It's no secret that what happens to a woman's body during pregnancy can have a lasting effect on the baby she's carrying. That's why healthcare experts stress prenatal care — along with a healthy diet, taking that daily prenatal vitamin, and getting regular exercise — for pregnant women. Did you know that even an expecting mom's mental health can influence her baby's health and behavior in the future? And as it turns out, your mood during and after pregnancy can affect your kid's sleep, according to a new study.
For this study — published online in a supplement to the journal Sleep — researchers looked at 833 kindergarteners and their mothers, Science Daily reported. Specifically, they took into account mothers' emotional status, including prenatal/postnatal depressive emotion and their perceived happiness. These factors were evaluated through a set of questions with a five-point scale for happiness and a three-point scale for depressiveness. Meanwhile, the children's sleep problems were evaluated using the sleep subdomain of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and child behavioral issues were measured via the CBCL total score.
"The most surprising thing about our results was the mediation role of child behavior in the maternal emotion-children's sleep quality relationship, this demonstrates that emotion during pregnancy affects child behavior which further affects child's sleep," said lead study author, Dr. Jianghong Liu, an associate professor at the Schools of Nursing and Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in a news release. "Furthermore, we found that happiness increased across the trimesters and that happiness during the second and third trimester was protective against child sleep problems."
So here's a look at what researchers found: Children of women who experienced depressive emotion during the postnatal period or during both the prenatal and postnatal periods were more likely to exhibit sleep disturbances, Science Daily reported. In the same sense, there was an association between women who had increased levels of happiness during the second and third trimesters and a decreased risk for children having sleep issues. "These results promote the caretaking of maternal health and happiness during pregnancy and encourage the roles of familial and community support in aiding expecting mothers," Liu said in the news release. "This will benefit not only maternal health but also the long term behavioral and sleep health of their child."
Of course, this isn't the first time the mental health of a pregnant woman has been shown to have an impact on her child. Back in 2013, a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggested that women who were depressed were more likely to have children who had an increased risk of depression as adults, Healthline reported. Researchers from the University of Bristol in the U.K. examined data from more than 4,500 patients and their children. They concluded that kids born to mothers who were depressed were 1.5 times more likely, on average, to be depressed at age 18. “We really don't want to scare pregnant women or make them feel guilty," lead study author Rebecca M. Pearson, told Healthline. "Nonetheless, the message is to prioritize your own mental state and seek help early in pregnancy if you are feeling low, both for your own sake and for your baby.”
As important as prenatal mental health is, it's worth noting potential risks of taking certain antidepressants during pregnancy can sometimes enough to make some women stop their meds. To me, this study hits home in a big way. I started taking a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) about a year ago for depression with anxiety. However, after I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child, I stopped taking my medication because of the possible risks — although very small — for my unborn child. So far, this decision has worked well for me. But ultimately, it's a decision each woman and her doctors need to make together.