The 6 Secrets to Better Sleep For Tired Mums

By Guest Blogger – Narelle King at Simply Happy

About to become a mum? How exciting! There are so many amazing new things that come with newborns. It comes with some pretty big challenges too, one of which is the rollercoaster of change to your sleep. Strap yourself in, it’s time to get prepared for changes to your sleep, and learn how to maximize your Zzzz’s in those first few months. 

It can be a huge adjustment to get your head around having little control over the amount of sleep you get each night. It’s something you can’t get around, and have to accept there are going to be some big changes. Newborns wake throughout the night, so you need to adjust to getting up throughout the night and having your sleep broken up. It takes a few months for your newborn to establish a day-night cycle. This can be the trickiest stage for new mums. You might be used to a daily routine, staying on top of your housework, meal prep, socializing or taking time out for you. Routines go out the window with newborns, but that doesn’t mean saying goodbye to self-care.

With a new baby, I found myself sacrificing sleep for more time. It was a quick-fix, but the lack of sleep created more problems than it solved. But why is sleep so important, and what can you do to maximise quality sleep as a new mum?

Why sleep is important

When you sleep, your body goes into recovery mode. A good night’s sleep leaves you revitalized and well prepared for the next day. It can help with mood regulation and maximizing social experiences. Good sleep even helps you consolidate memories and behaviours. If you skip out on good sleep, you’re not giving your brain the chance to put everything together from your day.

A lack of sleep has physical impacts beyond just low energy levels. It can raise your core body temperature, leading to physical problems like inflammation-related conditions, autoimmune disease and allergies. It can weaken your immune system, leaving you susceptible to bugs. Lack of sleep contributes negatively to mental wellbeing and anxiety. It makes overcoming the challenges of a newborn baby much harder. 

There’s no quick-fix for getting sleep as a new mum. But while your priorities have to change, your health and wellbeing is still an important priority. A little bit of quality sleep goes a long way during those first few months. Here’s some ways to do it:

Sleep in the day 

You might feel like you have a million things to do and they should get done when your baby is asleep. It’s very tempting to try and do chores, wash dishes, do laundry and clean floors when your baby is asleep. One thing I’ve learnt is to accept that your house might not be perfect, or you might have to put off some items on your to-do list. Sleep and self-care is more important! 

It’s OK to have some sleep when your baby does, because once they are up, you have to be up too. Broken sleep is better than none, and naps can help you catch up on some sleep. While the easiest and best sleep time is overnight, taking any window during the day to catch up on lost sleep will really help.  Early afternoon is a great time of the day when your body naturally wants to go to sleep.

Sleep during the day doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep – blocking out light with heavy drapes helps, as does making it quiet and comfortable.  Eye masks and ear plugs are a cheap way to block out light and loud background noise. Keep your phone off, or at least out of arm’s reach, so you’re not tempted to distract yourself from sleep.

Establish a night ritual for yourself

Create your own sleep ritual. It can be hard to turn on and off sleep to fit your newborns schedule. While your sleep ritual may have to be flexible, it’s still a great way to get your body ready to rest. One or two hours before you plan to go to bed, start by turning off your phone and TV and dimming the lights. Do relaxing activities away from screens like having a bath, reading a book or listening to calming music.

You can build cues that your body associates with sleep. This can be an activity, music, lighting or a relaxing scent. Use the power of essential oils to create a relaxing atmosphere. It’s also a way to begin to associate the relaxing scent with bedtime. When you smell lavender, your body will subconsciously begin to wind down. You’ll be off to sleep in no time!

Watch what you eat and drink

Your food intake can make a big difference to your sleep. Maintaining a healthy diet can seem like a huge challenge as a new mum, but there are little things you can do to improve your health. Try not to substitute sleep with food. When you can, take the opportunity to get that quality energy from sleep. Food can’t replace that energy.

A big challenge is to watch your sugar intake. If you tend to rely on sugar hits to get you through the day, start replacing your sugary snacks with more energy-efficient snacks like nuts, yoghurt and whole foods. This is particularly important in the afternoon and evening. You don’t want a sugar-high stopping you from getting to sleep!

