Babies born to women with anxiety or depression are more likely to sleep poorly

Westchester, Ill. — A study in the April 1 issue of the journal SLEEP suggests that babies are more likely to have night wakings at both 6 months and 12 months of age if they are born to women who suffered from anxiety or depression prior to the pregnancy.

Results indicate that preconceptional psychological distress – anxiety or depression – was a strong predictor of infant night waking, independent of the effects of postnatal depression, bedroom sharing and other confounding factors. Significant psychological distress prior to conception was associated with a 23-percent increased risk of infant night wakings at 6 months of age and a 22-percent increased risk at 12 months of age.

According to the authors, frequent, disruptive night wakings in the latter period of the first year of life are clinically relevant because they predict sleep problems at three years of age, which in turn are associated with behavioral problems. During early childhood development, poor sleep quality also may affect learning abilities. Infant night wakings also disrupt a mother’s sleep, which predicts maternal mood, stress and fatigue.

The study involved 874 women between 20 and 34 years of age in the city of Southampton, U.K. Before becoming pregnant the women completed the General Health Questionnaire, a 12-question screening instrument that detects depression and anxiety disorders. Twenty-nine percent of the women were classified as having significant psychological distress.

When their baby was 6 months and 12 months of age, the women reported how often their child had awakened on average between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. each night during the last two weeks. The percentage of children who woke at least once each night was higher among women with psychological distress prior to the pregnancy, both at 6 months of age (52 percent vs. 43 percent) and 12 months of age (46 percent vs. 36 percent).

According to the authors, untreated infant sleep problems can become chronic, with implications for the mental health and well-being of both the child and the mother. The difficulties of mothers who are already vulnerable to anxiety and depression will be exacerbated if they also are deprived of sleep. The authors conclude that recognizing and treating psychological distress before, during and after pregnancy may promote improved infant sleep.

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