The Long Haul

This post is going to be about me complaining about the challenges of chronic sleep deprivation as a new mom.  Now, I do want to preface this by saying that I have much to be grateful for.  2015 was the year of WZW.  I found out on New Year’s Eve last year that I was pregnant, and I’m very fortunate to have had a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and now baby.

On top of that, I have a Super Dad of a husband.  In addition to his normal full-time job, he does everything he can humanly do to contribute to our family.  Breastfeeding is probably the only thing he can’t do.  He takes WZW off my hands when he can, cooks, and takes care of the dishes.  He loves organizing our house and doing things that involve trips to Home Depot.  So he’s constantly adding shelves, organizing stuff in labeled plastic bins, and finding better ways to use our limited space.  Honestly, when I go back to work, I definitely won’t be able to do the equivalent of what he does.  And best of all, he makes me feel loved and appreciated for what I do as WZW’s mom.

I am very aware of all that I have to be grateful for, but I’m still human.  Which means that the difficulties that I deal with daily are what are at the forefront of my mind.  WZW is now 11 weeks old, and as of his doctor’s visit a couple weeks ago, weighed 11 lbs.  I’m also on my last two weeks of maternity leave, so I’m starting to feel anxious about what it’s going to be like heading back and adjusting to work life post-baby.

For me, as the weeks have gone on with me taking care of WZW nearly 24/7 during my husband’s work days, the fatigue has become chronic.  Although WZW goes at least 4 hours now between feeds, he often wakes up every couple of hours at night.  So my sleep is still very fragmented. Sometimes on his off days, my husband will take nighttime duty and give WZW a feed of my thawed breast milk and take care of putting him back to sleep.  I wake up feeling great, and it certainly helps, but it’s frustrating that it’s not enough.  I still feel tired, and I feel like I’m so behind on sleep that I’d need to sleep for days to catch up.

Based on friends’ recommendations, and as gifts, we’ve ended up with a ton of baby books.  One is the sleep book by the same guy that did the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD, Harvey Karp, MD.  He discusses how sleep (or more like lack of it) contributes to postpartum depression.  We OB/Gyn docs make sure to check in with our patients at their 4-6 week postpartum visit to screen for postpartum depression.  And we’re very aware that unfortunately it often starts early.  Our Pediatrics docs and social workers help us screen as well, particularly for moms whose babies are in the NICU since they’re at higher risk.  That helps us catch the moms who are at-risk, and at a time prior to their postpartum appointments with us.

Dr. Karp mentions, though, that postpartum depression can show up months later.  Moms (and dads) who have very fussy babies, and/or aren’t getting as much sleep have a higher risk for depression.  Now that I’m going through it, I can totally relate.  For me, the initial push was ok.  But now that I’ve been in the state of chronic sleep deprivation for months, I’m feeling it more.  And I notice that when I’ve had a rough night, I feel worse in terms of my mood.

A typical scenario is that I wake up to feed WZW.  By the time he’s fed, burped, and put back to sleep, it’s easily been 45 min to an hour.  When I first woke up, I was nodding off as I was feeding him.  But by the time I’m done, I’m no longer desperately tired.  Not only that, but I’m hungry.  So I need to stay up even longer to eat.  Sometimes I think I’m tired enough and not hungry enough, so I’ll lay down.  And then find myself still awake half an hour later.  So I get up, eat a snack, and at long last go back to sleep.

I then wake up to my son crying and look at the clock- it’s been an hour.  It’s not time for him to eat yet, so he’s up because of something else.  In that moment, I’m so exhausted and all I can think about is how badly I want to be back in the comfort of my warm bed.  Instead, I’m pretty much hating life.

When the morning comes and the sun is up, the desperately tired feeling gives way to just my normal chronic fatigue.  Possibly the most ubiquitous piece of advice for new moms that I’ve seen and heard everywhere is, “Sleep when baby sleeps.”  Sounds reasonable enough, right?  Ha!  Not with my son.  Thank goodness he manages to sleep on his own at night.  But during the day, he generally needs to be in contact with a warm body (usually mine is the one that’s available) in order to sleep.

He spends a lot of time in the Rock ‘n Play, and as he gets tired he’ll get cranky but never puts himself to sleep in it.  That means I have to hold him until he does, and then I’ll try to put him back down in it.  The majority of the time, as soon as I do so, those little eyes open up- gotcha!  Sometimes I’ll get lucky and he stays asleep, and I’ll have a blissful 10 minutes to rush about and take care of things around the house before he wakes up again.

