EXPERT ADVICE: Dr Jana Pittman talks surviving sleep deprivation as a new mum

The exhaustion post-birth is something new parents are all too familiar with.
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This is a topic incredibly close to my heart, as I feel I have been sleep-deprived for 17 years.

I have no excuses since I keep going back and having more children, but the overwhelming heartache when you hear your baby cry as you have literally just closed your eyes never leaves you. 

WATCH NOW: Better sleep for your baby. Article continues after video.

My twins are 17 months old, and every night I jump into bed and love that feeling of your head hitting the pillow and the soft comfy sheets.

A second later though, a wave of sheer anxiety destroys my comfort when I contemplate the broken sleep ahead of me – and I know I am not alone…

Dr Jana Pitman with her six children
Dr Jana Pitman with her six children (Credit: Dr Jana Pitman)

Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation

One of the hardest things is when a child is so deeply wanted and anticipated, and then the sleep deprivation can have parents questioning their motives and existence. Everyone says kids make your world a brighter place, but they also contribute to your wrinkles!

If you get into ‘sleep debt’ when you haven’t got kids, you can often make up for it at other times. But babies don’t have an off button, which makes it super hard for parents to catch the needed Zzz’s. Sleep deprivation makes people more irritable and increases the rates of stress, depression and anxiety. It can also make you more prone to accidents!

woman holding new born baby
A lack of sleep can be debilitating (Credit: Getty)

Ask for Help

Many of the strategies to help new parents are well-known. For example, nap when the baby naps, share the load with your partner (or ask a friend to help), have a good baby routine, and try to get some exercise to help create those good endorphins (walk with the pram).

Get help, and prepare and plan this ‘help’ before the baby arrives. Cook and freeze heaps of meals, be specific with friends about what you need (for example, could you please come at a set time and give me some sleep or help me tidy the kitchen), roster your visitors in the first few months (not daily but weekly), and if you can afford it, get some extra hands. I know hiring a babysitter can be expensive, especially when you are at home, but with more sleep and less stress, you will enjoy this period more.

If the sleep deprivation is becoming a big issue, you can also search for someone who specialises with infant sleep patterns. Again this can be expensive but you won’t regret diverting some funds into helping you thrive. 

woman exercising with pram
Exercise can help boost your mood (Credit: Getty)

When lack of sleep gets serious

We know that sleep deprivation is linked with post-natal depression, which affects at least 15 percent of women in Australia. If you are feeling very teary, unable to cope, your self-esteem is faltering or you are having negative thoughts, please see your family doctor quickly. Don’t be afraid – you are not alone, but you need support. Check out these websites for information on postnatal depression and support:

Hear more from Jana and her family life on the Bounty Australia podcast:

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