Stop having caffeine after 12. Caffeine can make your mind more active when it’s time to switch off. When the productive part of your day is over, give your body a rest and leave the caffeine for another time.

Ask for help

If you love to be as organized and efficient as I do, this step can be hard. I know asking, or accepting, help from others may feel challenging. You don’t have to go through the big changes of new motherhood alone, there are plenty of people to help you with the adjustment. Whether that’s family, friends or outside help, it can free up some time for you to take care of yourself. If your body is screaming out for sleep, but you can’t find the opportunity to rest, someone else might be able to free up that opportunity for you. I’m sure they’d love to help. 

Practice Nidra yoga

Nidra Yoga is a sleep-based, conscious guided meditation. Don’t let the word yoga put you off! There are no yoga poses or physical exertion. You’re lying in a comfortable position and covered with a blanket. Your body sleeps while your mind is awake taking in the guided instructions. It’s complete REST for both your mind and body. You get all the benefits of meditation, as well as sleep. 

Yoga Nidra encourages rest by using breathing, triggering the relaxation response. Your nervous system is calmed and your thoughts slowed down. The hormone serotonin is released to help you feel more relaxed. Practicing Yoga Nidra for just 20-minutes is the equivalent rest of an extra 2 hours of sleep. Getting to sleep and staying asleep is also improved with a regular Yoga Nidra practice. It can be a great tool to have as a new mum, and can be used any time when you have a few minutes to yourself!

Try Yin Yoga

Yoga is known to be a relaxing, healthy and spiritual practice that can improve flexibility and strength. As a new mum, it can be a way to take time for yourself and reconnect with yourself. Yin Yoga is a quiet practice that slows down movement and focuses on a spiritual connection with your mind and body. Instead of flowing through active movements, Yin Yoga involves holding deep poses for longer periods of time. A pose may last a minute or two, or even up to 5 minutes.

By slowing down your mind and body during Yin Yoga, you are gifting your body with gratitude and relaxation. Yin Yoga releases stress, worry and unease. This can have lasting benefits with your mental wellbeing, well beyond the end of the practice. 

Yin Yoga is also physical. By holding deep strengths, your body’s tissues lengthen and release, leaving your muscles feeling as though they have been relaxed or massaged. This practice can improve your range of motion and help strengthen and heal reoccurring injuries. The deep breathing you’ll learn during the practice is also a powerful trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system. This is connected to a number of benefits including improved blood pressure, digestion, sleep and immune function. What better tool to have as a new mum?

About the Author

Narelle King is our guest blogger. Narelle is a mum to two children, wellness coach and Yin & Nidra Yoga instructor for Simply Happy. She helps mums to implement routines to save them time so they can start to use tools like Yin & Nidra Yoga to help them rest and heal from constantly living in stress mode. 

Why not try the SimplyHappy online yoga studio? It’s an easy way to access restorative yoga nidra and yin yoga practices, and connect with other new mums! The online studie is flexible, so you can connect and practice when it suits YOU.

For more inforation about how Narelle can help you in your motherhood journey, check out her website https://simplyhappy.com.au/

My Top 5 Breastfeeding Game-Changers

As I embark upon my mumma journey, I am battling with my internal and societal expectations about “breast vs. bottle”.

During pregnancy, my mindset was “if I can breast feed, I’ll breastfeed, If I can’t, I can’t.” I thought I would avoid any sense of mumma guilt or shame if this was my approach.

And I can feel this mindset shifting as the weight of mumma-guilt (self-imposed?) pressed down on me.

In the hospital, I was overwhelmed with the different opinions and methods from the midwives as to how best to breastfeed, from latching technique, to babies’ position to pillow placement. I was so confused, and I did not know who to listen to. My confidence in my ability to feed Remy myself was extremely low and I thought bottle feeding would be easier as there are “less rules”.

