Sleep and rest are key parts to postpartum healing, recovery, and parenthood. Kimberly Ann Johnson’s book The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality offers five essentials to healing: rest, nourishing food, loving touch, companionship + community, and nature. (Read more here.)
In this article, we offer some ideas for prioritizing sleep during the postpartum period.*
* The immediate postpartum period is often referred to as “the fourth trimester” and is about three months long. However, the first year post-birth is full of transformation and adjustment, and the birthing person continues to need support and care. Furthermore, we know and believe that the postpartum period can extend long-term, so as long as this term resonates with you and suits your experience, use it.
Why You Need So Much Rest
Life with baby means interrupted sleep. This is the practical and obvious part. Additionally, birth is a depleting experience.
Quite literally, you lose blood and fluid– and an entire organ your body grew! You essentially run a marathon and/or endure major surgery in the process of giving birth. Emotionally and spiritually you are adjusting to loving and caring for another human, which is also an adjustment, despite how beautiful and special it can be. This is a lot!
In order to recover, you need lots of sleep and rest.
7 Tips for Prioritizing Sleep During the Postpartum Period
- Follow the saying: “Sleep when baby sleeps.” Really. Total sleep time is more impactful than sleep quality or length of each nap or sleep.
- Stay in bed! Another saying in the birth world is “5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed, and 5 days near the bed.” The idea here is rest, rest, rest. Stay close to your place of rest, limit movement, and make it easy for you to drift off when baby is sleeping.
- Schedule help. This could be a care calendar with friends and family or hired help like a postpartum doula, housekeeper, etc.. Daytime help could look like a friend doing dishes and preparing you a snack while you nap. Nighttime help could look like a doula doing diaper changes and bringing baby to you for feeds– maximizing your sleep time. We recommend leaving a white board with ongoing needs on your fridge so visitors can step in and help with tasks that might otherwise interrupt your sleep (ex: laundry, dishes, walk dog, tidy living room, and so on.)
- Stay in “rest mode” even if you can’t sleep. When you’re unable to fall asleep, you might get the urge to get up and do “one little thing.” Don’t! Resting with your eyes closed is valuable too. Other ideas for rest include a shower or bath, listening to a meditation or affirmations, and reading.
- If you are partnered, create a nighttime schedule. This might mean that one parent is on baby duty all night every other night. This also might mean that one does feeding, and the other does burping and diapering each night. Do your best to ensure that everyone is getting as much sleep as possible. In other words, avoid getting up with your partner just because you feel guilty.
- Follow nighttime/sleep routines. Try to have a simple 2-3 step routine for bed that you do each evening, around the same time, to prepare for bed. This helps signal to your nervous system that it is time to settle in and rest. Once baby is about six-eight weeks out, you might also begin to do simply nightly routines with them. (Ex: turn on white noise or spa like music, darken the house, read a short book, do a warm bath or infant massage, cluster feed in the evening.) After the baby is 2 weeks old and breastfeeding is well established, you can feed the baby an extra ounce of pumped breastmilk by bottle before bed to help the baby sleep a little longer.
- Know the signs of postpartum mood disorders (PPMD). Check out our blog about depression here. We encourage all birthing people and their families to know the signs and symptoms of PPMD in the case that things start popping up. Risk of PPMD increases with sleep deprivation (less than 6 hours in a 24 hour period); again, if you are seeing signs of PPMD, you may need even more sleep than you are currently getting. Please get in touch with your care provider and/or mental health professional ASAP. If you or a loved one is facing a mental health emergency, please use this text line or hotline for support. If you are not currently on SSRI depression medication, talk to your midwife about taking 200 mg of 5-HTP before bed. This will help with sleep and with your moods, depression and anxiety.
Sweet Child O’ Mine Is Here For You
Your team of midwives is here to support you in getting as much sleep and rest as possible during the postpartum period. We are here for you!
If you are currently building your birth team, we would be honored to be a part of your team; reach out and let us know how we can support you!
*Please note that this blog is not a substitute for medical advice; Sweet Child O’ Mine is sharing general information about sleep and postpartum. As always, please consult with your medical provider with any questions you may have regarding this information and/or your medical condition.