Q&A: post-partum insomnia and irrational fears

Continuing with the theme of admitting how hard this can be sometimes...

Wendy writes:

"I've developed insomnia. 8 month old baby wakes up only 1x per night now (hooray) sometime between 2-5 am. I breastfeed, he goes back to sleep and I lay awake for a couple of hours. I've also lost my ability to nap. Overtired? PPD?

Also, since the baby was born, I've become afraid to fly (plane crash), afraid to drive (car crash), afraid to walk around the block (car crashing into the stroller), afraid of sitting in my house (tree falling over and crushing us), afraid to go into the bank (bank holdup)....I have not become a shut-in but find myself preoccupied with worst case scenarios."

I think this is post-partum anxiety, which is technically different from PPD, but I think is also caused by a complex interaction of factors, including hormones.

I am going to hazard a guess that a lot of us have suffered from some mild form of insomnia after having babies. Which is an unbelievable pisser*, because if the baby is actually asleep, it's cruel that we aren't, too. I've definitely gone through periods of this, even when I was not depressed in any other way. And it seemed to ebb and flow with my hormones and exercise and nutritional intake.

I also noticed (and why do I feel still a little scared to admit this, even now?) that I had preoccupations and almost visions of something bad happening for the first few months with both my kids. With my older one, I was constantly worried that a car would jump the sidewalk and hit the stroller and kill him. Sometimes I couldn't get the thought out of my head, and I'd lie awake at night worried about it. Then when I had the second baby, the fear was that somehow my older one would accidentally snap the baby's spinal cord and leave him paralyzed. I could not shake that fear for a good 4-5 weeks, starting about 2 weeks after the baby was born. I'd be sitting with them both, playing with the older one and holding the baby, seeing it happen in my mind as if it was a memory instead of some cruel mind trick.

The one good thing was that with the second one I didn't worry that there was something wrong with me, and I have the blog world to thank for that. By that time I'd read enough "shameful confessions" online to know that there are things we're afraid to admit, but that a lot of us are dealing with. Just because I hadn't heard other women joking around about how afraid they were of really unlikely things in the first few months didn't mean tons of us didn't deal with it.

But back to Wendy's problem: Just because lots of us have dealt with the insomnia and ultra-worry doesn't mean that you should have to suffer through it. I think that taking Omega 3 supplements (2,000-3,000 mg a day of fish oil or flax seed oil**), getting 20-30 minutes a day of exercise, and getting 10-15 minutes a day of sunshine will probably fix you up in about a week or two. At least to the point that you can catch your breath and figure out what else you need that can ease your load and help you start to reach out to get some help.

You may find that you need counseling and/or anti-depressants, but I'd rather see you do the Omega 3s and exercise and sunshine first, because if your body's a little off-kilter you should fix that first before going on meds so they'll be even more effective (and just so your body doesn't get depleted). I'd give them a few weeks to kick in, then call your doctor if things aren't significantly better. (Mention "crippling insomnia" and "persistent worries" to get them to take you seriously.)

Here's something really interesting I read in Erica Lyon's The Big Book of Birth (I have a review copy, so I don't know if my page number would be helpful, but it's in the last paragraph of the "Massage" section in Chapter 4):

a recent study showed that if a partner massaged a new mother for fifteen minutes a day it is as effective (!) as medication for moderate postpartum depression.

I think it's probably a combination of feeling taken care of by someone else and the way massage helps your body regulate itself (the same way getting regular massages helps you fight off colds better in the winter). But if you have a partner or friend who would be willing to massage you for 15 minutes every day, it might help regulate your system, too.

So. Yeah. It's a problem, but you're not a freak because it's not that unusual (unfortunately), and it's treatable.

Anyone want to share? Bizarre fears you had when your babies were little? The most sobbingly cruel episode of "I finally got this child to sleep and now I can't fall asleep myself" you can remember? What you're wearing today? (It's supposed to be gorgeous and sunny here in NYC on Monday, so I'll probably be wearing a red-and-white patterned wrap dress and red slingbacks to work.)

 

* By the North American phrase "pissed off," meaning angry, not "pissed" meaning drunk, which would undoubtedly be more pleasant.

** Hey, I still have no idea what the deal is with flax seed oil, whether it's completely safe for all of us, or not so great for fetuses but fine for post-partum moms, or whatever. I'm still tempting fate by taking it, but know that I'm not a doctor or nutritionist and am not recommending it specifically so take it at your own risk.