Newborn Sleep and Maternal Mental Health

6 Realistic Expectations About Newborn Sleep

Nothing can truly prepare you when it comes to newborns and their sleep. Sure, you may have pulled a few all-nighters studying for a big exam or hanging out with friends in the past then slept it off the next day and night, waking refreshed. The truth is that newborn sleep can feel like one perpetual all-nighter with seemingly no relief in sight. This sleep deprivation can lead to real maternal mental health challenges. 

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate sleep deprivation but it’s important to understand what is truly “normal” when it comes to newborn sleep. 

  • Newborns aren’t born with established circadian rhythms. Normal sleep can be anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours.
  • Newborns lose weight after birth. Until they gain back their birth weight and weight gain is continual, newborns may need to be woken to eat every 2-3 hours round the clock (or they may regularly wake at this time). After a baby is back up to birth weight and is otherwise healthy, it’s generally ok to let them sleep longer stretches.
  • Day and night confusion is common. This means your baby may like to sleep all day and party all night. The best way to address day and night confusion is to wake baby after 2 hours during the day to feed and offer some awake time. Keep daytime bright and at a normal volume. Keep nighttime dark and quiet – think blackout shades and white noise machines. Adding in a bedtime routine can also help them begin to differentiate between daytime and nighttime. Day and night confusion is typically rectified by the 6-8-week mark.
  • Newborns only have 2 sleep stages – active and quiet. They spend 50% in active and 50% in quiet. During active sleep they may seem awake – fluttering eyes, flailing arms, squawks, grunts, brief cries, etc. Give your baby space before rushing over to get them up… they may be in active sleep! 
  • Newborns can only handle approximately 45-60 minutes of awake time. Get your baby down before they grow overtired if you can. If baby is not falling asleep quickly after 45-60 minutes, try not to stress out. If you’re able to, great! It can help keep them from growing overtired.
  • Newborns can’t be scheduled beyond watching wake windows. This is biological – their sleep does not mature and become more organized until closer to 3.5/4 months (enter 4-month “sleep regression”). Don’t be fooled by people on the internet who claim to “train” newborns! 

The reality is that some days and weeks may be really hard. Your baby may wake frequently throughout the night to eat or snuggle. They may skip naps or take short naps all day. Other weeks may give you a reprieve and you’re able to catch up on some sleep. Both are normal and common. As an adult, these wonky sleep patterns are not normal. Our bodies need continuous, undisrupted sleep to feel well-rested. This lack of sleep can lead to maternal mental health struggles that may be new to you. Our friends over at Thrive After Baby have great tips about handling this temporary period of sleep disruption.

We asked Sasha and Alex, both moms and therapists for new moms,  from Thrive After Baby questions about the relationship between lack of sleep and mental health, how to tell the difference between sleep deprivation and postpartum mental health challenges, and what the heck to do about it. This is what they said:

Great question! So the first thing we remind parents of is that we are all different and babies are all different. We can’t compare ourselves to our friend Jane because no two sets of parents have the exact same circumstances. But if you feel like you’re experiencing more than just exhaustion, and have not been feeling like yourself since having your baby, it’s possible you may be experiencing the baby blues or something more. Keep reading for more information on what to look for…

Baby Blues typically occurs from birth to three days postpartum but will resolve within 2 weeks postpartum. Anything lasting longer should be evaluated by a professional for the possibility of postpartum depression, anxiety, or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Common symptoms of the baby blues are similar to postpartum depression but are typically less severe in their presentation than postpartum depression. Some of the common symptoms include weepiness, stress, feeling more sad or worried than usual, and difficulty concentrating. 

Postpartum depression typically occurs 2-3 weeks postpartum but can start immediately after birth or even during pregnancy. It is even possible for women to experience postpartum depression months after birth. There is no one size fits all. Some common symptoms include: not feeling like yourself, a heaviness in mood or feeling more irritable than usual, crying spells, changes in appetite, changes in sleep not related to your baby waking, feeling foggy or having a hard time focusing, frequent feelings of guilt or worthlessness, or not feeling connected to your baby. 

Postpartum anxiety occurs on a similar timeline to postpartum depression and can include many of the symptoms above. However, some of the defining symptoms that separate the two are that postpartum anxiety includes frequent worries about many things, intrusive thoughts (aka unwanted thoughts that come out of nowhere and are often scary in nature), frequent feelings of overwhelm, and physical signs of anxiety such as buzzing sensations, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. 

Although lack of sleep can sometimes cause symptoms that look like postpartum depression, it’s important to speak to a professional if you are experiencing these symptoms to rule out the possibility of baby blues, postpartum depression, or anxiety, so that you can get support you deserve.  

Diagnosis or not, if you are struggling postpartum or just not feeling like yourself, you deserve support. There are many options out there such as new mom support groups, individual therapy, and couple’s therapy. 

We (Sasha and Alex) offer individual therapy in CA both virtually and in office to those located in CA as well as two great online courses for new parents looking to feel like themselves again or get their relationship back on track after baby.

A really good place to start is our free downloadable, Tame the Transition to Parenthood, which will help you identify where and why you’re struggling so you can develop a plan to get your life back. Take the first step toward becoming the parent, partner, and person you want to be. Click here to download Tame the Transition to Parenthood today, or click here and learn more about how our courses can help you start feeling like yourself again. Enjoy 20% OFF all our course offerings or bundle package for a limited time using code NEWYEAR.

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