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Pregnancy Depression May Affect Baby

Study Shows Depression During Pregnancy May Predict Sleep Problems for Babies
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 30, 2007 -- A woman's moods during pregnancy and a baby's sleep habits are related, according to a new study.

Mothers-to-be who are anxious or depressed during pregnancy are more likely to have babies who have sleep problems by age 18 months.

"Anxiety and depression don't predict [a baby's] total sleep, but do predict sleep problems and disruptive sleep," says researcher Thomas O'Connor, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. "The babies may sleep just as long, but they wake up more often and they have trouble falling asleep."

The study appears in the July issue of the journal Early Human Development.

Study Details

O'Connor and his colleagues evaluated data from a large study in England called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Women who were to deliver their babies between 1991 and 1992 answered questions about their mood during pregnancy and the baby's sleep habits later.

The core sample included more than 14,000 pregnancies. For this study, O'Connor's team looked at the baby's sleep habits at ages 6 months, 18 months, and 30 months, looking at data at each time point from more than 10,000 to nearly 11,500 women.

They asked about a baby's total sleep time, the number of awakenings, and other sleep problems, such as difficulty going to sleep or nightmares.

Overall, the babies' total sleep time was about the same -- 12 hours daily, regardless of their mother's moods during pregnancy.

But mothers who were more anxious and depressed during their pregnancies reported more sleep problems in their babies at ages 18 months and 30 months, but not at 6 months. The increase in sleep problems was still there even after controlling for other factors that might play a role, such as their mood after childbirth.

The lack of an effect at age 6 months is understandable, O'Connor tells WebMD. At age 6 months, he says, "infants are still developing a sleep rhythm. You really can't talk about sleep problems at 6 months because that is the nature of the beast. By 18 months and certainly by 30 months, the children should have developed a sleep rhythm or pattern."

But those born to anxious or depressed mothers were less likely to develop that healthy sleep pattern, he found.

For instance, O'Connor tells WebMD, "Mothers with elevated anxiety at 18 weeks were 39% more likely to have children with sleep problems at 30 months. Mothers depressed at 32 weeks were about 40% more likely to have a child with sleep problems at 30 months. That's true even after controlling for smoking, alcohol intake, and postnatal mood."

His recent research, O'Connor says, follow others' research showing that mothers who report being stressed during pregnancy have children with higher rates of behavioral problems, as well as hyperactivity and anxiety.

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