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Depression and baby sleep: Vicious cycle?
April 17th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Depression and baby sleep: Vicious cycle?

There's a fascinating new parenting study out that caught our eye at The Chart.  It involves the sleep habits of babies and toddlers.

Research suggests if mom is depressed, she's more likely to wake her baby up in the middle of the night, even if the baby is fine.  Experts say if that happens occasionally, it's not a problem.

But if it happens often, it can lead to developmental issues.

In the study, published in the journal Child Development, researchers at Pennsylvania State University observed 45 families over the course of a week.  The children ranged in age from 1 month to 2 years.  Moms were asked questions about a variety of issues from how they were doing emotionally to the baby's sleep patterns.

Cameras were also installed to watch how the moms interacted with their babies in the middle of the night.

Here's what they found:  Moms who had higher levels of symptoms of depression were more likely to respond to minor sounds, wake their baby up and nurse them (even if they weren't hungry) or pick their sleeping child up and put them in bed with them. It can be a vicious cycle.

"The more sleep you lose, the more likely you are to feel depressed," says lead author Douglas M. Teti, a professor of human development, psychology and pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University.

Related story: Marital strife affects toddlers' sleep

But before you blame the moms, Teti is quick to point out there are many other things at play, including family dynamics.

"What happens at night with the baby is a function of other things," he says.  Marital strife may be one of the issues.  If things aren't great with dad,  "moms may want the contact comfort and the emotional security," says Teti.

But for that comfort and security, other things may be sacrificed.

Studies have found children who consistently don't get a good night's sleep have a harder time regulating their emotions.  (Makes sense.  As any parent will tell you, there are few things worse than a cranky toddler.)

And moms (and dads for that matter) who don't get a good night's rest may be less sensitive to their child's needs and they may not set proper limits.  (Raise your hand if you've ever let your child watch an extra half hour of TV so you can crash on the couch.)

A consistent lack of sleep can make it hard for kids to bond with their parents - and the wider world.


soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. zulux

    I blame Jay Leno.

    April 17, 2012 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ifyoureallywanttoknow

    I cannot imagine waking a baby at night. I wonder what the videos missed. I was quite watchful and wakeful when my babies were young. 2 slept well, 1 did not. I didn't let any of them cry at night. The one that did not sleep was just very active at night. She made noise, and I could not sleep through all the activity. Nursing her got her back to stillness and let me sleep. I am a light sleeper and it seems possible that she was not really awake when she made all that noise. (When she was older she was a sleep walker.), I doubt that my behavior led to less sleep for either of us. The girl just doesn't sleep much. It was a great relief when she was old enough to be up without an adult supervising.

    As for my mood when they were babies. I found having infants to be very tiring and debilitating. I love my children more than anything, and enjoy the company of children, but I would never suggest to anyone that they become a parent.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fiona

      Good for you for being honest. I get so sick of new parents who brag about how HARD it all is - boo hoo - and then push parenthood on all the childless people around them. Babies can s uk the life out of you. That photo above is a great litmus test. To me (no kids) the kid looks like an alien who is going to eat my eyes. To a more motherly type, that's just a cute baby.

      April 17, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
    • Massimo

      I am a J2ME developer and paateciprtid only once in this procedure and I will certainly not participate again unless something significant changes.If you want to really make a difference, make it possible for J2ME developers to get their applications signed without having to pay to 3rd party testing companies. Find a way for free application approval without the involvement of third parties. After all, developers' work promote your platform Alternatively, provide your own single Java virtual machine to all manufactures so that fragmentation is minimized. In other words, just like Google has done with Android. There can be other ways for phone manufacturers to customize their phones, they don't have to make their own interpretations of the specifications and buggy implementations.At last, find a way to really improve things for everyone.Compliments to the LWUIT project.Thank you.

      August 4, 2012 at 01:20 | Report abuse |
  3. Shona

    Wow. I feel the urge to comment on this article to point out the stupidity. What this article says to me is, "attachement parenting means mom is depressed." I still wake up to check on my 4 year old because I am a good mom. I will wake up my new bundle of joy when he arrives to eat because I know he needs to eat! I will check on him when he sleeps to make sure he is breathing because I am scared of SIDS. When my husband works nights, I might cuddle with my babies. It doesn't mean I am depressed, it means I love my kids. I am appalled by this utterly stupid article. Its offensive.

    April 17, 2012 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kat

      I didn't get from it that attachment parenting is bad. What I took from it was that mothers who are depressed (and looking for an emotional bond with anything) will unnecessarily disrupt their babies' sleep to fill that need. Bad sleep for baby has a variety of consequences. Responding to cries or checking in is MUCH different than ripping your babe from his sleep so you can cuddle with him.

