Health & Science

Baby Won’t Sleep? It’s Not Your Parenting—It Might Be Your Pregnancy

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Sleep issues are common among infants, and by extension, many new parents don’t get nearly enough sleep either. According to an article on sleep deprivation and parenting in Health Day, “Newborns tend to sleep in fits and starts for 16 to 20 hours over a 24-hour period, so it’s virtually impossible for a parent to get more than a couple hours of rest at a time.” The hours of sleep a parent of a poor sleeper gets can end up being significantly less.

A baby who doesn’t sleep well can leave a new mom in a constant state of anxiety. Moms can be so hard on themselves under even the best circumstances, so it’s all too easy to start questioning things like feeding, setting the “right” sleep schedule, or other parenting skills when sleep difficulties arise.

Add that anxiety to a lack of sleep for both baby and mom, and the first year with a persistently bad sleeper can be extremely difficult.

A new study points to pregnancy—not parenting—as a potential cause for newborn sleep problems.

A new study by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute measured infant sleep problems and night waking, as well as the mothers’ health. It found that babies who have persistent difficulty with sleep often have mothers who were in poor mental or physical health during their pregnancy. Continuing, severe sleep issues were tied to prepartum and postpartum depression, and increased anxiety.

The Murdoch study does two things: It gives more weight to the importance of a woman’s health during pregnancy, and also better identifies who may need support after their child is born. If supporting mothers while they are pregnant can improve their babies’ sleep habits, then quality prenatal care can help both mother and baby in the future. 

Researchers call for physicians to heed these findings during pre- and postnatal care.

These findings shed new light on what we should be looking for during pregnancy and those early months of motherhood. Mothers identified by their doctor as having poor physical or mental health during pregnancy may need additional support in the future if they have a baby experience sleep difficulties. Conversely, health professionals who note poor sleeping habits in infants should take extra care to respond to the potentially increased health needs of the mother. Recommending that they time for self-care, both before and after a baby is born, could also contribute to a more calm, restful pregnancy — and a more calm, restful first year of parenthood, as well.

Sleep plays such a huge role in our mental health, supporting mom and baby in getting the right amount of sleep can only help them both in the long run.

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -