What To Do When Sleep Is Not an Option

MotherNurture-What-To-Do-When-Sleep-Is-Not-An-Option

Ahh, sleep. For a new working mom, it is that elusive mystical unicorn.

As much as we hope, pray and cross our fingers for a baby that "sleeps like a baby", the truth is, most of us are not so lucky.

Even if you are lucky to have a sleeping baby, sleep still may not come so easily anymore.

There is something about motherhood that flips a switch and transforms us into a wake-at-the-sound-of-a-pin-drop sleeper. Or there are all the things that have to get done, often at the expense of sleep. There is work to catch up on, chores to get done, time that we want to spend with our partner or better yet, by ourselves!

MotherNurture-Something-Has-To-Go-And-That-Something-Is-Often-Sleep

When you can't do it all, something has to go. And that something is often sleep. 

While I would argue that there are stages of life when you should do all that you can to prioritize sleep, to get as much as possible, even if it's broken; I know from first-hand experience that it's not always realistic.

Existing on Caffeine, Chocolate, and Adrenaline

I know, because I have had two babies who loved partying in the middle of the night. Babies who went through stages of only sleeping while being held, only sleeping for 30 minutes at a time, only sleeping with meditation music or pacifiers or a hand on their back. You name it and we have done it. It's what drove me to enlist the help of a pediatric sleep consultant (a story for a whole other day).

I tell you this to say that I get it.

I have existed on caffeine, chocolate and sheer adrenaline for longer than I ever thought was humanly possible.

I have hit the afternoon wall so hard, so many times, that it took every ounce of restraint to not curl up under my desk for a cat nap. Speaking of cat naps, I have slept in my car on my lunch break, in the pump room, and during conference calls. Sleep deprivation of a new parent is R-E-A-L, Real!

But I figured something out the second time around that, while it didn't magically add uninterrupted sleep to my days, did help to slightly offset the continual deficit I was running.

How to Offset the Deficit

I figured out that when sleep is not an option, everything else that contributes to your health HAS to be an option.

Because your sleep is dependent on another little being, one who doesn't understand that lights out means sleep, there's not a whole lot you can do to get more. I get that.

MotherNurture-Think-About-The-Things-That-You-Can-Control

Instead, think about the things that you can control. Things like...

  • What you eat and what you drink,
  • How much you move your body,
  • How you quiet your mind and reduce stress,
  • How much you smile and have fun, 
  • How productive you are, and 
  • What you do to supplement your diet.

When you're running a sleep deficit, you need to have a surplus in the other areas of your well-being to make up the difference.


Here is my short list: the "surplus" areas that I focus on when I start to feel that overwhelming, body and mind-numbing sleep deprivation set in.

The key here is to know yourself well enough that you can decide which combination of these ideas is going to have the biggest impact in offsetting your sleep deficit. 

Food & Drink

The first think that I always want to grab when I'm tired is chocolate candy. I love some peanut m&ms and Oreos. But what I also know is that I always feel worse in the hour following eating those things than I did before.

So I summon every ounce of willpower and opt for fruit, vegetables or protein. (Better yet, I just don't buy those things so I'm not tempted, because who has willpower when you're tired?)

I also know that when I drink TONS of water, I feel refreshed. I consciously drink glass after glass on the days when I'm feeling particularly tired. It really does start to wake me up.

Movement

They say that exercise actually increases your energy levels, even though the thought of it probably leaves you feeling tired and exhausted.

Maybe you just start with something small like a walk around the block on a work break or up and down a flight of steps. I also love starting small with simple stretches or a sun salutation to wake myself up. I've even done this in a conference room when I'm feeling that urge to nap under my desk.

Quiet Your Mind / Reduce Stress

I have never found meditation as meaningful as I have when I'm tired. Because when I am tired, I am emotional; I am quick to anger; I succumb easily to stress; and I just feel, in general, like the sky is falling.

