How can my (mom’s) stress and mood affect my baby’s sleep? Can my sleep problems (or my infant sleep problems) sometimes affect our bonding?
Emotional distress (such as anxiety, stress, and depression) in moms is significantly associated with disrupted sleep in infants. Studies have shown that anxious and depressed pregnant women are at increased risk for having children with reported sleep problems. Further, infants of mothers with postpartum depression have more night wakings. There are also findings suggesting that a baby’s sleep problems affects a mother’s mood and that improving infant sleep problems can lead to improvements in maternal emotional distress.
What are the explanations for these links between maternal emotional distress and infant sleep?
There is no simple answer. Research regarding the underlying mechanisms is very limited. However, one possible explanation is that depressed or anxious mothers may interact with their baby differently. For example, they be inconsistent in how they respond to their baby, sometimes going to the baby right away when she cries and other times waiting before responding. They may do things like never let their baby fuss, which may actually wake their baby up during the night or limit their baby’s ability to learn to self-soothe.
On the other hand, a baby who sleeps poorly is expected to negatively influence moms’ sleep. And when mothers sleep poorly, they are more likely to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety, which may influence their caregiving and feelings for the baby. There are no studies that have looked at this whole chain of links. However, recent studies suggest that maternal sleep disturbances in the postpartum period are associated with more negative mother-infant bonding as perceived by the mother.
And, remember, be sure to reach out to a health care provider if you are experiencing emotional distress.