Link Between Mom's Blues & Baby's Sleep

Depressed moms more likely to negatively impact their babies sleeping habits

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Moms spend so much energy focusing on their children's needs that it becomes easy to neglect their own needs. But taking care of mom also helps take better care of the little ones.

Although plenty of past research has found a correlation between a mom's symptoms of depression and poor sleeping patterns of their children, a new study has pinpointed more specifically how a mother's depression impacts her baby's sleeping patterns.

It's the way a depressed or excessively worried mom behaves that can disturb her child's sleep - which means moms can learn ways to ensure they don't interrupt their baby's rest.

"Seek help if you feel depressed and your baby wakes up often at night."

Douglas Teti, PhD, a professor of human development, psychology and pediatrics at Penn State, led the study to find out how depressed mothers influence their children - and how or why those influences occur.

Teti's team made home visits every day for a week at the homes of 45 mostly white mothers and their babies, ranging in age from one month to two years old.

About half the mothers worked full-time and half worked part-time. About half the babies were firstborn children, and about half had at least one sibling.

The researchers interviewed the mothers about how they felt about their babies' sleep habits and requested the mothers keep a daily diary of their infants' sleep behaviors.

The researchers also recorded information about depression symptoms among the mothers and video-taped the mothers with their babies on the final evening of the study.

The researchers took into account and adjusted their findings for the children who were breastfed versus the ones who were not. They found no association between how often a baby woke up in the night and the mother's age, education, family income or employment status.

Since only three of the families reported they were trying to use a sleep training method, the researchers could not study the impact of possible sleep training attempts.

The researchers found that the babies woke up an average of 9 times a night, ranging from infants who never woke during the night to ones who woke up to 27 times.

Ten of the mothers had significant depression symptoms, and these mothers' babies did wake up more often than babies of the other mothers.

Pulling together all their data, Teti and his team found that the power to change a depressed mom's impact on her child's sleeping patterns lay in changing her behaviors.

"This study provides insights about maternal depression's effects on nighttime parenting, and how such parenting affects infant sleep," Teti said.

Some of the ways moms disturbed their babies' sleep included picking them up unnecessarily when the babies are sleeping. Moms who are feeling depressed or overly anxious may do this for any number of reasons.

Although babies often make noises in their sleep or move around into strange positions, this is normal sleeping behavior that doesn't usually require intervening.

Nevertheless, some overly anxious moms might pick up their babies at the slightest whimper in a child's sleep, or a mom might move her child because she is concerned that her baby is uncomfortable or hungry or thirsty.

Or, some moms may be seeking emotional comfort from being close to or holding their child, leading them to pick up the sleeping baby even when it would be best for the child to sleep in peace.

But it's not only the moms who may be responsible for interruptions in their baby's sleep. The infants themselves certainly can play a part as well.

"Although we found greater support for mothers' behavior explaining the relation between depressive symptoms and infant night wakings, it's likely that both infants and parents influence infant sleep," Teti said.

The study appeared online April 17 in the journal Child Development. The research was funded by a grant from the Children, Youth and Family Consortium of the Pennsylvania State University.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 16, 2012
Last Updated:
April 17, 2012