The long-awaited stork hatchling is in a new momma's arms and she couldn’t be more elated. The fresh baby smell, the teeny tiny noises, all the things on a mini scale. Oh and ah, right? Then, a few days after going home and she's ready to throw up a white flag.
Wait a minute, when the heck are mothers supposed to actually sleep? Like, we knew that babies don’t sleep well, but we didn’t know how it would actually feel to not sleep more than 4 hours in a span of four days. Sleep deprivation is pretty harsh. As if having our entire world shaken up by a tiny human wasn’t enough, we aren’t even allowed to sleep to revive ourselves.
Studies show some really delightful effects of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep has been linked to memory loss, obesity, an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, a weakened immune system, and pain. Yes, pain. As though we haven’t already paid our dues on that one.
Take heart though, because even though we can’t quite wrap our head around it yet, it won’t be like this forever. Typically babies start sleeping “through the night” around three months. And by through the night, that typically means 5 hour stretches, which might as well be a year for someone who is sleep-deprived.
But on top of sleepless night upon sleepless night, there are a few other fun things to look forward to that make sleep deprivation seem like a cakewalk. Here’s a list of stuff that proves “it could be worse.”
15 Not Being Able To Sleep When It's Possible
What’s worse than not getting any sleep with a newborn? Well, not being able to fall asleep when you can, when the baby’s finally sleeping or someone else is taking the kid for the night. You daydream all day about the moment when you can finally put your head on the pillow and cross your fingers that you'll get an hour or two of sleep, and then...you just can’t sleep.
Everyone and their postman will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps, but while the baby is sleeping, maybe you just can’t! You lay awake for no reason at all, out of guilt, out of fear, out of adrenaline, out of who the heck knows? Or maybe your list of to-do list weighs heavier on your mind than your lack of sleep. But for some reason, you just can’t fall asleep.
14 Having Night Sweats
So, you’re finally asleep and you wake up in a pool of water, completely drenched. It’s a strange feeling and at first you wonder what happened. Did your hubby pour water on you while you were sleeping? Did the dog drool all over you? Nope. You were sweating profusely. Sexy.
For the first month or two postpartum, night sweats are pretty common. It’s your body’s way of leveling off all the fluctuating hormones and ridding itself of the extra water weight. As normal as it is, waking up drenched in yet another bodily fluid is a disgusting feeling. You end up having to change the sheets and your pajamas, sometimes multiple times a night.
It just leaves you feeling gross and uncomfortable, and it’s even worse when amplified by summer weather. The heat often disrupts what little sleep you’re even able to get. Major bummer.
13 All The Messy Things That Need To Be Cleaned
Poop, milk, sweat, blood, spit-up, pee, snot and ...wtf is that? You’re going to find crusty spots on your clothes you’re unsure how they originated and you’re going to stick your hand in unidentified liquids. And make sure to never lift a baby over your head after her belly has been filled. That will never end well.
Whether it’s coming from you or your baby (or that darn dog), there are a bunch of really sexy possible fluids that could be coming out of who knows where. Oh, and you’re going to get really good at the “smell check” to figure out what bodily fluids are coming from where.
Keeping yourself surrounded with baby wipes and spit-up rags to be safe is another really good look you’ll have to figure out how to rock, because it will likely be part of the dress code for a few months.
12 Anxiety Over Everything, EVERYTHING!
Now that you’re a parent, you can’t just relax. Suddenly the tiniest of things become deadly weapons in your mind and you suddenly start remembering the scientific name of every germ you’ve ever heard of. If you pass by someone who’s smoking, you’re suddenly worried that the smoke will have mutated something in your baby and surely doomed him to a future of asthma and emphysema.
Most of the time, the anxiety is what keeps you from actually being able to sleep. Your imagination will run wild with possible scenarios and you’ll turn over in bed with each agonizing plot twist. But don’t worry (ha!), this is just your body’s overcompensating fight or flight response, and it will ease up a bit as your baby gets less and less defenseless.
