There are a few things as important as sleep for a newborn. On average, babies spend 16 hours a day sleeping, and this is essential for physical and mental development. That is why sleep problems in the early stage of life should be tackled right away.
It is vital to learn what is causing these sleep disturbances. And according to a new study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Hospital, persistent severe problems in babies can be linked to poor maternal prepartum and postpartum physical and mental health.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Fallon Cook followed 1460 women at 15 weeks gestation, and when their babies were 3, 6, 9, and 12 months old.
Experiencing sleep problems during the first year is common, and based on the results of their research, the team divided infant sleep problems into five categories:
- Those who had a few issues (24.7%)
- Persistent moderate problems (27.3%)
- Increased problems at 6 months (10.8%)
- Increased problems at 9 months (17.8%)
- Persistent severe issues (19.4%)
Persistent severe sleep problems in infants were correlated with mental health in mothers during pregnancy and after childbirth. Infants with the mothers who had prepartum and postpartum feelings of anxiety and depression, lower overall perception of health, as well as increased intimate partner violence (IPV) during the first year after birth, were much more likely to have persistent sleep impairments
These findings suggest that there are more things affecting infant sleep than parenting style, with mothers’ well-being during and after pregnancy being one of the most significant factors.
According to the authors, these results are significant as they could be used to predict sleep problems in babies and possibly intervene before they occur. Additionally, parents of infants with sleep problems often fell exhausted, depressed, and anxious and have feelings of self-doubt when it comes to parenting.
And what these findings say is that some infants may be predisposed to sleep problems because of the impaired prepartum maternal mental health, despite how hard parents try to help their newborns sleep.
What we should focus on is identifying and addressing the mental and physical health of women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Parents should seek professional help from their GPs or child health nurse if they are feeling anxious, depressed, and fatigued. Reaching out to family, friends, and local parenting groups can also help.
Being a new parent is stressful enough without infant sleep problems, but when they occur, it can become unbearable. It is crucial to address these issues as soon as they present themselves and take care of your mental and physical health. You can check our science-based sleep tips for babies, for more info on tackling sleep problems in infants.