Many people have questioned which comes first, maternal depression or a sleepless infant. To us, there has always been an obvious link – when you have a fussy/sleepless child, a mom is bound to become depressed as she herself becomes exhausted. This study indicates that this is true. However, what is MORE true is that mothers who are depressed are actually causing their babies to lose sleep.
Based on this study, it seems that depressed mothers are more anxious about the well-being of their new babies and therefore go to them when they make the slightest noise or movement. This then wakes the baby and disrupts her sleep. In addition, moms who are depressed seem to crave being close to their infants and therefore, wake them when they feel lonely or sad. In reading this, I understand the psychological motivation highlighted. As a new mom, I remember feeling worried and lonely at times and I can understand how a mom may want to be close to her new baby.
As sleep consultants, we know that new moms have lots of resources available – books, websites, videos – and they are all helpful and valuable. However, when you are overtired and/or depressed, sometimes a real, live person is the most helpful solution. We encourage anyone in this position to seek help from a doctor, therapist, sleep consultant, or other professional for help. We understand that emotions and sleep are not things that can be separated – they go hand-in-hand, both for mother and baby.