But I was not ready to give up just yet. I knew my supply wasn’t “in” yet, and I logic brain reminded me that this is a new skill that both Remy and I need to learn, so while I feel like giving up, I wanted to persist.

Below I share the strategies that have helped me as I embark upon this chapter of my mumma journey.

  • Lactation Consultants are Actual Life Savers

The day we brought Remy home, I booked in a lactation consultant to help me with understanding how to breastfeed comfortably. And I have to say, it was a literal godsend! Please do yourself a favour and contact Tanya Maschio at Thrive Lactation and Parenting Support if breastfeeding is a challenge for you and your baby.

The support that Tanya provided was exceptional. She was non-judgemental and help me to really understand why Remy needed to latch in a certain way, how to avoid nipple trauma and how to make sure I enjoyed feeding just as much as Remy enjoyed being fed.

After a few consultations and numerous support phone calls and text, my confidence in being able to successfully feed Remy has increased tremendously. Of all the things Tanya taught me, the side lying feeding position has been an amazing skill to master for those middle of the night feeds, when I feel too tired to sit up. I lay on a comfy mat with my little one and rest my eyes gently as he fills his tummy.

To find out more about the services Tanya provide, visit her website: https://www.thrivelactationandparentingsupport.com.au

  • Galactagogue Goodness

Almost every mum that I speak to swears by Lactation Cookies. There are a lot on the market now. And I do not think it matters what brand you buy. The common ingredients in these cookies seem to be brewer’s yeast, oats, and flaxseeds. These ingredients are galactagogues, known food and herbs that can help to increase milk supply. I have tried a few different brands of cookies and they seem to help me, when I feel my supply is low.

I have also experimented with a few different brands of lactation teas. Infused with fennel and aniseed, these ingredients have also been known to boost milk supply. Whether it does or not, sipping these herbal teas are quite relaxing for a sleep deprived mumma!

I am also taking domperidone, a medication originally used for gastrointestinal disorders, which has also been shown to boost milk supply. I am tackling the challenge of boosting my supply from all angles from natural remedies to Western medication

  • Get a Postpartum Cheerleader

I will dedicate a whole blog post to Beth of Popbellies Doula, but I must mention her here and now. For those that don’t know, a doula is kind of like a pregnancy, birth and postpartum cheerleader. Providing non-judgmental emotional and practical support during pregnancy and postpartum, Beth has provided me with invaluable support during the first few weeks of mumma-hood.

Beth has a wealth of knowledge, experience and reminds me that whatever parenting choices I make for me, my family, and my baby, it is the right choice. I do not know how I would have managed the early stages of postpartum without her support. Even with a supportive family, it is nice to have a conversation with someone who can give non-biased opinion.  

To find out more about the services that Beth provides, visit her website: http://popbellies.com.au/

  • Develop Realistic Family Expectations

Some say “Fed Is Best”. I know this term gets used a lot. For me and my family, it rings true. After a particularly rough night of feeding and waking and settling a cranky Remy, my partner and I had a frank and honest conversation about our expectations for our family. At the end of the day, for us, we wanted to ensure that Remy was getting enough food and was happy. We decided that if this meant “topping up” with formula then so be it. Removing the expectation that our baby needed to be breastfed 100% of the time has reduced my “milk supply” anxiety and it means that Dad can take over for a night feed when I am too exhausted to function.  I am grateful for a supportive partner and that we have taken the time to curve our expectations, ensuring that they are realistic and will work “for us”, rather than against us.

  • Strong Independent Women Ask for Help… And Accept the help that is Given

Elicia, my business coach, told me this a few years ago when I was trying to overcome a challenge in my business. I have applying this saying to many life circumstances and is now my mantra.

Motherhood is something I could never have planned and prepared for, even if I tried. There is a roller-coaster of emotions, hormones and sleep deprivation so exquisite it is something unlike In have ever experienced.

