Until recently, Diana Funk's blog, "Caffeinated," had the subtitle, "Because Maddie Lu Says, 'I Refuse to Snooze.'" Maddie Lu is Lulu, Diana's 2-year-old daughter. For Diana, Lulu's wakefulness was not just a minor annoyance. Diana is prone to depression, and "sleep deprivation adds to it," she said. She felt like her life was "falling apart because of Lulu's just horrible sleeping habits."
Many babies don't respect a good night's sleep, even if they are otherwise healthy, and will try to doze all day and nurse all night. In time, and with help from determined parents, most babies develop normal circadian rhythms, or sleep cycles. But some babies take a long time to get with the program.
Studies now show that a mother's emotional well-being and her baby's sleeping habits are more related than even new parents might suspect.
Many moms who suffer from postpartum depression may have babies who don't sleep well. Moms of sleepless babies can feel depressed simply from the lack of sleep. Depression interferes with a mother's ability to provide the emotional warmth that babies thrive on. Babies of mothers who have suffered from depression at any time may be more likely than others to have sleep issues.
But the good news is that teaching parents how to teach their babies to sleep through the night goes a long way to ensuring sweet dreams and happy days for all.
Long nights, dark days
Mothers who had depression prior to becoming pregnant captured the attention of Roseanne Armitage and colleagues at the University of Michigan.
"Babies' bodies and brains need to be trained to understand that they should sleep when it's dark, and be awake when it's light—the basic circadian rhythm that governs sleep patterns for a person's entire life," Armitage explained.
Pediatric researcher Harriet Hiscock of the University of Melbourne in Australia and her colleagues advised a group of moms of 7-month-olds in the fine art of helping their babies become good sleepers. All of the babies were poor sleepers. The team's advice was:
- Let the baby fall asleep on his or her own, without being rocked or nursed to sleep.
- Establish a consistent hour for bedtime and a bedtime routine.
- When the baby cries, check in on him briefly at regular but increasing time intervals.
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