Expert Advice

How much sleep a new mother actually gets – and how you can maximise your zzzzs

Looking after your sleep needs is vital to get you through the first few weeks with a newborn.

With the arrival of the third royal baby, Prince William and Duchess Catherine won’t be getting a lot of sleep in the foreseeable future. We know they have access to a lot more help than the average couple does, but they’re also hands-on parents.

A newborn baby needs feeding, on average, every three to four hours around the clock, and this can take its toll on parents after a few weeks of only getting snack-sized amounts of sleep at any given time.

Research suggests that new mums lose two weeks’ worth of sleep in the first year of their little one’s life, and 25 per cent of mums get less than five hours of sleep per night.

As a mother of three I found I ‘hit the wall’ at around the four to six-week mark with each of my kids – my first child especially because I had no idea how tough it was going to be.

The danger with all new parents is that operating on not enough sleep can feed conditions like postnatal depression. It’s absolutely vital for your mental health, and your ability to cope, that you prioritise sleep.

Here are some tips on how you can maximise your zzzzz’s in those early weeks with a newborn.

Eat well

When we’re tired we crave carb-laden and sugary foods that don’t fuel our bodies. Try to maintain a good balanced diet with lots of whole foods, veggies and fruit and proteins that keep you full for longer such as lean red meat.

Too much refined sugar – found in processed foods or sweets – can prevent you from sleeping well. Instead, eat foods that help to kickstart the production of sleep-inducing hormones serotonin, tryptophan, and melatonin – bananas, almonds and cherries are perfect.

Certain minerals and herbs such as calcium, B-group vitamins and magnesium are said to be sleep-friendly.

Sleep when your baby sleeps

When your little one naps this is not the time to catch up on housework! If the housework bothers you that much get a cleaner. It’s vital you take the opportunities to rest when you can.

Case in point: when I had my first baby I used her nap times to clean the bathroom, vacuum, pre-cook dinners, have visitors round to coo over her while she slept.

By week four I was so exhausted I was actually seeing double. One afternoon I put her down for a nap and thought ‘Wow, I’m so tired. I’ll just lie down on the couch for a second.’ I didn’t wake up until four hours later – luckily she slept that long too.

The thing was, I felt great, and it made me realise I hadn’t been very smart trying to carry on as if my life hadn’t changed. In fact, my life was dramatically different and I now had a little person who was completely dependent on me to look after her. From that day on I napped every afternoon and it made a huge difference to my energy levels and my ability to cope.

Say yes to offers of help – and don’t be afraid to ask for help

People want to help – it makes them feel useful – so don’t be afraid to ask. There are a million things friends and family can do to help ease the load – take the baby out for a walk in the pram while you catch up on an hour’s sleep, watch the baby while you shower, cook you a meal, bring in and fold your washing, pick up groceries for you.

Keep your caffeine intake in check

As tempting as it can be to mainline coffee right now, too much caffeine will only prevent you from sleeping. Stick to one or two cups in the morning and leave it at that.

Teach the difference between night and day

Help your baby learn the difference between night and day from early on. This helps set up the beginnings of a loose routine, so that after a few weeks your baby will begin sleeping for longer periods overnight and increase their awake times during the day.

During night feeds, keep the room dim, avoid “chatting” to your baby and when you do speak, use low, quiet tones. Get him or her back into bed straight after they’re fed and burped. During the day do the opposite – talk to and play with your baby with each feed.

Introducing bath-time in the evening can give them the start of a winding-down bedtime routine.

Keep a journal next to your bed

It can be difficult to shut off your thoughts when you go back to bed after night feeds, especially if something is worrying you. Keep a journal by your bed to jot down thoughts and things you need to remember. You can rest easy, knowing you’ve recorded them and can check them in the morning.

Avoid screens during night feeds

Yes, it is very difficult to stay awake through night feeds, but don’t use this time to watch TV, catch up on Netflix, scroll social media feeds. Looking at screens will make it so much harder for you to fall back to sleep when you return to bed.

We all know the rules about no screens before bedtime because the light emitted from the screens interferes with your production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. The same rule applies for parents feeding their babies in the night!

Remember you are not alone

As hardgoing as it is, the nights of interrupted sleep will not last forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you will get through this. It can help to know there are other parents out there going through this stage too. You are not alone. Hang in there.

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