As a new mother, asking for help is the #1 thing that has helped me. Whether it is calling my mum at 2am because Remy has been inconsolable for 5 hours and I am losing my mind; asking my partner to take over “the night shift” (as we call it) so I can seep; or contacting the Maternal and Child Health Line at all hours just to “ask a quick question”, asking for when you need it the most means that you can avoid big emotions like guilt and shame about your parenting style and easily manage the new responsibilities of motherhood.

At the end of the day, mums will do what is best for their family. As I continue my breastfeeding journey, I know I will gain more confidence in my skills and a mother and further develop my relationship with my baby. And if I need some help along the way, then I know that I have a network of family, and services that I can call on for help.

5 Easy Ways to Ditch Leg Cramps for Good

For weeks now, my legs had been threatening to seize. In bed, trying desperately for a restful night’s sleep. When the tight sensation in my legs would start, I would quickly extend my legs, press my heels down and thrust my toes upward until the sensation dissipated. It was working great. I thought I was in the clear.  Until this week.

And Holy Forking Shirt. It hurt like Heck!

My left calf was arrested in the strongest cramp I had ever experienced. I could not move or breathe!

Once the feeling eventually subsided, I gingerly got up out of bed and waddled to the bathroom to spray a liberal dose of magnesium oil onto my legs and feet.

The relief was almost instant. Or was it a placebo effect? Perhaps both. Either way, the cramp was gone, for now.

Many of my clients would complain of tight sore legs and feet, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. And it appears no one in immune.

Why are leg cramps so common during pregnancy and what can be done about it?

It is thought that legs cramps can occur due to fatigue, too much or too little activity, dehydration, magnesium deficiency and pressure from the uterus impacting blood flow to the lower half of the body.

While debilitating, leg cramps can easily be managed at home. Below I share some at-home remedies that can help ease the discomfort of leg cramps

  1. Stay Hydrated

Tight sore muscles are dehydrated muscles. If dehydration is the issue, then increasing water intake may be one easy way to ease cramps. One way to see if you are drinking enough water is to check the colour of your urine. Dark yellow suggested dehydration, while a light-yellow means that you are adequately hydrated. And if you on a lot of B vitamin, your urine may be bright fluro yellow. If you have concerns, please consult your prenatal care provider.

  1. Stretch it Out

Stretching can also ease a cramp as its occurring and potentially prevent them from cramping. An amazingly simple stretch that you can do in bed is to extend your leg, press your heel down as you pull your toes towards your face. Be careful not to pint your toes that this will contract the area that is cramping and make the cramp worse.

  1. Supplement with Magnesium

Magnesium can be beneficial in reducing leg cramps. Taken either orally as a tablet or powered supplement, applied topically as an oil or gel or soaking in a warm foot spa or bath, magnesium could relieve pain from cramping and potentially prevent cramps from occurring. While the research on using magnesium in this was is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests that it can help. Be sure to check with your prenatal care provider to see if magnesium is right for you.

  1. Gentle Exercise

If lack of exercise is the issue, then gentle exercise may help to prevent and ease cramping. Short, gentle, and slow walks or pregnancy friendly yoga postures can not only help to keep you fit and healthy during pregnancy but can increase blood flow, gently working and strengthening muscles in the lower body. Be sure to check with your prenatal care provider before starting any exercise during pregnancy.

  1. Pleasure over Pain

Have you ever stubbed your toe on something? It hurts like heck, right? And what is the first thing you do, after screaming out a few expletives? You will rub the area that has been injured. When we rub our stubbed toe, our brain floods with endorphins, the body’s “happy feel good chemical”. This type of self-soothing massage can easily be applied to calf cramps. Massage to the calves before bed may help to prevent cramps from occurring. Massage can even be applied during a cramp to ease it. Just ensure that you use pressure that is appropriate to your own needs, and do not cause further pain or discomfort.

 

Just because a symptom is common in pregnancy, does not mean you need to put up with it. These easy home-remedies may be the thing between you and a pain-free, restful sleep during pregnancy.

For more info on ways to manage pregnancy aches and pain, check out the blog archive.

