The Torment of Insomnia During Pregnancy

The Torment of Insomnia During Pregnancy

By Patricia Le Caroff

When people learn that you’re becoming a parent, one of the first things they like to throw in your face is the fact that you won’t be getting anymore sleep. It’s true, it turns out, that night will never be the same. Being a parent is synonymous with keeping watch over our children, whether they’re babies or teenagers. 

What we don’t necessarily see coming, however, is insomnia during pregnancy. I used to ask myself how it was possible that I couldn’t manage to fall asleep even though I spent most of my days complaining about how tired I was. Since my daughter was born at 29 weeks, I wasn’t kept up by the discomfort of having a big stomach during the third trimester. Rather, my insomnia was clearly fed by the anxiety and worry linked with my risky pregnancy. 

With my son, however, I realized that having a quiet mind didn’t automatically bring me deep and replenishing sleep. I definitely suffered from the discomfort of being pregnant. My stomach became a lot rounder a lot quicker than it did with my daughter (and I endured this until week 39). I was also unable to share my bed with my partner. I never made him go sleep on the sofa but, gentleman that he is, he did often decide to do so himself. But even with this huge king-sized bed all to myself, nothing would work, whether I was on my back, on my side, or spread out like a star. 

Calf cramps. They were my nightmare. The moment I managed to fall asleep, BOOM! My calf (usually my left calf) would contract so forcefully that I thought I was going to pass out. Naively, I would tell myself that these contractions must’ve been because of the beer I would have here and there (which we’ll get to later). 

Having a young child in your home can also make it harder to find sleep. While my daughter was growing up, she experienced a period where it was very difficult for her to sleep (although when she was a baby, she slept relatively well). Evenings and nights were punctuated by violent crises, which even led us to consult a specialist. We would have done anything to help her out…

There you have it: my personal experience. But did you know that there are actually scientific explanations for the insomnia that future mothers experience? It turns out that with each new trimester, the mother’s body is adapting to a new reality. During the first trimester, it’s often the frequent need to urinate that pushes mothers to wake up during night. On top of that, a lot of us will be exposed to nausea (that unfortunately doesn’t always come in the morning). 

During the second trimester, things generally go back to normal. The nausea disappears for the majority of us. Our stomach has taken up a little more space, our organs have some breathing room, and stress is a bit less present, our attention now occupied with preparing the arrival of our child. In a way, this is the happy trimester. 

Which is right when the third trimester hits. Our big stomachs become the primary issue with our sleep. Given that we can’t, say, take it off and leave it on our nightstand before bed, we have to adapt to sleeping with our bellies by trying out a number of different positions. Finished is the time when we still had space: the baby takes all that up now. Add to our discomforts acid reflux, back and leg aches, water retention issues and cramps (hello calves!). 

There are, however, tools that mothers can use to help get better sleep. Personally, I’ve tried pregnancy pillows (or body pillows). Your future nursing pillow can also do the job of the pregnancy pillow. You can position it between your legs, or under your stomach while you lay on your side. Well positioned, these cushions allow you to reduce back pain by offering better support. 

Staying hydrated while pregnant is very important. If you drink properly throughout the day, reduce the frequency with which you drink towards dinner time to avoid getting up to urinate multiple times during the night. For cramps, nothing replaces good stretches. It also seems that bananas tend to help cramps on account of their potassium content.

A short, relaxing routine before sleep also contributes to better sleep. Write a list of things that help you relax and try to follow this routine every evening. 

All this is certainly not easy, but it’s only for a short period. These 9 months will pass very quickly. The day your little one will pop into your world, all the discomforts associated with pregnancy will be behind you.