As new mothers, we have no choice but to accept sleep deprivation as part of our current reality. The beast comes in many different forms in the middle of the night where we would typically get an uninterrupted 6-8 hours of sleep and reach all the stages of sleep/deep sleep successfully. Baby wakes up every hour. Baby decides it's party time at 3 in the morning. Baby wakes up only two to three times in the night, but where did my REM go? That reality being the case, do we choose to make Sleep Deprivation our mortal enemy or do we simply work with it as a partner in the business of mom-hood?
Before I go into all the techniques and supplements, let's set a good, solid foundation for a healthy mindset about it all...
First of all, give yourself the allowance and grace to be tired, messy and cranky; especially for the first couple of months. Going from being a person who sleeps 6-8 hours a night to a person who sleeps an hour here and an hour there is no joke!
Surrender to the new norm. For instance, you will not be going to bed at the same time you used to, nor will you wake up at your usual hour. If you try to force your present situation to look like the past, you'll only cause more stress to your system. Move to the rhythm of Nature, which is your child. Your expectations will always shift from here on out, so you might as well not set expectations in the first place. Inaccurate expectation is the root of all suffering. If there is an expectation to be set, it's that most nights will not be restful at this stage of your life. So set the tone for such active nights with little sleep. Take charge of your current situation in such a way that doesn't fight it.
This next one you hear about a lot these days, and while it's technically a technique, it's also a main ingredient in creating a healthy mindset. It is Meditation. My preference and recommendation for everyone is Vedic Meditation. I've seen all walks of life swearing by this method; from scientists, the religious, atheists, and even extremely "A.D.D." people who've complained about the monkeys in their brain not cooperating with other forms of meditation. Meditation is scientifically proven to release stress chemistry from your body; a cure every parent could use. The technique of Vedic Meditation has also been known to reach levels of rest superior to a full eight hours of sleep. (If you're interested in learning, send me a message with the name of your current town/city, and I'll reply with a list of teachers in your area.)
Now, let's talk about the body's basic needs...
Food, hydration and supplements:
Drink plenty of water. I can't emphasize this enough. Without fail, I notice the difference in my mood every night whenever I haven't been drinking enough water throughout the day. And mind you, hydration does not come in chugging water. It can come in drinking tea, eating soup and even eating water-rich foods. You can find out how much water you need per day by using a hydration calculator online. But be easy about it and listen to your body, so as not to stress yourself out or over-hydrate.
Eat well. Think nutrient-dense, good fats and protein. It's good to treat yourself from time to time, but keep in mind to limit the simple carbs, as eating too much will mess with your cortisol levels, thus creating stress and/or fatigue. Rely on protein and good fats for energy and support adrenals by limiting sugar and caffeine.
Not everyone is a fan of supplements, nor do some people even believe in their potency. I, for instance, did not believe in them and I still rely on food as my source of vitamins. Yet, somewhere down the line, I started to take supplements for that extra boost and peace of mind. Here are the supplements I believe are crucial for just that:
Calcium Magnesium. This one is my favorite to take before bed, as the magnesium has a calming effect and improves sleep, as well as other great benefits you can read about online. Calcium is extremely important while breastfeeding because a) your baby needs it and b) women are more prone to calcium deficiency than men (leading to osteoporosis), and breastfeeding moms lose about 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass during their breastfeeding term. According to The National Academy of Sciences, breastfeeding moms should consume 1,000 milligrams per day.
Stress B-Complex. Here's another one I like to take before bed. The name is pretty self-explanatory. I like Thorne's Stress B-Complex.
Multivitamins. Call me a hipster, or someone who's a fool for aesthetically pleasing packaging, but I love Ritual's multivitamins. Why do I love synthetic vitamins and not whole food vitamins? Mainly because my baby is sensitive to cruciferous veggies - as am I - and I'm just not convinced that adding ginger to those cruciferous-packed supp's will negate the side effects of cruciferous veggies. It's like telling a gluten-free Ayurvedic devotee that gulab jamuns are gluten-free because they've been deep-fried in ghee. That's happened to me before. Luckily, I can eat gluten again.
Chicken Liver capsules. Unfortunately, the only place where I've been able to find these magic bullets of nutrition is in Australia. It's expensive and it's not very green of me to get some vitamins shipped from over 7,800 miles away. But if I were to get rid of all my vitamins but one, I would keep the chicken liver capsules. It's real food that is dehydrated and packed with all the essential vitamins anyone needs, including protein. And if you do want some eco-friendly points, you can make them at home. Or you could just buy beef liver capsules anywhere in the U.S.
Shatavari. One of the more popular Ayurvedic herbs is Shatavari. It's like the female counterpart to Ashwagandha. It aids in healthy lactation, digestion, and it's a beautiful mood enhancer that won't have you bouncing off the walls or taking on unnecessary tasks. I prefer taking it in powder form which is the traditional way of taking Ayurvedic herbs. It's administered by putting the recommended dose in your mouth and chasing it down with warm-to-hot water. Plus, the taste isn't offensive like most herbs.
