Do You Have Postnatal Rage? What You Need To Know

Postnatal rage is a symptom of postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) many new mamas aren’t aware of.  

 New mamas are more informed than ever about signs of PNDA to look out for. PNDA has many traits, some of them include overwhelming sadness, changes to appetite, difficulties bonding with your baby, panic attacks or obsessive thoughts. 

In the first check up after giving birth, your doctor, midwife or maternal health nurse may ask if you’ve been experiencing any of these signs in the months after giving birth.  

But there is one symptom of postnatal mood disorders that no one is asking you about: postnatal rage. This is an overwhelming anger that is so intense it feels like more than anger. 

And the worst part? Women are suffering in silence because they don’t believe they should feel this way or are afraid of being judged as a bad parent. 

What is postnatal rage?

Around 1 in 7 new mums develop a mood disorder called postnatal depression and/or anxiety (PNDA) after they give birth. This condition is more serious and lasts longer than the baby blues that typically happen in the first few days after birth but disappear within a week. 

 New research shows women who experience PNDA are more likely to experience anger as well as the other expected symptoms. Yet anger as a symptom of PNDA isn’t included in standard screening tests for postnatal mood disorders. 

As a result, until now anger has been missed as a sign of postnatal mood disorders and mamas are left trying to deal with intense feelings of anger, betrayal and explosive rage. 

What causes postnatal rage?

When we think of new motherhood, being angry isn’t an emotion we associate with that picture of blissful baby snuggles. 

Unfortunately, few mothers are prepared for the challenges of becoming a parent. Many of us aren’t properly supported in this transition, with too many unrealistic expectations placed on us being able to ‘cope.’ 

Many women start motherhood feeling helpless or trapped as they take on the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, often at the expense of their own needs. New mamas might be mourning a pause in career, coping with the full demands of a household, without family or friends to offer support.  

Anger can be a response to feeling let down by partners, family or health care providers. It’s also common for new mothers to feel they’ve lost a part of themselves, especially if others are going on with life as before. 

If health issues have occurred after birth, the birth was traumatic, or if they can’t meet an expectation they had (such as breastfeeding), these feelings of failure or guilt can come up as anger.

Anger is more than just a feeling at that moment. It’s the visible red flag of what is going on underneath, masking deeper feelings such as fear, anxiety or grief. It might seem on the surface your anger is irrational but it is a distress signal—a red flag something else is going on that needs attention. 

What are the signs?

In the few months after giving birth to my third child, I found myself constantly on the edge of white-hot rage.  

My responses to anything even slightly negative were irrational, even frightening. A driver cutting me off on the road, a person walking slowly in front of me at the supermarket, even the sound of my partner’s breathing when he was sleeping. 

The anger I would feel was all consuming, overwhelming and something out of my control. Which was even more frightening. After the rage passed, I felt extreme shame, guilt and regret. I worried that I’d say or do something I’d regret and I was afraid of my children witnessing this frightening version of their mother. 

 How do I deal with postnatal rage?

If you’re constantly flying off the handle over big and small things after the birth of your baby, then a good place to start is whether you have other symptoms of postnatal depression or anxiety. 

PANDA has a checklist for new mums that can help you decide if you need further support. 

If you do have signs of PNDA, or you’re unsure, it’s important to reach out for help. Your doctor, midwife or maternal health nurse is a good place to start. While PNDA is common, if it’s not treated it can become severe, affecting your ability to care for yourself and your baby.  

It can help to keep track of your episodes of rage. Often what causes the rage to explode out of you is simply the tipping point. 

Think about:

  •     Where you were
  •     What was happening before
  •     Who is around you at the time or earlier
  •     How tired were you
  •     What time of day are the episodes most likely to happen?

If you notice particular triggers it can help you to identify the underlying issues that aren’t being dealt with and are contributing to your anger. 

Treatment for PNDA comes in many forms, such as counseling, support therapies, medication, etc. The path of treatment you choose will depend on your situation. 

Support from family and friends is vitally important. You may wish to find a postnatal doula to step in and provide respite from some of the things that triggering your deeper feelings. There are also natural treatments you can access to bring a deep and powerful connection back into your life, under the guidance of an experienced therapist.   

So if you’re a new mum and feeling angry, take a deep breath and know you’re not alone. Many women experience anger after giving birth. Seek support from your care provider.

Nurtured Birth offers support for new mamas having difficulty in the transition to motherhood, through postnatal doula support, massage therapy and naturopathy. Contact us for more information. 

