Most parents would describe the first days at home with their baby as some of the happiest of their lives. Welcoming a new baby into your home will be the most exciting and significant change you may ever experience. Of course, as a new parent you know you won’t be sleeping through the night, but is there a point at which you should be concerned with your lack of sleep?
New mother worries, hormone fluctuations and body discomfort can make it almost impossible to sleep soundly; not to mention your hungry baby waking every few hours for a snack. This type of sleep interruption is normal, however if you are finding it hard to sleep even when your baby is, you may have a more serious problem. It’s called postnatal insomnia and it’s pretty common among mothers, yet often goes undiagnosed.
What Is Postnatal Insomnia? Postnatal Insomnia is when an exhausted mother is unable to sleep at night even while her baby is sleeping soundly. Many women accept their insomnia as normal and don’t talk to each other or their doctors about it. This is problematic as prolonged lack of sleep can lead to postpartum depression.
Anxiety is a common factor among women experiencing postnatal insomnia. They fear that once they fall asleep they won’t be able to hear their baby cry out for them in the night. Some mothers have even reported waking up thinking they hear a cry, only to find their baby sound asleep.
Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for postnatal insomnia since most sleep aids should be avoided while nursing. It’s best to steer clear of medications to aid in your sleep and instead pick up a gentler herbal option.
10 What Are Medicinal Herbs?
Humans have used plants to treat common ailments for centuries and continue to do so today. More specifically herbs (fleshy plants) have been found to have a number of medicinal properties.
Medicinal herbs are often sold as concentrated essential oils, which should never be put directly on your skin or ingested. You should always use essential oils in a diluted form, such as in a diffuser that spreads the smell and effects throughout your room. Less concentrated forms of herbs can be found in herbal teas, which are generally safe to consume while breastfeeding.
Although herbs are natural, it is unwise to assume that they are always safe to consume. Many medicinal herbs should be avoided while pregnant and nursing. Make sure that you do your research and consult a professional prior to using any of these herbs at home.
9 Are Herbs Safe When Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
It is best to avoid most medicinal herbs while pregnant as some are emmenagogues. This means they increase blood flow to the uterus, which can stimulate menstruation and cause a miscarriage. For this reason almost all forms of medicinal herbs should be avoided in the first trimester and some for the entire duration of your pregnancy.
Once you have delivered your baby and begin breastfeeding, you will be able to use selected herbs for medicinal purposes in place of synthesized drugs. Always ensure that you consult a professional before trying any medicinal herb, as allergies may cause adverse effects.
Lavender is one of the most well-known herbs for promoting relaxation. It has a soothing and calming effect on nerves, which can help ease your anxiety at bedtime. It is one of the safest of all essential oils typically used in aromatherapy and is even safe to use sparingly after the first trimester of your pregnancy. Make sure you avoid lavender during the first trimester as it is an emmenagogue and may promote menstrual flow and increase your risk of miscarriage. During the later stages of pregnancy, however, lavender can be used to treat insomnia and pregnancy- related aches and pains.
There are a number of ways that you can include lavender oil in your bedtime routine. One way to reap the benefits of lavender oil is to put a few drops into a diffuser and let it spread throughout your room. Simply breathing in the smell can promote relaxation and a good night's sleep. Another option is to add a few drops to a massage lotion and have your partner gently massage your body before bed. Lastly, you can put a few drops of oil on a tissue and place it on or beside your pillow.
Chamomile is part of the daisy family and has been used to treat a number of health problems for centuries. Much like lavender, chamomile has relaxing properties that can help you unwind and get some rest. The high levels of calcium and magnesium in chamomile help with inflammation and sleeplessness.
As the chamomile tea is transferred through your breast milk to your baby it can relax them too. Some studies have even shown that it can help alleviate colic symptoms.
