Sleepless in Mamaland

  • Living
  • Saturday, 22 Mar 2014

Back pain can get distressing in the third trimester when the weight of the baby is pressing upon the spine. To relieve back pain, lie down on your side instead of the back. - AFP

Having a baby means bidding farewell to sweet slumber... even before baby arrives! Here’s how you can get your sleep back.

EVER noticed why some women seem to glow with feminine beauty when they are expecting a baby, while others growl like a grizzly bear with a toothache?

The secret is this: good quality sleep.

Every parenting book or website carries warnings about the lack of sleep in the first month or so after baby arrives, but few remember to add that the sleeplessness actually begins with conception.

With a new life forming inside her, a woman goes through tremendous physical, mental and emotional turmoil. Much of this is translated into poor sleep, which in turn affects her daytime focus, performance and mood.

Good quality sleep is important for everyone, more so an expectant mother who needs extra energy to cope with the nine months of pregnancy. Here are the most common sleep-related complaints among pregnant mummies... and some coping techniques.

I keep going to the toilet!

It’s near impossible to get a restful night when you keep being awakened by the urge to ease yourself.

The situation is worse in the first trimester. It eases temporarily during the second trimester, and returns with increased intensity in the third trimester when the fully-formed foetus is pressing against your bladder.

While staying hydrated is essential, you should try controlling your liquid intake if it keeps you up all night.

Stop drinking any water after dinner. Caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, soft drinks or chocolate should be stopped after 4pm, as they are diuretics and make you urinate more.

My back is killing me

Back pain can get distressing in the third trimester when the weight of the baby is pressing upon the spine. To relieve back pain, lie down on your side instead of the back.

Lie on your left side to allow better blood flow to your uterus and kidneys. It also provides better blood flow to the foetus.

For added relief, get your spouse to rub your back gently in a seated position. This helps to increase blood flow at the back muscles, which relieves the soreness and helps you relax.

Some mums find that placing a small pillow at the small of the back, or between the legs, relieves the pressure on the back and helps them sleep better.

There are some mums who may prefer to give up the bed entirely, and instead, sleep on a reclining chair.

The baby keeps kicking me

We might think a growing foetus cannot differentiate between day and night because it is enveloped in constant darkness.

Studies, however, show that babies can respond to external stimuli such as light, loud sounds and movement, which are mostly related to daytime activities.

Restrict stimuli in the night, and talk or sing to your baby only at daytime to set your baby’s biological clock. Getting your baby to recognise day as time to play and night as time to rest will stand you in good stead after baby is born!

I have too much on my mind

As any working woman will know, the mind does not stop working in the night. More so when you are pregnant – you’re more likely to work twice as hard to keep up with the team or in preparation for your long confinement leave.

You may also be beleaguered by a thousand worries of what happens after baby arrives.

In the third trimester, you may be hit by the “nesting instinct”, where you go into overdrive spring-cleaning, packing or shopping to ensure everything is in tip-top condition when baby arrives.

Over-exhaustion could make it difficult for you to fall asleep. Sleep may be restless, with thoughts of work or decorating the nursery, buying baby clothes, diapers, babycare products and more.

To get yourself in the sleep mode, avoid looking through your work at bedtime so that your mind will not continue to be stimulated even when you are asleep.

In the same way, avoid watching stimulating movies that make your mind go into overdrive instead of helping you relax.

At bedtime, practise breathing techniques or yoga to calm your mind and body. Having a warm shower (not bath) and using aromatherapy in the form of lavender-scented soaps or lighted candles may help relax you and prepare you for sweet slumber.

I just can’t get comfortable

It’s not just the growing bulge that keeps pregnant mums tossing and turning – there’s also heartburn, sinus congestion, itchy skin, backache, leg cramps or headaches.

To tackle heartburn, avoid spicy, deep fried or acidic food (such as tomatoes or pickles), as they tend to cause a gut reflux reaction.

Make pillows your best friend at this point of your life – elevating your head will ease the heartburn as well as help you breathe better.

Propping your feet above your head with extra pillows helps blood flow and eases foot swelling and leg cramps due to water retention.

Your body temperature will rise, especially in the last trimester, making you feel hot, bothered and clumsy, which explains the itchiness and discomfort.

Turn on the air-conditioner or fan, and apply moisturisers to itchy parts to relieve dryness and itch.

I’m hungry all the time

Pregnancy may make you feel hungry or nauseous, especially when your stomach is empty. Instead of taking three main meals, take small snacks such as crackers or fruits throughout the day.

We’ve all heard of pregnant women who get cravings for certain foods, usually close to bedtime.

Resist the urge to go all out combing the town for the craved item at midnight as it disrupts your entire sleep cycle (and your spouse’s too!). However, you can do that if you still feel the same way the next morning!

Food cravings can sometimes be the body’s way of telling you that there is a certain vitamin or mineral deficiency. The craved food usually contains certain elements that the body needs for a healthy pregnancy.

Other tips to get a better night’s sleep include:

> Avoiding nicotine and alcohol – These stimulants keep your mind hyped and makes it harder to relax at night.

> Avoiding daytime naps – They disrupt your daily work-rest routine and keep you awake longer at night.

> Stick to your routine – Go to sleep and wake up the same time every day, even on weekends, to set your body clock in order.

> Don’t use sleep aids (over-the-counter, prescription, or herbal) to help you sleep. These can be dangerous during pregnancy.

> Start winding down before bed with some sort of soothing ritual. Take a warm bath, have a cup of chamomile tea, listen to quiet music, ask your partner to rub your feet – whatever helps you relax.

> Don’t count the hours — Although most people do best on six to eight hours of sleep, some do fine on less and some need more.

So, instead of aiming for a particular number of sleep hours, ask yourself how you’re feeling on the hours you’re sleeping during pregnancy. If you’re not chronically tired, you should be getting enough rest.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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