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Sleeping for Two: Pregnancy Insomnia



Can’t sleep? If you’re like many pregnant women, insomnia may be leaving you wide-eyed and frustrated, even while you’ve never been more tired in your life. Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep is a common issue for many people, and pregnancy adds another wrinkle to the sheet, so to speak. Here’s what you need to know.


Why does insomnia happen in pregnancy?

While you might think an inability to rest comfortably is solely a problem of later pregnancy stages, when your belly’s bulk interferes with… well, everything, the first twelve weeks can also be a sleepless minefield. One trigger is the surge of the hormone progesterone, which triggers sleepiness. Good, right? Except when it prompts you to doze off during the day—and you end up staring at the ceiling at night.


Other physical changes may make your usual restful routine more challenging, chiefly nausea (morning sickness is really a poor descriptor for many moms to be who feel green around the gills around the clock) and breast tenderness. As your baby grows, your uterus may press on and crowd your internal organs—like the bladder, which prompts more trips to the bathroom.


As your pregnancy progresses, sleep may be interrupted thanks to your growing girth literally getting in the way of a good night’s rest. You may also be experiencing aches and pains as your joints loosen and soften in preparation for birth. And let’s not forget your potentially burgeoning anxiety as you move through the weeks and months before baby arrives. Nighttime is prime time to worry about everything from how childbirth will play out to how you’ll bond with your baby to whether there’s lead paint lurking in the nursery (hint: probably not, but as long as you don’t try to remove it you’re fine.)


What can you do about insomnia in pregnancy?

Plenty, fortunately. The same advice offered to help overcome sleep problems when you’re not pregnant can and should be applied now, such as enforcing regular sleep and wake times as much as possible; keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and on the cool side; avoiding caffeine either entirely or at least after the morning hours (something you should either eliminate or drastically limit while pregnant in any case); banning the blue light of most electronic screens from the bedroom (and avoiding stimulating screen-use for the hour or so before you hit the sack); and front-loading your (important!) hydration earlier in the day, tapering off water consumption a couple hours before bed.


Other remedies specific to your pregnant state:

  • Physical discomfort: Feather your “nest” with a body pillow and/or other pillows that help you prop, cushion, and support your form in whatever way makes you feel best. It’s smart to try to sleep on your left side (for best blood flow to your baby). A pillow between your knees can help you keep your hips aligned, easing aches and pains.
  • Heartburn: This common pregnancy complaint—when stomach acid backs up in your esophagus—can annoy you in particular when you lie down to sleep. One solution is to sleep with your upper body slightly elevated, on pillows or with a prop under the head of your mattress. You should also avoid greasy, fried, and spicy foods, which are notorious heartburn triggers.
  • Racing thoughts: Try meditation or guided imagery to help calm your mind when you want to wind down for sleep. Taking a childbirth class? Good! Many teach relaxation exercises to use during labor; why not try them out now?
  • Pre-parenthood anxiety: Talk! Discuss your hopes, dreams, and fears with your partner, your mother, your friend, your doctor, your online community. The more you air your worries, the less they’re likely to keep you up at night.


A final note: Though you may be tempted to pop a sleeping pill (either prescription or over-the-counter), doing so without a doctor’s okay may not be wise. A 2015 report in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that some sleep aids (such as benzodiazepines), while not linked to birth defects, may be connected to pre-term birth or low-birthweight. The report also concluded that not enough research is available to assess their safety in pregnancy. If you have concerns about any medication you take, please talk to your doctor.



Passing it on: The Importance of Family Traditions


Nothing says holiday time like… fill in the blank! The beauty of holiday traditions is that you can pick and choose among them, adopting the ones you love, rejecting the ones you don’t, and creating new rituals as you like. Some families hew to cultural or religious traditions around the holidays they celebrate. Some enjoy repeating whatever their extended families have always done. Others manufacture new traditions that they hope will become treasured memories for their children. Most of us find that we do a combination of all three.


The point is not the tradition or the ritual or the practice itself, but the fact that you have them, and share them with your children. Here are some of the amazing benefits of family traditions, and how to get your kids in on the fun.


They bring you together as a family: No matter how you define “family,” the things you do together bind you closer in ways that may not seem obvious at the time. Let’s say that one year, you decide it’s a great idea to go for a hike on the day after Thanksgiving, as counterpoint to all the food-based indulgence and to take advantage of the waning days of autumn. Then maybe you do it again the next year… and so on. Boom: a tradition is born! Getting the kids involved: Turn a local walk into a scavenger hunt (pretty leaves, rocks, sticks) or play “I spy” with the littlest kids. Older kids can research new local hiking trails routes to try.

They foster increased cultural awareness. No matter what holiday you celebrate, they all come with some cultural rituals, from religious observances to special foods you prepare. The idea is not to “do” a holiday a certain way, but to share traditions and cultural mores with your children, teach them where traditions came from, and even think of ways to adapt some traditions to your lifestyle. Getting the kids involved: Explain why you do certain things (like Italian families’ fish feasts on Christmas Eve, Jewish parents offering kids gelt for Hanukkah, or Southern families making black eyed peas on New Year’s Day). Look for age-appropriate books about holiday traditions; show your kids photos from your own childhood; or ask an older relative to share stories.

They create memories. This feel like it happens naturally, but think about it: The way we cement memories for ourselves and our children is by deliberately labeling those special moments, so that we’ll be sure to recall them in future years. Getting the kids involved: Help kids create scrapbooks or journals to commemorate holiday events to save for the following year.

They allow for creativity: Who says what a “tradition” is? You do! Don’t want turkey on Thanksgiving? Make lasagna instead. Tell the kids that they can take turns choosing their favorite dinners for each night of Hanukkah. You can see what rituals you want to toss and which are worth keeping. Getting the kids involved: Are you kidding? What kid doesn’t want to help come up with new traditions to go along with the old? Give them free (or free-ish) reign to come up with fun ideas they want to try, from leaving mystery notes in each others’ stockings on Christmas Eve to having ice cream for breakfast on the first day of winter break.


What are your family’s traditions? We’d love to hear what you’re doing for and with your kids this holiday season, whether it’s a lovingly recreated tradition from your past, or a freshly-created ritual all your own. Leave it in the comments below or share with us @newtonbabyrest! 



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