If you or anyone you know needs help call the PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9 am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT) 1300 726 306.

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth

Labour Induction – What Are My Options?

You’re nearing the end of your pregnancy and perhaps you’re hearing the words ‘labour induction’. 

Perhaps at your last appointment your midwife or obstetrician mentioned induction of labour as an option if you haven’t had your baby in the next few weeks. They may have offered to perform a stretch and sweep to ‘help’ things along. 

Or you’re experiencing some complications and induction of labour has been recommended as a safer option for you and your baby. 

Whatever the reason, thinking about having an induction can be challenging. You may have heard induction is more painful than natural labour, or that it doesn’t always work and ends in a c-section. 

The best way to deal with your concerns and fears is to be informed about induction of labour and empower yourself to be prepared for labour. 

How is labour induction done?

In Australia, around 25% of women are induced. How induction is performed depends on several things. 

If it’s decided an induction is necessary, you doctor or midwife will do an internal examination to see if your cervix is ready for labour. This can help your doctor decide what method of induction is best for you. 

When your cervix is softening and ripening, you have a much better chance of induction being successful.

Membrane sweep

This involves your midwife or doctor inserting two fingers into your cervix and making a circular motion. This encourages a hormone called prostaglandin to be released. 

Artificial rupture of membranes 

This can only be done when your waters don’t naturally break. A small hook-like instrument is inserted through your vagina to make a hole in the amniotic sac. This brings your baby’s head down onto the cervix to encourage labour to begin; although most women also need medical induction as well. 

Synthetic oxytocin (Syntocinon)

This is an artificial version of the hormone responsible for contractions. You are given this through a drip in your arm. When contractions begin, the amount of Syntocinon is adjusted to make sure you have regular contractions. 

Prostaglandin (Prostin)

Another synthetic version of a hormone that softens the cervix to prepare for labour. It is inserted into the vagina as a gel or pessary. Quite often the gel is used when the cervix isn’t ready yet, before having your waters broken or Syntocinon to bring on contractions.

Balloon catheter

This is a small tube attached to a balloon which is inserted into the cervix, then inflated with saline. The balloon catheter puts pressure on your cervix to encourage it to open. You may also need to have your waters broken or Syntocinon to bring on contractions.  

Why is labour induced?

Most of the time, healthy women have healthy pregnancies and go into labour without any need for intervention. 

Sometimes, there are complications that mean the well-being of you or your baby is at risk. In these situations, it might be decided it’s better for your baby to be born sooner rather than later. 

Medical reasons to be induced are:

  • Preterm or pre-labour rupture of the membranes
  • Health complications for the mother, such as preeclampsia, high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney problems.
  • Concerns about the baby’s health, including poor growth, heart rate changes, or fewer movements. 

There is also an increasing number of care providers who recommend induction for women aged 35 years and older, to reduce the risk of stillbirth. It’s important to know maternal age alone isn’t an isolated risk factor. 

Being overdue is a very common reason for induction, but it isn’t considered a clinical reason unless you are over 41 weeks pregnant. Often, care providers will start talking about induction when you reach 39 weeks even if there’s no medical urgency for birth. 

Induction is also commonly recommended for mamas who are 35 years or older. This is because there’s evidence showing a higher risk of stillbirth at the end of pregnancy in women of this age group. It’s important to know the risk is still very small and has gotten lower in the past few decades. It’s also lower in healthy women and those who have already given birth before.  

Being overdue or considered an older mum can be stressful, particularly if you’re hoping for a natural and positive birth experience. 

It’s impossible to predict when a baby will be born. At best we guess with a due date, based on pregnancy lasting an average of 280 days or 40 weeks. Many women are also choosing to have babies later in life, or experience fertility issues which delay pregnancy until their late thirties. 

How long is labour after induction?

Labour induction is as unique as your pregnancy experience and the truth is there’s no way to know exactly how long labour will take after induction.

It depends on a number of factors all working together to answer the question of how long your induction will take, starting with the method used for induction and how ready your body is for labour to begin.

The consistency, dilation and position of your cervix is the most reliable way to get an idea of how long labour induction will take. This is why before you’re induced, your care provider will assess your cervix.

If your cervix has already begun to dilate before you’re induced, there’s a good chance labour will go faster than if you weren’t dilated at all. In the same way, how thin or ‘effaced’ your cervix is can indicate how successful induction will be. A thin cervix is considered to be ‘ripe’ or ready for labour.

