Having a baby is an exciting time, but it can also be emotional as it’s a huge change to your life – especially if this is your first baby. While new mothers can be happy, tired, emotional, and even tearful, it’s thought that 14% of new mothers suffer from Postnatal Depression within the first three months after giving birth.1 While Postnatal Depression makes every day harder, it can also make getting a good sleep difficult. Find out how Postnatal Depression and sleep are connected below.
What is Postnatal Depression?
Postnatal Depression (PND), sometimes known as postpartum depression, is a form of depression that affects new parents after they’ve had a baby. Many women can feel down, tearful, or anxious after giving birth, but if this lasts for more than two weeks, you could have PND.2 A new mother could even feel pressure to be happy and excited. If a woman doesn’t feel the joy that’s expected from her, she can worry even more and think there’s something wrong with her. However, there isn’t. Like all forms of depression, PND is normal, treatable, and nothing to be ashamed of.
“Baby Blues” vs. Postnatal Depression
The “Baby Blues” is a brief period of when a new mother feels emotional and tearful around 3 – 10 days after giving birth. It’s natural to feel emotional and overwhelmed after experiencing childbirth and becoming a new parent. As well as this, you can find yourself coping with a lot of new demands on your time and attention, and you’ll struggle to get a good sleep while your new baby adjusts to life at home. Although the “Baby Blues” can be distressing for new mothers, it’s important to remember that it won’t last long, and is generally manageable.
However, new mothers can develop Postnatal Depression, a much deeper and longer-term depression. PND usually develops within 6 weeks of giving birth and can come on gradually or suddenly. Ranging from relatively mild to very severe, every new mother experiences it differently, but it’s important to remember that they’re not alone.
Why Does PND Develop?
Although it usually develops with 6 weeks of giving birth, PND can occur at any time within the first year after having your baby. PND was explained by hormonal and body changes, but there are other factors included:
- A history of problems with mental health, either during pregnancy or before it.
- A lack of close family and friends to support you.
- Relationship issues with your partner.
- Stressful life events, such as bereavement.
However, even if you don’t have any of these problems in your life, you could still struggle with PND. Giving birth and going home with your new baby is a massive life-changing event, which can often be a trigger in itself.
Signs of Postnatal Depression
Symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and how long you suffer from it depends on the severity of your condition and what treatment you choose. However, there are common signs of PND:
- Low mood – persistent feelings of sadness and irritability.
- Apathy – you may lose interest in the world around you and struggle to motivate yourself to do anything.
- Sleep problems – the exhaustion of looking after a baby who won’t sleep or wakes often can make PND worse, but you may also struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep.
- Lack of confidence.
- Appetite – losing your appetite or comfort eating to make yourself feel better.
- Frightening thoughts.
- Excessive worry about the baby’s health or schedule.
- Poor concentration.
- Anxiety or panic attacks.
- Feeling guilty.
- Lack of energy.
The Link Between Sleep Deprivation and Postnatal Depression
A study titled “Association Between Sleep Quality and Postpartum Depression” was published on the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences website. This study found a connection between sleep quality and PND, with sleep deprivation and sleep patterns being “potential factors which can be associated with postpartum depression”. Delivery can have “physical, physiological, and psychological effects on women’s sleep”, and taking care of a new baby who doesn’t sleep regularly will result in the mother struggling to keep a regular sleep schedule herself. The link between poor sleep quality and PND is a two-way street; depression may lead to sleep deprivation, while sleep problems can increase the risk of developing depression.3
Helping Yourself Feel Better by Getting A Good Sleep
Getting a good sleep is key to helping yourself cope with any form of depression but, when you’ve got a new baby to look after, this is easier said than done. However, helping yourself feel a bit better can help you sleep better, too. We’ve gathered a few ways to do this below.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Parents are under a lot of pressure and are bombarded with conflicting advice to do this or do that. No one’s perfect, and everyone needs time to find what works for them and their baby. Parenting is something you learn every day, not by reading a textbook. If you have a bad day or think you’re not doing well, that’s normal.
Watch your diet. Avoid caffeine; although the first cup of coffee will keep you alert, having coffee during the afternoon or evening will keep you from getting a good sleep. Avoid alcohol, too, as it will keep you from getting a full sleep. Drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercise. It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise – just walking or swimming are great ways to start. You could take your baby for a walk, too; it’s a great way to bond with your little one, you’ll get your exercise, and the fresh air could tire your baby out so that they might be snoozing peacefully when you get home. For a woman who’s depressed, exercise can seem overwhelming, so take it slow if going outside seems impossible. You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep’.
Take time for yourself. Even it’s an hour or two a couple of times a week, try to put some time aside for yourself. Take a walk, read a book, meet a friend, or do whatever you like doing.
Assign baby duties. Split night-time baby duty so that you and your partner each get at least one solid five-hour block of uninterrupted sleep. One of you is on duty from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., and the other from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. You can adjust these times to your schedule. The parent who is on-duty can still sleep, but they’ll be the one who gets up when the baby wakes up. Consider pumping breastmilk so that your partner can feed the baby with a bottle of milk without interrupting your sleep.
Look after your hygiene. When you’re struggling with depression, it’s easy for hygiene to be pushed to the back burner. However, small things, like taking a shower and getting fully dressed even if you’re not leaving the house, can make a huge difference to how you feel. If you feel better, you’ll feel more rested for going to sleep.
These are some ways you could help yourself feel a bit better, but the best way to help yourself – and your baby – is to visit your doctor. Talking to your doctor about how you feel, and how you sleep, can help them determine the best solution that’ll get you back to yourself.