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Postpartum Mood Disorders and Sleep Deprivation

Having a baby is one of the most wonderful, joyous, difficult and challenging things we do as humans. Even in the best circumstances, the early weeks are clouded in a sleep deprived haze. Unfortunately, there are often other less than ideal circumstances during the postpartum time as well.

You may have had a days long induction, or be recovering from an unplanned cesarean. Maybe your family is far away and you don’t have anyone nearby to come cook you a meal and clean the kitchen (a very welcome offering for a postpartum family). Perhaps your partner returned to work after only a week or two, or you don’t have a partner at all. As social beings, ideally we would have a village to support this transition into parenthood. I love reading about cultures that do this, still, and how beautifully held the mother is during her recovery and the delight of the community members in a new life. If we all pitched in just a little bit, it could be so wonderful. Unfortunately, our culture is lacking in this community aspect for many during the postpartum period. We are expected to be back to work at six weeks after baby is born, and somehow fit this new baby into the life we led up until that point. Whoa! When we feel like our world has been turned upside down, that we haven’t slept more than a three hour span in weeks or months, it’s been days since the last shower, the kitchen sink is exploding with dirty dishes and there is no food in the house, and the baby cries when you put them down, life can feel impossible. I wish it wasn’t like this for so many. My own children are 13 years apart in age. My first was my gateway into birth work. I was young, knew relatively little about the maternal healthcare system (though probably more than most my age as my mother was a labor and delivery nurse for 20 years) and luckily had a positive birth experience. I say luckily because as I learned more through my birth and postpartum doula career, I realized there is a lot of trauma around birth for many people. Our system is broken. We are the worst of the developed countries when it comes to maternal and neonatal health and outcomes. If you are a black woman giving birth in this country you are 2.6 times more likely to die than your white counterpart. When I gave birth for the second time, 13 years later, it was a powerful reminder of why I chose this career path. Most of my planning the second time around went to postpartum recovery. I had felt very unprepared after my first birth and after supporting hundreds of families through their transitions to parenthood, that is where I knew I should focus. And I was still tired and anxious and some days felt depressed. Trapped. Scared. Being a new mom is no joke, and it is exhausting.

We learned in our birth class that sleep deprivation makes everything worse and to sleep when baby sleeps. But this can feel and be impossible! There is so much to do when baby sleeps. Like eat, shower, use the bathroom. Just even the basic bodily maintenance can feel like too much, let alone the many tasks that keep a home running smoothly. Or work. It is overwhelming. Many mothers find themselves dealing with postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Symptoms of postpartum depression could be things like feeling angry, anxious, guilty, hopeless, experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that you previously enjoyed, mood swings, panic attacks, fatigue, loss of appetite, restlessness, lack of concentration or unwanted thoughts. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms and have wondered if you may have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, please reach out to one of the resources below or talk to your doctor They can help you. It is hard to ask for help and courageous too. There is no need to suffer alone.

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