Meditation is like a nap on steroids. It helps to calm my mind and my emotions and leaves me feeling a bit like I've gotten some sleep.

It looks different for everyone. Do what works for you, whether that is counting your breaths in cycles of 10, starting at a candle, doing yoga nidra or using an app like Headspace or Calm. Give it a try.

Supplements

I always make sure that I’m taking my daily vitamin and whatever else I’m into at the moment. At different stages that has been Vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, Vitamin B complex, digestive enzymes, protein shakes, etc.

When you’re tired and easily forget about eating balanced meals, getting a little extra boost from vitamins and supplements is never a bad idea. (Of course, I’m not a medical professional so consult with your healthcare provider before trying all the things.)

Lagniappe

...also known as a little something extra. Everyone has their thing that helps them feel their best. Whether it’s doing a little journaling, having a glass of wine, taking a bath, you name it. Try to add it in when you can. For me, it’s diffusing some essential oils that immediately relax me or help build up my immune system because when I get tired, I catch everything!

You know what your own lagniappe is. Don’t forget about it. Add it in when you can for a little extra boost.


Let’s be honest. Nothing truly beats sleep when it comes to feeling your best.

But it’s time that we accept whatever stage we are in and do what we can to offset that deficit.

The Four Words Every New Mom Should Hear

When I think back to that first year of being a mom, I shake my head and smile.

I can do that now. I'm on the other side.

But when I was in it...man, was I in it! I was in that stage of full-on sleep deprivation, of never-ending baby cries, of fevers and ear infections and teething, of short naps and multiple night-wakings, of long work days and corresponding mom guilt, of juggling work and home and family, and of battling PPD

I can honestly say that I was pushed to my breaking point and I thought it would never end.  

The Magic Words that Put It All in Perspective

I can tell you that it did eventually end. And eventually there was enough distance between that first year and the present to make me feel like I could do it again, because just 7 months ago, I became a mom for the second time.

I made sure to give myself enough time to recover, but not too much that I would forget how hard it can be in the beginning.

And it was hard. I had many moments of deja vu as I rocked and shushed another crying baby, powered through long nights and days with very little sleep and returned to work facing reminiscent feelings of guilt and overwhelm. And I admit that there were points when I thought again...I will never do anything other than care for this new baby and keep my toddler alive.

But then I would think back to that very first year of motherhood.

And I would think of everything I accomplished, not the least of which was raising a baby, and I would say to myself "I did it".

You Are Doing It

Katie Lee, author, speaker and lifestyle designer, says "your daily life is your whole life."

Think about that.

Life doesn't jump from one milestone or major event to the next. It moves through daily life even when that daily life is comprised of nothing more than nursing, diaper-changing, rocking and sleeping.

It's always hard to see the change when you're closest to it. Just like when you see someone you haven't seen in awhile and their weight loss is obvious to you but not to them. They see themselves everyday and the change is so gradual that they often miss it.

The same goes for those early baby days.

It feels like the same thing day in and day out, but the truth is there is change. Change in your baby and change in you.

So when I start to feel disheartened, when I think that surely my body and mind are going to break from lack of sleep and physical exhaustion, I remember that I am doing it.

Everyday, I am becoming stronger, I am learning, I am growing and before I know it, these everydays will become a year. And I hope it's a year I can look back on with amazement, a sense of accomplishment, pride and hopefully a smile too.

I am doing it.

You are doing it.

We are doing it.

When Will I Feel Like Myself Again?

When Will I Feel Like Myself Again New Mom Mother Nurture

I remember, near the end of my first pregnancy, this feeling of anticipation as I looked forward to not only meeting my baby, but also to getting back to feeling like myself. For the last 9 months I had watched my body change as I packed on the pounds and grew a belly, adjusted my diet to include more protein, iron and a daily host of supplements, and switched to an even more limited wardrobe filled with stretchy pants, side-shirred shirts and flat shoes. The thought of wearing normal clothes, eating sushi, and being able to sit on the floor and see my feet sounded amazing! I just wanted to go back to feeling normal.

