Sleep. If you’ve got postpartum depression or anxiety, you need it. No matter how many therapy sessions you go to or what kind of medication you may take to treat it, if you’re not getting enough rest it’s nearly impossible to recover from PPD.
Thing is, insomnia is a symptom of postpartum depression. It’s hard to get sleep when you have problems sleeping! Not only that, but now there’s a new study from the University of Pennsylvania that finds that moms with postpartum depression are more likely to wake their babies up in the middle of the night, too.
Researchers watched the behavior of 45 families by installing cameras in nurseries and bedrooms. They found that new moms with depression or anxiety were more likely to respond to every little sound, and to wake their babies up either to feed them or to move them to their own bed even when the babies didn’t need it.
In an interview with Bonnie Rochman of Time, the study’s lead author Douglas Teti said, “… these moms would spend more time with their babies at night, nursing them and lying next to them even when they were not upset, in what Teti calls ‘proactive maternal behavior’ that was not observed in nondepressed moms. Nondepressed moms, on the other hand, only went to their babies in the middle of the night if they were crying.”
Why? Two theories. One is that the mothers’ own anxiety is causing them to be overprotective of their babies. The other is that the mothers themselves find emotional comfort in connecting with their babies by holding them, feeding them and laying with them.
As someone who has experienced postpartum depression, both of those theories make sense to me. I was what my doctor called “hypervigilant,” meaning I couldn’t relax or stop worrying about my baby and my ability to parent. I was continually worried about my little guy’s health. Was he growing enough? Was he eating enough? Was I caring for him properly? This led me to fuss over him a lot more than the average mom might.
At the same time, during a period in my life when I was devastatingly ill with PPD, I often felt comfort in just holding my infant. I preferred letting him sleep on my chest to putting him in the crib, and I got a lot of comfort out of that even though it meant I couldn’t sleep while he was doing it.
This study is important because it may help identify the root cause of later sleep problems in children. Perhaps this in turn will lead to a more proactive plan to identify women who have postpartum depression and develop better treatments and support services to help them.