Study: Depressed Moms Wake Sleeping Babies Unnecessarily

This article is more than 9 years old.
Worry begets worry (and sleepless infants), a new study finds. (littlemaiba/flickr)
Worry begets worry (and sleepless infants), a new study finds. (littlemaiba/flickr)

File this under: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes.

A new government-funded study found that depressed, worried mothers were more likely to wake up their sleeping babies (and wake them unnecessarily) than non-depressed moms. This, in violation of perhaps the most important rule of mothering: Don't, under any circumstances, wake a sleeping baby.

This study makes me sad because this was me: The overwrought new mom hovering over the totally fine baby to the point she woke up, confirming my worst fears (that I had a baby who wouldn't sleep) and keeping me in a constant state of sleep deprivation (and depression) until she was about 5. But I did learn, and I'm pretty sure I let go a bit with my second daughter, leaving us both in peace at night.

Here's the news release from Penn State:


As part of the larger Study of Infants' Emergent Sleep Trajectories (SIESTA), Teti and Crosby collected data on 45 infants — from one to 24 months — and their parents over seven consecutive days, including an infant sleep diary that the mother kept. At the start of the week, the mothers also completed two surveys — one looked at depressive symptoms, while the other measured mothers' worries about their infants when they woke up at night.

On the sixth day of data collection, researchers set up several video cameras — one focused on where the baby slept, one focused on the door to the baby's room to see who was coming in and out of the room, and an additional one or two cameras focused on areas where the parent took the infant during any nighttime interventions. The cameras captured between 10 and 12 hours of video for each family, starting with the infant's bedtime.

What the researchers observed on the videos correlated with what the parents reported.

"In terms of understanding what predicts parenting at night, and how parenting at night affects children, it's important to examine parenting at night much more closely than we have," said Teti. "There's probably a lot going on at night that we need to understand, and we need to use actual observations of what parents are doing. We know very little about nighttime parenting."

This program aired on April 17, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 




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