Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: advice for first-time mom

I Wore a FitBit for the First Year Postpartum: Here’s How Much Sleep I Lost

Over the past year, my blog post about my changing heart rate throughout pregnancy and the resulting increase in total calories burned per day has become the most heavily trafficked blog post on this site.

So I figured I’d tackle postpartum sleep loss next.

Because, guys, postpartum sleep deprivation is no joke. (Except when it is.)

So, here we go.

Last Days of Pregnancy, Labor, and Immediate Postpartum Period

I gave birth on February 2nd. You can see that in my last days of the pregnancy, I was sleeping around 6 or 7 hours at night (not pictured: the six or seven times that I had to get up each night to pee). I was also taking a nap in the afternoon since my daughter was in daycare and I was wasting my maternity leave by being way beyond my due date. (That wasn’t really part of the plan… But hey.)

Note: Dates are in descending order. That’s the only way FitBit will let me view the data.

Pregnancy Labor Immediate Postpartum Sleep

The last time that I had some solid sleep before giving birth was Wednesday, February 1st. That night, I finally went into labor around midnight (at 41 weeks, 4 days).

It looks like the next time that I slept was on the day that I gave birth.

Do not be fooled. I was completely incapacitated after giving birth and losing 1200 ccs of blood. The same is true of February 3rd. I was lying in a hospital bed, trying to recover, but not really sleeping.

The next time that I actually fell into a light sleep (definitely not REM or a deep sleep) was February 4th.

That’s a full 72 hours without sleep.

Believe it or not, this was an improvement from my first birth, when I went about 96 hours without falling into at least a light sleep. (Wednesday, August 14th, 6:00 a.m. to the night of Saturday, August 17th)

Yeah.

First Week Postpartum

Even with having the help of my husband and mother, on most days during that first week postpartum, I was getting about 5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, but only in frustrating 1-hour increments.

Week 2 Sleep

Why?

There were plenty of times during the day when I could have let my mother do the feedings and caught up on sleep.

But honestly, during that first week, I just couldn’t fully power down. I can’t pinpoint one reason. Was it my fluctuating hormones? Was it racing thoughts? Was the stress of recovering and adjusting to life with a second child?

Sure. It was all of these things. It was probably also the additional stress of feeling like, Oh my God, why aren’t you sleeping! Everyone has everything taken care of! Use your time wisely!

Not the most restful thoughts you can have.

So I was exhausted. I hurt everywhere. The afterbirth cramps were intense. I was still bleeding a lot. Breastfeeding was (once again) complete hell and I was dealing with the emotions of stopping completely. The baby was eating every 2 hours and we were figuring out that, just like his sister, he was allergic to dairy. The house was in disorder. The other child was feeling left out. My husband was trying to keep the ship running.

And every night, from midnight to 6:00 a.m., it was just me and the baby. Although it was emotional and beautiful in its own right, it was also incredibly exhausting.

This is when intense sleep deprivation began to take hold. Not only was I unable to sleep because the baby was eating all the time, but my body began to realize that it had lost its placenta (no more all-is-right-and-good-in-the-world levels of progesterone for me anymore).

This week, by far, was the absolute worst for me. 

Some things you cannot do when you’re getting this little sleep:

  • Have a coherent conversation
  • Drive
  • Make decisions
  • Basically, anything beyond mother-infant survival is way too challenging

At the end of this week, my mom (who had mercifully been staying with us after the delivery) returned home. My husband and I looked at each other like, What now? How are we going to get some sleep and not lose our minds?

We made a compromise.

Second Week Postpartum

We decided that my husband would take the evening feedings that happened before midnight. I would get the feedings after midnight. I would try my damnedest to get some sleep before my first night feeding. In addition, on the weekends, my husband would take all of the night feedings so I could get some restorative sleep.

And because he was extra awesome, he allowed me to tag him in when I told him that I was seriously losing my mind. Because, quite honestly, sleeping like this is simply unsustainable for weeks on end.

