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Stress linked to babies' sleep

Babies are 20% more likely to wake up in the night if their mothers suffered distress during pregnancy compared to those whose mothers were relaxed, research has found.

The study, of 874 women aged between 20 and 34, was published in the journal Sleep and found that babies could be poorer sleepers if their mothers suffered depression or anxiety during their pregnancy.

Some 29% of the women studied were found to have "significant psychological distress".

When the babies were six and 12 months old, the mothers reported how often their children woke up in the night. The percentage of babies waking at least once a night aged six months was higher for those born to anxious or depressed mothers - 52% vs 43%. The same was true at 12 months of age - 46% vs 36%.

Researchers said frequent waking in the latter part of the first year of life was relevant because it predicted sleeping problems at age three. This was, in turn, is linked to disruptive behaviour.

Copyright © Press Association 2009


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"We know that higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) produce more restless and irritable babies. We should be enabling women to understand the effects on their babies and teaching stress relief strategies." - Health visitor/hypnotherapist

"The findings do not surprise me; it is a proven fact now that baby is affected by a mother's stress while in the womb. It goes to show pregnant women need much care and attention during the special months of pregnancy, and baby-to-be needs to know that they are wanted and loved." - Charles Linskaill, Edinburgh