Postpartum Depression and Sleep

You’re a new parent, and you’re supposed to be a bit tired these days, but what happens if you can’t sleep, even when your baby is sleeping? In this article, I’ll offer some suggestions to help you get some sleep and also explore the link between postpartum depression and sleep.

If you have tried all the tactics for getting sleep while your baby is sleeping (like those in my sleep deprivation article), and you’re still up when you’re baby is asleep, it may be time to examine this a bit closer. Some mild exhaustion is part of parenthood, but if you’re finding that you’re constantly up in the middle of the night (without it having to do with baby!) this is a problem.

Many new mom’s report feelings of anxiety or a “running mind” while they lie in bed after their baby has drifted off to dreamland. If this has been happening to you for a few weeks, it can be a sign of something more serious, or a sign of the start of a vicious cycle. Of course it’s perfectly normal for you as a new mom to worry a bit about your new baby, after all, that’s what new mom’s do! However, if this is affecting your ability to get good rest, it’s a major concern.

Some Sleep Aids for New Moms

Trying various things to help you get some sleep is a good idea as a first step to combating sleeplessness. First, establish good “sleep hygiene”. This means you should try to set a reasonable bedtime. Do something relaxing before bed. Try to avoid doing work in your bedroom. Turn off the TV. Turn on some white noise. Try chamomile tea.

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The natural sleep aid that has made a big difference for myself and many of my doula clients is Calm’s Forte by Hylands. It is a homeopathic remedy, not an herbal supplement, and therefore is safer for breastfeeding moms and has no unwanted side effects. If you know you are tired but you just lie awake, or if your thoughts are too busy to allow sleep to come, give it a try!

Some women have success with valerian root, and melatonin, but both should probably be avoided if you’re breastfeeding. These herbal supplements can cause drowsiness (sleepiness), and it is unclear how much of the substance passes through breastmilk to your infant. A drowsy infant might sound like a good idea, but in reality, drowsiness can lead to a lack of motivation for feeding, which is a major problem. You can speak more with your healthcare provider if you still have questions regarding these supplements. Some other ways to regulate your body’s natural melatonin are to use “sun lamps” during daytime hours, and keep the lights off (this includes TV, computers, and other screen time) during the nighttime hours.

Sleep is essential for our lives, and as mom’s we need it more than ever! Driving while sleep deprived has been demonstrated time and time again to be equally as dangerous as driving while severely inebriated. Lack of sleep impedes the ability of our brain to function normally, hinders milk production, lowers our ability to remember things, raises our cortisol levels (which can lead to stress and weight gain), and even lowers the effectiveness of our immune system.

The Connection Between Postpartum Depression and Sleep

If these things weren’t enough, the inability to sleep, otherwise known as insomnia, can be a symptom of postpartum depression. (Insomnia encompasses the inability to fall asleep, as well as awakening soon after sleep, and/or the ability to sustain sleep.)

Postpartum depression is a condition that affects many new moms. It can begin directly after birth and occur any time during the first year postpartum. Postpartum depression (often referred to as “PPD”) most commonly presents within the first three months after birth. It is different from “baby blues” (an almost universal “down-feeling” in the first few weeks to month postpartum). Postpartum depression can present in a variety of different ways, from lack of sleep, to lack of appetite, to the inability to find joy in your daily life, and even to the inability to care for yourself or your baby.

Because anxiety is often a cause of insomnia, insomnia happens to be a prominent symptom in postpartum depression. If it’s been more than two weeks, and you are still having difficulty sleeping, notice an increases in the intensity of depression symptoms, or have feelings of harming yourself or your baby it’s time to check in with your healthcare provider. Call your OB, midwife, primary care provider, therapist or social-worker, and ask if the things you’re experiencing are normal for a new parent. Don’t wait to check-in if you are worried you might have postpartum depression. Early detection and intervention is key to establishing a good plan for you to get back on track and be a happy, healthy parent.

There are many ways to find local support groups for postpartum depression. Ask your healthcare provider, midwife, doula, hospital, birth center, etc, or check out Postpartum Support International for support groups in your area. Many communities offer postpartum depression support groups. These can be valuable place for you to share your thoughts and feelings and receive support from other new parents going through a similar experience.

Treatment for postpartum depression varies widely and depends upon the severity of the presentation. Some individuals are able to overcome postpartum depression with therapy alone, whereas others may require medication (which is often only in the short-term). There are natural alternatives to traditional medications, which have been helpful for many people suffering with postpartum depression. Acupuncture, massage, and meditation may work for some women with postpartum depression.

It is important to examine your sleep hygiene and mood in order to fully assess if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. Taking a careful and honest look at your current sleep (post baby!), and general emotional health can often reveal a strong connection between depression and lack of sleep.

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