Lack of sleep is the number one challenge for new moms, but parents who complain about sleep deprivation after having a baby aren’t always met with sympathy. Dr Harvey Karp offers a different point of view. As a pediatrician, child development expert, and creator of SNOO, he believes that new moms suffering from sleep exhaustion need more support.
“Babies wake up a lot at night,” he says. “Parents on average sleep about six hours, but this will be fractured and broken up into little pieces. Yet a single night of less than six hours sleep can double a person’s risk of a serious car accident. So, when this happens night after night, you can imagine how it can have all kinds of negative impacts.”
“Exhaustion drunkenness” can be one consequence since lack of sleep impairs cognitive function. Sleep deprivation also increases your chances of postnatal depression (PND) and becomes a barrier to breastfeeding. “An exhausted mom might not take the time to check if the infant has latched properly, which can cause mastitis. Or she could just give up and bottle feed her baby instead.”
Sleep deprivation also leads to more relationship stress, sickness, and time off work, especially if a mom rushes back to work before she’s ready. So what’s the solution?
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Some Noise
The answer is actually counterintuitive, Dr Karp explains, “You’d think that a baby needs a cot in a quiet nursery in order to sleep, but motion and sound are key to better infant sleep. “The noise in the womb is 70 to 90 decibels, which is louder than a vacuum cleaner, and this helps to activate a baby’s calming reflex.”
Infants are also accustomed to mom’s movement while they’re growing in her belly. “Rocking, cuddling and shushing activate a relative off-switch for crying and the on-switch for sleeping. This reflex disappears after four months, but its lingering effect echoes through adulthood. It’s why we often fall asleep in a car or on a train. Even the whooshing sound of the ocean is calming.”
“A hundred years ago, a mom would be living with her extended family. She’d have help from grandmothers, aunties, and sisters, and if it were her first baby, she would’ve already had experience helping a relative raise their children. Motherhood would have been hard, but not as isolating or exhausting as it is today.”
Dr Karp suggests you make sure there is background noise wherever an infant is sleeping. “Putting a newborn in a quiet room, in a still bed without swaddling’s reassuring containment is a very abrupt change for a baby. It removes all the sleep cues they’ve known in the womb. After five or six months, an infant can sleep without swaddling and motion, but white noise is still beneficial for years.”
Karp’s SNOO also provides a solution. This smart bassinet rocks and shushes all night, and responds to a baby’s fussing. “It imitates the noise and motion of the womb, quickly helping a baby to sleep an hour longer or more. ”
Dr. Karp noted that sleep regressions can happen many times during infancy (from colds, growth spurts, or teething), but SNOO helps babies sleep through these disruptions. It’s like an extra pair of hands that soothe the baby while mom is sleeping, fixing a meal, or taking a shower. But, what happens if she doesn’t yet have access to a SNOO?
Offer Support Not Judgement
“Mommy wars” add an extra layer of stress for an already exhausted mom. “Many women feel like a failure if they say they’re struggling and need help. It’s vital that moms feel supported and not judged for reaching out.”
Dr Karp suggests that parenting, as we know it, is actually abnormal. “A hundred years ago, a mom would be living with her extended family. She’d have help from grandmothers, aunties, and sisters, and if it were her first baby, she would’ve already had experience helping a relative raise their children. Motherhood would have been hard, but not as isolating or exhausting as it is today.”
SNOO starts to sound heaven-sent the more that Dr Karp talks, but what happens if moms don’t have extended families or the money to buy the bassinet? “You can now rent a SNOO in the U.S. and they will become available in Europe from September. We also hope to gather enough research to encourage insurance companies and even the government to subsidize the SNOO for more families.”
Until then, ask for help if you need it. An extra hour’s sleep a day can be life changing in so many ways. Reach out to family, friends, and fellow moms without shame.