Let me start with how I believe OB/GYNs and hospitals–not to mention books and magazines on motherhood and pregnancy– can and should most definitely do more in terms of increasing public awareness of postpartum depression (PPD), which should start with this….the importance of sleep and getting adequate support to help reduce the risk of PPD rearing its ugly head. OB/GYNs and/or hospitals should put right up at the top of the childbirth education curriculum–short though it usually is (a couple of hours…what a shame!)–the importance for new mothers to get at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep as much as possible during the first 6-8 weeks postpartum.
What should be included in the education:
1) the fundamentals of adult sleep, including what is considered “normal” sleep
2) sleep cycles
3) what to expect during late pregnancy and postpartum in terms of their impact on sleep
4) strategies for sleep management during late pregnancy and postpartum
5) effects of sleep deprivation
6) facts about newborn/infant sleep
Granted, for the greater majority of mothers out there a) the husband has to work full-time during the week and it is highly unlikely he could work the same hours and do the late-night feedings all week, and b) they lack the financial ability to hire a baby nurse, postpartum doula or nanny to help with late-night feedings. What that means is, for most mothers out there, it is highly unlikely the mom can get the 5 hour block of sleep at night that she needs. That shouldn’t, however, deter the OB/GYN from providing the simple fact that a minimum of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep is imperative to the healthy functioning of an adult (more so for a woman who has just given birth), and depression is one possible consequence for the brand-new mother–hormones all outta whack and all–who fails to obtain that over the course of weeks following childbirth, a time in which she is at her most vulnerable.
Awareness + Preparation = Keys to a better postpartum experience and reducing the risk of PPD (Note: You may not be able to prevent PPD if you are at risk, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be prepared to have a better postpartum experience):
- While you are still pregnant, reach out to friends and family members to provide practical support (like help watching the baby, cooking, laundry, housework, errands) and emotional support (someone who can listen to you, provide advice and be empathetic and nonjudgmental) after the baby arrives. Believe me, after the baby arrives, you will have neither the time nor the energy to search and coordinate. If family and friends are not options, consider hiring a baby nurse and/or a doula to help during the first couple of months, if you can afford it. Having a baby nurse to help with nighttime feedings will enable you to get the sleep you need to take care of the baby the whole rest of the day while your husband is at work, and your husband to get the sleep he needs to go to work each day.
- Resist temptation to use your baby’s nap time to try to catch up on housework, do laundry, address birth announcements, write thank-you notes, or handle other projects. I know it’s so much easier said than done. I would suggest you scope out the wording and pick out the birth announcement you want to order (and thank-you cards) before having the baby. That way, you won’t be stressed out finding the perfect one to send after the baby has already arrived, worry about not getting them out within a month after the baby’s born and hustling to get thank-you cards out within 30 days of receiving a gift.
What happened to me I wouldn’t want to see happen to you…..
I thought I could handle taking care of the baby, cleaning up, finding announcements, addressing them and mailing them out, etc. since I typically thrive on multi-tasking and I never thought it would be any different after having a baby. And believe me, the word thrive doesn’t come close to describing how much I try to squeeze in in a day’s time. Silly me had failed to realize that I had just had a baby, which is a very big deal physically. And that’s on top of the 7 days of hell I spent at the hospital, not to mention the multiple surgeries, daily blood work, MRIs, loss of 4 units of blood, and constant hunger (see previous post for details of my hellish hospital stay).
I returned home from the hospital fully expecting to resume my old routine in addition to taking care of the baby. Every time my mother or mother-in-law suggested I lie down or sit down, put my feet up and relax, I waved them off, saying that I was A-OK and didn’t need to nap. Now that I’ve actually experienced insomnia and PPD, I know that my mother’s and mother-in-law’s advice was excellent advice. Relaxing/resting is beneficial, even if you can’t fall asleep. Problem is, I’m neither a napper nor a rester. I’ve always considered napping a waste of valuable time that could be spent doing something productive. For as long as I can remember, at least from the time I was 13 years old, napping was never my thing. I wasn’t about to nap now.
Don’t feel guilty for napping instead of doing something productive. Now is not the time to feel compelled to try to impress others or try to fit the mold of what in your mind is how a perfect mother should be like. After all, no one is going to expect that your house be spotless with a new baby to take care of. Don’t worry if your house isn’t spotless and neat for visitors. I know that’s easier said than done. My house is messy on a normal day sans baby in the picture, let alone with baby (and exhaustion) in the picture. It didn’t help that I resisted the idea of hiring a cleaning lady because I was brought up to clean my parents’–and now my own–house, so why pay someone else for the work I can do myself, even if it is for the sake of convenience? I have issues with privacy and trust in hiring a stranger to come into the house (same reason I couldn’t hire a nanny).
Don’t be like me, letting yourself get caught up in one hell of a vicious cycle: If you don’t clean, you are less willing to have visitors, so you will feel more lonely and isolated than ever, which makes your PPD worse….