Week 3 Sleep

Things you still should not do when you’re sleeping like this:

  • Drive
  • Make important decisions
  • Make plans (for anything)
  • Read (you won’t remember what you read)
  • Shop (you’ll forget what you bought)

Third Week Postpartum

By some miracle, our baby started to shift towards only two night feedings by this point, leaving me responsible for just one feeding since my husband took the other one. This is not a common occurrence, so if it happens for you, just express your undying gratitude to the Universe. Seriously.

By this point, I had mostly recovered from the pain of childbirth and postpartum blood loss. I had more energy and was able to independently take care of household responsibilities like dishes, cooking, laundry, and vacuuming.

This dramatically improved my mood. I mean, obviously, right?

If you’re getting this much sleep, driving might be possible, but honestly, it’s really best to only drive if you’re getting at least six hours of sleep every night.

Week 4 Sleep

Fourth Week Postpartum

After about one month after birth, we started to find our rhythm with taking care of the house, the new baby, and the preschooler. We were still doing night feedings, but they were becoming more manageable.

I need to emphasize at this point that my increase in sleep by four weeks postpartum is a direct reflection of my husband’s willingness and ability to step into his role as an equal caretaker. Without his help, I would still be getting minimal sleep by this point.

So hats off to you, Doug. You kept me from losing my mind.

Week 5 Sleep

So when did the baby sleep through the night?

Okay, first, if you’re trying to make friends with other new parents, don’t ask this question.

But I’m game for it. So…

“Sleeping through the night” was a process for us. Our baby slept ten hours in a row for the first time when he was two months old.

BUT…

… it was just a one-night reprise from the continuing pattern of night feedings that stretched on well past four months. At five months, he started to want to put himself to sleep. No more rocking or holding him while he got drowsy. Odd, but I acquiesced.

By six months, his eating schedule got all screwy and he started to develop a middle of the night feeding again. And we had had enough of it. He was a huge baby. There was clearly no need for him to be eating in the middle of the night. He was healthy. He wasn’t teething. Coupled with the crushing reality that things were not going to resolve by themselves, we made the decision:

It was time to Cry It Out.

It took three nights, but it was the best decision we made. Hands down. He dropped the night feeding and learned to tank up in his first and last feedings of the day. No one was worse the wear.

What did your average sleep look like throughout the year?

Here is what my average number of hours of sleep looked like from February 2017 to December 2017 looked like in summary, with some annotations to help make sense of what you’re seeing.

Sleep in 2017

Sleep in 2017

Keep in mind a few things:

1.) I had lots of help.

2.) I had a pretty long maternity leave (at least compared to most women in the U.S.)

3.) I did not breastfeed.

4.) I committed myself to working out in the morning because it improved my mental and emotional state. This meant that I would get up at 4:30 a.m. on most mornings to exercise before the kids woke up and before I had to get ready for work. Yeah, it was hard, but it made me feel so much better. So I made adjustments to help commit to this goal, like going to bed way early (like 8 p.m.)

5.) There were plenty of bouts of illness, teething, and unexplained fussy nights that were peppered throughout the year.

6.) Our baby did not have acid reflux or prolonged colicky periods or other conditions that made him unable to sleep for long periods of time. With the exception of the dairy allergy, he has been very healthy.

***

Postpartum sleep deprivation is real and it’s tough.

No way around it.

If you’re reading this while you’re pregnant with your first child, don’t despair. There are some things that you can do to prepare yourself for the realities that await you soon.

1.) Establish clear expectations about care-taking responsibilities with your partner.

Talk openly. Talk honestly. Agree that no one really wants to lose this much sleep, but damn it, you’re in this thing together. Tag each other in when you’re down for the count.

2.) Do not be too proud to ask for help.

You cannot do this alone. You will need help. And lots of it. You are not Superwoman and there is no glory in trying to be. Few, if any, will know of your struggles to simply get through the day. Every woman who has been through this understands the pain and exhaustion that you are experiencing. They are, quite often, thrilled to help.

3.) When it gets tough, remember that you’re not doing it wrong.

You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just plain hard. No one has an easy time of this, and any woman who says it was not that bad is airbrushing reality.

4.) Ask those who are close to you to let you know when they think you’re not okay.