While I did all of those things shortly after my son was born, including fitting back into my old jeans, feeling like myself again took quite a bit longer.

The Timeline

A lot of new moms are eager to know when they will find this magical moment of feeling like themselves. Is it 6 months, 12 months or 2 years after giving birth? Having a timeline certainly would have helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. To know that I only had 3 more months to go before it would all click would have been just the motivation I needed to keep going.

But that timeframe is different for everyone and depends on a variety of factors and circumstances. I believe that birth experiences, health issues or lack thereof, community and family support, sleep deprivation and a host of other things contribute to an individual mom's experience and when she will start feeling like herself again.

The truth is, your definition of "myself" will change during this time, and assuming or looking forward to getting back to someone who no longer exists will likely lead to disappointment. Instead, try to focus on returning to a place of acceptance and confidence in who you are. It is likely those feelings that you remember and think of when you think of feeling like yourself.

What You Can Do Now

If you're in that early stage of motherhood, wondering how long you will be living in this gray and murky area space between your old self and your new self, there are a few things you can do to start taking steps forward today.

One exercise I like to recommend to new moms, particularly if you are a visual person, is to create a venn diagram.

  • On the left side, list out the activities and traits that you loved about your pre-mom-self.
  • On the right side, list out the activities and traits that you recognize in yourself as a new mom.
  • Now, look for any areas where you see overlap, or more importantly, where you can CREATE overlap and jot those down in the center.

Having trouble finding the overlap? See if my own personal diagram helps inspire some ideas.

Mother Nurture Worksheet When Will I Feel Like Myself Again

It's just one step in the journey to your new normal, but articulating those thoughts and getting them down on paper is a great way to bring them to the surface and commit to taking some action. You will find yourself, slowly but surely. And I hope that the person you find is even better than the one you so fondly remember.


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The New Motherhood Information Loop

That first year of motherhood is a non-stop, steep learning curve. And when you have so much to learn in a short period of time, we look to learn as much as quickly as we can. With google and Facebook and eBooks and podcasts at our fingertips, research has never been easier.

New Motherhood Information Loop Mother Nurture

New moms consume books, articles, and blog posts about whatever challenge your little one is facing that particular week. Not sleeping? You seek out expert articles on what you could be doing wrong and all the sleep crutches you are using. Breastfeeding struggles? You hit the Facebook group to see if you can troubleshoot the issue with other moms. Feeling like your marriage is hanging on for dear life since bringing baby home? You check out the top-rated marriage books from the library, or better yet, download them instantly to your kindle. 

There is so much information out there that it is so incredibly easy to get consumed by all things baby, parenting and motherhood. No wonder so many new moms feel like they are a mom and nothing else. When our lives are about reading, researching and consuming information about motherhood, that tends to be the only thing we think about and therefore the only way in which we identify ourselves. And it bleeds into every aspect of our lives...

When we have the opportunity to chat with a friend, the only interesting things that we have to share are those related to motherhood. When we finally sit down with our partner at the end of a long day, we default to sharing what's on our mind. And what is on our mind is babies, parenting and motherhood.

I am a mom and nothing else mother nurture

This information loop is one of the most vicious cycles of new motherhood and one that is so hard to break free from. After all, we want to learn, we want to be good mothers, we want to do what's best for our babies and researching is the most effective way that we know to do that. But if we ever want to get to a point of feeling like we are our own person in addition to being an awesome mom, we have to consume other information.

  • If you were a reader before baby, grab a novel or personal development book instead of a baby book.
  • If you subscribe to blogs or listen to podcasts, make a point to seek out topics that have nothing to do with being a mother.
  • When you're catching up with friends or talking with your spouse, share what you're learning or reading that doesn't relate to parenting.
  • And if you're not sure what that is right now, that's ok. Ask questions instead! You might just be energized or inspired by what others are doing or reading or interested in. And people love to talk about what they're up to.

