I don't mean to be self serving. Just can't help but mention how many families lately are TIRED. Not your average, 'let's take a pick me up nap in the afternoon or have some coffee ASAP' type of tired. I mean bone weary, decisions blurred, logic failing, body achy, emotional basket cases tired.
As doulas who offer overnight care, gentle sleep consults, and of course a host of handy mom-helping services, we often hear the worst stories. (Like the moms who freeze their purses and call us because they can't find their keys! True story--and not just one!) But lately I am hearing stories about moms who put off their need for sleep long enough to really feel like they are having a breakdown. Like losing their mind, and not just for that moment when you 'forget' you had a baby and then suddenly realize you have been a mother for 3 months (not uncommon!). But the kind that feels desperate, clinging to any kind of support they can possibly trust.
We get these calls, but I am sure only a small handful of the moms who experience this. We assume that partners, grandparents, friends, or co-workers are getting the bulk of them. And hopefully those are the folks that are helping these mamas find solutions by providing some good sleep support for them, or at least a listening, empathetic heart.
But I am going to suggest something; moms are worth getting more sleep support. Partners, don't be afraid to suggest that not only do moms need more sleep, but you are going to take the baby for a few hours and provide mom the opportunity to do just that. Grandmas, you can offer to stay with a baby whose mama is on the edge. Friends can even come over one afternoon and hold, cuddle and play with baby while mom crashes in the other room.
You don't have to interrupt breastfeeding to get sleep support. Babies can be brought to mama to nurse while mama barely wakes, having the caregiver do everything but feed the baby and leaving moms in bed. Moms can pump a little milk earlier in the day and take a long stretch of sleep while partner bottle feeds baby at midnight. And baby can be well attended to by a Grandma or other loving caregiver while parents snuggle and have some relaxing pillow talk without worrying it will wake the baby before getting a few solid hours of sleep at the SAME time. Babies stay bonded to their parents; they just have a better rested parent in the morning who is more creative with their play, and enjoys the process of early parenting more because they got more rest.
I know all the arguments. I know babies do better sleeping near their mothers at night, especially if they are a breastfeeding pair. I am a lactation consultant; I support breastfeeding with an almost religious sacredness. But Motherhood is supreme to me; feeding is only a part of mothering. And here is what happens when I hear from moms who let the tiredness go too far.
Had a mom hospitalized against her will this year so she could be medicated to sleep for 4 days while she gathered up her self care and went back to full time mothering (successfully). This is an expensive way to catch up on sleep, and one that carries a lot of stigma. Needed sometimes, but a pretty hard experience for everyone.
Had another mom who woke up recently and couldn't make decisions or figure out what was actually 'real' and what felt like was just in her mind. She was scared...but thankfully, she had heard the story of this other mama, and told herself that she would be better if she just had some sleep. She was right. After some partner support, some doula support, and some wonderful family members helping out, she got rest, found her sense of reality, and went on happily back to mothering her little one full time.
So when I see moms week after week putting their sleep needs last on the list, or I see a breastfeeding mom who is so dedicated that she is losing beyond her pregnancy weight, hasn't taken a shower in a long time, and cries every time someone looks her in the eye...I get a bit more serious. Serious about advocating for mom's needs. (Babies never get neglected in the families I see; they typically have multiple people who love them who are happy to help out anywhere they can.) I write this not to help motivate others to rescue moms who are over the edge (although by all means, jump in and help when requested!) but to help PREVENT other moms from hitting that wall.
I want moms, partners, and anyone who loves them to TAKE THE INITIATIVE. Ask the mom if she wants more sleep...then figure out a way to get her more sleep! Not by changing the baby's behavior (not so easy actually!) but by changing the support mom has available. But having mom catch up on the weekend mornings by sleeping in; I know Dads and partners like to do this too! Negotiate...
I only share this to avoid the breakdown that I am all to familiar with. I know early parenting is tiring, and that is a badge we often wear for much of our kid's early lives. But no one gets a medal for parenting until you are wasted tired and possibly not making safe decisions behind the wheel, or picking fights when you don't even mean to! Please, just find a way to get more rest. If you have to take medication to shut off your brain if you are experience anxiety, allow yourself the guilt free experience of brain rest.
Yes, of course we provide this rest almost every night of the week. But if you have been in my classes or groups, you know I am going to encourage you to GET ALL THE FREE HELP YOU CAN before you hire anyone. Families figure this stuff out, and can get through it safely most of the time. Just don't neglect yourself...sleep is important. And YOU are important. Not just because you are a mother to this baby. Because you are YOU, and well loved by many.