The most common way of ingesting chamomile is in a tea. Since there are only small amounts of the herb present in tea form, it is safe to take in moderation during pregnancy. Simply drink a cup of chamomile tea thirty to forty minutes before bed to treat sleeplessness. Keep in mind that if you have allergies to ragweed, you may also have an adverse reaction to chamomile as the plants are related.
Valerian is another herb known for its sleep-inducing properties and has been used for over two thousand years. Not only does valerian root treat insomnia, but it also helps relieve anxiety and headaches. It is considered stronger than lavender and chamomile and should be avoided during pregnancy.
Valerian is available in a capsule, dried herbal tea or liquid form. First-time users should dilute a teaspoon of liquid valerian in water and drink it thirty to forty minutes prior to bedtime. Be advised that doctors suggest patients discontinue valerian use after two weeks as it may result in sleep dependency.
Skullcap is a herb from the mint family. It was originally introduced into traditional Western medicine in the 1700s. Common ailments that skullcap treat include sleeplessness, anxiety and irritability. It is ideal for mothers as it can be used to treat short or long-term exhaustion. Additionally, it can be used to treat mild forms of postnatal blues that may accompany postnatal insomnia.
The easiest way to use skullcap is to make a tea from the dried herbs. Let it steep for twenty minutes and drink before bedtime for an improved sleep.
Most people associate hops as the plant that gives beer its bitter flavor, but did you know they can also help lull you to sleep at night? Hops were used as an herbal medicine as early as the ninth century in Asia and Europe. It’s useful for treating anxiety, indigestion and sleep disorders. Although hops are effective at promoting sleep on their own, they are most effective when combined with valerian.
In addition to its sedative properties, hops have been shown to help some mothers with breastfeeding. If you have ever had a problem with your milk not letting down despite your baby sucking, hops can help. It has been shown to promote the flow of breast milk, allowing your baby to feed easier.
Since breastfeeding mothers should avoid alcohol, you can take hops as a tea. It’s quite bitter so you may want to add some honey to soften the taste.
Sandalwood is commonly known as an ingredient in perfume. Surprisingly, one of its lesser known properties is its ability to promote relaxation and sleep. It is a natural sedative and antidepressant. Additionally, sandalwood has been found to help treat bladder infections as it can ease cystitis, which can be common postpartum.
Sandalwood is best used with a diffuser as aromatherapy. It should never be taken internally without the supervision of a doctor or specialist as it may have toxic effects.
2 Bedtime Routines To Promote Sleep
Much like your baby benefits from a bedtime routine, you will too. If you are consistently having trouble sleeping it is important to create a relaxing bedtime routine that prepares you for sleep. Here are a few things you can do to signal to your body and brain that it is time to sleep:
- Yoga: Stretching out your muscles can help to relax your body prior to sleep. Just make sure that you choose a slow, gentle form of yoga as intense exercise before bed can inhibit sleep.
- Bath Time: Relaxing in warm bath water can ease any aches and pains you may have and help you to feel tired. To create an even more relaxing bath, add some essential oils, such as lavender to the water.
- Massage: Ask your partner to give you a massage before sleep. Even a simple shoulder rub can help calm the body and ease you into sleep. Add essential oils to your massage lotion or oil to amplify your relaxation.
1 Day Time Activities To Promote Sleep
Being a new mother can feel overwhelming and it’s common for many to not leave the house for days or even weeks after they deliver. Despite how tired and overwhelmed you may feel, it’s important for your body and mind to go outside as much as you can.
Sunshine helps set your internal clock, which in turn will tell your body when it is time to sleep. While you are outside you should also try to exercise, even a light walk around your neighborhood can be beneficial to your health. Exercise has been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, both of which are factors that affect your sleep.
The first few months with your baby will be tiring and you will undoubtedly have sleepless nights. It is unlikely that you will be able to sleep as well as you did prior to having your baby, but it is important that you make sleeping a priority. Your body needs sleep to function properly and your baby needs you at your best. As always it is best to check with your doctor or a licensed herbalist to ensure the safety of you and your baby prior to taking any of the herbs mentioned in this article.