Stress During Pregnancy Affects Baby's Sleep

Think moodiness, fatigue and anxiety are just part of pregnancy, and no big deal? A recent study suggests that an expectant mom's emotional well-being could affect the way her baby sleeps.

Researchers from the University of Rochester in New York surveyed more than 14,000 British women and found that those with symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy were more likely to report that their babies and toddlers woke frequently at night, had difficulty falling asleep, or refused to go to bed.

Thomas O'Connor, Ph.D., lead author of the study published in the journal Early Human Development, and his colleagues speculate that cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress, could be capable of traveling through the placenta and impacting fetal development in a way that affects sleep. "That's a leading candidate for why stress, depression and anxiety have an effect on the developing child," O'Connor says.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate and inappropriate guilt
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating
  • Agitation, restlessness, irritability
  • Inactivity and withdrawal from usual activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

Researchers have lots of ground to cover before they'll understand just how depression during pregnancy and infant sleep are connected. Meanwhile, the take-home message for women is to take their emotional well-being seriously.

"It's easy to shrug off a low mood or other things and readily attribute it to pregnancy," O'Connor says, but if your symptoms are getting in the way of everyday life, talk with your doctor. Your OB-GYN can direct you to a range of safe treatment options - from simple relaxation exercises to more-involved psychotherapy.

- Christina Elston

©, used with permission.

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