To the sweet mother who has lost her joy,
So you wanted to have a baby. You wanted to complete your family. You saw the little plus sign on the drugstore test and the only word that can describe how you felt was joy; Joy in its purest form. Your belly grew right along with your joy until one day your joy was placed in your arms and your heart swelled larger than you knew was possible. Now your joy lives outside your body and you are a grateful and loving mother.
But somewhere down the road you lost it, your joy. Maybe it happened one night when the baby wouldn’t stop screaming, or during the day when you couldn’t put her down or she’d arch her back in protest. Maybe your joy left you when you couldn’t keep up with the to-do list because you were just too tired. Maybe it was when your in-laws told you that their babies were all good sleepers and you must be doing something wrong. Maybe it was when your husband would try to settle the baby at night but she screamed until she was back in your arms and he quickly fell asleep as you sat awake, yet again. Or maybe it was when your friends told you that their babies started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks and you couldn’t bear to tell them that you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in ages.
It’s been months or even years since you lost your joy. You are emotional and anxious. The way your baby sleeps dictates your entire day. You don’t want anyone to think you have a ‘bad’ baby or that you are a ‘bad’ mother. Your lack of sleep is consuming you; it’s changed you and you can hardly recognize yourself. You need some support. You need to talk to your doctor, your spouse, your family, your friends. You need to get some help with this. Your baby needs to get some sleep and so do you. For some moms this loss of joy has a name and it’s called Postpartum Depression.
Science tells us that whether you have an easy baby or one who is more difficult, new mothers who sleep less than 4 hours between midnight and 6 am are more likely to develop PPD. And if you are up all night with your baby and nap less than 60 minutes during the day you are also at an increased risk. We know that fragmented maternal sleep is strongly related to PPD. We also know that sleep is a science and a learned behaviour, which means our babies can learn to sleep, no matter how difficult things have been in the past. Research has shown that the number of night wakings requiring parental support in babies significantly decreases following a single consultation on infant sleep and behavioural strategies to improve sleep. Making these changes leads to improvements in maternal stress, anxiety and depression.
Lack of sleep is a more serious problem than many of us like to think. People will tell you that it’s just a part of parenthood or it’s what you signed up for so you’d better get used to it. But it’s bigger than that. And for some mothers, lack of sleep means loss of joy.
Joy. That pure emotion you felt at the beginning of this journey. Wouldn’t it be nice to find it again? Talk to your doctor. Seek support. Teach your baby the skills of independent sleep, not only for her benefit, but for the benefit of your entire family, which includes you, sweet mother who’s lost her joy.
To learn more about Postpartum Depression please visit The Canadian Mental Health Association at http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/postpartum-depression/.
Alysa Dobson is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with SleepWell Baby. She works with families to help them get the sleep they need. Alysa offers support to parents with children ages 4 months- 8 years old through both in home and remote consultations. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goyal D, Gay C, Lee K. Fragmented maternal sleep is more strongly correlated with depressive symptoms than infant temperament at three months postpartum. Arch Womens Ment Health (2009) 12:229–237
Symon B, Bammann M, Crichton G,et al. Reducing postnatal depression, anxiety and stress using an infant sleep intervention. BMJ Open 2012;2:e001662.doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001662