Give the gift of sleep to moms with babies this Mother’s Day

There are many ways to celebrate Mother’s Day with new mothers. Family and friends may think of flowers or brunch. We should consider giving mothers the gift of sleep because insufficient rest is a major source of stress for mothers.

Mothers’ sleep can be disrupted when infants repeatedly wake up in the night and are unable to return to sleep without parental assistance. It has been associated with fatigue, a worse mood in the mother, and more negative feelings towards parenting directed toward infants during the daytime.

The situation can worsen: sleep-deprived mothers may be at a higher risk of developing mood disorders, such as anxiety and postpartum depression.

Postpartum parental sleep

In a population-based German study, the satisfaction of parents with their sleep fell sharply in the first year after childbirth. The decline was greater for mothers than for fathers. Parents’ sleep and satisfaction do not return to their pre-baby levels until after the baby is well into infancy.

Some mothers have fragmented sleep due to their infants waking up at night. They spend more time trying to fall asleep. Some mothers do not get the minimum amount of sleep they need (seven to eight hours per night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation). Both of these issues are common for many mothers. Many mothers have trouble falling asleep because they are anxious that their baby may wake up at any time.

Sleep patterns of infants and their effects on mothers

While some parents are accustomed to dealing with sleeplessness in the early months of a baby’s life, others struggle to get their babies to sleep at night in later childhood despite the fact that they have a developmentally capable child.

In our study, we found that 50% of women who had infants aged 6-12 months reported poor sleep quality. Infants woke up on average 2.4 times per night, and nearly one-fifth of infants did not meet the minimum sleep requirements (12 hours in 24 hours, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine).

Increased symptoms of anger and depression in mothers were also linked to poorer sleep.

Mothers are less able to be emotionally available for their children when they experience anger or depression in the postpartum phase. Well-rested parents will give their best effort to their children, and good sleep encourages mothers to engage with their infants. Supporting mothers and infants can help reduce the stress associated with parenting infants.

Sleeping mothers and babies: How to help them sleep

Sleep problems are common among mothers who talk to their healthcare providers. They’re often told their children “will grow out” of them.

Families, healthcare providers, and communities all have ways to support mothers with babies older than six months in their sleep.

If the mother is exclusively breastfeeding, the partner can help with nighttime care. They can either settle the baby to sleep before bedtime or take the morning shift if the child is an early riser. If the baby is receiving expressed breast milk or formula, then partners can provide a nighttime feed.

A stretch of uninterrupted sleep can be beneficial for mothers, particularly if they’ve been awake several times during the night. Researchers have found that more partner involvement in infant care is linked to better sleep for both moms and babies.

Families should also consider using routines for bedtime because they have been associated with better sleep in infants. Parents may want to consider transferring older infants (more than six months) into their own sleeping space or room. Studies show that babies who sleep alone get longer, uninterrupted sleep.

Parents can learn from healthcare providers about infant sleep patterns and how to improve sleep with evidence-based strategies.

Members of the community, including extended family members and friends, are able to provide both hands-on assistance — such as spending time with the infant during the day so mom can nap and a sympathetic ear so mothers don’t feel alone. The community organizations that provide services to parents of infants may offer flexible programs for sleep support.

Employers should recognize that sleep is a major source of stress for parents who have babies, and they can offer flexible work schedules.

Sleep support for mothers and babies can reduce stress, improve mental health and mood in mothers, and encourage better infant development. Consider giving mom the gift of rest this Mother’s Day.