There is nothing quite like the exhaustion of a new parent. I have known exhaustion; 50+ hour workweeks, or graduate school and work, for example. But that pales in comparison to the exhaustion and sleep deprivation of parenthood. It is a constant, continuous lack of uninterrupted sleep. It is a tentative, waiting-to-wake kind of sleep, when you finally manage to get some. My son is almost 4 months old, and there are times when I wake up to his cries for the second time that night, and panic at first, because I can’t remember if I put him back in his crib after nursing. (Yes, I always have). Needless to say, experiencing new parent exhaustion makes you understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique.
Sleep is crucial for health – it’s when the body repairs itself. Effects of sleep deprivation can include irritability, mood swings, impaired concentration, impaired decision-making, and lowered immunity. It can also impact postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Before you decide to set up a caffeine IV, here are some ways to cope with sleep deprivation.
Ask For Help
This one might seem obvious, but it can be really difficult. I get it – especially if you’re used to being self-sufficient, this one can be really tricky. But most people know how demanding life is with a new baby, and are happy to help out (and cuddle the baby!). When friends or family come over, ask if they’d mind watching the baby for an hour or two, while you catch up on sleep. If you nurse, perhaps pump some milk so your partner can take a night feeding or two. Some couples switch off nights with the baby, even sleeping in a different room, to make sure each person gets some uninterrupted sleep. If finances allow, you might want to consider looking into a postpartum doula.
When we’re continually sleep deprived, it can alter our metabolism, and we often reach for comfort foods high in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates. If we’re tired, we may drink sodas or sugary drinks for that rush – and then come crashing down. While now is not the time to diet, especially if you’re breastfeeding, you’ll feel a lot better and have more energy if you eat nutrient-dense foods that have enough protein in them. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, lots of water, and lean protein like chicken can all help you feel less sluggish. It’s important to drink lots of fluids, since dehydration can add to your exhaustion.
Use Naptimes Carefully
By now, I’m sure someone has told you to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” This is all well and good, but what if you’re not tired? Why not, instead, when the baby goes to sleep, check in with yourself about what you could really use right now to feel recharged. It could be a phone call with a friend, a shower, a hot meal, relaxing on the couch with a book, or catching up on Facebook. It could be starting a load of laundry so you don’t have to worry about it later – the point is, do something while the baby sleeps to make your life a little easier or more restful. If you’re tired, sleep – but if not, that’s okay, too.
Caffeine (In Moderation)
The good news is, just like you didn’t have to completely give up caffeine during pregnancy, you don’t have to completely abstain during nursing, either. If you nurse, it’s okay to have a cup or two of coffee per day. The amount of caffeine in breast milk peaks about 1-2 hours after ingesting it, and only about 1% of it ends up in breast milk. Chronic caffeine use might lower iron levels in breastmilk, so don’t overdo it. The younger your baby is, the more sensitive he is to caffeine as well, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of this. Drinking more than 750 mg of caffeine a day can cause fussiness, so if you notice your breastfed baby sleeping less or unusually fussy, you might want to try reducing caffeine. For reference, a tall cup of Pike Place roast from Starbucks contains 260mg of caffeine.
It’s probably the last thing you want to do when you’re exhausted, but it’s important to stay physically active, if your midwife says it’s okay. No one’s talking about running, or going on a 10 mile hike; just a walk around the neighborhood, pushing the baby in a stroller or wearing him, can do wonders. The combination of fresh air, a change of scenery, and physical movement can refresh you and give you a second (or third, or fourth) wind when you need it.