B.S. Kinesiology, Michigan State University
Research has long supported that women tend to have more difficulty sleeping than men. And it’s no wonder! The average woman can go through at least FOUR major life-changes, packed full of hormonal fluctuations, and emotional and physical adaptations. The previous article discusses the aforementioned stages and this article will dive into pregnancy and postpartum.
It’s no secret that pregnant women often have difficulty sleeping. “Complaints of sleep disturbance during pregnancy generally start at the onset of pregnancy and increase in frequency and duration as the pregnancy progresses due to pregnancy-related anatomic, physiologic, and hormonal changes,” says Sleep and Women’s Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine.
This wouldn’t be anything more than an annoyance, but the study continues. “Poor and insufficient sleep during pregnancy are also associated with increased circulating levels of inflammatory markers involved in poor health and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including intrauterine growth restriction and preterm delivery. During the third trimester of pregnancy, insufficient and poor sleep may place women at increased risk for prolonged labor and cesarean deliveries and for having an infant small for gestational age.”
Does this mean that a pregnant woman experiencing poor quality of sleep is doomed for a negative outcome? Certainly not. But it is wise for a woman to evaluate her sleep health… for her wellbeing and her baby’s.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information goes on to explain the dangers of pharmaceutical and over the counter treatments for sleep troubles. As a result, they these treatments should “be avoided because of the potential for adverse effects such as low birth weight, preterm deliveries, and cesarean sections in pregnancy.”
Related Article: Pregnancy & Running By Trimester
So what are safe alternatives to better sleep during pregnancy?
CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) is currently being studied to determine its effects on a pregnant individual. Simply put, CBT-I is a technique for treating insomnia without medication. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia includes regular, often weekly, visits to a clinician, who will give you a series of sleep assessments, ask you to complete a sleep diary and work with you in sessions to help you change the way you sleep.” Sound intense? It can be. But ask any mamma-to-be, and she will most likely concur that anything would be worth trying to attain quality sleep and optimal health. It will be exciting to discover what future studies reveal this method!
Exercise and Diet
As always, exercise and a nutritious diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods are highly recommended for ideal health and sleep assistance. “Additionally, studies of other nonpharmacological treatments options such as yoga, acupuncture, yoga combined with mindfulness, and exercise have been shown to be safe and effective treatments.” (Sleep and Women’s Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine)
Although there is no singular solution for poor sleep quality during pregnancy, a woman has many options to explore. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, put an emphasis on intentional rest. As a result, these things will put a woman in the best position to experience a positive pregnancy sleep life.
Pregnancy and Postpartum Women
Once the baby has arrived, it’s a whole new sleep-game. “The precipitous drop in hormone levels after the birth and unpredictable infant sleep patterns can affect a new mother’s sleep.” (Sleep and Women’s Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine) The same study goes on to say, “Other factors such as the mother’s age, type of delivery, type of infant feeding, infant temperament, return-to-work issues, prior birth experience, number of other children at home, and availability of nighttime support from the partner or other family member can have an impact on quality and quantity of sleep in new mothers.”
Simply put, this is a unique and sometimes crazy adjustment period, packed full of physiological and environmental changes! It’s no wonder sleep becomes an afterthought, often pushed aside and thought of as an unavoidable outcome.
To Power Through Or Not
But should the lack of sleep be thought of as something a postpartum woman should just power through? Maybe not. The National Center for Biotechnology Information continues by reporting, “Insufficient sleep and more time tending to the infant at night predicted poorer maternal-infant attachment. Several studies have documented the relationship between sleep disturbance and subsequent reports of depressive symptoms at a later time among perinatal women (later in pregnancy or in the early postpartum). The association between poor sleep and subsequent depressive symptoms also holds when sleep disturbance is experienced during the early postpartum period and postpartum depression develops at a later postpartum time.”
Again, research like this isn’t intended to scare a mother. Also, it is not meant to put more pressure on her during an already taxing time. It’s simply intended to remind a woman that sleep is not merely a luxury; it’s a crucial component to the health of mom and baby.
So, how can a mother position herself for the best postpartum sleep possible? “In general, pharmacological interventions are seldom used in postpartum women who are breastfeeding. Even for women who are not breastfeeding, many choose not to take sedatives or other pharmacological options. This is due to the need to have a more flexible sleep schedule for infant care” (Sleep and Women’s Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S National Library of Medicine). In actuality, cliché advice rings true. Hence, “sleep when the baby sleeps.” This is one of the best ways to improve the mother’s sleep life without pharmaceutical assistance. But the advice falls sadly short without these precursors…
When focusing on sleep specifically, a mother needs to give herself full permission to rest when her infant is sleeping. In order to do this, a woman must know herself and what will keep her from slumber in this scenario. Finally, set up a plan for assistance. Ask for help in tidying the home, caring for other children, or preparing a meal, lowering expectations.
Related Article: Mothering – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
Sleep is certainly a huge piece to the self-care puzzle. However, a woman’s body will not be able to rest if it hasn’t had the opportunity to unwind in other scenarios. Exercise and its accompanying endorphins aid the body and its ability to rest. For example, a woman can practice quiet meditation, reading, and socializing without the new baby. These are great ways for a woman to care for herself and her body. Engaging in hobbies or activities that are not specific to parenting are also great recommendations to prepare the brain for optimal rest.
As discussed earlier, the postpartum body experiences numerous hormonal changes and this significantly affects a woman’s quality of sleep. If a female’s hormones are working against her, “sleeping when the baby sleeps” will be of no use to her. Each woman’s body is unique to her own physiological attributes. Furthermore, it’s absolutely imperative for her to be aware of her body and what she needs as an individual. A postpartum woman should educate herself on what kinds of foods and supplements aid in hormonal balance. It is also wise to get regular blood tests during the postpartum phase to monitor hormonal levels with the support of a physician or naturopath.
Pregnancy and postpartum are unique and challenging phases in a woman’s sleep life. Beyond the helpful tips above, it is also comforting to remember that they are simply that- a phase. It can also be advantageous to try to practice patience. Take one day at a time. Finally, remind yourself this stage will not last forever. Above all, a woman should take solace and rest in the empowering fact that she has created and is sustaining a beautiful life.