Today’s post is a guest post by Krista Hillis.
We all know sleep is important — but as a new mom, do you worry that you’re not getting enough?
Is your baby or toddler regularly waking you up throughout the night?
If so, you’re not alone, and it’s important to take notice.
Not only may you be hindering your level of cognitive function (and in turn, ability to care for your family and yourself), but you may also increase your risk of postpartum depression (PPD).
This is a serious claim, so let’s explore what the research has to say about this connection — and better yet, how you can protect yourself against the symptoms of PPD.
New Mothers Are Exhausted
There have been numerous studies conducted which have focused on new moms and the effects of sleep deprivation. Moms are feeling overwhelmed, tired, and worried — it’s a real concern.
Within one study, it was found that even after 18 weeks, postpartum mothers were registering at medically-significant levels of tiredness. In fact, over 50 percent of these mothers were still experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness four months after giving birth.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to some devastating physical and mental effects, including the onset of PPD — which is not only triggered by hormonal and psychological changes but also fatigue. Combine this with restless nights due to the needs of growing babies and toddlers, and an unfortunate cycle can develop.
The point of this article is to reach out to those who are in need. Those who feel ashamed to seek the help that they deserve. It’s important that we ban together, instead of creating unnecessary stigmas — especially since PPD affects between 6.5% and 12.9% of all childbearing women.
Mothers who struggle with sleep deprivation and PPD understand that the struggle is not only real — it’s frightening. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel — you just need to get yourself on the right path.
The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and PPD
Before we dive into potential solutions, it’s important that we address what may be going on within your body and mind. After all, understanding what you’re experiencing is half the battle.
Knowledge is power, and if you’re already seeking this type of information, you should be proud of yourself.
When it comes to PPD, research has shown that approximately 80 percent of women diagnosed with this condition, suffer from sleep deprivation.
So, does PPD cause sleep deprivation — or is it a lack of sleep that causes PPD?
Although there is no simple answer here, specialists believe that poor sleep quality and difficulty falling asleep may be an early warning sign of PPD. After all, those who struggle to sleep can suffer from all kinds of symptoms, including anxiety, weakness, lack of concentration, mood swings, and even hallucinations.
Within another study, published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. The researchers studied women who were 6 to 26 weeks postpartum. It was found that women who were suffering from PPD, not only experienced poorer sleep quality in comparison to women with PPD — but sleep quality also worsened as PPD symptoms became more severe.
Since there are numerous biological and social factors that can exacerbate PPD, your onset will likely not develop overnight. In terms of prolonged sleep deprivation, you will likely experience gradual symptoms — so be mindful of how you feel on a day-to-day basis.
What Can I Do?
If you have any inclination that PPD may be affecting your life, know that you no longer need to feel this way. Beginning with issues surrounding sleep deprivation, it’s critical that you implement some of the following suggestions:
Create a family plan that assists you during nighttime care. Whether that means getting your partner more involved, having your sister stay with you, or visiting with your mom — good sleep hygiene is an important area to begin your recovery. Also, do not nap, exercise, or drink caffeine/alcohol 3-4 hours before bed. Having a family member nearby will also ensure that your symptoms are being properly monitored.
Get outside during the day, helping your body’s internal clock reset. This is especially the case for mothers who have been up every night, exposing themselves to bright lights. Avoid using any technology that emits bright light two hours before heading to bed as well. There may also be a linked between PPD and a vitamin D deficiency, so motivate yourself to spend more time outdoors.
Teach your baby to sleep through the night. How, you ask? Well, in the first few weeks there is not much you can do. That’s when you have to sleep when the baby sleeps. But after that you need to be consistent and maintain a regular routine. Make sure that the daytime hours are packed with lively stimuli, in comparison to nighttime hours, which will focus on a calm, quiet environment. This includes approximately half hour before you put your baby down, when your baby is sleepy but still awake. Gradually encourage your baby to fall asleep on their own, as their natural circadian rhythms begin to develop (around six weeks). If you have a toddler, provide them with a comfort object — their favorite stuffed animal or blanket; helping them fall back asleep on their own. If that doesn’t help, consider getting a baby sleep consultant.
Seek a professional opinion. At this point, if you’re having any doubts, it’s important to speak to a professional. There are plenty of non-medication treatments available, including cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Just remember, although sleep loss is both common and normal after the new arrival of a baby, tackling these problems early on could help reduce your risk of PPD. Allow yourself to feel — it’s okay, not to be okay. It’s what you do next, that will make all the difference.
Admit to yourself that you require some level of support. In doing so, the last thing you should feel is embarrassment or weakness — because asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.
Krista Hillis is a psychology expert at Parenting Pod. She loves writing and explaining complex scientific principles in simple terms that all parents can understand.