Depressed Moms' Behavior May Play Role in Infants' Sleep Problems

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April 19, 2012

Sleep problems are common in young children and can lead to stress in families. One factor that might contribute to these problems is the mother’s depression. A new study carries out at the Pennsylvania State University and published in the journal, Child Development , identifies mothers with depression may act in ways that disturb their infants’ sleep.

Researchers studied 45 mothers and their infants who ranged from one to 24 months. The researchers conducted home visits within seven consecutive days. They collected information about the mothers and their symptoms of depression. They also asked them about their feeling about their babies’ sleep. The mothers kept a daily diary of their babies’ sleep behavior and were video-taped with their infants on the last night.

The mothers with high levels of symptoms of depression and more worries about their children’s sleep had children whose sleep was more disrupted. Did depression symptoms lead the mothers to behave in ways that interfered with their babies’ sleep or did the babies’ disrupted sleep lead the mothers to be more depressed?

The study found the mother’s behavior was most likely at play. Mothers with more symptoms of depression and worries behaved in ways that disrupted their infants’ sleep. For example, they often picked up babies who were sleeping.

The authors suggest that mothers who worry excessively about their babies’ well-being may respond to infant sounds that don’t necessarily require a response. The mothers often move the babies into their own beds to alleviate their own anxieties about whether their infants are hungry, thirsty, and comfortable. Mothers who are feeling depressed also may seek out their infants at night for emotional comfort.