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Rest Strategies for New Parents

Becoming a new parent is a time of profound joy and massive adjustment. While we all hear that we will be sleep deprived as new parents, the reality of the experience can be crushing to new parents. Amidst the whirlwind of feeding, changing diapers, and soaking in every tiny milestone, the one thing that undoubtedly stands out is the stark and often bone-wearying lack of sleep. This is usually our first real experience with sleep deprivation, an experience that is not only incredibly difficult in the moment, but in aggregate deeply impacts our physical and mental well being.

Adjusting to life with a newborn who sleeps frequently, but for short stretches can be so tricky for adults who are used to sleeping much less, but for long stretches. What we can do postpartum as new parents is work on our rest hygiene to help our bodies and minds find pockets of rest, despite the lack of deep sleep. By employing a strategice blend of soothing tactics, napping, and a grace filled approach to rest, it is possible to rejuvenate and find solace even amidst the nighttime nursery shifts.

The Ripple Effect of Sleep Deprivation

As a new parent, it can be cruel to hear about the benefits of sleep, but I do think we need to understand the biological realities of sleep deprivation. Dr. Rebecca Pail, a pediatrician and sleep expert, notes that the effects of sleep deprivation extend far beyond mere tiredness. "Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a myriad of challenges such as increased stress, weakened immune responses, and can even contribute to postpartum depression." For new parents, it becomes a balancing act of caring for their little one while also ensuring they don’t neglect their own sleep needs.

Setting Realistic Expectations

The first step in finding rest is accepting that sleep will not be the same for quite some time. Newborns sleep for short periods, waking every 2-4 hours, not syncing up with the adult sleep cycle. Dr. Pail advises, "It is essential to adjust expectations and recognize that rest may come in the form of multiple short naps and not traditional overnight sleep."

Napping with Purpose

Strategic napping can be a game-changer for new parents. Instead of simply collapsing into bed whenever the opportunity arises, aim for two or three structured naps throughout the day, whenever the baby sleeps, preferably. A 20-30 minute power nap can be rejuvenating without falling into a deep sleep that might make it more difficult to wake and more frustrating to wake from.

Cultivating Deep Rest

Deep rest doesn't necessarily mean deep sleep; it’s about relaxation, which can be achieved even in short bursts. Dr. Pail suggests integrating relaxation strategies such as brief meditations during your baby’s playtime or practicing deep-breathing exercises during feeds. These micro-moments of rest can prove surprisingly effective in staving off the cumulative effects of sleeplessness.

Leveraging Help for Overnight Shifts

The overnight shift often falls heavily on one parent, especially if nursing. It's vital to communicate and share responsibilities with your partner. Dr. Pail recommends that parents take turns with nighttime feeds and diaper changes to ensure both get the opportunity for relatively uninterrupted sleep. Depending on your family's needs and budget, an occasional overnight postpartum doula visit can provide a much needed balm.

Emotional Rest and Self-Care

Rest isn't just physical; it’s also about nurturing your emotional and mental well-being. Self-care should be non-negotiable, yet as new parents this can be very hard to enact. It could be something as simple as a five-minute meditation, a quick soak in the tub, or a walk around the block. These daily rituals can be incredibly restorative and provide a much-needed mental and emotional break. Postpartum doulas can help protect these moments of self-care and restoration. It is one of the biggest parts of our job!

The Power of Perspective

Shifting your perspective on rest can also be helpful. Instead of thinking of rest as another item on the to-do list, consider it an investment in your ability to care for your baby. Remember, a rested parent is a better parent.

Sheltering the Night

Nighttime awakenings are inevitable, so it's best to make them as comfortable and efficient as possible. Keeping the nursery dimly lit and using soft, soothing voices can help both parents and baby transition back to sleep more easily. Avoid screens and bright lights as much as possible during nighttime awakenings. The blue light emitted from devices can interrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. I strongly recommend swapping out regular lights for red lights, even a dimmable salt lamp can be so much less stimulating.

A New Approach to Rest

Adjusting to life with a newborn is about finding new patterns and accepting a different kind of sleep. By adopting a strategic approach to rest, crafting a supportive environment, and nurturing yourself emotionally, you can not only survive but thrive during this beautiful, albeit demanding, season of life. Remember, rest usually presents itself in the least expected moments, and the art of finding it is an ongoing learning experience that evolves alongside your growing family. Stay flexible, stay patient, and above all, stay committed to receiving the rest you need to enjoy this precious time to its fullest.

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