by Karen D. Crowdis
Becoming a new mom creates many changes in the household. The one change we hear about most often is lack of sleep. You probably didn’t expect to be this tired. Welcome to new parent fatigue.
At first it seems manageable; Then, after a while, you realize that you are exhausted physically and mentally. You don’t even feel rested after you do sleep. “This is motherhood?” you wonder.
Yes, lack of sleep is the most common side effect of having a baby. It is the fodder for many jokes, and people always ask “Are you getting any sleep?” But this is more than being tired. This is fatigue.
Fatigue is an unrelenting condition of sleep deprivation that continues for weeks or months. Fatigue can affect any one, but postpartum conditions in our culture seem to amplify the effects of sleep deprivation. New moms face added challenges: the demands of a new baby, household maintenance, and the 24-hour care of other children in the home.
Up to 75 percent of women report experiencing fatigue, sadness, and overwhelming anxiety after the birth of a baby during the first two to 12 weeks. Fatigue is considered to linger if it continues beyond 12 weeks postpartum. Over time it can have physical and mental health consequences, and may contribute to postpartum depression.
In addition to the round-the-clock needs of a newborn, mothers may also suffer fatigue for other reasons, including anaemia (or low iron), thyroid conditions, and inflammation or infection. It is recommended that a new mom be tested for these conditions if she experiences lingering fatigue.
If no other physical causes of fatigue are present, why do so many women still suffer through the day feeling absolutely exhausted? It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. In many cultures, all members participate in helping new moms. Our culture is not one of them. Only nine percent of children here grow up in the city where their grandparents live. Most North American moms are alone with new babies well before their babies are six weeks old. While friends and neighbours may step in from time to time, most new moms do not get the support they need. Is it any wonder, then, that more women report fatigue as a major issue at postpartum check-ups?
We have become a society of independents. We do everything for ourselves. The problem is that, at some point, we all need help. If needing help is perceived as a weakness, then asking for it becomes very difficult.
How can we balance our social expectations with our physical limitations? Here are some tips that may help reduce fatigue:
1. Sleep when baby sleeps.
Most new moms feel the pull of dirty dishes and laundry piles while baby sleeps. But this is the best time to let go of housework. When baby rests, give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes of uninterrupted rest to help you get through the next few hours.
2. Sleep with your baby, and breastfeed in bed.
Some women who breastfeed in bed with their baby beside them reportedly suffer from less fatigue. Since neither mother nor baby needs to rise for night time feedings, sleep returns faster for both.
3. Get out of the house.
Being in the same surroundings day after day can dull your senses and increase feelings of fatigue. Take walks with baby to get fresh air, connect with nature, and increase your vitamin D intake.
4. Accept help and take breaks.
If someone offers help, accept it graciously. Leave baby with a trusted friend or family member to take a short break and get back in touch with you.
5. Keep fit.
Staying physically active will release stress and build up your energy supplies which will improve the sleep you do get. Ultimately, this will help you feel more rested.
6. Stay connected to your partner.
Carving out a little time together regularly can reinforce the fact that you are not alone, which will help combat fatigue. Giving Dad time to parent on his own will allow you to take much-needed breaks and give him a chance to strengthen his relationship with the baby too.
Laughter is good medicine. It reduces stress and creates happy feelings which can help you get through the day.
Meditation calms the mind, stills the thoughts and creates a time of quiet that will ultimately help you release the day and relax enough to sleep.
No mom is perfect. Give yourself permission to slack off on household chores. It will reduce your stress level and help you get the rest you need. Keep in mind that baby won’t be a baby for long. The early years last for a short period of time, not forever. The mom who takes good care of herself is better equipped to take good care of her family.