Losing sleep can bring you to the edge of psychosis. If you go days and days without sleep, you will start to lose your grip on reality. And from your perspective, you may not realize that you’re not fine anymore. If you cannot achieve restorative sleep even when you are provided the opportunity, it is probably time to seek help from your medical provider.

5.) Buy ear plugs and a sleep mask. You’ll need them for daytime sleeping.

Sleep_mask

6.) Coffee.

I mean… obviously.

coffee-cup-1797283_960_720

Good luck on your postpartum journey, Friends.

It’s a crazy way to live and in the hard moments when your head is warm and fuzzy and everyone around you is so blissfully unaware of how LUCKY they are to have slept more than four hours last night… it feels like it will go on forever and you will forever be stuck in the vicious cycle of Never Enough Sleep.

But you won’t.

Press on.

Please let me know how it’s going for you in the comments below.

Week 4: Gentle Sleep Training

Now that I’ve used the words “sleep training,” let me disappoint you.

I’m not in favor of trying to “train” your newborn to sleep.

I don’t think newborns are “trainable.”

Newborns are gonna do what newborns are gonna do.

However, the words “sleep training” are the words that everyone uses when trying to figure out how to get their babies to sleep longer.

So what exactly am I in favor of?

Training yourself to recognize and follow your newborn’s sleep patterns.

***

When our first child was about one month old, I found an amazing book that forever shaped our decisions about how we structured our days with a baby.

baby-sleep

I don’t rave about many baby products.

But let me RAVE about this book.

This book removed the mystery about how babies decide when to fall asleep and how their sleep patterns change as they grow throughout the first year.

It’s not a book based on a parenting style or a fancy technique.

It’s based on science. It’s based on human biology.

The Overall Takeaway: If you soothe your newborn to sleep after he/she has been awake for 90 minutes, he’ll fall asleep and stay asleep for a nap.

Dr. Polly Moore, a sleep researcher and scientist, based her advice in this book on the “basic rest and activity cycle,” which states that human bodies function on 90-minute periods of rest or activity. For example, our attention, alertness, and sleep cycles follow these patterns.

At roughly three weeks old, newborn babies start to establish 90-minute periods of wakefullness. As long as the baby is getting enough to eat and isn’t suffering from other physical ailments, you should be able to see these patterns emerge as early as three weeks.

You can’t train your newborn to stay awake for 90-minutes or to nap for long periods of time. However, you can pay attention and learn how your newborn wants to structure his sleeping patterns. By learning your child’s tired signals and making sure he gets all the naps that he needs during the daytime, you are helping him to reach the Holy Grail of baby-dom: sleeping through the night.

You can do this by taking a few days to log your child’s sleep. Like this:

img_3948

Many of these periods of wakefullness last for 90 minutes. However, some don’t. The night feedings usually only last 30 minutes to one hour. Long enough to eat, burp, have a diaper change, and fall back asleep.

What’s important to see in this list of times is that this three-week-old’s naps are already beginning to follow the body’s rhythms. (Note: Forty-five minute naps = Half of a 90-minute increment and three-hour naps = Two 90-minute increments)

Of course, sometimes naps are cut short because the baby didn’t get enough to eat and wakes up to be fed. Or sometimes, he has a huge poop and wants to be changed. But the older the baby gets and the more established his sleeping habits become, the less likely the baby will cut his naps short in order to eat or be changed.

***

Last Saturday, we realized that our baby was starting to establish these 90-minute periods of wakefullness.

I remember reading years ago when we were caring for our first child that the first few weeks of a baby’s sleeping habits are unpredictable. I learned that babies sleep a lot in the first few weeks and that they can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. And stay asleep no matter what is happening around them.

Until last Saturday, I didn’t realize that we had drifted into the zone of 90-minute periods of wakefullness.

I didn’t realize that our baby had started to become unable to block out the noise and stimulation around him.

While our friends came over for breakfast, he remained awake. And awake. And awake. Until about 11:30.

Then, he lost his shit.

Screaming. Inconsolable.

We took him out in the stroller and he gave us the thousand-mile stare. At a fork in the road, my husband turned back to go home while I continued on for a longer walk.