If this is a second or subsequent birth, then chances are your induction is more likely to go quicker than if it is a first baby. Our bodies are marvellous things and seem to recognise what to do after having already birthed.

Is induced labour more painful?

Again, this depends a great deal on each woman but generally induced labour is harder to manage, and the use of epidural pain relief is higher than labour that has begun on its own.

This is because medically inducing labour overrides the natural process of hormone production that allows your body to produce its own painkillers. Induced contractions are also harder and faster much more quickly.

Natural labour induction preparation

Some care providers will offer to perform one or more stretch and sweeps in the week of your due date to ‘encourage’ things along and avoid a medical induction later. 

However you have other options to naturally prepare your body for labour. 

One of these is something known as labour induction massage. Massage is a safe and beautiful way to bring your mind-body awareness into play. Labour induction massage can encourage your body and baby into labour. 

Labour requires several things before it will begin. Your baby needs to be ready for life outside the womb, and positioned optimally for birth. Massage encourages your muscles to release tension that may be preventing your baby from moving into an ideal position.

By stimulating certain acupressure points on your body, labour induction massage can encourage your baby to apply pressure to the cervix and strengthen contractions. 

Your body is also a key part of the process, and that also involves your mental and emotional state. Massage encourages you to let go of fears and inner tension, to work on a positive mindset and open up to the incredible power within your body as it moves into the final stage of pregnancy – labour. 

Natural labour induction massage may encompass many therapies, such as osteotherapy, meditation, stretching, body movements and Rebezo. Ideally you will begin induction massage treatment close to or after your due date.

However, priming your mind and body for labour can begin earlier, as these therapies encourage an open and relaxed state of mind and body and can only benefit you and your baby. 

If you are pregnant and would like to know more about how natural labour induction massage may benefit you, contact Nurtured Birth here

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth

5 Reasons To Join A Mums & Bubs Group

If you’ve just had a baby and are wondering if you should join the local mums & bubs group, chances are it could be the best decision you make. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time mama or already have children, a new baby is both a blessing and a challenge. So much focus is on having the baby, that quite often a new mother finds she’s lost in the aftermath. 

In the past, women became mothers while encircled by her family and community. The saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Traditionally and in some existing cultures, this saying holds a lot of truth in it. 

However, in today’s busy society this village isn’t as readily available as it once was. Most new mamas aren’t really prepared for this and how it affects their early motherhood journey. 

Finding and seeking support during this time can be very challenging. This is where having a support group and building your own village is an important part of your path to motherhood. 

How do you join a mums & bubs group?

In Australia, first-time mamas are invited to attend what is known as mothers’ or mums and bubs group in the first few months after their baby is born.

This is usually organised through the local council and includes other mothers who have given birth around the same time.

You don’t have to join this group – you may prefer to find one that better suits your needs. 

#1: Support in buckets

In today’s society, families live far apart, are busy, or not available. Friends might already have children and understand, but are ahead of you in their own journey. Many new mamas are isolated from core support people on a daily basis, if their partner returns to work early. 

Isolation after the birth of a baby, especially your first baby, is a risk factor for postnatal mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Up to 80% of new mothers experience what we call ‘the baby blues’ and at least 20% go on to develop postnatal depression/anxiety. 

When a new mama has a network of other women going through the same experience, she is supported as she makes the transition into motherhood. She has access to empathetic ears and hearts when she’s feeling challenged and frustrated in this new role. There are willing and loving hands to hold her up when she’s tired, needs a break or simply needs to be told she’s doing a good job. 

#2: Improve your wellbeing

While mums & bubs group might seem like a non-essential social outing, it actually improves your wellbeing. Creating and strengthening social bonds with others reduces your stress and provides you with plenty of opportunities to share experiences. 

For new mamas who have been used to working full-time, getting used to being at home constantly can be tricky. Having a date in your weekly diary can be a sanity saver – it gives you the motivation to get out of your pjs and do something to fill your cup. 

#3: Increase your social circle

Initially meeting total strangers might seem daunting and not your thing. But one of the wonderful things about mums & bubs groups is meeting women from different walks of life. At first, you may feel you have nothing in common with the other mothers in your group. Except you do – you are all navigating your way through the early months of motherhood. 

You’re creating bonds with women who get it; they are right there in the thick of early motherhood and become the people you share the ups and downs of parenting with. Your mother’s group provides a wealth of shared experience, where you can swap knowledge and support each other. 

