While the birth of a child is often considered a joyous occasion, for the almost one in four new mothers who experience postpartum depression, giving birth can trigger a wide range of emotions, including excitement, happiness, anxiety and depression. The postpartum body goes through a lot of changes as it attempts to heal itself from the trauma of birth. As hormones begin to regulate, most women experience a form of the so-called “baby blues” in which mood swings and difficulty sleeping are normal starting two to three days after birth and continuing for up to two weeks.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression, however, lasts much longer than the “baby blues” (up to one year after birth) and may cause interference in the way a new mother cares for her infant child. New studies regarding postpartum depression are researching how sleep and the use of melatonin can help reduce the symptoms of the disorder.
What is Melatonin?
In its natural form, melatonin, also called pineal hormone, is a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake system by telling the brain when it needs to sleep and when it needs to wake up. The body naturally makes more of the pineal hormone during the nighttime hours and is triggered to begin production as the sun begins to set.
The amount of the hormone the body makes is individualized and is based on the amount of sunlight a person gets, as well as their body clock. Some individuals may not make enough of the hormone naturally. This is especially true for individuals who work overnight shifts and tend to sleep during the day as well as new mothers with babies who haven’t adjusted to a normal sleep-wake cycle. For these individuals, melatonin supplements are recommendable and can be purchased over-the-counter.
How is the Hormone Linked to Postpartum Depression?
A research team at John Carroll University in Ohio found that postpartum depression may be linked to sleep deprivation coupled with excessive exposure to blue light rays. Sleep deprivation occurs in mothers with infants who haven’t adjusted to a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Research suggests that mothers experience blue light ray exposure when getting up with their infant at night, whether it be from reaching over to turn on the light or walking down the hallway to comfort a crying child. This type of light exposure can result in the mother’s natural sleep-wake cycle being interrupted, creating a hormonal shift in the pineal gland.
Avoid Blue Light
To reduce the risk of this hormonal shift, new mothers should consider changing the lightbulbs in areas that will be frequented during nighttime infant care. Lighting in these areas should be free of blue light and consist of warm colors, such as soft reds and oranges, which will not trigger the suppression of the hormone. Having shades of red and orange light in these nighttime infant care locations may also be beneficial for the baby as well, as it may trigger the infant to enter into a consistent sleep-wake cycle sooner than expected.
Supplements may also be a positive addition to a new mother’s healthcare regimen. Individuals who believe that their levels are low or are having difficulty producing the hormone should visit their physician, who can conduct a test of the new mother’s blood, urine or saliva to determine whether she is deficient. If a deficiency is indicated, supplements may be prescribed.
Postpartum depression can be confusing and debilitating at times. Talking about the possibility of postpartum depression and making a plan for dealing with it before a mother gives birth can lead to more positive outcomes. As with most physical and mental health issues, sleep is a vital part of healing and the body getting back to normal. With these new findings, new mothers suffering from the disorder may begin to see relief from their symptoms much faster than before and have more positive outcomes.