The struggle is real: Baby sleep problems can lead to parental depression

VANCOUVER — As any parent of a newborn will attest, sleep is hard to come by. But do baby sleep problems lead to parental depression?

A recent study at the University of British Columbia looked at the impact of children’s sleep habits on the mental health of their parents.

Crying baby
Most parents of newborns know the struggle that comes with getting babies to sleep through the night. Now a recent study shows baby sleep problems may actually lead to depression for some.

“Researchers already have a good understanding of how poor sleep can affect children’s growth and development. We have a fairly good idea how parental depression can negatively impact children’s development and parental attachment,” says study author Wendy Hall, a nursing professor, in a university release. “But we know less about how kids’ sleep can affect their parents’ mental health. This study is one of the first to look at that connection.”

Study participants were British Columbian families, all with newborns experiencing sleep problems. Parents with current or previous diagnoses of depression were excluded from the study.

After narrowing down the study group to 253 families, the participants were randomly placed into one of two groups. One group was given only infant safety information while the second group received guidelines on helping infants sleep, along with support from public health nurses.

Depression levels were scored at the beginning of the trial and again at 6 weeks and 24 weeks after receiving assistance.

Researchers saw a link between parents struggling with helping their baby sleep and parenting blues. This sleep/depression connection held true even when normal parenting fatigue and sleeplessness were considered.

“In other words, parents who worried that they could not manage their children’s sleep were more likely to have higher levels of depression,” says Hall. “That was true for both mothers and fathers.”

The good news is that when parents receive expert advice to help them get their little ones to sleep more soundly, they also get a huge mood boost themselves.

“If you can find a way to regulate your child’s sleep, your own state of mind and self-confidence get a boost.”  notes Hall.

The turnaround was most noticeable at the 24-week follow-up. After parents had more time to try out baby sleep interventions, their rates of depression dropped considerably–20 percent for new dads and just under 30 percent for new moms.

Researchers say that these studies are a message to both health care professionals and parents. Providers need to pay close attention to what parents of newborns are saying, and parents need to ask for help if they feel that they are struggling.

Hall’s paper was published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.

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About the Author

Terra Marquette

Terra is a Denver-area freelance writer, editor and researcher. In her free time, she creates playlists for every mood.

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