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Labor Day is Coming! Get Your Zzzz's and Here's Why!

If you find yourself twisting and turning in bed, going to the bathroom a couple of times at night, and then laying awake for hours often getting little to no restful sleep - you are not alone. Upwards of 84% of pregnant women are finding that their sleep patterns are changing with shorter amounts of sleep time, according to the March of Dimes. The physiological, metabolic, and emotional shifts that occur during pregnancy and post partum often lead to sleep loss which can zap your energy for days, weeks and even months, while labor and birth requires stamina, endurance, and strength. Poor sleep quality is associated with an inflammatory response that lowers the immune system and can sabotage your birth outcome having adverse effects on yours and your baby’s health, as well as creating challenges before, during labor, and into the post partum period. I believe this subject is a critically overlooked aspect of pregnancy health and more discussions about quality sleep need to take place between providers and clients.


It is well known that getting up during the night comes with the territory of becoming a new parent and having a newborn. Lee et al’s research studies found sleep disturbance greatest in the first month post partum. This finding though seemingly obvious, is critical because it sheds further light on why a woman needs to get her Zzzz's prior to giving birth. If a woman is sleep deprived prior to starting labor, she is more apt to have difficulties while trying to care for her new baby.

Research presented in ACOG, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist Journal, from The Sleep Research Society at The National Institute of Health (NIH) shows that sleep difficulties in the first and third trimesters are greatest risk factors for preterm labor (PTL.) Preterm delivery is when a baby is born prior to 37 weeks gestation, and this is the biggest pregnancy health challenge according to the National Institute of Health. PTL is associated with both short and long term poor infant health problems. Other studies show an increased relationship between poor sleep habits and women developing preeclampsia, a pregnancy specific syndrome of disease diagnosed by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and other medical problems requiring immediate induction or augmentation with use of the synthetic hormone Pitocin. In AJOG, American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a study shows women who slept less than 6 hours at night had longer labors and were 4.5 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries. Women with severely disrupted sleep had longer labors and were 5.2 times more likely to have cesarean deliveries.

A tired mom has a lower pain threshold requiring earlier use of pain and sleep medications. Sequelae of numbing agents often diminish a woman’s power to push during second stage labor, thus requiring operative techniques for vaginal delivery (forceps, vacuum.) With interventions, emotional stress, anxiety, and exhaustion for both mom and baby, there is often a more increased period of maternal infant separation. The baby requires observation and possible procedures in the NIC U, especially if the baby had a low Apgar score, or difficulties adjusting to extrauterine life including respiratory depression, hypothermia (cold) or premature lungs. Also documented are cases of post partum depression and intrauterine growth restriction for the baby.

Getting your Zzzz’s can make the difference between an empowered, healthy and happy birth experience, or a difficult and exhausting one for both you and your newborn.

Besides counting sheep, here are some useful tips to help you get Zzzz’s:

*Take daily naps on your left side for optimal blood flow for your baby, with a pillow between your knees. Set your phone, and post your ‘post it’s’ for ‘nap time.’

*Modify your work week. Go in later, leave earlier, or work from home if possible.

*Go to bed earlier and strive for eight hours. Turn off all iPhones, iPads, and computers several hours prior to bedtime.

*Nighttime bathroom runs are expected as the weight of the growing baby presses on your bladder. (do your kegels) Mother Nature prepares you for post partum nights. (if you have burning or frequency discuss with your provider to rule out UTI (urinary tract infection.)

*Communicate with your provider. Get referrals for sleep counseling and anxiety as needed.

*Discuss exercise classes with your provider IE. yoga, exercise, or prenatal swimming.

*Avoid caffeine, hydrate often, and eat protein to ensure your are growing a healthy baby.

*Learn how to turn off your thoughts at night with mind quieting techniques such as meditation, relaxation, aromatherapy, warm (not hot) baths, acupuncture, chiropractic.

Don’t forget about your Birth Partner catching their Zzzz’s. A well rested partner will be more helpful, sensitive to your needs, and have the energy both physically and emotionally to support you during your labor. Partners should not pull any all nighters two weeks before the ‘due/guess’ date. Hire a birth and postpartum doula so that your partner can rest while you receive continuous emotional and physical support during labor (which is often during the wee hours of the night and early morning), and into your post partum weeks.

By virtue of your proactive efforts, you will be ready to do the work required to cross over into motherhood. An athlete would not run a marathon or compete on a sleepless night - and if they did, their personal best goals may not be reached. Sleep can help ensure a healthier and happier pregnancy, a shorter labor and delivery, and an easier post partum period with your newborn baby. Anything as phenomenal as gestating, birthing, and caring for a newborn baby requires a well rested mother from the start.

I hope you found this useful.

What measures did you take to get better Zzzz’s during the night?

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