Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

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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.

Baby Registries: What to Add, What to Skip

Now that my daughter is almost three years old, I wish I could go back in time and re-do my baby registry. Wouldn’t it be great to know the things that would end up being a waste of resources and the things you ended up using all the time?

So that’s what I’ll do in this post. Obviously, every household and every baby is different, so I’ll try to keep this list to items that seem pertinent to most parents I know.

diaper_cake

Don’t Just Add: Get Several of Them

1.) Car Seats

If you live in a household with two cars, register for two car seats. Even if you’re thinking, Well, we’ll save money and just drive the kid around in one car. There are far too many situations that are guaranteed to happen when just one car has a car seat. (If you both work, the person with the car seat has to leave to pick up a sick child–end of story.)

We registered for one convertible car seat and a stroller/car seat combo. Our rationale: A convertible car seat isn’t great for newborns. You need to purchase extra padding to fill the car seat before you place the baby. We also wanted to have a car seat that could be easily detached from a base without having to unstrap the baby. That was actually a good idea because it helped preserve her naps if we took her out and she fell asleep in the car.

Here’s what we ended up using:

Convertible Car Seat: Britax Marathon (Cost: about $230)

Britax carseat

 

Stroller/Car Seat combo:  Britax B-Agile (Cost: about $250)

Sat, Feb 19, 2011 2:40:02 PM

Oh, and you’ll need to buy a car seat base for this puppy. They don’t advertise that important fact too much. Here is the base (Cost: about $65). You’ll need two of these if you have two cars.

car seat base

The cost is adding up, right? See why you should register for these?

2.) Swaddle blankets: Register for several packs of these

swaddle

If you’re a first-time parent, trust me: You will want to learn how to swaddle a newborn. It chills them out so many times (as long as their not in pain or hungry, at least in my experience).

We tried several kinds of swaddling blankets, including the ones with Velcro that seemed that they would be the easiest to use. But truly, I thought it was easiest to use the very large, durable muslin blankets by Aden and Anais. They were not hard to fold and wrap, the swaddle was tight enough to keep her little limbs from breaking out of it (most of the time), and they washed so, so well.

But these aren’t just swaddle blankets.

They are…

  • car seat covers when you’re outside
  • nursing covers
  • impromptu burp cloths and bibs
  • comfort blankets that your child can use well into toddlerhood
  • Place them on the ground, fill them with dirty laundry, collect the four corners, and they are a lightweight laundry basket!

A sound investment.

Cost: About $50 for a pack of 4

3.) Bibs

Most bibs are just bibs. But not this one.

burpy bib

Behold Aden and Anais’s Burpy Bib.

As you can see, this bib provides a whole cape of protection. Which you want. Your kid won’t just stare straight ahead while he eats. He’ll look around, rest his chin on his shoulder, you get the picture.

We got three of these guys and we used them all the time from about 6 months to 18 months, washed them regularly, and they held up beautifully. And they’re reversible! Cute patterns on both sides!

They are secured in the back with a single, durable, snap closure. The name “burpy bib” comes from the fact that this doubles as a nice burpcloth that you can put over the shoulder. Too bad we didn’t find this bib while we were still using burpcloths. I’m sure we would have used them all the time.

Cost: About $22 per pack of 2.

4.) Sheets

These ones specifically.

crib sheet

Once, again Aden and Anais have created a light, breathable, durable sheet that washes well over and over again. While we had other sheets that lost their elasticity and tore at the corners, these have held up over time. And the patterns are so damn cute.

Cost: About $25-30 per sheet. (That’s why you register for them.)

Add!

4.) Becoming Mother, a.k.a, my book

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

Okay, so I’m a bit biased here, but really, how many pregnancy books share with you the actual, nitty-gritty experience of becoming a mother? Don’t expect a guidebook or a handbook. Here, you’ll find just the plain, messy truth.

Read some published reviews about it here. You can add it to your Amazon registry or you can buy it now here.

Cost: Print, $12.99. Kindle, $4.99.

5.) Highchair

We thought we would be fine with just an attachable seat that we would strap to a dining room chair. But it turns out that I really wanted her to be at my hip level while standing, not my knee level. We usually pulled the highchair into the kitchen where we could wipe up the spilled food more easily, so I spent a lot of time standing in the kitchen, eating, and cutting up pieces of avocado and banana for her.

We liked Graco’s Duo Diner. The tray was easy to detach if I grabbed from the front or the side. My husband hated the detachable white surface because you could pull it off, and there might still be food stuck on the side that presses against the baby’s belly. (That never bothered me though.) The liner washes well, so when your child inevitably makes a mess or vomits, clean up is easy.

Cost: About $150.

highchair

6.) Snoogle

I slept with this every night from 4 months pregnant to 6 months postpartum. A true lifesaver for all the wonky ways that pregnancy realigns your organs and spine.

Cost: About $50

snoogle

7.) White noise maker

We had one for her car seat to help her sleep if we needed to be out of the house with her during a nap. They did wonders for blocking out sound so she wouldn’t wake up. We used Cloud B’s Sleep Sheep.

Cost: About $28

sleep sheep

At home, we used the MyBaby SoundSpa Slumber Whale. Sound options include a heartbeat, ocean waves, white noise. Music options include Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Rock-a-Bye Baby, and Braham’s Lullaby. It also has the ability to project images on the ceiling, but we didn’t really use this. You might though.

Cost: $30

white noise maker

8.) Crib & Mattress

We weren’t a co-sleeping family, so she went to a crib fairly early in life, right around 8 weeks. We got a 4-in-1 convertible style crib that could morph into a toddler bed and later on, a double bed. I can’t remember the exact model that we purchased, but once you’ve seen one crib, you’ve kind of seen them all. Here’s one like the one we have:

crib

Cost: About $200

We actually spent more money on the mattress. Here’s the one that we got.