Many mamas end up gaining lifelong friends from their mother’s group, especially as you’re meeting other mamas who live in the same area as you. You build a connection that includes playdates, babysitting, group fitness sessions, such as Mums and Bubs Yoga sessions Nurtured Birth offers. Your children are growing up together, creating further bonds which will last well past their babyhood. 

#4: Got questions!

Most mums & bubs groups include some form of facilitation, either by a maternal and child health nurse (if run through the council), a midwife or postnatal doula. Sessions usually include early parenting recommendations and advice. This gives you the space to ask questions and talk through concerns you have. 

And you couldn’t be in better company – most new mamas are keen to know they’re not the only one who is struggling or feeling overwhelmed. Who else will understand how crazy and worrying and exhilarating motherhood is? There is no such thing as too much information in mums & bubs group and yes, you will share more with these women than you think possible. 

#5: Sharing is caring 

After your group sessions finish, you can take mums & bubs group to the local cafe, playcentre or each other’s houses. A great mother’s group becomes your community. As your babies grow, your mama group connection will continue to thrive and hold each other up. 

You have a safe space to whinge together about partners working late, babies not sleeping, or throwing food everywhere. You’ll cry and laugh about the same things, sometimes over industrial strength coffee, sometimes over a wine at a much deserved night out together. 

If you’re about to become a new mama or are looking for a group in your area, click here to find out more about our Nurtured Mothers group sessions. These gatherings run for 5 weeks and aim to hold space for new mamas to develop confidence in their parenting while sharing the journey with other like-minded women.

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth

10 Easy Ways To Improve Your Family’s Gut Health

If you’re aiming to support the health of your family, focusing on gut health is one of the best things you can do. 

Research has been looking at the importance of the community of microorganisms (microbiome) that exists in our digestive systems, and how it’s connected to our health and wellbeing. 

A healthy microbiome can influence the current and future health of your family, with emerging evidence showing links to allergies, eczema, the immune system, as well as behaviour and even neurological disorders.

Good digestive health is important for everyone in the family, lowering the risk of developing diseases or disorders now and in their future. Improving your gut health supports your well-being naturally. 

A healthy microbiome needs a balance of the right amount of friendly bacteria against the not so friendly flora. And the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the more likely it will be balanced in your favour – meaning you stay well and avoid future health problems.

Don’t just assume taking a probiotic will improve gut health and that’s all you need to do to support your family’s health. While probiotic supplements might be helpful, research hasn’t yet proven the bacteria in them reach your gut intact.

Most probiotics also contain a limited number of bacteria strains. You may already have enough of certain strains and actually need others, but the only way to tell is to have your stool analysed. Not something everyone does before spending money on supplements. 

And even if probiotic supplements do have health benefits, they aren’t the only way you can improve and maintain your family’s gut health. 

Building good gut health

Following are 10 ways you can make changes now or build on to improve the current and future health of your family. 

  1. Women can improve their child’s future health by making changes to their diet and lifestyle during pregnancy. Support from a naturopath can pinpoint appropriate changes that will increase the beneficial bacteria your baby will be exposed to during birth and afterwards.
  2. If you are having a baby, aim to give birth without or very minimal interventions. Babies born by c-section have different gut flora to those born vaginally and are more likely to have related health problems later in life. If a c-section is necessary, focus on plenty of skin to skin and breastfeeding afterwards, to help ‘seed’ your baby with your good bacteria.
  3. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life. Breastmilk is the perfect source of nutrition, antibodies and prebiotics needed to nourish your baby’s microbiome. It also helps to protect the gut lining, which is still permeable, and prevent bad bacteria from causing illness or immune problems in their future.
  4. The simplest and easiest way to increase bacteria diversity is to be around different types, and being in nature exposes you to a huge variety of flora. Children who play outdoors in the dirt and with animals have more robust immune systems and are less likely to have allergies etc. Another reason to get your family outside as often as you can to improve your health.
  5. Probiotics are the foods or supplements that contain live bacteria. Prebiotics are the foods that ‘feed’ your existing gut bacteria. So it makes sense you need to eat foods that contain prebiotics to help the good bacteria thrive. Prebiotics are foods with indigestible fibre, such as asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, apples, barley and oats.
  6. Move your body. Exercise increases the amount of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system by up to 40%! Get your family active more often and preferably outside where you are exposed to a wider variety of bacteria.
  7. Go easy on the cleaning! Antibacterial soaps, wipes and disinfectants all kill the good bacteria we need for healthy immune systems and gut health. Plain soap and water to wash your children’s hands is fine. A little dirt never hurt!
  8. Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely. Antibiotics have a place in modern medicine but they’re often overprescribed. Keep your family’s immune system functioning to the best of its ability with good gut health as most of our IgA antibodies are made in the gut. IgA is the first line of defense against harmful bacteria and they promote the growth of a healthy microbiome. If you or a member of your family does need antibiotics, follow up with a multi-strain probiotic for at least a month afterwards.
  9. Ditch the processed foods like junk food and sweets or aim to keep them to a minimum. These foods aren’t nutritionally beneficial and they create a hostile environment in your gut for good bacteria. The more you and your family eat of these processed foods, the balance of bacteria changes in favour of unfriendly flora, undermining digestion and health.
  10. Get plenty of dietary probiotics. Live or cultured yoghurts, fermented vegetables such as kimchi, sauerkraut or natto, or drinks such as kefir and kombucha. It hasn’t been proven that the bacteria from these foods actually reaches the gut intact. However, in countries where these foods are traditionally eaten, people seem to have better gut health and a lower incidence of bowel disease.

