don’t include things that aren’t safe or are unnecessary.
A newborn baby will also nap a lot during the day (not sure how often? Grab our FREE Sleep Needs Chart) so it’s ideal to have a bassinet or playard set up on each level of the house so you can tend to your baby as needed.
What about something like the Snoo? Surprisingly, I actually LOVE the Snoo, and wish I would have had one with my sons. It’s basically a super-fancy, high-tech bassinet that helps soothe your baby and alerts you when they actually need you. This is a giant sleep prop machine, but it can be incredibly helpful in maximizing the amount of sleep your baby gets, and consequently, the amount of sleep you get.
If your mental health is something you’re concerned about, and you know you don’t function well on little sleep, I’d consider getting or renting a Snoo.
Eventually, it will stop working for your baby and you’ll need to transition them out of it, but if it makes life easier with a newborn when your child does not yet have the capability to self-soothe, it’s 100% worth it, in my opinion.
And if a Snoo isn’t in your budget, there are other things you can do to help your little one lay a healthy sleep foundation, right from the start.
A Sleep Plan
The first thing I’d like you to consider when bringing your baby home is where they will sleep and when will they sleep there? We ALL love those baby snuggles, and I highly recommend holding your baby and snuggling them close those first few weeks and months.
There may come a time, though, when you want or need to have your arms free. Consider practicing some naps in the crib or bassinet too. Practice makes perfect! The more your baby sleeps in their crib or bassinet, the better they will get at it.
Many Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUIDs) occur because exhausted parents bring the baby into their bed OR fall asleep on a couch or recliner while holding their baby. I don’t share this to scare you, but to highlight the issue and prevent you from doing this dangerous thing unknowingly.
If you feel utterly exhausted, it’s much, much safer to lay your baby in their crib or bassinet than to risk falling asleep while holding them.
I’d also recommend reading the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Safe Sleep Recommendations before your baby comes so that you’re familiar with how to keep your baby safe, even when they’re sleeping.
The other thing you and your partner can discuss before the baby comes is how the nights and days are going to look once the baby is here. Here are some things to consider when formulating a baby-response plan:
- Do both parents have parental leave? For how long? What will change when one parent has to go back to work?
- Will both parents be able to feed the baby (will you offer a bottle at all?) or just the breastfeeding parent?
- What do work schedules look like? Can or should you take “shifts” at night?
- Is mom (or dad) struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression?
Discuss Parental Roles: How Your Partner Can Help
Mom is likely healing, and that needs to be the first priority, besides taking care of the baby, of course!
Research has shown that pregnancy alone is equivalent to running a marathon, and that’s not even considering healing from birth, recovering from a c-section, or breastfeeding a baby. The woman’s body goes through A LOT and society expects her to just bounce back…easier said than done!
Partners should be extra helpful during the postpartum period, handling most tasks outside of what mom is solely responsible for – if she’s solely responsible for it – breastfeeding.
Literally everything else, a partner can help with: cooking, cleaning, giving bottles, changing diapers, washing dishes, doing (and folding!) laundry, grocery shopping, etc.
If partners are deciding to do shifts at night, do that, and don’t expect the other person to help out if it’s not their shift. Even getting a 5-6 hour stretch of sleep during the postpartum period should be prioritized, especially for the birthing parent.
Try to have a plan for how you will tackle all of these responsibilities before baby arrives, and tweak as needed once baby is here. You might find that how we think things are going to go is not always the case, and that’s okay!
If you’re in the thick of it now, and need help customizing a plan for your family, we can help!
After Baby Arrives: What to Prioritize and Pay Attention to Postpartum
Mom needs to heal. Period. And, as in most cases, she is expected to also nourish the baby. In order for her to do so, she must be able to take care of herself! Eating healthy foods and staying hydrated is essential, especially if breastfeeding, and it would be a good idea to have “snack stations” set up around the house close to where mom will be doing feeds.
The partner can make sure these areas are stocked daily with snacks and fresh water.
If something doesn’t feel or seem right, it’s important to be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If you have a question that isn’t urgent, call the nurse line. Always follow the instructions of your doctor and listen to your body. Overexerting yourself too quickly can actually derail your healing process, causing it to take longer.
Prioritize sleep when you can – sleep heals! – and if someone offers to help, take them up on it!
Baby Blues, or Something More?
Both partners should also be aware of signs and symptoms of the baby blues, postpartum anxiety (PPA), and postpartum depression (PPD).
The baby blues is usually just a few weeks of feeling up and down due to all the hormone fluctuations that are occurring within the woman’s body. If it lasts longer than a few weeks though, it may actually be postpartum depression.
Postpartum anxiety can also rear its head around this time – it’s actually normal to have thoughts and feelings of worry or dread regarding your baby, but if it were to feel real or you think you may act on these thoughts it’s extremely important to bring these concerns to your healthcare provider.
I would also recommend letting your partner know how your feeling so they can keep tabs on these things and help get you the help you need, as you may not be able to recognize it for yourself.
One other thing I would like you to keep in mind is this: healthcare, at least in the US, is great during pregnancy. You go every month and every few weeks, to even weekly ay the end of your pregnancy. However, it’s a joke after you actually have the baby.
One 6-week check up postpartum is often not enough, nor do they screen for PPA during this check-up, just PPD. So make sure if you suspect you have PPA you request that screening so you can get the help you need.
The Need for a Village
When a baby is born, many friends and family will want to come and celebrate with you, bringing gifts and food. This is amazing, but also consider what YOU need as a mom healing from birth.
If you need to set boundaries for a few weeks, do it. Simply allowing someone to drop off a meal vs. having them over to visit for a few hours is totally okay, especially if your milk is coming in, you’re still bleeding heavily, or in pain. You’ve clearly got more important things to deal with than hosting guests in your home.
Unless someone is coming to HELP, it’s okay to say, “We’re not having visitors yet, but we would appreciate a meal! Thanks for respecting our wishes at this time, and we will let you know when we’re ready for a visit.”
Once you feel settled and ready, allow people for visits, and again, set boundaries if you need to – “Hey so-and-so, I know you wanted to come visit a few weeks ago. We’re feeling settled now. Would you like to come Friday afternoon from 3-4:00 p.m.?”
Don’t forget, too, that many women have walked this path before you, and many will after, too.
There is a whole community out there who can help you with whatever you may need during this period of time: Lactation Consultants, Sleep Coaches, Doctors, Counselors, Physical Therapists. Now is not the time to wonder if something is normal or to wait and see what happens – when it comes to your health and well-being and the health and well-being of your baby, being proactive and following your instinct is always the right answer.