 

Body Image Lies We Tell Pregnant Women

Early during my pregnancy, I criticized my body in the mirror. “Oh God, I look so fat.” I thought to myself one day as I was getting dressed. It took me a moment to catch this automatic thought, and remind my self that during pregnancy, my belly is meant to expand and that I am in fact, pregnant, not fat.

This got me thinking about the impact that body image has on pregnancy and emotional health and wellbeing.

Entire industries are built on telling women that they need to be prettier, skinnier, fitter, sexier. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how imperfect and unworthy we are. Women are given two societal roles. The Mother or the Whore. And as June Diane Raphael says, “we are both”.

When it comes to pregnancy, it is expected that women will gain weight. It is normal. And encouraged. Suddenly it is OK to indulge in food as women are “eating for two”.

However, women are still bombarded with perfect, soft bumps, glowing and perfect skin and bodies.  Instagram posts show the perfect baby bumps, with elaborately decorated nurseries and well-behaved children. Leaving women feeling inadequate and ill=prepared for their own parenting journey.

So, what does the research say?

An American study by Mehta et al (2011) 1192 pregnant women participated in a study which used the Body Image Assessment for Obesity tool to assess their ideal body size versus their actual body size. The study found that women who stated pregnancy with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) had an increased risk of excess weight gain if they preferred to be thinner and that women with a lower income had an increased risk of inadequate wight gain, while women with lower education were at risk of excessive weight gain. Mehta et al (2011) suggests that body image and weight perception is not just limited to a desire to be thin but linked to socioeconomic factors such as income and education.

But what about mental health?

A systemic review conducted by Hodgkinson et al (2014) found that women protected their body image by differentiating between “fatness” and pregnancy and utilizing this difference and an excuse to not conform to socially constructed ideals of body image. However, these findings were not consistent during the postpartum period, where studies recognized a strong belief that being fat is not socially acceptable, but pregnancy is.  Furthermore, women were forced to re-negotiate their identity due to pregnancy related changes, changing their identity from a sexually attractive woman to a mother identity. Hodgkinson et al (2014) suggests a need to support women to adopt healthy lifestyles with a focus on desired body image, rather that desired weight.

How do we tie this together?

Body images impacts many women during their pregnancy. Monitoring attitudes to physical appearance is especially important during this time.

Women can engage in nurturing practices to support positive body image attitude during pregnancy:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet, including a variety fresh fruit and vegetables, and limiting processed food.
  • Exercising regularly to support a healthy lifestyle.
  • Drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness with a focus on accepting the physical changes of pregnancy.
  • Creating positive affirmations to shift mindset, such as “I am Enough”, “I am Beautiful” “I am Worthy of Love”
  • Seeking support from a counselor or psychologist to address mental health and body image issues.

There are some days that I look at my now 28-week bump and think “It kind of looks like I just ate a big lunch.” And other times where I feel like I look the way a pregnant woman should. Soft, round, feminine. I know that my body image will continue to change throughout my pregnancy and into motherhood. Awareness of the impact that body image plays on my own health and wellbeing is the first step that I can take to making positive changes and improving my overall perception and identity of who I am as I transition into this new role.

 

 

References:

Mehta UJ, Siega-Riz AM, and Herring AH, Effect of Body Image on Pregnancy Weight Gain. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2011 Apr; 15(3): 324–332. Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665282/

 

Hodgkinson EL, Smith DM, and Wittkowski A, Women’s experiences of their pregnancy and postpartum body image: a systematic review and meta-synthesis. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014; 14: 330.

Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261580/

I am the 14%

or the 8 simple ways I am regaining control of my gestational diabetes diagnosis…

I have just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and It is a huge wake up call. Because I must face the facts (that I have ignored for a long time) that I am addicted to sugar.

Before I launch into my experience of gestational diabetes, lets learn a little but more about this condition and how it can impact your pregnancy.

Gestational Diabetes (GD) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and most women will no longer have it once baby is born. In Australia, 12-14% of women will develop GD during their pregnancy.