It's when we lead into the conversation with struggles, challenges and updates that relate only to motherhood that we struggle to break free from this I-am-a-mom-and-nothing-else mentality.

Certainly don't stop researching things that concern you. I do not want to stop you from learning all that you can about babies and parenting. It's a tough job and everyone needs to learn in their own way. But I encourage you to try to incorporate other topics into the information that you consume. It's important for our kids to see that we have our own interests and knowledge about topics that have nothing to do with them. 

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So what does this look like for me? Right now it looks like listening to podcasts about personal development. It is alternating between a parenting book and a novel so that I continue to have a reading outlet that is just for fun. It is making sure that I'm not only reading parenting blogs, but also blogs about entrepreneurship, my local community, minimalism and whatever else piques my interest. What are you consuming these days?

Asking for {professional} Help

- This article is the second in a two-part series on asking for help. -
View part one here.

When my son was several months old and I was back at work struggling with sleep deprivation, self-motivation, juggling daily responsibilities, etc., it took strength and nerve to ask my friends and family for help. I felt a bit embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn't do it all. After all, other moms seemed to be handling things just fine. But I knew that I needed rest and so I would sheepishly ask my mom or next door neighbor to watch my son for a couple of hours so I could rest or catch up on some chores.

Asking for Professional Help Mother Nurture

It wasn't until I found myself crying day after day, lethargic and apathetic about life in general, that I knew it was time to seek help outside of my close circle of support. I needed more than a catch-up nap or an hour of alone time. So with the encouragement of my husband and my family, I reached out to my birth team to ask for a recommendation of a local psychologist. It was time to face postpartum depression head-on.

The tale of my depression and subsequent recovery is a story for another article, and one that I will openly share, but what I learned and what I want to empower other new moms with, is the power that you have to seek professional help when the time comes.

Healing and Recovery Mother Nurture

As soon as I sent that first email stating the truth in my life, owning my current state of mind, and asking for professional help, the floodgates opened and I felt I would soon be on the road to recovery. I enjoyed a great partnership with my counselor for over a year throughout my recovery and it made me think, who else is out there in my community who can provide the professional support that I need to truly be well and live well?

I started seeing a women's physical therapist who helped me repair my diastasis and regain strength in my pelvic floor. I now recommend her to anyone who will listen. And once my postpartum depression was under control, I decided to see a coach who specializes in trauma to help me come to terms with some of the experiences I had during birth so that I can approach my next birth from a place of peace and power.

From these women, and so many others, I have learned that knowledge is power. I have learned so much from each of them and I have taken those pieces of wisdom and information and woven them into my ongoing pursuit of well-being.

Sending that first email stating that I needed help beyond what those who loved me most could offer, was one of the hardest things I have ever written. But the healing and recovery that followed that moment of vulnerability, has truly changed my life.

Moms Seek Professional Help Mother Nurture

My wish is for all moms to have the courage to seek professional help when they need it and to have knowledge of the resources available to them so they know where to go when they need help.

Professional help doesn't have to be limited to counselors or therapists. It can also come in the form of those who provide help when family is not around, like postpartum doulas or night nannies, or those who coach us through a particular challenge like a Pediatric Sleep Coach or Parenting Coach. Here is a list of the types of professionals that I have either personally learned from or have learned about from the many new moms I know and work with:

  • Counselor
  • Coach
  • Physical Therapist
  • Postpartum Doula
  • Night Nanny
  • Postpartum Fitness Coach/Trainer
  • Lactation Consultant
  • Infant Sleep Coach
  • Parenting Coach

This is only a snapshot of the resources available to new moms if you know where to look. If and when you reach a point where you need the experience and guidance of a professional, I hope that you will reach out and find that help for yourself. 

Have you sought the help of a professional in your journey of motherhood? How did it change your experience and would you recommend it to other new moms?