Dealing with new mum insomnia

Insomnia among new mums can be caused by a number of reasons.
Insomnia among new mums can be caused by a number of reasons. Photo: iStock

It's 10pm. Lucie Hood, mum to two young children, is heading to bed.  he's tired and can't wait to succumb to sleep .. that is, if only she could.

Since having Harvey, who's now three, I've never really been able to get into a deep sleep, and now with Maddie things are worse," she says. 

"I'll lie in bed for hours on end waiting for her to wake up to feed, and it's not until 2am (and three feeds later) that I can finally fall asleep."

Despite trying mediation, music tapes, switching off her phone and reading a book, Hood is still unable to get to sleep easily. She believes that on a subconscious level it's part of becoming a mum.

"I wake up at the slightest sound now, like a car driving past, whereas my husband can sleep though two screaming kids and won't hear a thing. I think it's a maternal thing to be up waiting and listening for your babies," she says.

Hood longs for the day when Maddie sleeps through the night and she can get a decent 7-8 hours sleep and feel human again.

"I honestly feel so drained and depleted," she says. "Physically I get much sicker than I used to pre-kids, and mentally I feel that sometimes I can't contribute or focus on a conversation as it takes too much brain power!"

Donna Webeck can relate to how Hood feels. She experienced mum insomnia with her firstborn – however, for her, it started in the weeks leading up to her due date.

"All of a sudden it became very real what lay before me, and I became overwhelmed with how I'd cope with a baby," she says. "But the more pressure I put on myself to sleep, the harder it was to do so."


And things didn't change once her baby was born.

"I didn't sleep for 30 hours after my labour, and my inability to sleep continued through the first months of motherhood."

"I over-thought and over-analysed every little thing and was also still suffering lingering effects from the third-degree tear I'd suffered in labour. It was the most draining time of my life."

Sleep psychologist Lana Hall says that insomnia among new mums is caused by a number of reasons.

"Keeping on 'high alert' for the next time the baby cries, worrying about your lack of sleep and how you'll cope tomorrow are common thought patterns that affect new mum's sleeping," she says.

Similarly, if you're prone to postnatal depression, Hall says that you might be awake at night with worries and concerns about your abilities as a mum and your baby's health and wellbeing.

To try to alleviate insomnia, Hall says there are a number of things you should avoid. These include looking at a phone or tablet when you're up during the night, drinking too much tea or coffee during the day and not talking to anyone about your worries.

In terms of strategies to help, Hall offers the following tips;

  • While you're up and caring for your baby, find something to focus on, such as an enjoyable book that takes your mind off worrying about when you'll get back to bed.
  • Try repeating a mantra such as 'I'm strong enough to cope' or 'this is difficult, but she will sleep eventually'.
  • Imagine all the other mums out there awake as well, and feel supported knowing you're not alone in being awake with your baby in the middle of the night.
  • Learn a simple relaxation strategy you can run through in your mind, and use it every time you get back into bed, before worry has a chance to take hold.
  • Write down your worries to get them out of your head. Then review them in the morning, with someone you trust, who can help give you a more rational perspective.
  • Get in some gentle exercise outside during the day, even if you feel you're too tired to do it. Natural light and exercise help to regulate our sleeping patterns so push yourself to do this in the day, for the benefit of your sleep at night. Even a 10-minute walk can help.
  • If you really feel like you aren't coping due to a lack of sleep, then quickly get other people's support – your partner, your mum, a local child health nurse or your GP for starters.

Hall notes that the most important thing is not to suffer in silence.

"Don't wait to seek help. If you can't shut off your worries and relaxation strategies aren't working for you, then see your GP and ask for a referral," she says.

"A psychologist will help you learn how to combat your particular concerns and provide some detailed and personalised strategies. It's a common problem and not one you have to face alone."