a tired looking woman with insomnia who has a sun, a moon, a baby rattle, and a baby bottle swirling around her head

Insomnia & Parenthood: New Baby + Old Sleep Disorder

In the spring of 2019, my husband and I moved from our two-bedroom condo into what felt like a spacious townhouse. I was 33 weeks pregnant, blissfully unaware that my daughter would arrive just 2 weeks later, and focused on unpacking and setting up space - particularly in the baby’s nursery and in my own bedroom.

I remember napping on our second day in the house, so tired from organizing and moving around, and thinking about how peaceful our new room was. We had invested in a Sleep Number bed and new sheets upon our move, and I was quite pumped about both of these things.

As someone who has struggled with insomnia for most of my life, sleeping challenges during pregnancy weren’t new to me. But, I knew once the baby arrived, everything could and would change.

The early days of parenthood

My daughter arrived quickly - my water broke at 35 weeks, 4 days pregnant, and I labored for a total of 12 hours, followed by 2 hours of pushing. After delivery, I then proceeded to mostly stay awake for another 48 hours.

I was completely unprepared for the way that adrenaline and new parenthood would impact my body, one that has long struggled to sleep normally.

Those days though, I wasn’t mad at my inability to fall asleep. I rested, but I also stared at my new baby, took a thousand pictures, texted with friends, and daydreamed about what our life would be like together.

Breastfeeding every 2 to 3 hours

Once my milk came in and I began breastfeeding, I was woefully unaware that I’d be on call about every 2 to 3 hours around the clock, for the foreseeable future. In the first few weeks as parents, my husband I developed a routine involving shifts.

The challenge? As a non-breastfeeding parent, my husband could sleep for 4- to 6-hour blocks when he had the chance. As a non-insomniac parent, my husband could fall asleep instantly and sleep until his alarm went off without a problem.

I had to be available either to my baby or to my breast pump, way more routinely than I care to admit. Struggling with supply and feeding issues made it critical to drain the milk frequently, so I lived by a series of alarms as well.

Exhausted but still unable to sleep

The challenge? They were at most 3 hours apart from start to start, meaning that even when someone else was watching the baby, I only had about 2-hour 15-minute windows to sleep, max. And sleeping, even though I was a new form of deliriously exhausted, still carried the challenges of my pre-parenthood insomnia life.

I’d lay down, and my mind would be active. Or I’d realize I was starving. Or I’d hear the baby in the background. Or it was too bright outside. I’d watch the clock with anxiety growing, knowing the time to my next alarm was dwindling, and often decided if it took me more than 30 minutes to fall asleep I’d give up and try again the next chance I got.

Adjust or lose myself trying?

This pattern was hardly sustainable, but as a new mom, really hopeful to breastfeed my daughter, I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. Much like in the early months and years with insomnia, I felt like I had to adjust or lose myself trying.

If you felt like this as a new parent living with insomnia, you’re definitely not alone! The next post in this series will talk about maximizing available sleep time and sleep environments during postpartum, including partner support.

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