If you would like to know more about how to support your family’s health and how improving gut health may benefit you, contact Nurtured Birth here

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth

6 Top Tips To Prepare For Successful Breastfeeding

Successful breastfeeding is expected by most new mamas, because it’s … well, natural.

The truth is, since the beginning of time, new mamas naturally fed their babies after watching and learning from other women around them. It’s only been in our recent history that breastfeeding has come less naturally to new mothers.

Changes in social attitudes meant birth and breastfeeding became less visible. Our grandmothers, mothers and our own generation missed out on that vital firsthand experience of watching others go through these life-changing events.

It’s actually not surprising that today while most new mamas do breastfeed their newborns after birth, very few continue to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months.

We know how important breastfeeding is for babies and mothers, and getting it right from the start is key to a successful breastfeeding relationship.

If you are a mama-to-be who wants to prepare for breastfeeding, here are some valuable tips to ensure your journey is successful:

#1: Learn about successful breastfeeding before birth

Research indicates quality education about postnatal parenting and breastfeeding is the best step to ensure a successful breastfeeding experience.

Learning about breastfeeding before you give birth means you have the time and energy to actually take on the information. Trying to learn about breastfeeding when you and baby are recovering from birth can be overwhelming.

You’re also more likely to implement some of the other tips covered in this blog post. How you decide to learn about breastfeeding can be through attending a class, such as those the Australian Breastfeeding Association runs, antenatal classes at your hospital, or with a private lactation consultant (see tip #6 for more information).

#2: Understand normal newborn behaviour

I don’t think there’s a parent alive who hasn’t been in the presence of their newborn for the first 24 hours and thought ‘wow, we hit the jackpot with a quiet sleeping baby’.  The first 24 hours or so after birth, a newborn tends to sleep a lot, feed a little, and maybe cry some too.

Then 1-3 days after birth, your baby is more awake and aware. They also realise food isn’t on tap anymore, are quite hungry and cry a lot more. They tend to want to feed very frequently.

This is actually very normal newborn behaviour. They have small tummies and need to feed often, especially as they’re helping to increase their food source – your milk supply.

Most new mamas aren’t prepared for this change in their baby. They feel they’re doing something wrong, their baby isn’t getting enough milk and that’s the reason for the crying and fussiness.

This stage doesn’t last, but it can be very frustrating and exhausting when it does. Being aware that this is very likely to happen, and being patient with yourself and your baby is a step toward getting through this stage.

#3: Who’s got your back?

In the months and weeks before giving birth, have a look around your immediate support network. Who do you know breastfed for at least 6 months, even beyond? Ask that mama questions about what she felt helped her the most.

It’s a good idea to discuss your intentions to successfully breastfeed with your partner, family and close friends. Research shows partner support is one of the biggest factors in new mamas continuing to breastfeed. If you feel your partner might be less supportive or concerned, get along to a breastfeeding class together. Talk to your partner about how important it is to have their support.

Think carefully about the people in your life who are less likely to be supportive. Many women find the older generation has a very negative attitude towards breastfeeding. It can be wise to be aware of this and have a frank discussion beforehand about your intention to breastfeed and expectation they will refrain from being negative about it.