But it’s definitely worse than not sleeping. You’d rather not get sleep if it meant you could get rid of the worry.
11 Thinking About Going Back To Work
Your worry about not getting enough sleep diminishes completely when you think about having to return to work in a few weeks. You wonder how you’ll ever leave your baby, how you’ll ever swing work again, how anyone will ever be able to take care of your baby for a day besides you. And oh that lack of sleep, how will you ever accomplish anything at work even if you wanted to?
When I was on maternity leave, whenever anyone even mentioned work, I would instantaneously combust into a waterfall of tears. For some reason, the thought of returning to work just didn’t make any sense at this tender age. It doesn’t help that the US has the worst maternity leave policies of all industrialized countries. A lack of sleep is nothing compared to the prospect of leaving your baby for full shifts ever again.
10 Other People’s Opinions
People might keep their mouths shut about your career or vehicle choice, but when it comes to babies, everyone has an opinion. About breastfeeding, about pacifiers, about sleep training, about everything and things you had never even thought about.
Usually people are coming from a place of helpfulness, but to you, it kinda makes you feel inept or like you’re being questioned about your family’s choices.
What you really just want is someone to come over and rub your back, give you a nap, make you a luscious dinner with leftovers for the freezer, and tell you you’re just the perfect mom. Not that your kid’s life is going to be destroyed by a pacifier and sign language.
The burdens of other people’s opinions can weigh heavy and often carry even more weight on your conscience than your sleep deprivation.
9 A Colicky Baby
When you have a colicky baby, even if you could sleep, your baby would be screaming in your dreams. He screams in your imagination. He screams in your thoughts when you're out to dinner with your husband on date night, just like you know he's screaming for your saint of a babysitter.
Not only is the noise from constant screaming unnerving, but the helplessness of a distressed baby is often unbearable to a new mom. All you want in the world is to be able to comfort the baby or do something (anything!) to relieve whatever seems to be bothering him, but you can’t. Even though you know colic can't be cured, it won’t stop you from trying everything.
Even if it means Googling while you should be sleeping. The excessive crying would weigh on anyone. And your sheer terror over setting the baby down when he finally falls asleep outweighs any sleep deprivation you might be feeling.
8 Baby Blues
I would not wish postpartum depression on my worst enemy. Through my own experience with the baby blues and depression, I can tell you with absolute conviction that I would take a million nights of lost sleep over postpartum depression. But of course there’s a catch-22 attached to that. Without sleep, my depression and anxiety always got worse. And the worse they got, the harder time I had sleeping. So, the baby blues and lack of sleep go hand-in-hand.
The spectrum from baby blues to postpartum depression can range from crying a lot to not enjoying your normal pleasures to lasting feelings of dread. And if you experience them, you know that sleep is nothing compared to the angst and hopelessness and tears that hormone-fueled chemical mix-ups produce. With therapy, support and sometimes medication, full recovery is absolutely possible.
7 Mastitis, Need We Say More?
Let me ask, would you rather miss sleep or have intense, constant pain that feels like needles stabbing you in the boob? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Mastitis is one of those things that you’d gladly hand over sleep to get rid of.
With pain and swelling in the breast along with achiness and fever, it’s like having the flu and painful engorged boobs at the same time. Hard, burning boobies do not a happy momma make. No matter how much sleep she gets.
And just to add insult to injury, the treatment for mastitis, aside from a possible dose of antibiotics and warm compresses, is to get plenty of rest! That’s kind of a sick joke! All those people that offered to help when you had a baby? Now is the time to take them all up on it.
6 Hubby’s Whining And Poking
Seriously, if he complains one more time about how the baby woke him up last night, you swear you’ll wake him up every hour on the hour for the next three months! What does he have to whine about in comparison to your ripped-apart leaking body, raging hormones and piling up responsibilities?
