Think there are only three trimesters in a pregnancy? Well… maybe not. Many call the first six to eight weeks at home with a newborn the “fourth trimester,” and for good reason. Even though your infant has been born, he’s still pretty closely attached to you physically; in truth, neither of you is quite used to this baby-on-the-outside thing. Complicating the already roiling rollercoaster of emotions in this fourth trimester is the nearly ubiquitous lack of sleep new moms report. Put simply, sleep deprivation can really mess with your head. Here are 5 things no one tells you about sleep in the fourth trimester.
1. …that “nap when the baby naps” is often unhelpful advice. Sleeping when your baby is feels like the right thing to do. But this well-meaning advice misses at least one important point: Your baby may not sleep much as a newborn, especially not in a long-enough stretch for you to actually get anything more satisfying than a disorienting catnap. Better advice: fix yourself a cup of tea and grab a sandwich while the baby naps. Read a few pages of a book. Call someone back. If your baby will sleep in a carrier or stroller, go out and get some fresh air (chances are you need it). And later, when your infant reliably snoozes for 45 minutes or more at a stretch? Nap, definitely.
2. …that your senses will be on high alert even though you feel so tired. You may have heard the expression too wired, too tired. Now that you’re a new mom, you may truly feel it. You’re exhausted in a whole new way, even if you thought you understood what “tired” meant after college all-nighters or a bout of insomnia. You want to sleep but… the baby needs you! Likely because you’re new at this momentous job, you’re on tenterhooks, not sure if you’re doing anything right. Your nerves are on constant high alert. It can be hard to overcome this feeling but trust us – as time goes on and you get better at basic baby care and you both settle into a new routine, it’ll ease up. Then you’ll just be regular-tired, not wired-tired.
3. …that people who care for you want to help you get more sleep. Everyone is going to say that they want to help. Trust them – they do want to see you feeling better and more rested. Here’s what they can do: Let you sleep. Have no compunction about asking your nearest and dearest, when they drop by, to take the baby while you go lie down. If your partner needs a reminder, give him one: He can either trade night feedings with you if you’re using bottles, or he can do the diaper-changing and post-nursing rocking while you go back to your pillow.
4. …that naps work. With the caveat that you may not want or be able, right away, to take a proper nap (see point 1), once you can nap, it really does do a body good. Science has gone back and forth over the years about whether you can “catch up” on lost sleep, but the latest consensus seems to be that yes, in the short term, you can claim back some lost sleep time by napping, and that a well-timed nap can be physically and mentally restorative. About 20 minutes is the sweet spot. Shorter and your brain doesn’t have adequate time to cycle through a stage of replenishing REM sleep. Longer and it becomes increasingly difficult to emerge from a nap without feeling disoriented and groggy. But who are we kidding? You have an infant; you’re not having a long nap!
5. …that knowing your baby is safe and comfy offers you rest and peace of mind. Remember the point above about being too keyed up to fall asleep? One thing that may be making you jumpy is that you are, biologically, tuned to your baby’s needs. New infants make a surprising amount of noise when they’re actually sleeping. One great piece of advice is to train yourself to only respond to crying, not the kind of snorting and fussing many newborns exhibit. And yet, we know what you’re thinking: How can you be sure your baby’s okay without getting up and checking? You worry about so many things, chiefly the terrible fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). To reduce the risk for SIDS, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all infants sleep on their backs, in their own space, with a tight-fitting crib or bassinette sheet and no other objects in there with him, including crib bumpers, blankets, toys, or pillows. The room should be cool, with circulating air -- and no one should be permitted to smoke anywhere in the house. Another way to increase your baby’s safety – and your chances of sleeping soundly – is with a breathable crib mattress, like that by Newton Baby. The mattress’ innovative Breathe-Thru technology means air can circulate through the mattress, reducing the risk for SIDS.