Postpartum Depression and Baby Sleep

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We know that postpartum depression can be debilitating. It can interfere with your relationship with your new baby, with your partner, with family and friends, and everyone else. Treating postpartum depression is important if you want to have a happy, healthy experience.

One component to postpartum depression is often insomnia. This makes things worse, of course, as a lack of sleep makes it almost impossible to recover from postpartum depression. This becomes a catch-22; you can’t sleep because you’re feeling blue, and that inability to sleep contributes to your postpartum depression.

According to one new study, moms with postpartum depression also more often wake their babies in the middle of the night, as well. The study installed cameras in families’ nurseries and bedrooms, and discovered that new mothers who were experiencing postpartum depression were much lighter sleepers. This means they would wake up more often, responding to every sound their baby might make.

They often then would get up and wake their baby, feeding the baby, rocking them, or changing them even when it wasn’t necessary.

Proactive maternal behavior

This has been described as “proactive maternal behavior.” Women who weren’t experiencing postpartum depression didn’t engage in this behavior, and only actually responded to their baby when there was an actual need.

Where does this proactive maternal behavior come from? Researchers aren’t certain, but there are a couple of possibilities:

  • Mothers with postpartum depression have a higher degree of overall anxiety, which causes them to be overprotective and overly concerned about their baby.
  • The other possibility is that mothers with postpartum depression receive emotional comfort by attending to their baby.

In reality, it’s probably a combination of both. A woman is worried about her baby more than what’s necessary, but she also gains comfort by being with her baby whether that’s simply holding him, feeding, or participating in other activities.

So, how about you? Have you experienced insomnia during a struggle with postpartum depression? Do you feel like you were exhibiting “proactive maternal behavior” like the researchers describe of the women involved in the study? Do you think either of the possible explanation makes more sense than the other?

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