Moringa. Not only popular in India, but also popular in my ancestors' land, the Philippines. While it shares a lot in common with Shatavari, this one is also a superfood and has a substantial amount of protein. I prefer having it in smoothies, but it's also quite nice as a tea with a bit of sweetener. Unlike Shatavari, the flavor is strong. Moringa is also a mood enhancer and quite the breastmilk enhancer, to boot. I actually produce way too much milk if I have it on a regular basis. You can find Moringa powder in any health food store.
And last, but not least, in the oral consumption department...
The magically delicious Jujube Tea. Oh, how I love this tea. Not to be confused with the movie theater candy, it's one of those Chinese superfoods that miraculously helps with almost everything. This is also a wonderful mood enhancer whilst aiding in good sleep. Jujube's are Chinese red dates that look and feel very different from the dates we're used to, and their sweetness is light unlike Medjool dates. There's a good handful of different recipes online. I recommend just searching for one that suits you. Here's one that suits me...
10 cups of water
0.5 cup of goji berries
Bring the water to a boil and put the jujubes and goji berries in at the same time. Cover and set to a low simmer for 1 hour. Strain and enjoy! (additional sweetener is optional).
Phew! Okay. Now you've jacked your body up with all the nutrition and hydration a breastfeeding mom needs. What now?
Oh, the dreaded bedtime. That time of the night when you only have a few precious minutes to get ready for bed before baby wakes up. Then you finally crawl into bed and once you're horizontal and all tucked in and cozy, the baby starts to whinge. First of all, nurse that baby first, then get ready for bed after you've put her down. That should be a no-brainer. Not all moms have a nightly ritual, however. This is one of those things that is so important to make time for in order to have a peaceful (albeit wakeful) night.
Here is what my nightly ritual looks like in case you need some ideas...
Do the non-negotiables first - like brushing your teeth - in case baby decides to wake up in the middle of your routine.
Once you've done the bare essentials, dim your lights and make your room smell pretty with aromatherapy. I use an oil diffuser, or sometimes I spritz lavender spray on my pillows.
Make yourself smell pretty. But perhaps not with perfume. Again, with aromatherapy. I use a massage oil designed for sleep. Rub a little on your temples, forehead, solar plexus and feet.
Tuck yourself into bed and pray. Only half kidding about praying; although, I do find it comforting and most of the time effective. Sometimes when I feel like I'm going to lose it in the middle of the night, my prayer is as simple as, "Mother Divine, I need you." Try it out if you're into that kind of stuff.
(A note on the nightly ritual: I think it's important to make the sleep space relaxing and pleasing to the eye. When you wake up in the middle of the night, you don't want to wake up to a room that feels oppressive. If you don't already keep a Himalayan salt lamp next to your bed, I highly recommend one, as it provides a warm, comforting and dim enough light for you to set a relaxing tone in your room while you nurse your little one. If you nurse your little one in his or her room, then make that room as relaxing as possible for those nighttime feeds.)
Ahh, the birds are chirping and your baby is wide awake with a big smile on his face. The night before felt like a dream - sometimes a bad dream - but all is well that ends well. Perhaps you're feeling a little groggy, though happy to see your beautiful babe in a new light. Now it's time to face the morning routine. Flow with it. Take your time, if you can. How?
Invest in a simple, lightweight baby bouncer that you can carry from room to room. I've done my research through trial and error, and the only one on the market that's worth the money are BabyBjorn Baby Bouncers. I fell for the Bloom baby bouncer and I was frustrated with it from the moment I had to assemble it. It's clunky and difficult to carry from room to room, especially with baby in arm.
Find a simple and relaxing skincare routine that won't eat up a lot of your time. I only use a cleanser and lotion, and sometimes a serum at night. My two favorite skincare products are Gallinée (for prebiotic/probiotic skincare) and Renee Rouleau (also biome-friendly). Renee Rouleau's website has a fun quiz you can take to help you decide your skincare regimen.
A quick shower every morning to refresh and wash off the night-before consciousness state. Skip the hair. Heck, skip the soap. Sometimes just getting under water for a few minutes does the trick.
And proceed with everything else you do to start your day, whilst cooing to your baby from time to time and, perhaps, relaxing into a break to nurse him or her...
My next two suggestions are what you read in every blog/article about surviving sleep-deprivation, especially as a new mom...
Nap every chance you get. For me, that doesn't mean I nap whenever my baby does. I ask someone to watch the baby while I go meditate and then I take a nap after my meditation. Of course, I could sleep all day, so I sleep until my partner or the nanny brings my child back up to me when he gets hungry. Not every mother has this kind of support, though. In that case, nap when baby naps. All your other responsibilities can hold off.
Take help whenever possible or offered to you. In the west, we live in a society that puts an impossible amount of pressure on women to be and do everything. Don't feel guilty asking for help. Tribal communities all around the world, and even cultures in Asia and Europe, have a free support system which is the family. Grandmothers, sisters and/or cousins come to the rescue and help the mother cook and clean so that she can give her undivided attention to her baby and herself. (Remember - you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.) Somehow, we've lost that connection with our families. Now we either wear a lot shame asking our friends and family for help, or we just hire people. Perhaps we can start changing that.
And last, but not least...
Do something utterly satisfying for yourself at least once a day. You deserve it, Mama.
"You deserve the best. Never feel unworthy or not justified in having the best. I tell you, this is your heritage; but, you have to accept it. You have to expect it; you have to claim it.
To do so is not demanding too much."
~Guru Dev, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati