Easy tips for true postpartum rest and recovery
Congratulations! You’ve made it! You’re a new mom. You and baby are finally home and with birth behind you, your attention will now turn to protecting and helping baby grow and flourish.
During this time, it is easy to forget about your own recovery. Everything is new and you want to do it all and do it perfectly — scheduling that newborn photoshoot, inviting the whole family to come over and meet bub, making sure the house is clean, clothes are washed, fridge is stocked and snacks are on hand.
Whether you had a vaginal birth or a c-section, a quick delivery or one that lasted hours, your body has undergone a fair amount of stress and change and it is important to prioritise your healing and recovery. Rest is key in those first few days and weeks after giving birth.
What to expect post birth?
You will experience hormonal changes and feel emotions far more acutely than you’re used to. It is normal to also experience anxiety navigating how to be a mom. Your body’s ability to regulate hormones and your mental health are both supported by good recovery practices: eat wholesome nourishing food, move your body gently and get plenty of good quality rest, to help you through the first few weeks.
Why is rest important for recovery?
You have now officially entered your Postpartum phase and need time to recover. There’s a lot of physical recovery that takes place internally once that baby that you’ve been growing for 9 months is no longer housed up in your uterus. Whether you have had a vaginal or cesarean birth — there’s healing to be done there too. Don’t feel guilty making time for rest. Rest days are critical to postpartum for a variety of both physical and psychological reasons. We know that the body repairs, renews cells, takes stock of what’s what and strengthens itself during sleep.
Many women take 6–8 weeks before they feel like themselves again. But even if it takes longer than that, be kind to yourself and give your body as much time as it needs to return to its pre-pregnant state.
What is good rest?
For the first 2–3 days, ideally spend as much time as you can just lying in bed, skin on skin with your baby. This will lessen the pressure on your pelvic floor to help you heal and reduce postpartum bleeding. Additionally, it can help you get the hang of breastfeeding. Give yourself permission to sleep! So many of us feel guilty sleeping during the day, or sleeping when there are things to be done around the house… the more you can sleep the better you will feel and the quicker you will heal.
Newborns sleep pattern
In order to understand how to get better sleep as a new mom, it is worth understanding how newborns sleep. A newborn’s sleep pattern is very different to an adult’s one. While an adult spends only 20% in REM sleep, newborns spend 30–80% of sleep time in REM and their sleep cycles don’t last for 90 minutes, but only 50 minutes. These two differences combine to mean that your baby will have a much lighter sleep than you, sleep shorter periods and wake up more often than you (well, you knew that already, but now you know why!)
While a good night sleep pre-baby would look like 7–9 hours a night, with a newborn you could be woken up every 2–3 hours. As your brain must re-start the four stages of sleep each time you wake, these night time interruptions can lead to sleep deprivation in the usual sense and decrease your total amount of deep and restorative sleep (the type we’re really looking for!)
How bad is sleep deprivation for a new mom?
The lack of quality sleep will affect not only your body and your energy levels but also the way you think and cope with your day-to-day. You might experience memory loss and feel more stressed and agitated. As a new mom, having to multitask and learn a lot of new things while being exhausted is not ideal.
But we aren’t here to scare you! We came to help — so here are some time tested tips you can use to get optimal rest.
6 Tips on how to get better quality sleep with a newborn
1. Turn your bedroom into a cave
Temperature, light and comfort are crucial to get good quality sleep.
Make sure that your bedroom is really dark — turn of all lights and any appliances with standby lights can be turned off at the wall to reduce blue light pollution. If you want to go all the way — instal leak proof shutters in front of your window. You don’t want the room to be too warm, so consider light blankets, a fan, air conditioning (not directly on you if possible). It’s also worth investing in the right mattress and pillows so that you are extremely comfortable. Diffusing essential oils, playing soothing sounds or music — whatever your dream sleep oasis is … try create that!
2. Give up chores
As a new mom you don’t have to do it all alone — PROMISE! Any chores you have on your agenda can be handled by your partner, family members, best friends (that’s what they’re for) so you can fully focus on recovering and feeding the baby. If you don’t have a support system around you, there are so many services available these days to cook, clean, do laundry, run errands etc.
Some moms like to pump breastmilk and have their partner feed baby at least one night feed, so you can get a headstart on sleep each night.
3. Keep your baby close at night
Consider getting a bassinet or cot that attaches to your bed and enables you to feed him or her at night without having to leave bed. If you have a dim nightlight near bed, you can feed and pop baby back to sleep without fully waking up.
4. Rest when the baby sleeps
Sleep when the baby sleeps — a tale as old as time. Some women can, and some women can’t. A 20–30 minute nap before 2 or 3 pm will refresh you — but those long naps in the late afternoon can make you feel groggy.
A great tip if you’re not like your partner (aka. you can’t fall asleep standing up in the middle of a moshpit), is to set yourself mindful minutes during baby’s day sleeps. Ten minutes of breathing or meditation can actually restore energy similar to the way sleep does. Meditation has also been proven to improve one’s mood and reduce stress — all great things with a newborn!
5. Night time rituals work for parents and babies
As a parent there are a few things you can do to ease yourself into sleep. Try to go to bed at the same time each day and wind you and your baby down. You can do that by turning on white noise, bathing and massaging baby, feeding and swaddling baby, to prepare her for sleep. There’s a lot of evidence that supports developing a routine of consistent times of feeding, napping and bedtime, but remember to be kind to yourself and compassionate to your baby if she doesn’t get what routine is!
6. Move your body, gently.
Once your doctor gives you the ok, taking gentle walks outside will make you feel 10 x better. Either bring baby in a pram or wear your bub — the fresh air and gentle movement will improve sleep quality for both of you.
5 Things to avoid to improve sleep as a new mother
1. Avoid caffeine
Even though it might seem tempting, too much coffee during the day and especially too late in the day will lead to bad sleep.
2. Don’t nap too late
Napping after 3pm can affect your sleep at night.
3. Don’t have dinner too lateAvoid eating heavy meals late at night or right before going to sleep. We want sleep to be for rest and renewal, rather than digestion.
4. Stay away from screensOnce baby is asleep, start preparing for bed as well (or if your partner is doing night feeds, hopefully you’re already asleep!). Scrolling social media or watching Netflix is anything but beneficial for proper rest. Start winding down and avoid screens 1 hour before bedtime.
5. Don’t try to be the best hostIt’s lovely when family and friends come to visit. But you should be able to excuse yourself and lay down for a nap if you feel like it. It’s the weirdest concept — but truly, let them see baby, let them clean up, but don’t let them get in the way of your recovery.
And most importantly, try to prioritise self-care. As a new mom, try and spend around 20–30 minutes a day for yourself. Even if it’s listening to music you love whilst doing something else… taking care of your body and mind ensures that you recover well and go through this new exciting motherhood phase in the best possible shape.