(RxWiki News) The first several weeks after a new baby can be a whirlwind — especially for moms. But the effects of sleeping pattern changes may last for months.
A recent study found that many mothers felt excessive daytime sleepiness, even four months after having a baby.
The study was small and restricted to Australian mothers, but the results may apply to moms in other countries.
The authors concluded that this high level of sleepiness during the daytime after having a baby should affect family leave policies at work.
"Learn strategies to cope with changes in your sleep schedule."
The study, led by Ashleigh Filtness, PhD, of the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, looked at the quality of sleep in new moms.
In the study, 33 healthy Australian women who had just had babies kept track of all the time they were awake and asleep during three different weeks. They tracked their sleep daily during the sixth week after having their baby and then during the 12th and 18th weeks.
All the women had given birth vaginally to one child at full term. All were nonsmokers who were in a committed relationship.
Most of the mothers were exclusively breastfeeding, with 82 percent breastfeeding at the sixth week and 61 percent breastfeeding at the 18th week.
However, the researchers did not find any sleep differences between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers.
Analysis of the mothers' sleep diaries revealed no major changes in the total sleep time — an average of 7 hours and 20 minutes — the mothers got throughout the study, although the times women went to bed and got up varied.
The mothers also woke up in the night about the same number of times throughout the study. However, as time went on, the longest period of uninterrupted sleep the mother got became longer.
Another change seen as time went on was that the mothers slept less during the day as their children got older.
"Napping behavior appeared to be driven by individual preference with some participants napping frequently and others not at all," the authors wrote.
The large individual differences on naps meant the study authors could not draw any broad conclusions about them in the study.
Also, the amount of daytime sleepiness the mothers experienced decreased as time went on. However, by the 18th week, more than half the women were still experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness.
"Health care providers designing interventions to address sleepiness in new mothers should take into account the dynamic changes to sleep and sleepiness during this initial postpartum period," the authors wrote.
The authors also noted that parental leave policies should potentially take into account the excessive daytime sleepiness that new mothers experience, "ensuring enough opportunity for daytime sleepiness to diminish to a manageable level prior to reengagement in the workforce," they wrote.
William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida, suggested this study's findings extend what we know about sleep and early motherhood.
"Previous studies have shown a potential association between sleep problems during pregnancy and postpartum psychosis," he said. "This is a study showing changes occurring postpartum and the effects of poor sleep on daytime sleepiness."
He noted that sleep disruption can cause not only daytime drowsiness but other risks associated with sleep deprivation.
"The takeaway message should be that we need to be aware of the potential effects of poor sleep and daytime functioning in the postpartum period and make arrangements to address those issues," Dr. Kohler said.
The study was published July 31 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The research was funded by the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.