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Postnatal Insomnia

Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

Giving birth to a baby is one of the most wonderful blessings in life.  New moms and dads look forward to bringing their new bundle of joy home from the hospital, but little do they know that taking care of a new baby is extremely hard work from the very beginning.  Mothers work especially hard to ensure the baby is fed on schedule, bathed regularly, etc.  Breastfeeding can also take its toll on the mother as she must be available for feeding around the clock.  That's why so many new mothers suffer with postnatal insomnia for many months after having a baby. Constantly


What is Postnatal Insomnia?

Postnatal insomnia is the inability to enjoy quality sleep after giving birth.  The degree of severity differs among women.  For some new mothers, it's a total lack of sleep or the inability to fall asleep when the baby finally does.  For others, there may be a problem with getting enough hours sleep so the body can enter deep REM sleep (often called dream sleep).  According to studies, mothers usually spend about 20 percent more time awake than average during the baby's first six weeks.

While milder cases of postnatal insomnia may only last until the baby begins to sleep through nights, chronic cases can lead to other complications including postpartum depression.  Some mothers are able to return to a normal routine quickly while others might spend months or years trying to return to a sense of normalcy.


Causes and Symptoms of Postnatal Insomnia

The causes of postnatal insomnia vary among women, with the primary cause being the inability to get prolonged periods of sleep at night.  This is due to waking up frequently during the night to feed and check on the baby.  Some babies wake up every hour on the hour while others may awaken only one or two times each night.  Either way, the mother is often awakened by the baby's cry or even kept awake due to anxiety about the baby.  This prevents the mother from getting a full night of uninterrupted sleep as well as entering REM sleep.

Symptoms of postnatal insomnia will also vary from one person to the next.  The severity and number of symptoms often depend on how long the insomnia lasts as well as how often it occurs.  Some mothers only experience acute (short-term) insomnia while others have chronic (ongoing) insomnia.  With acute cases, the insomnia may only last a few nights or weeks, or it may come and go occasionally.  Chronic insomnia, however, usually persists for at least several nights per week for a month or more.

Symptoms may include difficulty staying awake during the day, problems with memory and/or concentration on important tasks, morning headaches, irritability and ongoing fatigue.  Some mothers experience anxiety due to insomnia, or vice versa.  This gives them the "on edge" feeling, and they might have a difficult time relaxing during night or day.  In extreme cases of postnatal insomnia, mothers may experience postpartum depression, confusion or even paranoia about their baby.


Postnatal Insomnia Treatment

If left untreated, chronic postnatal insomnia can eventually lead to other more serious health problems such as high blood sugar, weight gain or heart disease.  Postnatal insomnia may also worsen existing medical conditions.

Mild cases can often be cured by getting on schedule with good sleep habits.  The mother can ask for help from the baby's father or a friend/relative if possible, so she can get a full night's rest.  Perhaps she can sleep in a room where there are no noises or distractions for a few nights while someone else takes care of the baby's needs.  Working mothers might be able to sleep more on weekends and "catch up" on sleep at that time.  Relaxing music, reading a book, a soothing tabletop fountain, meditation/prayer...these may be able to help her fall asleep more easily.  To the worried mother, getting help with the baby might seem to be selfish, but it's really not.  A healthy, rested mother will be much more attentive to her baby's needs while awake!

In severe cases, it's wise to seek the help of a health care provider.  In some instances, the mother can possibly take a mild sleeping pill for a few nights to help her body adjust and catch up on lost sleep.  This might be all that is needed to get her body back into a normal "sleep mode."  It's sometimes easy to break the insomnia cycle once the body has caught up on sleep.  Mothers may also research herbal remedies for insomnia if they'd prefer to use natural alternative medicines.   

Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can each interfere with normal sleep patterns and should be avoided while trying to cure insomnia.  There are also behavioral programs that offer stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction therapy, temporal control therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.  Muscle relaxation and breathing techniques may also help with falling asleep.

For busy new mothers, it's pertinent that sleep be a top priority in their schedule.  When the baby finally falls asleep, this is not the time to clean the house, wash dishes, do laundry, etc.  Mom should realize it's time to rest her mind and body too!  Without the proper amount of sleep, a mother will begin to feel like a "walking zombie," and she'll find it difficult to perform her motherly duties.  It's important to treat postnatal insomnia seriously from the very beginning, before it becomes a long-term issue. 


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