The Brain on Baby: A Look at Customs Worldwide to Address Postpartum Sleep Deprivation

July 18, 2014 9:20 PM

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Few things astonish me more than the transformation of a new mother suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. It's like a terrible magic act: The curtain goes down on a happy expectant mother brimming with nervous excitement, and when it rises again there is a barely recognizable dull shell of the person standing before you. It's terrifying to behold in its severe forms. I'm still haunted by a former patient who was also a physician, struck with a particularly punishing bout of insomnia and sleep deprivation after her first newborn son was born. She had attempted to go back to work after just three weeks and wound up in my office, reduced to a disheveled heap of tears and helplessness. "My mind just doesn't work," she told me. "I'm the Grinch at home and at work, always exhausted and angry."

Yet despite all the formidable evidence of sleep deprivation in the everyday person, the scientific evidence of what happens to the postpartum brain is positively astounding -- it thrives. A study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2010 actually shows that a mother's brain grows from ...

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