“I personally think that the biggest obstacle to sleep is becoming a parent,” Huffington said at a recent Well+Good TALK virtual event focused on sleep. “That’s the cycle of life where sleep deprivation is kind of embedded. You’re at the mercy of the child.” This lack of sleep is a major wellness issue because without enough sleep, our brains become starved for the resources to make proper decisions. Our ability to focus, capacity to remember important details, and overall reaction times tend to suffer as well. And as Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, points out, all of those are skills that new parents—especially post-delivery mothers—require. Not just for the baby, but for their own mental well-being, too.
“During the first three months postpartum, women’s bodies are undergoing tremendous change,” says Ertel. “The body itself has been through significant physical trauma, and hormones are fluctuating to pre-pregnancy levels. The body requires sleep for this transformation to take place—to heal, and to provide the physical resources to be a caretaker. Lack of sleep can lead to increased risk for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, and extreme lack of sleep can lead to symptoms associated with psychosis.”
So while the struggle to get enough sleep is near universal, it’s especially important for new parents to catch some naps during those early months. To help any new parents you know get some much-needed shut-eye, check out the following ideas. And, if you’re a new parent yourself, consider leaning on your community and asking help in the following ways.
6 strategies to help new parents figure out how to get sleep with a newborn baby
1. Offer to help new parents get some quiet time away
“Offer to take the baby out of the house for a walk in the stroller if the mom is comfortable with that,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT. “Mothers have supersonic hearing and can hear most of the times every little noise their baby makes. It can make it harder for a mom to truly rest.”
2. Take turns sleeping if you’re co-parenting
Huffington noted at the TALK event that while it’s often the case that partnered parents choose to both be awake when the baby is awake, it’s actually helpful to work in shifts. “We tell couples, take turns,” she said. “One is in charge of the baby while the other one sleeps. It doesn’t have to have both at the same time.”
3. Help new parents catch up on sleep during the weekends
Or whenever the new parent is off work. The point is, new parents who have jobs in addition to being a new parent tend to accumulate extra sleep debt, and off-days are a good time to step in and babysit. “Just lying down and resting can be helpful for new mothers,” says Thompson.
4. Give them a massage
Or simply gift them a massage from a third-party venue. “Even being in a space that’s free from distraction can help a mom rest,” Thompson says.
If it’s your partner, though, you could always take turns kneading each other into relaxation. Massage therapy is noted to be adept at reducing stress levels and promoting better sleep, so for those having “Will the baby start wailing again?” anxiety, it might be the perfect treat.
5. Make vouchers to help mothers with their errands
You know how during baby showers, new parents are gifted oodles of toys? That’s swell and all, but Huffington recommended thinking beyond the knickknacks.
“We’ve even created a whole program where instead of having baby showers where people just bring baby clothes and toys, they bring vouchers,” Huffington said during the TALK. “Like, ‘I will do your laundry, so you can take a nap when the baby takes a nap.’ ‘I will do your grocery shopping and take care of all these basic necessities of life.'”
6. Just ask what they need to truly rest
These are all useful strategies, but whether it’s melatonin or white noise, we all have our little quirky solutions when it comes to sleep. “Every parent is different—some want to sleep with the baby, others need space,” says Thompson. “Find out how you can be helpful by asking what is most helpful to the mother.”
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