” I can’t work properly because my baby keeps me awake all night”…..is something that I hear very often from parents, and in particular fathers. The excitement of a new arrival into your home is wonderful. But when the newness wears off and parent’s have to return to work, this is where it can be tough. The traditional Australian family sees the non birthing partner return to work and in the majority of these families, this person is male, Dad.
As a community we are very often focused on the mother and baby, for their wellbeing is paramount for the baby to not only survive but thrive. Who is looking out for Dad? Employed Fathers may have opted for parental leave or taken leave from their work place. Others must carry on with their usual work commitments. At some point, men return to work. The original job description that they are employed to fulfil is still there. Very few ask working fathers how things are going at home or offer work options for Dads to get through this difficult period of having a wakeful baby at home. Financial commitments to rent or a mortgage still need to be paid, utilites, baby costs, loss of their partner’s wage all adds to financial stress on top of worrying about how their partner is coping with the baby while you are at work, and the underlying exhaustion of lack of sleep contributing to poor work output and possibly poor work relationships with colleagues and clients.
Let’s look at why your baby is keeping you awake so much at night. It is normal for babies to wake frequently at night. You and I wake at night a lot too. This is the body’s safe checking system. Is our blood sugar ok, is our blood pressure stable, is there any danger around that would not be safe to send you into deep sleep again? Babies that are noticeably wakeful overnight, are those that find it difficult to mange these wakings overnight. Babies work on feelings and expectations. So when a baby falls asleep, look at all the ‘feelings’ that your baby is needing in order to fall asleep. Then look at when your baby rouses from a sleep cycle overnight, and see what ‘feelings’ are now absent. Your baby now does not recognise these new feelings and is not able to fall back to sleep. Use the analogy of a checklist for your baby. List all the things on your baby’s going to sleep checklist. Then look at this checklist and see how many of these feelings are present when they wake from a sleep cycle. The problem solving approach here is to make the checklist at both the going to sleep part and waking up part to be the same. Then when your baby wakes at these normal waking times at night, they are able to identify what to do next and stay or go back to sleep with no assistance, these are the babies that ‘sleep through the night’ or at least for long periods between feeds.
Often newborns under ten weeks, are still trying to feed well and are troubled by wind and settling difficulties. This is where Mum’s have now become exhausted and asked you to step in and help if you haven’t already. It is 2am and you have a major breakfast meeting on later in the morning. You have never seen your partner look so distressed, overwhelmed or exhausted before. It frightens you. You know you have to do something, but you have no idea what to do. You rock, sing, soothe your child as much as you can. You suggest that your partner feeds the baby yet again since the last few minutes that it feed only to be meet with a steely gaze or worse, more tears. Life has become overwhelming worrying about your partner, your baby who’s cries are only getting worse and more frequent, and that you don’t want to sleep through the alarm for your breakfast meeting, let alone prepare for it and remember the content of your presentation. You know that you partner will beg you not to go to work today, and if you do, there will be phone calls and texts to worry you. Eventually you leave for work late, and add more pressure on yourself by worrying that if you don’t perform at your peak this morning at work, that you will possibly be risking your job, your boss just won’t tolerate sub standard performances anymore and doesn’t care that you have a newborn baby at home keeping you up all night. You crawl in the door after work to be met by your mother-in-laws icy stare of ‘where were you when my daughter, needed you?’ It is not hard to see how many fathers struggle through this period of a new baby as well. PANDA ( Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) note that 1:20 men are diagnosed with Antenatal or Postnatal depression each year. ( Deloitte 2012) They suspect a higher rate but many men do not seek a diagnosis or support. It is also noted that 3:10 men are diagnosed with depression around the time their baby reaches 6 weeks of age and increasing by the time a child reaches 6 months of age. ( Ballard et al 1994 and Bielawska- Batorwicz and Kossakowska- Petrycka, 2006) . This are high statistics for a topic that is NEVER mentioned or addressed.
Below is more information on male depression and anxiety from the website “How Is Dad Going?” http://www.howisdadgoing.org.au
• Tiredness, headaches and pain
• Irritability, anxiety and anger
• Loss of libido
• Changes in appetite
• Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and unable to cope
• Engaging in risk taking behaviour
• Feelings of isolation and disconnection from partner, friends or family
• Withdrawal from intimate relationships and from family, friends and community life
• Increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal from family
• Increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment for depression
Some men may not be able to identify any of the risk factors in their lives yet still develop postnatal depression. Paternal postnatal depression can affect men of all ages, personality types and economic status. Some of the known risk factors associated with paternal postnatal depression include:
• Partner experiencing postnatal depression
• Previous history of depression
• Relationship problems and conflict
• Low self-esteem
• Feelings of incompetence in parenting role
• First time father
• Infant irritability
The factors that affect men can be very similar to those affecting women, such as:
• Lack of social and emotional support
• Personality characteristics (perfectionist or controlling)
• Stress and changes in relationships (particularly the couple relationship)
• Lack of sleep
• Unresolved issues of grief and loss
• Difficulty adjusting to the changes of parenthood
• Unmet expectations of fatherhood and himself
• Negative or traumatic birth experience – the way in which men experience childbirth may have some influence on their subsequent emotional well-being
As with all forms of depression there are a range of biopsychosocial factors that contribute to the development of paternal postnatal depression: some physical, some emotional and some social. Some factors are the same as those that contribute to women experiencing antenatal and postnatal depression and others are related to the man’s experience of pregnancy and new fatherhood.
Factors that generally seem to relate to the man’s experience:
• The impact of changing social roles for fathers in the family
• Norms and attitudes toward fatherhood and masculinity – men are less likely to talk about how they feel and maintaining that they are coping is very important
• Change in family dynamics so that some men may feel excluded from the parenting role or from the relationship with their partner. This may result in resentment towards the baby.
• Worries about extra responsibilities, financial burdens and managing the stresses of work.
• Unmet expectations for the resumption of the sexual relationship in the early postnatal period
• Pregnancy, particularly early on, appears to be the most stressful period for men in the transition to fatherhood. This may be due to changes to his partner’s body, how supported and included he feels, concern about the pending changes to his life and feeling unsure about his role in caring for his partner.
• Partner experiencing postnatal depression. Studies have shown that maternal and paternal depression are highly correlated (Ramchandani et al, 2005; Meighan et al, 1999). The extra pressures of managing a new baby, an unwell partner, additional household duties and work demands can contribute to fathers developing postnatal depression themselves.
If you have identified with feeling like this, clearly you are not alone and you need to give yourself permission to seek help which is readily available. You need to do it for your partner and for your baby, even if you don’t want to seek help for you. Do it for your family and all those that love you. If you don’t think you have anxiety or depression issues but are still stressed by an unsettled baby, there is also a lot of help available.
Caroline’s Angels Baby Sleep Specialists can offer support in alleviating your baby’s sleeplessness by way of offering one off consults to ongoing Newborn Midwifery Care on a more regular respite basis both day and night.