Big mistake.

Henry started downright wailing. He screamed so hard his face turned crimson and went completely silent as he tried to scream without taking in oxygen. He coughed and choked to bring more air into his lungs.

They were the saddest screams I’ve ever heard.

I rushed home, but it was the longest quarter mile ever.

Because we deprived him of sleep that morning, he was completely out of whack for the rest of the day. He couldn’t stay asleep. He screamed and nothing helped. By 10:00 p.m., even my husband had written him off and pronounced that there’s nothing we could do to help him.

I took our son and sat in the glider. Then, I placed him on the ottoman in front of me. I let his hands clutch my fingers while he screamed and screamed.

Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes.

I tried all the usual soothing techniques as he sputtered and gasped for more air to continue his wailing.

Then I returned him to the ottoman and rocked him again. This time, his screaming slowed and his eyes rolled back in his head, the way that newborns do.

He had passed out.

***

That night, I reread Polly Moore’s book and realized that we had crossed into new sleeping territory now that Henry is a month old. Now, he’s having trouble blocking out sound and light and stimulation. Now, he needs quiet. He needs a lack of sensation to stay asleep.

We followed the 90-minute wakefullness cycles the next day.

Wow. What a difference it makes when your baby has those needed naps.

***

What I learned from this book is how to determine the best windows to put my baby to sleep. I learned how to recognize emerging sleeping patterns. I learned how to best accommodate my baby’s needs for sleep, including the importance of napping rituals throughout the day that will help a baby establish solid sleeping patterns later.

For us, this means that we don’t take our baby out during his nap times.

Which basically means, he stays at home 90% of the time until his awake periods extend to three hours (around 6-8 months). If we go out, we’ll keep him in the car seat and put on a white noise maker so his naps don’t suffer too much.

It’s a restrictive life, for sure. But he’s not going to be this young forever. I’m willing to make changes in my life for a few months.

For us, establishing good sleeping patterns early on–as we did with our daughter–rewarded us exponentially later on. Our daughter slept through the night regularly (with the exception of teething and sick days) at three and a half months. When she started daycare at five months, it only took her a week to adjust to the new environment and resume her champion napping abilities amidst other crying infants.

***

Every rule has an exception. Here are two cases when the 90-minute wakefullness rule doesn’t pan out as predictably into regular napping patterns.

Babies who are suffering from medical conditions: like acid reflux, food allergies/intolerances, etc.

Babies who are in the midst of a growth spurt: All babies go through growth spurts and they are notorious for throwing all routines into chaos. Naps suffer. Babies wake up from naps early and have trouble falling asleep. They eat too much or too little. They cry. Nay, they wail. They turn into monsters for several days. In fact, we’re going through one right now. From 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. last night, he was awake, asleep, awake, asleep, hungry, pissed off, asleep, awake, screaming. You get the point.

But when this growth spurt is over, he’ll be pleasant again. And he’ll show us his newly learned moves.

***

There’s a lot more that I can say about how babies change in their sleep needs from birth to the end of the first year, but I’ll let Polly Moore do that for you.

As I said before, there are not many baby products that I am willing to rave about to the point of spending my valuable time actually writing about them…

But this is one of the rare few.

If you’ve got a baby at home, check it out. Seriously.

From My Desk to Yours…

To celebrate the first six months of publication, I’m giving away two signed copies of “Becoming Mother” through Goodreads this month. Enter any time between February 8th and February 26th. Feel free to share with friends!

IMG_20160208_201842.jpg

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Becoming Mother by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Becoming Mother

by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Giveaway ends February 26, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

What was the most surprising thing about new motherhood?

Here’s what I thought:

What was surprising to you? I’d love to hear from you!

On natural childbirth: An honest confession to first-time moms

If you try to give birth without medication for approval or respect from others, you probably won’t make it. You will reach a point when you don’t give a shit anymore what anyone thinks of you.

In the hardest hour of labor, my husband said to me, “I’m so proud of you.”

Do you know what I said?

Fuck pride. I don’t care about pride anymore.”

