November 13, 2007 / 9:47 PM / 11 years ago

Program helps moms get fussy infants to sleep

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teaching new mothers strategies to help their babies overcome sleep problems yields significant benefits for both of them, according to a study conducted in Australia.

Among 328 moms who reported that their 7-month-old was having sleep problems, those who were randomly assigned to participate in a brief behavioral intervention noticed an improvement in their child’s sleep problem, and in their own sleep, and felt less depressed compared with those randomly assigned not to participate in the program.

Dr. Harriet Hiscock, of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Parkville, Victoria, and associates report their study in this month’s Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The sleep intervention entailed having a trained nurse determine the nature of the sleep problem, identify solutions, and write an individualized sleep management plan with the mother. Moms were also educated on normal sleep patterns for 6- to 12-month-olds.

The mothers in the intervention group had to pick one of two strategies: the “controlled crying” strategy, whereby parents respond to their infant’s cry at increasing time intervals to allow “independent settling;” or the “camping out” strategy, whereby a parent sits with the baby until the child falls asleep and gradually leaves the room over 3 weeks.

After adjusting the data to account for factors that might influence the results, the odds of reporting a sleep problem in the intervention group were 42 percent lower at 10 months and 50 percent lower at 12 months compared with the 154 moms who did not participate in the intervention, the investigators report.

The sleep intervention also had “important” beneficial effects on mothers’ mental health. Moms in the intervention group were less depressed at 10 and 12 months than moms in the control group, and they had better overall scores on a validated measure of mental health.

Sleep quantity and quality also improved in mothers in the intervention group. Better overall sleep may reduce problems associated with maternal sleep deprivation such as “maternal overload and dysfunction and later child behavior problems,” Hiscock and colleagues contend.

Mothers who participated in the intervention were also less apt to seek paid professional help for infant sleep problems, suggesting the intervention may also save money.

Given the apparent benefits of such a program, “the change now is to translate this intervention to the wider population in a sustainable and feasible way,” the team concludes.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, November 2007.

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