#4: Create a successful breastfeeding plan

It’s likely you’re already preparing your birth bliss plan, the document that lists your intentions and preferences when you go into labour. Include your breastfeeding bliss plan on your birth plan too. This should state your preferences for the first hour after birth (see tip #5).

In the first hour after birth, your baby will likely be quiet and alert, which is the perfect state for the first breastfeed. Stay skin-to-skin with your baby and allow your baby to seek your nipple.

This can take a little time but all babies have an innate instinct to find their mother’s nipple very soon after birth. Ask care providers to refrain from touching or forcing your baby to take the nipple until they’re ready.

It should be said, most maternity hospitals support early breastfeeding when labour and birth has been uncomplicated. It’s usually when you or baby have needed medical intervention that breastfeeding can be interrupted.

Where appropriate, have skin-to-skin with your baby (or with your partner). Where possible, seek support to feed your baby directly from your breast. It can be useful to have on your birth preferences that your baby is not to be given any artificial nipples or formula unless medically indicated and with your consent.

Babies in special care nurseries can be given breast milk by oral syringe or feeding tube, so ensure all care providers are aware of your preferences. Speak to the hospital lactation consultant (or your own) about pumps and how to best keep up your supply if you’re separated from your baby for some time.

#5: Plan for a normal birth

Women have been giving birth since the beginning of humanity with minimal intervention. It’s only been in the last few centuries we’re started to interfere with the process. Mostly this has been with good intention, to prevent anything risky from happening.

Unfortunately, intervention during labour has consequences and often the time after birth is affected but least considered. During your baby’s first hour, if they are given skin-to-skin contact with you, this helps them to regulate their temperature and respiration, boosts their immunity, helps with the third stage, and improves successful breastfeeding rates.

Babies born to mamas who haven’t had pain medication are also more likely to breastfeed than those mamas who have. That being said, if you do need medical intervention or choose to have pain medication, you don’t have to miss your baby’s first hour.

See tip #4 above for suggestions on how to make that work for you and your unique situation.

#6: Call the breastfeeding expert

It might seem pre-emptive to hire a lactation consultant when you’re pregnant and not yet breastfeeding. But when it’s day three after birth and you’re in tatters because your baby is crying and won’t latch and it seems impossible to go on, you will be glad to have your LC on speed dial.

A lactation consultant is a breastfeeding specialist. They have special training and can help identify what’s not working and how to resolve it. Most early breastfeeding challenges can be fixed, with the right, qualified support.

If hiring a private LC isn’t possible, ask your midwife what support is offered by your hospital or through your local council. Keep the Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline number handy for help too.

At Nurtured Birth we are here to support you in your journey to breastfeed after birth and beyond. Find out more about us and our services here.

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth

Newborn Sleep – Everything You Need To Know

Newborn sleep is the hot topic when you’ve had a baby. Newborn babies have very different sleep patterns and needs compared to older babies and children. 

 At Nurtured Birth we believe the period after birth is an important space for mothers to heal, for bonding with your new baby, and adjusting to a new family dynamic.  

Sleep and rest are a big part of this and knowing what to expect in the first few weeks can ease the transition into early parenting.   

Can newborn babies sleep too much?

Newborns tend to be very sleepy in the first few days after birth. 

They sleep for around 16-20 hours in a 24 hour day and there’s no pattern to their sleep as their brains haven’t started producing melatonin, the hormone responsible for wake-sleep cycles. 

It’s very normal for your newborn to have day and night mixed up because during pregnancy, your baby was tuned into your body cues about day and night.  

Newborns can’t cope with being awake for more than 45-60 minutes. After this, your newborn becomes overtired and their body produces too much cortisol, making it even harder to go to sleep. 

As their nervous system starts to mature, your newborn becomes more alert and sensitive to their environment.  

How should a baby sleep?

New parents are often surprised at how much their newborn wants to be held, even when sleeping. Newborns are driven by an innate instinct to feel safe and comfortable, especially as they’re adjusting to the world outside the womb. They survive by seeking out comfort and safety, crying if they’re put down or left in a quiet, dark room alone. 

New parents can feel they’re doing the ‘wrong’ thing by holding their sleeping newborn. Just remember your newborn is wired for this connection and you can’t ‘spoil’ them by holding them when they’re asleep.

Make sure when your baby is sleeping on their own you follow the safe sleeping guidelines (you can find more information here).

