Caring for Family

Survival Tips for Families: Sleep Deprivation, Stress and Postpartum Depression

Survival Tips for Families: Sleep Deprivation, Stress and Postpartum Depression

Bringing home a baby is a big change for everyone in the family — whether it's your first, second or fifth! As a parent, you have the amazing (and sometimes terrifying) responsibility of caring for a tiny baby who needs you all hours of the day and night.

Parents may feel overwhelmed or stressed, and sometimes distant from each other. Big brothers and sisters may respond with a range of emotions. Even family pets may be curious or anxious about the new addition to your family. A new baby can turn life upside down, and it's the kind of chaos that you can't really imagine or prepare for — until you're in the middle of it.

Sleep Deprivation and Stress

You didn't expect this to be easy, but at some point you can't help but wonder, "What on Earth were we thinking?!" And when there's loud crying and less sleep all around, you can hardly blame the child who asks, "When can we bring baby back to the hospital?"

Sleep deprivation and stress can be intense when you're feeding, changing and soothing baby around the clock. You may not feel like yourself, your partner may be on edge and children or pets may act out to get attention. Everyone in the family may go through emotional highs and lows, and it's important to support each other during this time.

Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

You might miss the life you had before bringing this new miracle home, and that's OK. It's normal to have mood swings, crying spells and feelings of sadness, anxiety and stress in the weeks and months after giving birth. This is called baby blues, and for many new moms, these symptoms last a few days or weeks. When depressed feelings last longer or begin to interfere with your ability to function, postpartum depression may be the cause. Signs include:

  • Increased crying and irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness and depression
  • Uncontrollable mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Fear of harming your baby, your partner or yourself

If you're feeling depressed, tell someone. Contact your doctor if symptoms become worse. The best thing you can do for your baby — and your family — is to take care of yourself.

Postpartum Depression Affects Dads, too

Postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 mothers, and research shows that fathers may also feel depressed shortly after the birth of a child. Learn more about postpartum depression in young fathers, and what you can do about it.

Focus on Each Other

When the laundry is piled high and the baby just spit up on your shirt (again), you may feel too frazzled to hold a conversation or even ask, "How was your day, honey?" It can be hard to squeeze in play time with your kids or pets, too. Try to let go of things that can wait and make time to connect with your family. Remind each other that things are going to be OK. Talk about things that you are excited about and looking forward to doing as a family.

Connect with Other Parents

It can be helpful to share experiences and challenges with other parents who are in the trenches with diaper changes and baby care, just like you. Check out support groups for moms and dads: Bootcamp for New Dads and Mothers Matter.