Melissa and I were thrilled to see so much attention focused on infant sleep and maternal behavior this week. A fascinating study out of Penn State published last week states that mothers who are suffering from postpartum depression tend to wake their infants at night and cause sleep disturbances in their babies. Click here for an explanation of the findings.
Many people have questioned which comes first, maternal depression or a sleepless infant. To us, there has always been an obvious link – when you have a fussy/sleepless child, a mom is bound to become depressed as she herself becomes exhausted. This study indicates that this is true. However, what is MORE true is that mothers who are depressed are actually causing their babies to lose sleep.
Based on this study, it seems that depressed mothers are more anxious about the well-being of their new babies and therefore go to them when they make the slightest noise or movement. This then wakes the baby and disrupts her sleep. In addition, moms who are depressed seem to crave being close to their infants and therefore, wake them when they feel lonely or sad. In reading this, I understand the psychological motivation highlighted. As a new mom, I remember feeling worried and lonely at times and I can understand how a mom may want to be close to her new baby.
Melissa and I want to stress how important it is to reach out to family and friends if you are feeling depressed. The first few months of motherhood are the hardest and there is nothing lonelier than being awake with your baby in the quiet and darkness of 3am! Depression can be devastating, and when you have a new baby and everyone around you expects you to be happy, it is that much harder to cope. That said, sometimes, family and friends just don’t know what to say or do for new moms. As a therapist, I know that sometimes an “unbiased” voice is the only voice of reason we can hear.
As sleep consultants, we know that new moms have lots of resources available – books, websites, videos – and they are all helpful and valuable. However, when you are overtired and/or depressed, sometimes a real, live person is the most helpful solution. We encourage anyone in this position to seek help from a doctor, therapist, sleep consultant, or other professional for help. We understand that emotions and sleep are not things that can be separated – they go hand-in-hand, both for mother and baby.