Prescribing Sleep For Postpartum Depression:
As psychiatrists, we talk about sleep A LOT! And we even “prescribe” sleep to the new parents who we see, because sleep deprivation can stand in the way of recovery. It is so hard on the brain. Good sleep is an essential ingredient for recovery from postpartum depression, and from all mental health challenges.
Prescribing sleep for new moms is a powerful intervention that involves 4 core principles:
- Change the message: Help mothers view protecting their own sleep as crucial to supporting the health of the whole family. New moms often feel guilty about sleep training their baby or about enforcing sleep rules and limits for other children. This can often lead to “sleep chaos” in the home and worsen or perpetuate postpartum depression. Once a mom feels ready and willing to implement a family and personal sleep plan, she will see how much better she can feel with better sleep and will see how her parenting and patience dramatically improves too.
- Consolidate Sleep. Larger blocks of sleep have a more powerful impact than multiple smaller ones.
- Recruit help (to the extent that this is possible). Taking shifts may involve flexible sleeping arrangements. For example, one parent can start the night by sleeping in the same room as the baby, with the baby and the other support is in a quiet separate room. They can then switch places in the middle of the night. The person sleeping first should go to bed as early as possible (forget cleaning up!). And they should often use sleep “aids” such as ear plugs, eye masks, and sometimes even sleeping pills. Turning off the baby monitor is key for better sleep as well.
- Flex the breast. Women can add additional pumping sessions during the day to allow them to gradually space out night-time pumping and involve a second person in bottle feeding at night.
Trying these solutions to address sleep deprivation can help every new parent sleep a little bit better, and feel more energized and less overwhelmed. When it comes to improving sleep, any little bit of extra sleep helps.