 

mattress

Cost: About $250

9.) Baby book/Memory album

I mean, really, this is what you’re going to hold on to. Not all of those onesies that you’ve stashed in that one container because you’re too sentimental to let go. You know what I’m talking about…

Everyone has a different level of involvement in creating a baby book. I wanted something structured, but that still had a lot of space for personalizing. I also wanted one that would hold information for the first 5 years. Here’s the one that I got.

baby book

10.) Glider/Rocker

You’re going to be doing a lot of this, so you might as well go big. Here’s the one that we loved.

glider

Cost: $500 (yeah…)

11.) Baby monitor

Some people want video monitors, but I’ve found that an audio monitor was almost always sufficient. We had a model that was sold by VTech, but it must have been discontinued. Figures. It died on us at when our daughter was about 14 months old. It couldn’t retain its charge.

So we bought this one by Philips. And it has been wonderful. Wish we had started with this one.

monitor

Cost: About $100

Meh…

… because they were valuable for brief windows of time.

  • Baby Gyms

A cute purchase, but putting a blanket on the floor giving them toys might have been just as effective.

  • Jumperoo

A cute purchase that kept her occupied when she was between 6 months and 1 year old. After that, she wanted to be out and about, all the time.

  • Co-Sleeper/Bassinet

I have to admit that it was nice to have her sleeping right next to me at night when she was a newborn. A co-sleeper gave her a separate space to sleep, while still remaining close. But she outgrew this by the time she was 7 weeks old. If you’re interested in this getting a co-sleeper, I can say that this was a decent one.

  • Pack N’ Play

I think if we had different lifestyles, this might have been a useful purchase. But we strongly preferred for her to sleep at home. We did end up buying a Pack N’ Play when we needed to travel to Minnesota for a funeral and she was about 10 months old. We didn’t think any of us would sleep well if we all shared a bed. We also used it when we were moving and didn’t have her room completely unpacked yet. Other than those instances, we didn’t usually find ourselves in situations when we needed a Pack N’ Play for her to take a nap.

  • Diaper Bags

I found that what I needed to take with me changed so much that I ended up buying three different diaper bags as time went on. I guess you can register for one, but be open to the likelihood that you upgrade and downgrade through the first three years.

Don’t Add…

…because these will only be used for brief windows of time.

  • Puj Bath Tub

A great concept–a baby bath tub that folds away for flat storage.

puj tub

But only while your baby is small. Our daughter was a 7-pound 11 ounce baby at birth, which placed her at 50% percentile. However, her growth accelerated in the first two months. At three months old, she was already 15 pounds–and way too big for this tub. We ended up buying a tub made by The First Years and used it until she was about a year old.  Then it was big-girl bath time.

baby bath

  • Bumbo

Like I just said, my daughter tracked high in height and weight early on. So she barely fit into this contraption by the time she finally had enough head control to sit in it. The first time I put her in it, she immediately vomited. Guess her stomach wasn’t used to being compressed that way.

I duly gave it away after that.

I’ve met more than a few other mothers who were equally meh about the Bumbo. Some swear by it. I guess you can’t know until you have an idea about how quickly your baby is growing and whether you’ll have a need for it.

bumbo

  • Baby Walkers

I’m not such a free-range parent that I’m morally against putting my child in some kind of “containment furniture” (I admit, sometimes, it is nice to have them in something that they can’t get out while I’m doing something else). But my daughter didn’t really get the point of these.

She would sit in it, and try to jump in it, as if it were a Jumperoo. I tried to show her how to use her little legs to move it, but I don’t think she was motivated to make it go. She preferred to just crawl. Even when she was learning to walk, she didn’t want to be in this thing. Honest to God, she preferred to use my husband’s shoe horns as her “balancing sticks” and would toddle along with one in either hand. Aw, memories.

walker

  • Shopping Cart Cover

First, I hated taking my daughter grocery shopping because I could never figure out a good way to put her car seat in the cart. I heard this position was a huge no-no.

Shopping-Cart-Diagram-Dorel

And the safest option was to put in the cart, where I was going to put all my purchases. Which means I couldn’t do a week’s worth of grocery shopping at one time. Plus, I was fairly strict about being home during her naps. So until she started staying awake longer than two hours, shopping with her wasn’t happening very often.

So most of the time, my husband and I took turns grocery shopping without her. It wasn’t until she was a year old that we started considering taking her grocery shopping with us. And by that time, I think we might have used the cover 5-10 times before it was just more trouble than it was worth.

But hey, maybe I would have used it more if I needed to take her grocery shopping. Who can say.

cart cover

 

…because every baby is different.

  • Bottles
  • Pacifiers
  • Diapers
  • Baby carriers (try them out, return the types your baby hates)

Instead, use gift cards for these to try them out.

 

…because people are going to buy them for you anyway.

  • Clothes, shoes, socks
  • Burp cloths
  • Baby shampoo/lotion
  • Diaper cream
  • Towels/washcloths
  • Books
  • All toys, including teethers

 

The key to making a great baby registry is to

  • provide a variety of choices with different price points ($10-$25 range; $30-$50 range, $50-$100, and above $100).
  • register only for items that you’re fairly certain you’ll use
  • make sure to list gift cards as options on the registry

Finally, gratefully accept whatever gift anyone gives you, even if you end up returning it. Baby shower gifts are one person’s good wishes for you and your baby and the last thing you want to do is hurt a relationship over a gift. It’s your relationships with others that will get you through the tough times, so be good to them.

Happy registering!

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