About an hour before the transition stage (or "when the shit really hit the fan")

About an hour before the transition stage (or “when the shit really hit the fan”)

And I so did not.

So what kept me from getting the epidural?

It wasn’t because I had read enough books and blog posts about the benefits of natural childbirth.

It wasn’t because I didn’t ask for one.

Oh, I did.

I got to my point when I begged my husband and my doula. I was in full transition mode, complete with 45-second double-peaked contractions, with only 30-second breaks between them.

I was in agony.

But my doula said, “The worst part is over! You’ve only got another 45 minutes before you can push. Let’s get you in the shower.” (She was right, but I didn’t know it at the moment.)

So why did I listen to her?

Time.

When you only have 30 to 45 seconds of pain-free moments at a time, the last way that you want to spend them is on making decisions. You spend the first 15 seconds in complete gratitude that the pain is gone. Then, the next 15 seconds trying to enjoy the sensation of nothingness. And only in the last 15 seconds do you think, Oh no… It’s coming back.

Pain unleashes the animal in you—and animals don’t really make decisions based on higher order thinking.

So don’t admire me.

Or if you want to admire me, admire me for the ability to cope with pain until it became unbearable. Because I don’t deserve any admiration for being able to cope with unbearable pain. I didn’t cope with it. I was just completely incapable of doing anything besides letting the pain come.

This isn’t to say that I regret having an unmedicated childbirth.

Because as a result of this unbearable pain, I encountered a truly transcendent experience in which I felt connected to God. I won’t go into detail here—I’ve already done that in my book. (Help a mom out and buy a copy here!)

But I want to clarify that I didn’t decide during my pregnancy, “You know what? I want a spiritual awakening. Yeah. I want to experience a spiritual rebirth while I’m giving birth to another human being.”

Give me a break. Who does that? Not this one, I assure you.

The initial reason that I wanted to give birth without medication was because I had read a lot of books about the phenomenon of “cascading interventions” in childbirth. Oh yeah, Business of Being Born and Ina May Gaskin and Dick Grantly-Read. All of them. And after that 20-week ultrasound, my maternal instincts started kicking into high gear. I wanted to do whatever I could to protect this child. But that rationale only survived as long as my ability to reason. And once pain pushed me into a mental space where I couldn’t rationalize anymore, anything was possible.

Perhaps this is why a 1999 study of mostly white, highly educated women in their early 30s (i.e., me) found that 43% of the women who said they would “definitely not” get an epidural—indeed got one.

I am not shocked at all by this. Neither do I judge. Because, ladies, the only thing that stood in my way from an epidural was time and my birth attendants. My husband and doula knew what rational Sharon had previously decided and they had promised to give me support as long as I was willing to accept it. It wasn’t my incredible willpower or my amazing capacity to be a “good mother.”

Good grief. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a good mother because you of something that you did.

Hear me out on this one. You’re not a good mother because you had a natural childbirth, or breastfed your baby, or never let your baby cry, or never felt ungrateful in the face of new motherhood challenges.

You are a good mother because of who you are. Not because of what you do. Or don’t do.

As Rachel Martin repeats over and over again on her blog, Finding Joy—You are enough. What you are—all of that—is what makes you a good mother.

Please don’t fall into the trap—as I did early in new motherhood—of deriving your value as a mother based on what you do.

Because you will fall short.

Over and over again.

You will forget the diapers at home when you go out. Or feed your baby—God forbid!—formula when the breastfeeding struggles are more than you can bear. Or maybe you’ll be the only mother at the playgroup who doesn’t know that many kinds of rice contain arsenic. (Oh my God! I’ve been feeding my baby arsenic!)

If you value your worth as a mother based on what you do and not on who you are, then you will constantly be beaten down by all those messy and imperfect moments of motherhood. They will beat you to a pulp and drive you into an incessant loop of I’m a terrible mother. I’m no good at this. This baby deserves better than me. It’s my job to protect this child so they will get through life perfectly, and I’m failing!

Don’t give in to this self-destructive script.

You are a good mother because of who you are.

Not because of anything that you do.

