I vividly remember the first time my babies slept through the night on their own. I remember sitting in my room, giddily — yet nervously — staring at the silent baby monitor as the hours ticked by. (I, of course, continued to wake up every 2.5 hours like clockwork. THANKS, BOOBS.) Could it be? Was it true? Did he just sleep through the 2 am mark and straight on ’til morning?
I also remember that somewhat panicked feeling in the morning when I realized I’d just woken up on my own and there was still no sound from the nursery and oh my God he didn’t wake up that’s awesome but oh my God HE MUST BE DEAD.
But in spite of my conflicting emotions (YAY SLEEP!) and fears (OMG SIDS!), I continued to follow the holy rule of newborn sleep: Never Wake A Sleeping Baby. Once we were given the all-clear from our pediatrician that our babies’ weight gain was headed in the right direction and there was no need to nurse quite so round-the-clock, but on-demand only, I don’t ever recall waking my babies up on purpose. In fact, I generally tried very very hard to avoid waking them up. Even when co-sleeping, I remember mentally debating whether or not I REALLY felt like rolling over or REALLY needed to get up and pee…because the movement might wake the baby and YOU DON’T WAKE THE BABY.
But for a mother suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, it’s not so easy. Researchers at Penn State conducted a pretty thorough study on new mothers and the link between infant night wakings and PPD. They hoped to answer the chicken-and-the-egg question: Was Mom’s depression caused or exacerbated by a baby who wakes up more than what’s considered “usual?” Or is the depression/anxiety what’s fueling her need/impulse to get out of bed and check on the baby?
Using multiple cameras placed in nurseries and bedrooms, they recorded 45 new mothers — 14 of whom reported varying degrees of depression and anxiety, ranging from low to high. The depressed mothers repeatedly and consistently went to their babies at night and woke them up unnecessarily.
“To our surprise, we found that moms with elevated depressive symptoms and those with elevated worry were much more likely to seek out their babies in the middle of the night and be with them even when their babies didn’t need attention,” says (Douglas) Teti. “Some babies were sound asleep and their mothers would pick them up and disrupt their sleep.”
In other cases, these same moms would spend more time with their babies at night, nursing them and lying next to them even when they were not upset, in what Teti calls “proactive maternal behavior” that was not observed in nondepressed moms. Nondepressed moms, on the other hand, only went to their babies in the middle of the night if they were crying.
So…what’s up with that? Teti actually believes there are two reasons: 1) Moms with PPD are excessively worried about their babies at night, and 2) Moms with PPD are seeking their babies out for emotional comfort more than non-depressed moms.
Even after Teti controlled for excessive worries, depressed moms still sought out their babies more than nondepressed moms at night, suggesting that something else was at play: these moms were probably seeking their babies out for emotional security or “contact comfort.”
Since the full study doesn’t appear to be readily available online, I am full of unanswered follow-up questions. Did any of the 45 mothers — depressed or otherwise — co-sleep, or at least room-share with their babies? Would the physical closeness provide these moms with the “emotional security” they crave without the need to get up and pad down a hallway and muck with their infant’s sleep? Plus the bonus of being able to see and hear that, yes, your baby is right there in the bassinet/bedside co-sleeper and everything is okay and he’s breathing and peaceful and etc.?
Makes sense to me, but Teti apparently has other ideas:
In a preview of some more intriguing research, Teti has compiled preliminary data that shows that moms who have more problems in their marriage soon after giving birth are more likely to be bed-sharing and co-sleeping by the time their baby is 6 months old. For unhappy moms, sharing a bed with their baby — or rousing them in the middle of the night — may be a way for them to seek emotional comfort.
Wait, so I kept my babies in my room (and bed) because I was unhappy, but I didn’t wake them up at night because I wasn’t unhappy? Or..what? WHICH IS IT, SCIENCE?