When I ask the pregnant people in my classes how much rest they’re getting, they usually fall silent. They know this is something they’re “supposed” to be doing, but unless the fatigue of being pregnant literally overtakes them, they rarely rest or nap as a part of their day-to-day lives.
Ask a new parent how much rest they’re getting and they might start laughing – a high-pitched, almost maniacal cackle – as though rest was something they faintly remember happening before the baby arrived to take it all away.
But rest, in my opinion, is one of the most important things you could be focused on for the health of your new family.
Almost everyone ignores the physical toll pregnancy puts on a person’s body, including pregnant people. The work of creating a whole new human being is not exactly a piece of cake! But we insist upon ignoring this when we’re pregnant. Acknowledging how exhausted we are while pregnant is akin to admitting weakness or being seen as whiny or anything less than thrilled with our life circumstances.
The “Pregnant SuperParent” myth needs to be busted. People deserve and need to seek out opportunities for rest while they’re pregnant. A few stolen moments of breathing fully while resting can have profound impact on energy levels, and create a sense of peace and calm – 100% necessary preparation for giving birth and becoming a parent.
Everyone knows that lack of sleep is part of the early postpartum period. What you might not know is that the sleep deprivation you’ll experience in those first few weeks is at hostage interrogation levels. It’s truly unbelievable! Babies have tiny tummies! They need to eat – OFTEN. Usually every 2-3 hours around the clock until they get a little bit bigger and their stomachs can hold more, and they have figured out a circadian rhythm that more closely matches yours (they’re SO confused about day and night! And, at least initially, they have it completely backwards!)
So it’s important for you to start creating a strategy to get more sleep and rest with a new little baby in your life – now. The reality is that everything – EVERYTHING – will be so much harder than it has to be as a new parent, if you’re not getting enough rest during the day or enough sleep at night.
Because sleep is such a huge postpartum issue for all new parents, here are some tried and true strategies to maximize the number of “zzzzzz’s” you’re getting after the baby arrives:
- Owl vs Lark
Have an honest discussion with your partner about which bird you best resemble: Are you a “Night Owl” full of energy, finding it hard to hit the hay before 11 pm? Or are you an “Early Bird” up at the crack of dawn, no need for an alarm clock or an entire pot of coffee to get going for the day?
If you’re lucky, maybe this is a situation where each of you naturally prefers one over the other. Go with your strengths, people! Work in shifts in those early days and weeks so that each of you gets an extra little bit of sleep while your partner takes on a few solo hours at the end or at the very beginning of the day, allowing you to go to bed earlier or sleep in a little bit later.
- Don’t get out of bed until you’ve gotten ALL your hours in!
An honest conversation about the # of hours you can get by on vs the # of hours you need to feel like a human being needs to happen. The first number is not doable for more than a couple of days in a row. After that you won’t even be able to fake holding it together. But that second number, your ideal number of sleeping hours, will not even be remotely possible for the first eight weeks or longer!
So, figure out how many hours of sleep you need to be fully functioning – and don’t get out of bed until you’ve gotten those hours in! If you need eight hours of sleep, then the first week postpartum you might not get out of bed to “greet the day” until close to two in the afternoon. Don’t despair! The following week, you’ll probably only sleep in until noon. The next week, maybe you’re up by 10 am! By four weeks out, you’re likely to be getting enough hours in that you can actually make it out for breakfast somewhere before they’ve switched to the lunch menu.
- Two words: “Yoga Nidra”
Don’t let the word “Yoga” spook you – there’s no pigeon or downward dog positions happening here, just conscious napping. You create a comfortable, quiet space where you can lie down, plug in your headphones and listen to someone talk you through a 20-30 minute meditation. It’s glorious!
There are lots of practitioners who believe in the power of Yoga Nidra, but I’m not sure anyone aligns this practice with pregnancy, birth and new parenthood more than Karen Brody and her program, Daring To Rest. At one point, Karen was a birth advocate and playwright who created the BOLD method for birth. Now, Karen talks about being the world’s biggest cheerleader for Yoga Nidra, waving her pom-poms high in the air!
Helping women, in particular, find rest in order to truly wake up is her passion. And she has a freebie Yoga Nidra nap offer here (I am not an affiliate and receive nothing in return for sharing this link) Just add your name and email and you can give it a try. You might find that, like me, you’ll feel rested and energetic following a Yoga Nidra nap – just what you need as a new parent!
- “Sleep when the baby sleeps!”
This one always makes it on the list. But this particular strategy ONLY works if: 1) You’re a napper and 2) You actually sleep when the baby sleeps (no dishes, laundry or vacuuming allowed!)
I’ve never been a napper – even as a child (just ask my poor Mom!) For me, a nap has to be at least six hours long! If it’s anything less than that, I feel like I’ve drunk a pitcher of margaritas by myself and I’m hungover for the next two days. It SUCKS. If you’re like me, than don’t force yourself to sleep when the baby is taking a nap – but you have to sit down and rest!
Stagger your visitors and make sure that they all know what their jobs are (not holding the baby!) That way you can feel like resting while your baby is napping is okay because the house is relatively clean. Rest will allow you to meet your baby’s needs better throughout the day.
I have a theory that non-nappers can smell the pheromones of nappers and choose a partner that will compliment their own non-napping behavior so they can work together as a team when they’re new parents. My students who can’t nap, almost always pair up with someone who can sleep anywhere, anytime. Because two non-napping parents? That’s a recipe for disaster, my friends!
In our house, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” was never an option. We had to do things a little differently.
- Create the “Sleep Strategy” that works for you!
Soon after our first baby was born, we quickly learned that we were both “Night Owls” and that I had not developed the new skill of being able to nap after giving birth. We needed to figure out the best way for me to get a big chunk of hours strung together, or I was seriously going to lose it!
We came up with this plan: I would nurse the baby and go to bed at around 9 pm and then my husband would stay up to give the baby a pumped bottle at 11:30 or so while watching some late-night comedy. I wouldn’t have to nurse the baby again until around 2 am. That gave me a nice long stretch of uninterrupted sleep (FIVE HOURS!) That middle of the night feeding was always my favorite… the rest of the world was asleep, it was quiet and peaceful and I felt rested. I actually enjoyed that feeding more than at any other time of the day or night.
Thankfully, I’m also paired with a partner who can literally sleep through a hurricane (He’s Puerto Rican and has actually done this before!) My husband would let me stay in bed in the morning to catch up on some shut-eye and then after I woke up, he could have a nap at any point during the rest of the day (we still do this on weekends even though our “baby” is eleven years old!)
Strategize how you’ll find times and opportunities for rest. Talk about it now and put in place all the necessary support to make it a reality. It needs to be your #1 postpartum priority for the long-term health for you and your family!
How much rest are you getting in your day-to-day life? How often do you allow yourself the time and space to even breathe? What are your best tips for getting more rest?