      April 17, 2012 at 16:35 | Report abuse |
    • Fiona

      I'm an aunt to many and mother to none, but I've done my share of baby care. I'm wondering whether a depressed mother is more likely to *unintentionally* interrupt a baby's sleep by being rough in her movements (adjusting bedding, etc.) or mood. I have often found that I can settle a fussy baby by placing a hand on him, rocking him slightly, singing softly...and waiting. An impatient, irritable (both come with depression) mother might irritate an already fussy child just by her presence, and wake him. I didn't see this theory as some kind of put-down of mothers. It's more of a heads up for mothers who suffer from depression.

      April 17, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
    • J-Pap

      get a video monitor.

      April 17, 2012 at 20:26 | Report abuse |
  4. princessrn

    Before people start calling this article stupid I personally would like to see the actual research studies on this.

    April 17, 2012 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. swingari

    Shona, I completely agree with you. This article left a very bad taste in my mouth. My husband and I have made a point not to use the "cry it out" method with our litle boy. Instead, when he cries, we go into his room and rock him until he falls back to sleep. Sometimes if that isn't enough, he comes into bed with us. We have a very happy marriage and despite the lack of sleep, we're going with the "no television or computer" for at least the first 2 years of life so we are not tired/absent parents. We believe the lack of sleep is a part of parenting a child at a young age and our "nighttime parenting" is something we have worked out together after months of research. I understand the point this author is trying to make but it was not conveyed well at all and I hope new parents do not take this to heart.

    April 17, 2012 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrDifficult

      The message was conveyed just fine, you two are hypersensitive and must be harboring guilt, having completely misinterpreted it.

      April 17, 2012 at 21:03 | Report abuse |
  6. Matt

    Where is the citation for this article?

    April 17, 2012 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Becky

    This article is eerie to me, as every friend and relative I have that suffered post partum depression or is mildly depressed also had a co-sleeping baby. AND I have seen co-sleeping deepen the wedge in shaky relationships. The odd thing is that parents decide to co-sleep before they have the baby usually. Maybe there's similarity in mothers who feel their baby will be more secure in their bed. Or maybe it's a vicious cycle of lack of sleep leading to more depression.

    April 17, 2012 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kat

    This article is super valid. Kids are hard, require every ounce of your energy and until they are about 3, lack the ability to understand that mommy and daddy are tired or have to work. I should know, I have 3, 3 and under which include a set of twins. Why would you need research and criteria to takeaway the point of the article, which is depression is linked to lack of sleep? Really, makes complete sense to me and I won't judge those that are cosleeping and night feeding, if you don't judge me for sleep training my kids and me and my husbands ability to get a restful 8 hours of sleep every night. That's just how I am able to function!

    April 17, 2012 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    45 examples is NOTHING. What about the pediatrician that tells the mother to wake the baby every 2 hours because that baby is not feeding enough and is becoming malnourished with failure to thrive? There are so many factors that go into these problems.
    The only thing this study got right is this: if a baby is not sleeping enough, it will develop problems. The only way to get a baby to sleep is to work with the baby's natural rhythms: you have to actually wake them up early in the morning, and get them to bed early. If they cry a lot with "colic," or push the breast away, have the baby tested for acid reflux, which is not caused by anxiety but by a physical condition. Treat that and get the baby to bed.
    If developmental problems do arise, pursue therapy. All sorts of doctors concentrate on diagnosis, but not therapy. Look for extra help; some cities or states have programs such as "Help me grow" or "Early intervention." They love it when parents are involved; it is so much easier to help a child at 2 than it is by the time they have missed most of their education.

    April 18, 2012 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Soulcatcher

    I blame my lack of sleep on the idiot train driver who honks at 3-4am every weekday.

    April 18, 2012 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Rodrigo

    QUOTE. . . I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I sgolntry believe babies cry When They need to have. Even Though It May Be a huge inconvenience, if your child needs you by HIM I think That You Should Give to Him. You can try getting a sling so he can nap while you still move around. While it Requires to sacrifice When They are little (that's the Meaning of parent I think LOL!) it is very good for your future relationship. It builds on bonds, Rather than communicating to your child who needs you for some reason, That You are unavailable and will not need to answer When He has. I know there are a lot of people who believe this is teaching a Child to be selfish, but, HAVING done it Both Ways myself, I very sgolntry disagree. Children learn to exercise Their Will During what we call the terrible 2 s (and 3 s as anyone with a 3 year old will tell you). Before That, When They Cry, They have to need. Their actions are natural responses to Their Needs. I Completely agree! The Most Even staunch advocates cry-it-out (eg Ferber) recommend waiting until a baby is at least one year old. You can not spoil a baby with love and comfort!

    August 1, 2012 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Dr. Jessica Madden is a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist who has been taking care of newborn babies for over 15 years. She is currently on staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Rainbow Babies and Children s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. She also provides in-home newborn medicine and lactation support to new mamas and is currently working to become an IBCLC.

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