This work of ushering new, little people into the human race is hard, stinky, messy work a lot of the time. And all of it is made so much harder by the fact that these new, little people have no clue how to sleep during the hours that old, big people are used to keeping.
It’s kind of a cruel joke, really. You’re thrown into the hardest job you’ll ever have, with on-the-job training only, no paid salary, work hours that are 24/7 (for at least the next 18 years), and for the initial probationary period, you’ll have to perform all of the tasks of new parenting on very little sleep. I think this might actually be the entry in the dictionary next to the phrase: recipe for disaster.
But in this post, I’m not going to stress the need for more sleep. I’ve already talked about that here. I’d rather stress the need for you to just try and rest. Why? Because I’m a white-noise addicted, non-napping, light sleeper – so hearing the phrase, “sleep when your baby sleeps” caused me a ton of anxiety during the postpartum period. I knew that I was supposed to make sleep a priority, I just didn’t know how that would work for someone like me. Maybe you and I are the same, and all of this talk about sleep-deprivation is starting to scare you. My hope is that by taking this discussion down a notch and encouraging you only to consider resting, not sleeping, that your anxiety will lessen a bit.
So what does rest look like?
Sitting down several times a day to practice deep, slow breathing in and out through your nose to a slow count of “In 1,2,3,4 and Out 1,2,3,4.” Rest could be feet propped up, a magazine in your lap with a glass of water and some yummy food nearby. Rest means enjoying the drowsy feeling you get during a breastfeeding session with your baby right after the milk has letdown and your brain and body get flooded with oxytocin. Rest is handing your baby off to someone you trust so you can take a shower that’s a little bit longer than usual. Rest can happen with the baby snuggled into her bassinet, or in a carrier snuggled against your chest.
I’m not a scholar of physics by any stretch, but I think Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion has application here. It states: “a body at rest will stay at rest until an external force acts upon it and a body in motion will remain in motion at a constant velocity until acted on by an external force.”
What external force can you apply to your body (and mind) when it gets stuck in constant motion? A conscious decision to slow down, take a break and rest. You’ll need to learn how to take rests in short little bursts and enjoy them whenever and wherever you can because the list of external forces that will interrupt your resting body (and mind) is very, very long for new parents.
It might be hard to come up with extra hours of needed sleep following your baby’s birth. To be honest, it might not be until the end of that 4th Trimester before your baby is sleeping for stretches – longer than a handful at a time – during the hours that you also like to sleep. But if you allow yourself to rest for 15 minutes at a time throughout the day, these can really start to add up and help restore you.
Have you given much thought to how you can get more rest in those first few weeks and months? Do you feel less pressure if you think about getting more rest, as opposed to more sleep? What other ideas do you have for getting more rest?