The placenta produces hormone which aid the growth development of the baby. These same hormones can block the action of insulin and create insulin resistance. As a result, the need for insulin is 2-3 times higher than normal.

If GD is not well-managed and blood glucose levels remain high, there may be implications to the pregnancy, such as having a large baby, premature delivery and still birth.

After pregnancy, blood glucose levels usually return to normal and GD can resolve and disappear. In some cases, the insulin resistance can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Prior to my pregnancy I never had any issues with my blood sugar levels. I knew deep down though that I ate way too much sugary, carby sweet treats and my portion control for meals was out of control. Plus, I know I am an emotional/boredom eater, so this does not help.

And of course, my pregnancy has me craving all manner of unhealthy foods, such as donuts and Maccas (which I never used to eat prior to pregnancy). When my partner expressed concern for my food choices, I would reply “But I’m eating for two now!” Which is such a poor excuse for unhealthy eating, especially when I know that what I eat impacts my baby’s health. * Cue mummy guilt in 3, 2, 1*

I am taking this diagnosis as an opportunity to get my diet into order and make healthier and better choices with how I fuel my body.

With stress and pregnancy affecting my sleep patterns, my serotonin and melatonin levels are a bit out of whack, meaning that I am craving food at all hours. Which makes it hard to stabilize blood sugar levels and manage what I put into my body and when.

Add to this the fact that I must wait a few weeks for my follow up OB appointment and referral to the diabetes educator. I feel a bit lost and alone trying to manage my diet on my own when I have not been great at this before. I feel like I am failing before I even start and placing further risk on my health and my baby’s health.

Despite this, I know there are easy and simple changes I can make, without seeing a doctor. Now, I am not a dietician, or nutrition expert. All I want to do is share my story and what I am doing for myself. Please consult a health professional for advice of managing your gestational diabetes. The purpose here is to share what I am doing to enhance my health and wellbeing.

  1. I have started by cutting out those sugary, carby sweet treats. No more dounts, cakes or pastries. Period. This seems like the easiest and most obvious change I can make to make my blood glucose levels.
  2. I have boosted the number of veggies I eat with each meal. Fresh salad greens or sautéed vegetables are piled on to my plate. Packed full of fiber, vegetables have been helping me to feel fuller for longer and I know that they are good for me.
  3. I am eating more consciously. To do this, I am eating my meals at the dinner table instead of the couch. Where possible I try to focus on just eating, without other distractions. No phone, no TV. I can pay more attention to cues of “fullness” and I eat more slowly meaning that I do not have my usual sugar craving after a meal.
  4. I am swapping foods. Instead mindlessly woofing down a block of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate for dessert or after dinner snack, I have fruit and Greek yogurt with a few chopped nuts. This is helping me to recognize that dessert is not “bad”, and I can make better choices.
  5. I am focusing on portion control. I am a visual person, so when it comes to food presentation, I aim to have half of my plate full of veggies, ¼ for protein and ¼ with a carb element. I like to fill up on the veg and protein first, before starting on the carb element
  6. I am moving more. Due to self-isolation, I have been going on daily walks. Now I have done my best to up the ante with my exercise. I am walking a few times a day (this helps to alleviate that boredom eating), I have a trusty stationary exercise bike if the weather means I can’t venture outdoors and I have a space to do yoga or pilates to stretch and strengthen.
  7. Hydration is key. I already drink heaps of water and now I am even more aware of how important it is for me to stay hydrated. Drinking water helps me to negotiate whether I am hungry or thirsty as often these cues get confused.
  8. I am minding my language. I am becoming more aware of the way I talk to myself about food. By changing the way I think about food, I can more easily manage sugar cravings and my negative self-talk that is causing “mum guilt”.

While I would prefer to have a completely healthy pregnancy with no medical issues, I am grateful that I can make some long-lasting health changes in my life. My diet was something I knew I had to change but did not know where to start. I am looking forward to the opportunity I have been given to make better choices, improving my health, and enjoying the rest of my pregnancy.

 

For  more information on Gestational Diabetes, please visit Diabetes Australia