The other alternative is a carrier.  Around the house, I’ve used our Boba wrap.  Our traditional infant carrier is great for taking him out in public.  It’s also fine for using around the house, as it gives us the use of both hands more easily than with the Boba wrap.  Once WZW is nice and snug in a carrier and has his pacifier, he will pass out.  But since he’s attached to me, that means certain activities like showering are not happening.

I’ve tried napping with him in the Boba wrap, but he tends to wake up if I try to recline.  At best, I can try to nap sitting up, which isn’t the most comfortable for me, especially since we decided not to get a recliner chair for now.

Napping during the day is a great idea in theory, and sleep-deprived parents should definitely do so if they can.  But the reality is that babies as it is will sleep for short spurts, and in my case my son needs to be in physical contact with me to sleep.

Of course anyone is gonna feel crappy with less sleep.  But my mind tends towards the negative.  I’ll dwell on negative stuff, get more upset about things, etc.  Part of that for me has been the challenge of my eating habits and weight.

I’ve mentioned the snacking at night.  During the day, since I’m so tired, I care less about what I eat and am drawn towards the “bad stuff.”  It’s known in general that people who are sleep-deprived tend to be more overweight/obese.  I know it’s normal to not bounce back like Heidi Klum, but it still doesn’t feel good to be 10 lbs heavier than I used to be pre-pregnancy.  Plus, my old clothes don’t fit, and it’s depressing to have to wear my maternity pants.

I also feel guilty since I’ve continued to stray from the Paleo lifestyle.  I have a blog with Paleo in the frickin’ title!  I feel like such a hypocrite.  And yet the sleep-deprivation wins out, and I go on eating my bread.  It was always an extra challenge at work to bring my lunch.  During my pregnancy when I relaxed on the Paleo thing, I must say it was much easier being able to eat the lunches provided on the days I had work meetings.

I’m not really sure how I’m gonna figure things out as I transition back to work.  It’s gonna be tough handling my already stressful work schedule, adding breast milk pumping, and then if on top of that I have to worry about preparing my meals each day?  I know I can do it, and it’s a matter of prioritizing.  But I do think of it as another chore as I go back to work.  Let’s face it- it’s much easier if on some days I can just eat the sandwiches provided at work.

I struggle with trying not to be too hard on myself- I already have perfectionist tendencies, and it’s not easy dealing with a young infant 24/7.  And sleep deprivation- man, is that stuff potent!  You can have the best intentions and plans, and they will be totally annihilated by a poor night’s sleep.  On the other hand, I don’t want to be making excuses for myself, and devolve into a lifestyle full of unhealthy choices.

I don’t have the answers.  It’s gonna be something that I figure out as I go along.  But I just needed to vent.  And I am still tired.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  My ethnically ambiguous, gender neutrally outfitted little guy says hello:

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2 thoughts on “The Long Haul

  1. Meg November 28, 2015 / 12:29 pm

    Hey POB,

    Been meaning to ‘write to you’ for a while but life’s been getting in the way. Had to write today. As I’ve said before, I know exactly what you mean. Except I have the luxury of not going back to work yet, so despite your struggles I’m in awe of what you are doing and will be doing in two weeks’ time. It’s great that you could have 3 months off at least.

    Firstly, W looks so cute! And so different from how he looked as a newborn. His cheeks have filled out more like our boy’s have. Also in this pic he’s got such a calm, confident, self-assured look… I love it!

    So our little monster now sleeps well at night, waking up for a feed at around midnight and then again around 3.30am and then at around 6-6.30am. This rough pattern has been going on for long enough now that I think my body has adjusted to it a bit. Having him in the sidecar co-sleeper has helped so much, as I don’t have to get out of bed. Also, he has never had a poopy nappy at night and we leave the wet ones till morning. Still, I caught my reflection in the mirror two days ago and was aghast at just how bad the dark circles around my eyes are! I have never looked this tired in my life. I thought I looked like I had just been seriously ill or something.

    Anyway, for all this lovely predictability at night I have the exact opposite in the day time. J doesn’t have a routine while the sun’s up. The only thing he does do predictably during the day is to sleep for 30-40 minutes only. And he only falls asleep in my arms. This means that if I’m on my own with him I can do NOTHING during the day. NOTHING. He loves the BabyBjorn and will sleep in it, but if I take him out and put him down I have 5 mins before he wakes – which is just enough time to pee, or brush my teeth or maybe drink a glass of water, and then we start the game again. If I leave him in the carrier, I’m not very mobile and there’s a limit to how much I can do as my arm reach is so restricted. Also the exclusively breast-fed little chubster is heavy now (haven’t weighed recently, but I guess around 6 kg/ 13 pounds) which means my back starts to ache after a while.

