Depression and Sleep with a Newborn

 For me, one of the most important aspects of managing my depression and anxiety has always been sleeping.  If I am not getting enough sleep my mental health spirals downhill.  There is a huge difference in how I feel and behave when I am getting enough sleep and when I am not. I also have insomnia that kicks in when I am depressed.  Bad combination with an infant. There are also studies that show that depression and anxiety are worse when you are sleep-deprived. 


Today I want to share with you my recommendations for how to handle infant sleep deprivation. This is what worked for me and my family. Each family will have its own solution that works best for them.  I am not talking about how to get your child to sleep, but how to handle the adult sleep when the baby is waking up frequently.  I am married to a very supportive husband. He has been working from home due to covid, which has been a huge help. His working from home has played a huge role in how we can approach sleep habits.  Even if your partner is working outside the home, these strategies should work for you. Or at least are worth considering. 


Sleeping is difficult with a brand new baby. When they need to feed every three hours, and you are spending an hour to an hour and a half of that time doing the feeding and nappy changes overnight, when do you sleep? Obviously, everyone is sleep-deprived during this phase.  Since I have depression affected by lack of sleep and my husband was back at work after a week, we wanted to maximize sleep.  Our best plan was to make sure only one adult was awake at a time.  Since my husband was working, I didn’t want him awake overnight. So I mostly handled the overnight wakes and anything after 6 am in the morning was my husband’s responsibility So he would get up with her, do the nappy changes, and play with her.  Once my husband started work for the day, he would let her play on the floor under a gym while working, wear her, or put her down for a nap.  This worked especially well for us because my insomnia mostly affects me falling asleep.  Once I am asleep, I can keep sleeping pretty easily. Even after breastfeeding, I can go back asleep.  Now that baby’s wake time is much longer and she needs more entertainment, I get up after her first nap of the day.  Well, I did for a while, but now we’ve moved her nap later. So I get up when my husband starts work, and then take a nap with the baby. 


We also implemented a 1-hour rule.  If the baby is awake and fussy for more than 1 hour, you wake up your partner and go to sleep.  If the baby is still awake in an hour, then your partner wakes you up.  No one should be dealing with a fussy baby for more than an hour overnight.  It was really helpful when the baby is crying and fussing and you know you only have a certain amount of time before you can trade-off. I was very grateful.


Another tip for only having one adult awake at a time is to keep the changing table out of your room.  Some families and babies will be fine with it in the bedroom. But our baby would cry during every change. So we kept the changing table in the living room.  I did mostly feed in bed with a lamp on since it did not wake up my husband. For the first week or two, I fed in the living room, but then switched to the bedroom.  I should add, that after a c section, it is not always realistic to do everything yourself. For the first few weeks, I had to wake up my husband to put the baby in the cot.  If I have another c section, it might be worth getting a basinet for that reason. 


8 months in, the baby is sleeping more and more but is still not consistently sleeping through the night.  We are now down to one or two wake-ups a night.  With occasional sleeping through the night.  We have switched to a new strategy now.  Anything before 2 a.m. is my husband’s shift and after 2 a.m. is my shift.


If Nick notices baby noises during my shift and I'm still asleep, he'll sometimes try once to get her back down before nudging me. This is okay for us because he gets to sleep much easier than I do, and she tends to wake up more during my shift, so that's fair. In families where the parent who has a hard time getting to sleep is also more sensitive to baby noises, you're gonna have to get used to nudging the sound sleeper.


Baby slept in our room for her first 6 months. After 6 months we decided to move her to her own bedroom to help with everyone’s sleep.  I do think it made a big difference in how we slept at night.  When I was having trouble sleeping, every noise Mary made would bother me.  And I’m pretty sure when she was in lighter stages of sleep, my tossing and turning would wake her up.  She woke up less often once she was in her own room.  


I recommend that all parents decide how they are going to handle adult sleep before the baby arrives. These are my favorite ideas, but I’m sure there are others.  Decide what you want to do, and be flexible if it isn’t working well for you.


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