Baby sleep duration is associated with mother’s level of education and depression during pregnancy

New study of Canadian parents show babies sleep less when they are 3 months old if their mother’s don’t have a university degree, experienced depression during pregnancy, or had an emergency cesarean-section.

Researchers from the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry examined data from 619 infants and their mothers in order to look for possible connections between a mother’s level of education, prenatal depression, method of delivery and her infant’s sleep duration.

Level of education

The researchers found that infants born to mothers without a university degree slept an average of 13.94 hours per day, that is 23 minutes less than infants born to mothers with a university degree.

Method of delivery

The researchers also found that the method of delivery independently predicted infant sleep duration (this means that an emergency c-section predicted the amount of time a baby slept even if the mother had a university degree). Infants in the study that were delivered by emergency cesarean section sleept approximately one hour less per day than infants born by vaginal delivery.

Co-lead author Anita Kozyrskyj, also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, argues that:

“Mothers in distress tend to have sleep problems during pregnancy, which can be ‘transmitted’ to the fetus via the mother’s circadian clock and melatonin levels. Maternal depression and emergency cesarean section also both lead to elevated free cortisol levels, which, in turn, may cause an exaggerated stress response in infants that negatively impacts their sleep”

The association between shorter infant sleep and cesarean section was not observed if the mother’s cesarean section was scheduled or she delivered vaginally.

“While we are still at an early stage of unravelling the underlying biologic mechanisms, our study suggests that prenatal depression and birth mode are potential targets for health-care professionals and policy makers to improve infant sleep duration. Mothers who experience prenatal depression or an emergency cesarean delivery may benefit from support so that infant sleep problems do not persist into childhood.”

Previous studies have shown that sleep has an impact on infant emotional and behavioural development. The team argues that families need more support during pregnancy:

“We need to support moms before the child is born, and if we can start to promote healthy sleep early on, three months of age onward, I think that just is better for families in general.”

Author quotes and material sourced from: University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry All content has been edited for readability and length.

Journal Reference: Brittany A. Matenchuk, Sukhpreet K. Tamana, Wendy Y.W. Lou, Diana L. Lefebvre, Malcolm R. Sears, Allan B. Becker, Meghan B. Azad, Theo J. Moraes, Stuart E. Turvey, Padmaja Subbarao, Anita L. Kozyrskyj, Piush J. Mandhane, P. Subbarao, S.E. Turvey, S.S. Anand, M.B. Azad, A.B. Becker, A.D. Befus, M. Brauer, J.R. Brook, E. Chen, M.M. Cyr, D. Daley, S.D. Dell, J.A. Denburg, Q.L. Duan, T. Eiwegger, H. Grasemann, K. HayGlass, R.G. Hegele, D.L. Holness, P. Hystad, M. Kobor, T.R. Kollmann, A.L. Kozyrskyj, C. Laprise, W.Y.W. Lou, J. Macri, P.J. Mandhane, G. Miller, T.J. Moraes, P. Paré, C. Ramsey, F. Ratjen, A. Sandford, J.A. Scott, J. Scott, M.R. Sears, F. Silverman, E. Simons, T. Takaro, S.J. Tebbutt, T. To. Prenatal Depression and Birth Mode Sequentially Mediate Maternal Education’s Influence on Infant Sleep DurationSleep Medicine, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.sleep.2019.01.015.

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