Don’t reduce the experience of motherhood into a checklist rather than seeing it as it really is–meaningful and contextualized interactions with your children. That’s where the nurturing happens. That’s what kids remember later on–not all the other stuff that we waste our time obsessing over.

Wholehearted motherhood is so not a competition—and that is actually what the experience of laboring without medication taught me.

Because when you are in the hardest hour of labor, you can no longer compare yourself to anyone else. You can’t see anyone else vying for first place. You can’t even see yourself. And all you care about is the present moment.

But if you insist on treating motherhood as a competition, you will lose every single time. You may not show it to others, but you will feel the sting of failure, over and over again. And then you will plan how to make everyone else believe that you are still a winner.

Oh, so exhausting.

Why not save your mental and emotional energy for something more important?  Why not learn this lesson now before you become that too-perfect mom that no one relates to? It’s so much better to hang out here down in the masses of messy motherhood than it is to be floating high above everyone, dangling from a thin string, just waiting for the helium to run out.

Come on down.

Join the crowd.

***

Like this post? You’ll love “Becoming Mother.” 

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

A down-to-earth journey into new motherhood and a great gift for first-time moms.

A short tear-jerker for all you new parents

Just passing along a tear-jerker for all you expecting and new parents. Enjoy!

And if you’re one of those people who wants to know what it was like for someone else to go through this big leap into parenthood, check out my new book, “Becoming Mother.” (also available in print) I guarantee you, you will not regret walking with me in the journey of this book.

“My Gift to You, First-Time Mothers”

Here we are, dear readers.

I’m allowing myself to be seen in all moments, not just ones in which I had overwhelming gratitude and joy for motherhood. Not just ones in which people would see me as “a good mother.” I showed myself being ungrateful and whiny and vain.

Because that is real motherhood, especially new motherhood.

You are constantly caught between who you once were and who you are not quite yet. And in that tension, we feel shame over and over again that we are not good mothers. That we fail. That we feel ungrateful and selfish.

And that is not okay. It is not okay to feel shame so often in those first months of motherhood. You have enough to deal with. You should never feel ashamed that you are not further down the road than where you are at that moment.

You are where you are. You are not where everyone else is. And you know what? Everyone else isn’t all gathered together in the same place either.

We are all scattered around different points on this rugged terrain. But when you’re on the top of the mountain, looking down, it’s easy to push a few stones off onto the climbers below you when you’re just flexing a bit of muscle and clout. It’s easy to forget how easily new mothers bruise from being hit by these stones. It’s easy to lose all perspective and empathy for new mothers after you’ve emerged from its grueling initiation.

But don’t.

Don’t lose your empathy for what they are going through.

Don’t lose your ability to cry with them when they desperately tell you that they haven’t slept well in eight months. (That desperation is so real!)

Don’t lose your ability to listen without offering advice. They don’t want your advice, damn it. Unless they pointedly ask you for advice, you know what they want?

A hug. A freaking hug. That’s what they want.

To be heard and to be loved.

The last thing they need is to be shamed (“Well, I never had that problem”) or to be belittled (“Oh, wait until they’re 2! They’re hellions!”) or to be ignored. What they need is for you to tell them 1) that they’re doing a good job, 2) that they are strong, and 3) that you’ll come over and give them a break so they can do something that they want for once.

I wrote this book because I want so much for new mothers to feel understood, loved, heard, and championed. I want them to know that what makes them good mothers is simply getting through that first year—no matter how they get through it. I want them to know that someone out there respects and appreciates how unbelievably hard that first year of motherhood is.

Our government and our jobs may not care. And our partners may not completely understand. But other women who have been down this road can completely empathize. They’ve felt the frustration of having no weekends or holidays “off” for months and months. They know what it’s like to have your existence reduced to nothing but caretaker.

They know. Oh, they know.

So, here is my gift to you first-time moms.

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

Let me take you into moments that new mothers don’t like to talk about—but that we should. Not to scare you—but to help you feel less alone if you find yourself in similar situations.

We all crave connection, especially in times of uncertainty. So let’s go on a journey together. Let’s tell each other our stories.

I’ll go first.

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