    I read somewhere that apparently around 4 months many babies start to sleep for longer stretches during the day. I’m just hoping hoping hoping my one will too. I can deal with this waking twice in the night, just want time during the day.

    Re the diet thing – I came to your blog because I was following a primal diet/lifestyle too. My diet was ok during pregnancy, though carb intake was much higher, and exercise was excellent. These days I don’t have as much time for exercise so have started swimming a little. My diet though, is as it was in pregnancy – still carb/bread rich. I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately and figured out that I just don’t have the time/ energy to concentrate on it right now. I’m severely sleep deprived, which has always been the killer of good food choices for me. On top of that I’m severely time deprived and have this extra energy burden of milk production (from what baby drinks of my expressed milk I estimate that I make around 700-1000 ml / 30 ounces a day!!!!). Plus, based on my how body is responding (or not responding, rather) to the swimming I’m guessing there is some hormonal aspect that is preventing the last 10 lbs on my frame from going as well. So overall I’m letting myself do this for now.

    It is very scary for me to not fit into my pre-preg clothes, as I worked so hard in the past to get there. It’s depressing to see this layer of sub-cut fat all over my body and particularly over my belly. I keep reminding myself that it’s only 10 lbs and that I’ll probably lose it once baby weans. But that’s still some months away for us. What I’m working really hard on mentally is to not slowly, quietly accept this way of eating as my ‘normal’. I keep reminding myself that this is a product of a very special set of circumstances that are temporary and when the time comes I need to whip my ass into line.

    Like I said, it’s amazing what you’re doing. I mean it’s amazing already dealing with the sleepless nights, the exhaustion, the demands on your time and body and mind all the time, but on top of that you’ll be going back to work soon. Just amazing. Don’t forget that and keep on going.

    PS: As you know I’m not American and where I am formula isn’t pushed on us as it is there. Also we get longer off work. So on both counts I’m so impressed that you’re still breast feeding and plan to continue with the frozen stuff.

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    • Paleo OB November 28, 2015 / 8:29 pm

      Hi Meg,

      Always love hearing from you. It’s comforting to know that even though you’re on the other side of the world, you are going through a very similar experience. It’s like every baby puts their parents through their own versions of hell. We’ve read bits of several baby sleep books, and of course different things will work for different babies. But sounds like around 4 months they’ll start to have a more predictable sleep schedule. Like you, I’m really hoping for my son to sleep through the night and have a more predictable schedule in the coming months.

      I do wonder if there’s something about breastfeeding that encourages those last 10 lbs or so to stay on. You’d think with the extra calories burned that it would be the equivalent of exercising regularly (which I certainly don’t have the time nor energy for these days), and that it would help get back to pre-pregnancy weight. Yet I find myself ravenous all the time, so I end up eating a ton and keeping the weight on. My friends all said none of their pants fit postpartum for quite some time.

      That’s a great mindset to think of this all as temporary. I’m just scared that if I keep my goal of breastfeeding for a year, that by then these eating habits and lack of exercise will become my new lifestyle. But right now, I have to take it one step at a time.

      Thanks for the encouraging words. I think it’s easy to want to be superhuman and do all that we used to do pre-baby, and forget just how much work it is to sustain this little human who is now in our care. I was just remarking to my husband today how weird it is if you think about it, that my son just sucks on my boobs and that’s all he needs for his food.

      These days, I do think that there’s more of a push to breastfeed in the US. You are right, though, that since we get less time off from work, that can be a challenge for many new moms whose workplaces aren’t conducive to pumping. Thankfully, since I encourage it in my job to my patients, my workplace is very supportive.

      Despite all of the challenges, it really is amazing to watch our baby grow and develop so quickly. At one point, he ballooned in the course of a week and I took before and after pictures in the same outfit to highlight the change. Just yesterday, he started really laughing for the first time. It’s so rewarding, and ultimately our son makes us so happy.

      It’s always great hearing from you, and I certainly don’t mind you writing to me in the comments. I did want to mention, though, that after someone commented that they didn’t have a way to reach me other than commenting, that I created an email account. I edited my About page so it’s there, but in case you ever wanted to write something that you didn’t want public in the comments, the address is paleo.ob@gmail.com.

      Paleo OB

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