What to Expect After Baby Arrives: Sleep Deprivation

Category: Birth & Beyond

Now that baby’s here, the long sleepless nights begin. But know that you’re not alone.



According to Dr Christelle Tan, specialist in paediatrics at Raffles Medical, Holland Village, sleep deprivation can be one of the most overwhelming parts of becoming a new mum. “Having to wake up to provide three-hourly feeds through the night can be physically demanding. This is especially so because it is hard to time one’s own nap with one’s baby’s nap.”


29-year-old Singaporean mum Kathleen Dragon-Chew remembers this only too well, “The sleep deprivation was as bad as I expected it to be, but I didn't think the actual physical effect would be as bad as it was. I used to tell friends that yes, I'm used to going with very little sleep having just completed a project-based degree. But with project submissions, you have a deadline. You know that after submission day, you can sleep as long as you need. But with a baby, it's like every day is submission day with no rest in sight.”


New mum Nadine Valdes also struggled. When asked if sleep deprivation was as bad as she thought it would be, she says, “It was actually a lot worse. People had said we wouldn't be getting a lot of sleep and before the baby came I didn't take it very seriously but wow it was so much worse! To be fair though, we put our baby on a schedule pretty early on and that helped us get a bit more sleep. I think after the first couple of weeks we averaged a hearty six hours a night!”



A good strategy is to try your best to sleep when your baby sleeps.



“Baby’s schedule will usually consist of three-hourly feeds which often coincide with stooling and peeing and hence frequent diaper changes of five to eight times in a day is not uncommon. In between feeds, babies mostly sleep,” says Dr Tan.


There is hope in sight, Dr Teoh Oon Hoe, deputy head and senior consultant at KKH’s Department of Paediatrics explains that baby’s feeding schedule gets better over time. “In the first three to four months, most babies will feed every two to three hourly, and the mother would have to wake up to feed the baby. From three to four months onwards, the night feeding frequency will reduce for most babies, and the mother will start to get better sleep. While breastfeeding is encouraged for its many benefits, if you are significantly stressed from sleep disruption or deprivation and are unable to cope physically or emotionally, you should explore the option of another family member or caregiver helping with the baby’s night feeding, and should not feel guilty about this.”


Some mums, like 26-year-old Nur'aqilah, are able to adapt without too much fuss – and whether this is pinned down to hormones, genetic makeup, age, an easy baby, or simply circumstance, count yourself lucky if the first weeks are smoother for you than you thought they would be. Aqilah says, “As a first-time mum, of course, the first few weeks was tiring. I did not know the timing to feed my baby and change his diapers. But, I thought it was easy because after a while, we learned to take note of his feeding timings so that I can get a bit more rest.  Thankfully didn't experience sleep deprivation. I slept for five to six hours a day after baby arrived.”


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