His intimate drive is in overdrive because poor him, he’s been deprived for a few days. And then, he has the audacity to ask if you really think you need to wait 6 weeks before sex again as he pokes you in the back because he’s dying inside. Oh. my. good. sword.
Your lack of sleep only makes you angrier when you look over and see how soundly he sleeps right through the screaming coming through the baby monitor and the constant nursing sessions. And you might just lose it if he whines about a sore foot one more freaking time.
5 News Stories About Babies And Children
Seriously, those news sites seem to know exactly what sensational headlines you’re going to click on based on what’s going on in your life right now. There’s probably an algorithm for that. And after having a baby, the news stories you come across are usually about something horrific happening to a child.
These stories rip apart your already vulnerable heart and give you new possible scenarios to worry about for your own child. Your hormone-afflicted emotions are extra sensitive to stories like these.
Suddenly, in comparison to these tragedies and atrocities, sleep means nothing to you. Because in the grand scheme, these stories put everything into perspective and you are just eternally grateful for a child with all their fingers and toes, safe in your home, in your arms. You can sleep when you’re dead. Right now, it’s time to just love on and be grateful for your little.
4 Second, Third, A Million Degree Tears
Lack of sleep doesn’t have stitches or cause physical pain. Lack of sleep can be cured with sleep but ripped skin can only be healed with time. You can’t sit comfortably, you can’t use the bathroom without writhing, for cripes sakes, you can’t even cross your legs without feeling things you never felt before. That’s what makes tears and wounds so much worse than sleep deprivation.
It’s terrifying when things are going on with your innards that were already a mystery before they were recklessly torn apart. And the worry about how it will all turn out afterward are quite frightening as well. There’s always the worry that things will be too loose or that incontinence will develop.
Rest assured (pun intended!) though that you’re going to be just fine. The stitches will dissolve, the skin will heal, and with some Kegels, you’ll be back to your old self before you know it.
3 Mommy Brain
Even if you were able to get some sleep, you might not remember where your bed is. Seriously, walking to the wrong side of the house is something that you’ll probably end up doing daily. It’s weird not having complete dominion over your own mind after giving birth.
I remember my obgyn telling me that it takes a full 2 years before your entire body goes back to “normal” after having a baby. And I really did feel, both times I had a baby, that it took that long for the cloudiness in my mind to disappear. Sure, I still forget things, but I’m not quite as vapid as I felt for awhile there, not remembering simple words.
It’s like all the hard work your body does with the baby-forming and milk-making sucks cells right out of your brain and gives them to the baby.
2 All That Soul Sucking Guilt
The guilt starts the moment you become pregnant and never leaves you while you're alive. The effects are much longer-lasting than a few months of sleep deprivation too. You'll start to feel guilt about everything.
Whether spent enough time reading to your baby, whether you played enough classical music, whether they're getting the right vitamins, whether you discipline them the right way, whether you clean your house well enough, whether the TV is too loud, whether the TV should even be on in the first place, whether you show them enough love, whether you're showing your husband enough love anymore, and on and on.
The guilt simply evolves as your children get older, but it never goes away. You’ll have new things to feel guilt about as they get older. Guilt finds ways to sneak into even the most benign situations and creates its own sleepless nights. The best thing you can do is just realize it's always there for everyone else too and use it as a compass to guide your values.
1 That Lost, Out-Of-Control Feeling
Life will never be predictable again, once you have a child of your own. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You never knew what was going to happen before either, but now there's another person you're responsible for and love profusely that will experience things that you have no control over. And that is such a weird, helpless feeling that sleepless nights have nothing on.
It's common during those early months to long to go back to how life used to be. It's also common to feel like you have absolutely no idea what you're doing. That you're just winging it and hoping for the best. Having a baby is such a shock to your entire system of living, it's one of the hardest (and most fulfilling) things to adapt to in life.
And no amount of sleep is ever going to remedy that feeling. You’ll be happy to know that this is how most parents feel though, so we can all connect on these common grounds.