Can you teach a baby to sleep?

Many new parents look for ways to help or teach their newborn to sleep ‘well’. Society perpetuates the idea a ‘good baby’ is one that learns to sleep for longer periods as early as possible. 

There are plenty of so-called baby sleep experts pushing the idea that newborns can be ‘taught’ to sleep well if only parents do X or Y. That if you start off the ‘right’ way, then you’ll have a perfect sleeping baby within no time.

When these steps fail, it leads to parents feeling like failures and becoming more frustrated. And when you’re in the thick of being woken several times a night, it’s tempting to think there’s something ‘wrong’ with your baby. 

The reality is, newborns don’t sleep badly to inconvenience anyone. They are sleeping in a way that is normal and appropriate for their development and needs. 

What does newborn sleep look like?

Newborns sleep very differently to adults, spending most of their time in rapid eye movement sleep (REM). This means they have short sleep cycles of around 55-50 minutes and can be very active in their sleep (twitching, stretching, crying out). They can also move through sleep cycles quite frequently.  

REM is very light sleep, and is thought to be a necessary part of newborn brain development. But it also has another protective purpose. Babies who are in deep sleep find it harder to wake up if they’re not getting enough oxygen. While REM is lighter sleep and newborns can wake up from more easily, they are less at risk of SIDS. 

As babies grow and develop, their sleep will change. It’s not an exact science, because not all babies develop the same way. Some babies want longer periods of feeling safe, others need more or less sleep, and there are babies who are completely textbook.   

Around 6 weeks of age, your baby’s brain starts to produce small amounts of melatonin, ramping up around 12 weeks after birth. It’s not instant but you will notice your baby’s sleep starts to fall into a more organised pattern. 

Exclusively breastfeeding can help your baby to sort out their sleep patterns. Breast milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan that the body uses to make melatonin (how cool are women’s bodies!). Tryptophan levels change according to your circadian rhythm, so when you breastfeed your baby before bedtime, they fall asleep faster. 

Remember newborns have small tummies and can’t last all night without fuelling up. Frequent night-wakings to feed is normal and necessary for newborns. As your baby grows, they may space out feeds and wake less often at night. Some babies might still wake to nurse but go back to sleep quickly.  

How to cope with sleep deprivation with a newborn?

Most new parents find it really challenging to cope with a sudden sleep deficit when they have a newborn. New mamas who are up several times a night breastfeeding are also recovering from birth and the exhaustion of pregnancy. An important part of coping with sleep deprivation is looking after yourself:

  1. Sleep when your baby is sleeping. Even a 30 minute power nap can help you get through the day. Prioritise having a nap over household chores, entertaining visitors etc. 
  2. If you are too awake to nap or have other children to care for, make time to sit quietly or rest. You might find yourself dozing while your baby sleeps and older children are watching a TV program.
  3. Set up a safe sleeping space for you and your baby at night. Breastfeeding mothers who sleep close to their babies (safe cosleeping or room sharing) get more sleep than those who don’t sleep in the same space.
  4. Let your baby be exposed to natural lighting during the day and keep lights dimmed at night. Natural light can influence your baby’s sleep patterns and keeps your own circadian rhythms on track (helping you to produce plenty of sleep inducing breastmilk!).
  5. Ask for help if you’re feeling really sleep deprived. Your partner, family or trusted friend can cuddle and care for your newborn while you have a restorative nap. If you don’t have support from family and friends, consider a postnatal doula to provide support.
  6. Sometimes babies don’t sleep due to health issues such as reflux. Seek guidance from your doctor, midwife or maternal health nurse if your instincts are telling you something isn’t right.
  7. Often parents mistake their baby moving or vocalising as a sign they’re waking up and rush into soothe, and then disrupt their baby from settling into the next sleep cycle. Tune into your baby and you’ll start to know the difference when they’re truly awake.
  8. Never feel you are going to spoil your baby by responding to their needs when they’re signaling they need you. Babywearing can be a great way to keep your newborn close and help them feel safe, while you go about your day.
  9. Recognise if you’re feeling completely wiped out and stressed due to sleep deprivation and seek support. Watch for signs of postnatal depression and anxiety.
  10. Accept this is a stage most babies go through and grow out of, until the next growth and developmental stage arises. Be gentle on yourself.

Click here to find out how Nurtured Birth’s postnatal doula can surround you with support and nurture as you navigate the early days of parenting. 

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth