3 Secrets to Surviving PMADs: Get the sleep support you need to rest, restore, resource, & recover
Written by Jen Varela, owner of Sugar Night Night & PHA President-Elect
Jen is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach®, co-author of “Loved to Sleep,” and founder of Sugar Night Night, a pediatric sleep consulting service. As a survivor of a PMAD herself, Jen has a deeper understanding of how to support parents experiencing PMADs in her sleep coaching practice. Jen has helped sleep-deprived families since 2010 through one-one-one coaching sessions, group workshops, and seminars; she’s also been featured on several podcasts. She is the mother of two children and holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services with an emphasis in Counseling from California State University Fullerton. Jen is a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants and received training from Infant Mental Health Community Training Program–Hospital for Sick Kids. http://sugarnightnight.com/jen-varela-gentle-sleep-coach/
When you are awake in the middle of the night with your baby who won’t sleep, it can be the most emotionally challenging time. But you are not alone! At Postpartum Health Alliance, we are here to connect you with the support you need to cope with and recover from Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs).
You may have heard the term the “baby blues,” a time of depletion and sadness. If that experience intensifies or persists longer than two weeks, then you may be experiencing a PMAD. Some symptoms of PMADs can include despair, irritability, hopelessness, frequent crying, appetite changes, or just feeling like something is not right. Up to 1 out of 5 moms experiences PMADs (if you think you might be suffering from perinatal depression you can take a screening test on our website) and one of the most important ways to relieve symptoms is with sleep. So let’s look at how we can help you build a team and a plan to manage the long nights!
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night, and getting less than that comes with many risks, such as difficulty staying focused on routine tasks, poor decision-making and emotional symptoms like mood swings, irritability, anger, frustration, depression, and anxiety. When you have an infant, you will not be getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. So how many hours of uninterrupted sleep do you really need?
Dr. Christina Hibbert writes, “Five hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours is a physiological imperative for healthy functioning in a normal adult. It’s easy to see, therefore, that a mother who does not get 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep will further her sleep deficit and has a high likelihood of developing physical and mental health symptoms as a result.”
When you are suffering from PMADs sleep is not a luxury—it is vital in giving you the rest you need so you can restore, allowing you to resource the strength and resolve you need to recover.
REST, RESTORE AND REALITY
After your baby comes into the world and into your arms, there will be many nights when your sleep will be disrupted. Although attending to your baby’s feeding, attachment and health needs is your number-one priority, if you are struggling with PMADs it is vital that you also make your sleep needs a priority, too.
If you prioritize sleep hygiene just as you prioritize personal hygiene tasks like showering and brushing your teeth, it will help you put sleep in the proper perspective. I know all too well that it is tempting to delay going to bed because you want to do that one last task. This temptation could be robbing you of that extra 20 minutes of sleep that will help you get the momentum going of sleep begetting sleep. When you are getting sleep, sleep is easier to get and 20 minutes can make the difference of getting the sleep momentum going.
TIP #1 – Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
Don’t delay: Baby-to-Bed = Mama-to-Bed. Your house will be clean again someday; it doesn’t have to be today.
RESOURCES & RECOVER
We used to live in villages and when a mom was feeling depleted, her grandma, auntie and sister would come and fill in the gap. If your family lives near you and they are available to help, ask for help! Reaching out for support can be hard, but it does not mean that you are weak or that you are not carrying your load. When you have the courage to ask for help, you are being wise by providing your sweet baby with a mama who can be emotionally present.
The saying “It takes a village” is not a joke. We all need our village and if you don’t have family close by, it is important that you build your village.
TIP #2 – Build Your Sleep Support Team
In the first few months after you bring baby home, you might consider accessing the wonderful community and services of postpartum doulas and night nurses. You can hire a postpartum doula to come overnight or for part of the night, allowing you to get that vital 5-hour stretch of sleep you need to cope with PMADs. You don’t have to hire a night nurse or doula for every night of the week; you might find just a couple of nights a week makes all the difference.
If hiring a postpartum doula isn’t in the budget, it is time to think outside the box. Do you have a woman in your life who could come over from 8 to 11 p.m. to attend to your baby? If you have this Fairy Godmother to help with the first shift of sleep, your husband or partner could take the next shift of sleep from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. and then you would get that essential 5-hour stretch of sleep. Another wonderful benefit of taking sleep shifts is that you get a mental break, allowing you to be “off duty.” The peace you have knowing that your baby is being cared for will make the sleep you do get more restful.
But what if you have a partner willing to help but you are the ONLY person that can get your baby to sleep? Here is my next tip:
TIP #3 – Get Help At Bedtime First
Once your baby learns to go to sleep in another loving caretaker’s arms at bedtime, then your baby will be able to do it again in the middle of the night. The bedtime routine is not only for baby. Do you feel that you don’t have even a moment to yourself in the day? Do you find yourself feeling guilty because you are not enjoying bedtime with your baby? Expectations often create a cycle of “shoulds” that can rob you of joy and leave you feeling isolated instead. Do you have the expectation that you “should” be able to take care of your baby all day and still have that “joyful heart” at bedtime, as you are the only one who can get your baby to sleep then?
There are valid and important reasons why it might be the case that you are the only one who can get your baby to sleep at bedtime. However, you need to ask yourself, “Is that original reason still valid today?” Bedtime is actually the best time to help your little one learn new sleep skills. If you find that you are nursing your baby to sleep at bedtime but sometimes during the day your little one can do a nap on the go with baby-wearing, then you have a great tool you can use while getting some help at bedtime and ultimately at night awakening, too.
So where do you start? Have your husband or parenting partner join you at baby’s bedtime for a few days to get familiar with the routine. Once your baby has gotten used to having your partner in the room, then at the end of the bedtime routine it’s time to do the handoff to your partner, who can baby-wear your little one to sleep in the bedroom.
The first night, your husband or partner might have to go crazy bouncing on the yoga ball and your little one might be letting everyone in the house know that he or she is not happy with this new solution. It is important to remember that your beloved baby is not in any physical danger or in any danger of fracturing attachment while in the arms of the only other person who loves your baby as much as you do. I do believe it is “toxic stress” for mama to press her ear against the door and listen but it is not “toxic stress” for baby. It will be very important for you to trust your partner and your baby that they can figure it out. If you go in and “rescue,” then you will have taught your baby to protest louder, longer and harder to get you to come in and then you will miss out on getting the support you need.
In 3 to 5 days you will find that the two of them have discovered their rhythm and the protesting has dissipated. Knowing that your little one is in the arms of the person who loves them as much as you do will help you let go of having to do it all. Now that your little one can be comforted to sleep not only by you but by your helpmate, it is time to take sleep shifts to get that important 5-hour stretch of sleep.
Recommended and Resource Articles:
Postpartum Depression Treatment: Sleep
By Dr. Christina Hibbert
National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times