Becoming a mother is loaded with an immense amount of change, both physically and emotionally. While a woman starts a new relationship with her body, she is also creating a connection with a vastly transformed identity and a tiny little human. Life as she knew it is no longer, and there are real feelings that come with all of these changes. Some are bliss and some are mourning. All are valid. Sleep deprivation only exacerbates the feelings about these changes and can make it much harder for women to adjust to this unfamiliar life. What we know from current research is that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders play a role in infant sleep patterns. What this tells us is that infants fare much better when mom takes care of her basic needs. However, with the image the Perfect Mom from the media and the pressure from current parenting ideologies, shame often gets in the way of mothers having their basic needs met.
Sleep is imperative to your overall well-being and your baby’s health, and there are safe, evidenced-based approaches to help you and your baby get more sleep. While it is normal, even necessary for new mothers to lack sleep those first few months, it should not be expected that sleep deprivation or walking around like zombies is your new normal. Linking motherhood to sleep deprivation and saying that this is standard is setting parents up with false information, and it is simply not fair. The truth is, babies need to eat through the night the first 4-12 months of life. And, they need you to respond to develop trust and healthy attachment. However, if your baby has been following his own growth curve, it is likely he’ll be able to drop night feeds in the earlier end of that window. And, babies develop self-soothing skills around 5 months. While developmental changes, illnesses, and teething will play a role in sleep for infants and toddlers, we can help their norm and your norm be a good night of sleep! Once your baby does start sleeping through the night, it is possible that you will have a few nights of insomnia as your body and mind adjust to this new routine. It is even common to mourn the stages when your baby needed you right there. Keep in mind that your baby appreciates the level of trust you are showing him.
Here’s a little science behind sleep. We all wake up between sleep cycles. However, as adults we know just how to get into that comfortable spot to get ourselves back to sleep. All babies wake up between sleep cycles too. Some call out for help while others have learned their comfortable position and can fall back to sleep easily. This is what we want for kids. We want them to have a feeling of safety through the night, because they have a sense of self-mastery. We celebrate this in most other areas of a child’s life. But, opinion-based literature about sleep has left mothers feeling guilty and honestly terrified to guide their children around sleep. This leaves mothers sleep deprived and lacking one of their basic human needs.
There are many reasons why moms are not getting enough sleep. There is anxiety about getting back into skinny jeans and 5:00am gym calls, the stress of doing everything perfect as a mother, and the pressure from other’s opinions. Shame is one of the main reasons new mothers do not take care of themselves. We now know that shame from current parent ideologies leave mothers second-guessing their own ability to care for their child and leave very little room to care for themselves, especially when it comes to the delicate matter of sleep.
When we can let go of shame from other’s opinions and cultural expectations, mothers can develop their own maternal identity, take better care of themselves, and thus better attune to their children’s needs. With a sense of self around motherhood, one can trust her own observations of her children and stand in her power as their mother all while knowing that if she seeks help in some areas, it does not mean she has failed. This is what we want! Empowered mothers.