When a newborn comes home, everyone is prepared for less sleep. But what happens when you finally get a chance to rest but can’t? Postpartum insomnia might be the culprit, and here are tips to overcome it.
Having a baby is one of the most exciting life transitions you can experience. It’s also stressful — it’s natural to feel off-balance and out-of-sorts the first few weeks as you adjust to your new reality, so be gentle with yourself.
However, specific symptoms you may experience in the first weeks after birth can cause more disruptions than others. One of the most pressing is feeling utterly exhausted — but finding sleep elusive.
Postpartum insomnia is a struggle for many new mothers. Learn about some holistic treatments you can employ to help you get your rest while keeping your new baby safe.
What causes postpartum insomnia?
Many interrelated factors cause postpartum insomnia. Some are biological in origin, while others result from the realities of caring for an infant.
Take heart if you toss and turn after giving birth. Most women do — researchers suspect that the effect may occur from the factors unique to the postpartum period, such as fluctuating hormone levels and wildly disrupted schedules that affect your circadian rhythms.
However, you should still take swift action to avoid creating an ongoing problem, as sleep deprivation is a precursor to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Chronic insomnia often spurs anxiety and depression
This period is one of crazy transitions. Your estrogen and progesterone levels drop while oxytocin and prolactin surge. When one hormone shifts, it impacts multiple others, including melatonin, a vital sleep hormone.
Women who previously treated occasional insomnia through holistic means may find their usual coping mechanisms hard to implement during those first few postpartum weeks.
For example, moderate exercise like swimming reduces stress and muscle tension and promotes healthy sleep. But how are busy new moms supposed to get to the pool daily?
Finally, your typical sleep patterns undergo a serious change immediately after birth, thanks to the reality of caring for your infant. Forget about getting seven to eight straight hours each night.
Newborns must eat every three to four hours, so prepare for midnight feedings. Of course, they also create waste, necessitating diaper changes.
However, you shouldn’t throw up your hands in despair, telling yourself, “what the heck, I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” Your child won’t be an infant forever, and you’ll want to return to your regular schedule as soon as possible.
Fortunately, you can ease the transition by making the right choices.
Holistic treatments for postpartum insomnia
Holistic remedies are a great starting point for treating postpartum insomnia, and there are quite a few things you can try starting today.
- Eat iron-rich foods
- Take advantage of naps
- Create a bedroom haven
- Get some mild exercise
- Avoid caffeine
Medication is always an option if the holistic remedies don’t work — your doctor will work with you if necessary, and you can learn more about the contraindications of medicine and breast milk.
However, you should try the following techniques to see if they help you find relief.
1. Eat iron-rich foods
Women are already more prone to anemia than men because they bleed every month. Childbirth means further blood loss, and many perinatal infections and conditions like UTIs and thyroid dysfunction can deplete reserves.
Researchers have uncovered a link between iron deficiency anemia and insomnia. Those with low iron reserves are 32% more likely to develop an ongoing problem. Fortunately, you can restock your supply by consuming the right foods, including:
- Red meat
- Sweet potatoes
- Collard Greens
Plant-based sources contain non-heme iron, whereas animal products contain heme. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you run a higher risk of deficiency, as some people don’t absorb non-heme iron efficiently.
2. Take advantage of naps
The need to feed your infant and change their diaper at night is now a fact of life you can’t avoid, regardless of how it disrupts your patterns.
However, you can compensate for a bit of lost shuteye by napping when your baby does. Consider keeping your baby in your room, at least at first, so it’s natural for you to lie down when your baby does.
Moms in relationships can work out a schedule with their partner. Can one of you take full charge of baby duty one night a week to let the other get much-needed rest? You can alternate and return the favor.
3. Create a bedroom haven
If you work from home, you might be tempted to take your laptop into the bedroom while your baby naps. Try to avoid this behavior whenever possible. Screens emit blue light, mimic the sun’s rays, and tricks your circadian rhythms into thinking it’s daytime, suppressing melatonin secretion.
Instead, create a bedroom haven you reserve for sleep, sex, and caring for your new baby. Nap when you can, and use a monitor if you have work to complete elsewhere while your infant sleeps.
4. Get some mild exercise
You probably won’t be training for a marathon with an infant. However, mild to moderate exercise decreases your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone with an inverse relationship to melatonin — when one rises, the other decreases.
You probably have more than your fair share of stress with a new baby, so try to dispel it as nature intended, through “fight or flight.” Look for apps that feature short 10-20 minute workouts you can do during naptime.
5. Avoid caffeine
Reaching for a cup of joe when you’re tired is natural. Caffeine can temporarily make you feel more alert. However, it lingers in your system, making it more difficult to sleep.
If you must sip, stick to a cup or two instead of an entire carafe. As a rule of thumb, it’s not safe to consume more than three cups at a time while breastfeeding anyway.
Meditation can help you sleep. How? It takes your brain out of the active beta state, introducing gentler alpha and theta waves that are more conducive to relaxation.
Meditation can also help you slow down and address any anxiety you’ve been feeling since birth. Sometimes our minds need to slow down to recognize what’s happening inside, perhaps keeping us up at night.
Causes and treatments for postpartum insomnia
Postpartum insomnia is an annoying yet widespread phenomenon. You’re exhausted from caring for your new baby — why is sleep so hard to find?
Knowing the causes of postpartum insomnia can help you understand the roots of your discomfort. Fortunately, the best treatments for postpartum insomnia are easy remedies you can do at home. Try the activities listed above and get relief.
Other articles on sleep you might find helpful
Beth, the Managing Editor and content manager at Body+Mind, is well-respected in the nutrition, parenting, mental health and fitness spaces. In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking and trying out new exercise routines. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth Rush!