By Sasha, midwife and breastfeeding advisor & Louise – Cand.mag., Post Partum Doula, sling advisor.
December 2021

Sleep like a new mother

Sleep is a basic human need. It is an important factor in our health, just as it also plays a big role in the milk production of the nursing mother and in the general well-being of the new mother. But if you are a mother, you probably know about interrupted night sleep, long, sleepless nights and the fear of what the night will bring. Because they can be exhausting, the nights, with a small child. And sleep, both your own and your baby's, can easily fill everything. Interrupted and sparse sleep is a condition for many new parents in the first months, or perhaps years, of the child's life. Because it is completely normal for babies, and even toddlers, not to sleep through the night.

The influence of sleep on the brain

You may find yourself feeling forgetful. Maybe you have big mood swings. Or maybe you have difficulty sensing your own basic needs, such as when you are hungry or when you need to use the toilet. Being in a sleep deficit takes a toll both physically and mentally. You are probably familiar with the term nursing brain, which is often used in a slightly condescending tone about a mother who has difficulty remembering, concentrating and focusing. And maybe you feel like you have to apologize for your forgetfulness. But breastfeeding brain has nothing to do with breastfeeding in reality, but can be attributed to a much greater extent to the fact that as a mother you often wake up many times during the night - regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or not. The continuous lack of sleep you experience can be directly linked to forgetfulness.

It is important that you take your own need for sleep and rest seriously. It is not only your child's need for sleep that is important. Your need for sleep and rest is also very important. Because you are connected, you and your child. And if your body is calm, your child will be able to feel it and find it easier to find calm and fall asleep. But it's not easy when you have a small child and you will inevitably find that you don't get the sleep you need. It can develop into a vicious spiral where you become more and more stressed that you are not getting enough sleep and rest.

A natural alarm system

It is completely natural if you have difficulty sleeping when your child is sleeping. Perhaps your nervous system finds it difficult to find peace and you feel that you have to be on guard all the time. Because your body is smart. You have a child to take care of. Therefore, you will naturally have an alarm system that is ready and you will naturally wake up at the slightest sound that your baby makes. It is therefore completely normal that you as a mother not only wake up when your child wakes up, but that you wake up many times during the night to check on your child. It can be really hard, but is also a completely natural part of being a mother. Your body is evolutionarily coded to take care of your child and ensure your child's survival. By waking up and checking on your child during the night, you make sure that everything is as it should be. In the same way that it is completely natural behavior for babies to wake up many times during the night, not only to get food, but also to seek security and presence.

As mothers, we are very concerned that our child gets the sleep that the child needs. But we very often forget to remember our own needs – including the very fundamental need for sleep and rest. In a society and culture where we live separately and want to manage everything ourselves, it can be difficult to get the much-needed sleep and rest during the day when you are the mother of a small child. Many of us don't have a large family close by that we draw on and who help with all the practical chores, so that we ourselves can get some sleep when possible. And for many mothers, it is difficult to find peace of mind to sleep if the laundry piles up.

Get down to gear...

But maybe you can try to find some times during the day when it will be possible for you to rest. Maybe you won't fall asleep, but that's not necessarily the purpose either. The fact that the body is allowed to rest can be what means that you can face the rest of the day with a little more energy and a nervous system that is more calm. And the more calm there is on your nervous system, the more calm there will often be on your child's nervous system as well. You shouldn't stress about whether you manage to sleep for the 30 or 60 minutes your baby sleeps, but instead try to find peace and settle into your body. It could be, for example, that you listen to a guided meditation.

You can lie down with a sleeping bag over your eyes, which can help create a feeling of heaviness in the body. You can also make sure to get outside and get daylight every day and ensure that the room is dark when you go to sleep. Both parts help to regulate the sleep hormone melatonin for both you and your baby.

Use of sleep aids

As a mother of a small baby, it is important to find what provides the best possible framework for sleep for the whole family. The easier you can get your baby to calm down and fall asleep, the better chance you will have of getting the sleep and rest you need. So if your baby goes to sleep best by being rocked, breastfed, carried, co-sleeping or sleeping in a sling - if it works for you and your baby and gives you both more peace of mind, then that's what you should do.

And if it is possible for you, try to arrange yourself in a way where you get help with many of the practical tasks in everyday life - if nothing else, when your baby is very small. The less you have to stress about whether the house is clean, whether things have been cleaned up, whether the shopping has been done and whether food has been prepared, the better you can prioritize peace and rest for yourself. Team up with your loved ones, get cleaning help, get food delivered to your door. Anything that can create some breathing holes for yourself.

The most important thing is that you allow yourself to feel and experiment with what works well for you as a family, so that all parties can get as much sleep and rest as possible.