The birth of a child ushers in much joy. But it can also open the doors to sleep deprivation in mothers, affecting the quality and quantity of their sleep.
“Problems with sleep after delivery can be due to demands of newborn care, recuperation from childbirth, anxiety and stress of new motherhood,” says Dr Harsha D S, consultant pulmonologist, Chest Clinic, Mangaluru, Karnataka.
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Twenty-eight-year-old Ankita Kudale, a first-time mother from Belagavi, Karnataka, says, “Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks as I hugged my newborn; it felt magical. The actual challenge started post delivery. Diet and medications could be taken care of, but lack of sleep was inevitable. Not getting enough sleep made me very frustrated and uncomfortable.”
Between the baby’s unexpected sleeping patterns and the constant feedings, Kudale could not find any time to sleep.
Sakshi Jha (32) a corporate employee from Mumbai, says that she suffered from a lack of sleep after delivery because of a change in her day-to-day activities. “The sleepless nights following childbirth are because of several aspects. As a mother, I was worried if the child was sleeping well, and my personal chores could only be finished after my baby went to sleep,” says Jha.
Experts say that taking care of a newborn is a round-the-clock task; stress and changes in routine can impact sleep patterns.
But the lack of sleep could also have roots in something deeper.
Is the lack of melatonin the reason?
Dr Abhirami S, consultant gynaecologist, Apollo Women’s Hospital, Chennai, explains that after delivery, mothers go through hormonal changes, including a drop in the level of melatonin. Melatonin, also called the sleep hormone, promotes sleep by regulating the circadian rhythm. Thus a drop in melatonin can cause disturbed sleep, she notes.
Postpartum depression and sleeplessness
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mood disorder that can occur in the mother after delivery.
Dr Harsha says, “Lack of sleep can be one of the symptoms of postpartum depression.”
“Postpartum depression is generally witnessed in a few mothers during the post-delivery period, but it can occur in fathers too. The symptoms of postpartum depression include pessimistic moods, crying spells, sleep disturbances, lack of interest [in everyday activities], lack of appetite, anxiety, fatigue and self-harming thoughts in both the mother and the father,” says Dr Anitha Vasudevan, senior psychiatrist, Mind Clinic (Lalitha Memorial Polyclinic), Bengaluru.
According to Dr Vasudevan, the lack of sleep can worsen already existing postpartum depression, or in some cases, precipitate an episode of PPD.
Feeding the baby is a concern for most moms, says Maina Shet, lactation consultant, Manipal Hospital, Mangaluru. “Babies have a tiny stomach where the milk gets digested very fast. They tend to wake up or must be woken up for a feed every two hours. Because of this, mothers cannot sleep at a stretch for long. Sleep deprivation can cause the mother to have brain fog [characterised by confusion, forgetfulness and a lack of focus and mental clarity.]”
She also points out that the stress due to lack of sleep can affect lactation and reduce breast milk supply.
“Mothers need to feed the child on demand as this will help regulate the milk supply and make sure that there is ample milk for the baby,” says Shet.
How to manage sleep deprivation during the postnatal period
“There is no conventional method to solve the sleep problems that occur during the postnatal period. But matching the mother’s sleep timings with that of the baby’s can help,” points out Shet.
- Experts stress the importance of taking care of one’s mental health. According to Dr Abhirami, it is pertinent to have regular consultations with doctors to take care of postpartum depression.
- Rhythmic activities such as walking, but not brisk walking, post a feeding session can help activate the muscles.
- Breathing exercises and gentle stretching can reduce stress. “Motherhood comes with a lot of changes and new experiences; this could cause the mother to be confused and anxious. Practising breathing exercises along with meditation help women relax post-delivery,” suggests, Reshma Kariappa, a yoga specialist from Mangaluru. Some of the pranayama one can practise are ujjayi pranayama, anulom vilom pranayama and bhramari pranayama.
- Experts say that if the lack of sleep is creating stress among mothers, they should consult their doctors.
- Problems in sleep after delivery can be due to the demands of newborn care, anxiety and stress of new motherhood.
- Lack of sleep could be one of the symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD).
- The symptoms of postpartum depression include pessimistic moods, crying spells, sleep disturbances, lack of interest [in everyday activities], lack of appetite, anxiety, fatigue and self-harming thoughts.
- Stress due to lack of sleep can affect lactation and reduce breast milk supply.
- Practising breathing exercises and gentle stretching can reduce postnatal stress.
- Have regular consultations with doctors to tackle postpartum depression.