Having a baby is one of the most challenging things that happens in this world. There are so many life adjustments that happened for all parents involved and the entire family as a unit. If it is your first child or your fourth child, the challenges are still present. One challenge that has been linked to sleep, but often is not talked about as having a relationship to sleep, is postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a mental state that many women experience after giving birth. These symptoms can vary person-to-person, and pregnancy to pregnancy within the same person. Keeping this in mind it's important to recognize postpartum depression to help women get the help that they need. Here's some more information on postpartum depression and how it relates to sleep.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a state after giving birth that some women may experience. It's presenting symptoms and descriptions can vary from woman to woman. However some common feelings that women may have include feeling overwhelmingly anxious, hopeless, and as if they cannot get out of the bed. There is a complete lack of energy and interest in parenthood. Then, there is superimposed guilt on top of these feelings.
These feelings last longer than a couple of weeks and are more severe than just the baby blues. They can interfere with a woman's ability to carry out day-to-day life. In some rare cases, women will even go into a psychotic States end can have hallucinations, suicidal ideations, or thoughts of harming the baby.
Women with postpartum depression often have trouble bonding with their child. As a consequence, postpartum can also affect the child as the attachment that needs to happen doesn't. This can cause issues with a child's development leading to mood dysfunction, low self-esteem, and trouble relating to peers in forming stable, secure relationships later in life.
If postpartum is present in the first child, then more than likely postpartum will be prevalent in subsequent pregnancies. It is also more common in certain groups like first-time mothers, mothers of preterm babies, women with a history of depression, and those who do not have a strong Support Network. An increasingly recognized contributing factor to postpartum depression is sleep and lack thereof.
Sleep and postpartum depression
The relationship between sleep and postpartum depression are bidirectional. This means the lack of sleep can impact development or worsening of postpartum depression. And that postpartum depression can negatively impact a new mother's ability to get good sleep.
It is no secret that new parents are unable to get an adequate amount of sleep. The nighttime feedings, nighttime Awakenings and changing, and just general anxiety of being a parent in having a baby can make it very difficult to sleep through the night soundly. However, this mental disorder can worsen the lack of sleep, and vice versa.
Sleep problems for mothers began very early in the pregnancy, with some women never returning to the sound sleep that they experienced before having children. Mothers who report poor or decreased Sleep Quality during pregnancy are more likely to have postpartum depression. It's very important to prioritize better sleep during pregnancy to minimize the risk of developing postpartum depression.
Is it postpartum depression or sleep deprivation?
It may be very difficult to distinguish between postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. Both of them have such similar features, that they overlap and can be confused for one another. This may lead to many women not reporting some of their symptoms because they think it's a normal part of becoming a mother.
However there is a distinct difference between experiencing postpartum depression and normal sleep deprivation that is common in parents of a newborn. Recognizing this difference may help women bring up some of these symptoms to their positions if they are experiencing them.
Both sleep deprivation and postpartum depression can be described as having feelings of irritability, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating and focusing, feeling low and tired, and having trouble sleeping at night. However, if you are experiencing more severe symptoms then there is a higher chance you are experiencing postpartum depression and not simply sleep deprivation.
Some of these feelings include: sadness and mood swings, anxiety, fear, and panic attacks, the inability to sleep when your baby is sleeping, loss of appetite, loss of interest in things you normally enjoy, feeling very overwhelmed to the point of a daily functioning, guilt and feelings of being a bad mother, and excessive worry over the baby or the inability to bond with your child.
Postpartum depression can begin immediately after the baby is born, but it more slowly develops over the following months. Doctors may not recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression because many of them are so similar to Natural changes that occur after delivery. Some of these more natural changes include lack of sleep, appetite changes, and low libido. However if your mood does not improve after a good night's sleep or some rest, then it's more likely that your feelings are due to an underlying mental health disorder such as postpartum depression.
How to get better if you have postpartum depression
Sleep deprivation is one of the most straightforward contributions to the development of postpartum depression that is easy to fix. Many mental health disorders are multifactorial, meaning that there are several aspects of one's life that need to be addressed in order for that individual to improve. Same goes for postpartum depression. But sleep may have such an impact on the development or worsening of symptoms, that reducing sleep disturbances can have a profound effect on postpartum depression.
Establishing a regular sleep pattern can be very difficult when you have to work around the schedule of a baby. So most doctors recommend sleeping whenever possible. This may include napping during the day, just to get the total number of hours of sleep even if they are not continuous.
During an ideal night of sleep, one where your child is old enough to begin sleeping through the night, the most important stage – slow wave and rapid eye movement (REM) – tends to occur after what we have already been sleeping for a while. Sleeping only short periods of time, and waking up every time your child fusses, can make it very difficult to attain an adequate amount of sleep.
In order to reduce these disruptions, there are some things that you can consider doing. One of these is switching some tasks to your partner when possible. If you are not required, such as the baby does not need to be breastfed, then there are some tasks that your partner is able to do throughout the night if you have that support. You can sleep in a separate room without a baby monitor so that way you can get as much interrupted sleep as possible.
If you would prefer to not be away from your child, then maybe there is an agreement where you are awake to breastfeed, and your partner is awake for diaper changes. If you are able to pump and have nighttime bottles ready to go then this can also relieve you of some of your feeding duties. If you do not have this support, then it may be worth asking for some assistance from a friend, a family member, a doula, or other members of the household.
Without this support, these tips may be very difficult to try, and it is worth having a conversation with your physician or other mothers about how they cope with the difficulties.
If you are really struggling with your sleep and think that it may be impacting you to the point where you are concerned about your well-being or your child's, then it is time to reach out to some professional help. Please quick the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and speak with one of our sleep health professionals.