Sleep is key for the happiest mom on the block, too

The author of The Happiest Baby on the Block explains why we need to be prioritizing sleep for parents.

Sleep is key for the happiest mom on the block, too

We all have high expectations of joy and deep fulfillment when we’re about to have a baby. Our minds fill with images of radiant moms and dads cooing with delight over their tiny babies.

But for many parents, there is a darker side of that rainbow… exhaustion. The deep fatigue that is an almost universal stress to new parents can cast a pall over much of this happiness—which is why there is such a significant link between sleep deprivation and postpartum depression or anxiety.

Postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA) is an unwelcome visitor to one in six new mothers (and many new fathers, too). Yet, despite how common it is, somehow it still feels like a rude surprise whenever it arrives.

In more than 30 years as a pediatrician, I have heard thousands of exasperated parents ask the same question: “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be this hard?”

However, even when expectant couples are warned about how hard the first months can be, they often blithely believe that PPD or PPA is a problem “other people” have. Then baby arrives and stress, exhuastion and general overwhelm often sets in, which sets the stage for anxiety and/or depression.

The truth is, modern parenting doesn’t automatically grant us the same community structures that used to help new parents. Sure, we don’t have to wash our clothes in the river like past generations of parents, but two huge societal shifts make modern baby-rearing much tougher: For one, most new moms and dads have little experience—many have never even held a baby before. Secondly, few new parents have strong family support.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and this is first time in human history that parents don’t have “the village” to help them. Today, families are spread across the country and it’s a luxury to have baby care help.

This lack of support can lead to serious sleep deprivation. And while most new parents expect that being tired is part of the job, profound exhaustion is not at all a trivial problem.

Recently, BabyCenter and I surveyed more than 1,000 new mothers. Almost 80 percent said they routinely felt tired or exhausted. Most said sleep deprivation was their biggest angst—well ahead of a lack of time or money.

Other studies confirm that 50 percent of new parents get fewer than 6.5 hours of fractured sleep each night. That little sleep can cause a similar mental impairment to being drunk and double the risk of serious car accident. Further, exhaustion can lead to marital stress, infant death from unsafe sleeping and failed breastfeeding.

And, as mentioned above, topping the list of the problems from extreme fatigue is PPD or PPA.  These affect about 15 percent of new moms—and many husbands. (Yes, men can get it, too.)

Unfortunately, many mothers don’t really know what PPD or PPA feels like. When people hear it mentioned, they imagine a mom who is sad and weepy. But, an even more common way it manifests is with anxiety, irritability and intrusive fears.

Many moms with PPD or PPA say they can’t turn off their minds… and can’t rest, even when the baby is sleeping. This can lead to marital stress, shame and secrecy, low self-esteem, poor bonding, obesity, accidents, infant sleep death, breastfeeding problems, lifelong depression and even suicide or infanticide. This list is not meant to provoke fear. Quite the opposite, it’s meant to encourage us to work as hard as possible to find a solution.

Fortunately, the conversation around PPD and PPA has begun to see the light of day. Chrissy Teigen penned a moving, insightful piece in Glamour to share her battle with postpartum with other moms and moms-to-be. Other stars—Brooke Shields, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Hayden Panettiere and Adele—have also chronicled their painful experiences. Centers to aid depressed new mothers have popped up across the United States, including, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chapel Hill and Providence. And The Motherhood Center opened in New York City just last month.

Today, medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have strongly supported efforts to screen all new mothers for depression. And, thanks in large part to the leadership of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the United States Congress passed a bill to provide resources to support screening and treatment services.

Yet, these important steps fall far short of what will ultimately be needed to stem this crisis. We cannot simply wait for women to get depressed and then hope they come to a doctor to get screened. We need robust programs to prevent PPD and PPA before it occurs.

Fortunately, new hope is on the horizon.

We now know that exhaustion can raise a woman’s risk of PPD or PPA 7-27-fold during the first months after birth. Crying is also associated with a 4-fold increase of PPD or PPA. So, by preventing crying and boosting sleep, we may be able to significantly lower the risk of developing PPD or PPA.

As the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, some techniques that I suggest to parents include using motion, white noise and swaddling to help their babies fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. (My latest project, the SNOO smart infant sleeper, combines many of these good practices. Studies are currently underway from major universities to investigate a potential link between the SNOO and reduced rates of parental depression and anxiety.)

The very hopeful news is that by using new ideas in baby care we are now able to give parents more sleep, less crying and more confidence. And, that gives us a real chance of helping parents and babies be happier and healthier during this amazing stage of life.

They say necessity is the mother of invention—and nothing makes you more inventive than motherhood.

Sometimes that means fashioning a diaper out of paper towels and your older child's underpants (true story). Sometimes that means creating an innovative and life-changing weighted baby sleep sack and totally crushing it on Shark Tank. Tara Williams is the latter.

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Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

But it hasn't been. It's been more—as one of my favorite memes says—difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Because until this towel hit the bathtime scene, there was no easy-peasy way to pick up your squirming wet baby without drenching yourself and/or everything around you.

Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

Check out our favorites to make bathtime so much easier:

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We are one and done—and we planned it that way

I didn't forget to have children. I just had a child. One child.

The other day, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that read, "Oops! I forgot to have children!" across the front, and I wanted to run up and give her a hug. Except that would be weird on many levels, so I buried the impulse.

I didn't forget to have children. I just had a child. One child. And lean in closer while I make this confession: My partner and I made that decision on purpose.

It's not really what I'd planned for myself when I was younger and daydreamed about my future family. In fact, I went through a phase in the '80s when I imagined myself with five children who I would name Mandy, Randy, Candy, Sandy and Andy.

I certainly never envisioned myself being any kind of spokesperson for the only-child crowd, but over my last 11 years, the most-asked question I get is whether or not I have regrets that we never gave my daughter a sibling.

That's a hard question because the number of kids you and your partner decide to have is an extremely personal decision—although you wouldn't necessarily know that by all the complete strangers who regularly ask, "So, when are you going to have another one?" or, "Don't you worry about what will happen to her when you die and she's left all alone in the world?" People, even well-intentioned, can be extremely insensitive and feel like they have the right to get in your business even if you just met them on an airplane.

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