Some infant sleep problems may have more to do with the mother’s well-being during pregnancy than with parenting style, according to a new study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia.
The findings, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, show that infants whose mothers struggled with mental and physical health problems during pregnancy are more likely to have severe and persistent sleep problems during the first year.
Study leader Dr. Fallon Cook says the findings are important because parents of sleep-disturbed infants often feel severely fatigued, depressed and anxious, and worry they are doing something to cause their babies’ sleep problems.
“Our findings suggest some infants may be predisposed to have sleep problems, despite parent’s best efforts to help their infant sleep better,” says Cook. “Identifying and supporting mothers with poor mental and physical health during pregnancy is crucial. These mothers may benefit from more intensive support once the child is born.”
“Parenting an infant who isn’t sleeping well is extremely hard. It’s important that parents seek help from their GP or child health nurse if feeling depressed, anxious or exhausted, and reach out to family, friends, and local parenting groups for additional support.”
Study data was gathered from 1,460 first-time mothers at 15 weeks’ gestation and when their infants were 3, 6, 9, and 12 months old.
The analysis revealed 5 profiles of infant sleep problems, including those who had few problems (24.7%), persistent moderate problems (27.3%), increased problems at 6 months (10.8%), increased problems at 9 months (17.8%), and persistent severe problems (19.4%).
Persistent severe infant sleep problems were linked to the mother’s depression during pregnancy and postpartum, the mother’s poorer perception of health during pregnancy and postpartum, increased postpartum anxiety, and increased prevalence of intimate partner violence in the first year postpartum.
“These mothers were more likely to have poorer mental and physical health during pregnancy in comparison to mothers of infants with no sleep problems,” said Cook.
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, a pediatric medical research institute located in Melbourne, Victoria, is affiliated with the Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne.