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Sleeping for Two: How Sleep Affects Your Baby’s Development
If you’re pregnant no one has to tell you that gestating a future human is, well, exhausting. What you may not know is that your sleep--how much or little you get--affects more than just you. It also impacts your baby’s growth and development.
This is not to scare you into getting more sleep, but if you want to add another reason to spend more time snoozing, this is it: your baby needs it! Here’s what you need to know:
The more you sleep, the better able you are to cope with pregnancy in general
No kidding, right? If you had sleep issues before you got pregnant, you know the drill: A poor night’s slumber is a recipe for a crabby, cranky next day. If that escalates into insomnia (a chronic inability to either fall asleep, or remain asleep), you’re talking about impaired daytime function, fatigue, irritability, mood changes, even depression.
And when you’re gestating a tiny human, those problems can affect him or her, too, for several reasons. One is that, obviously, a sleep-deprived mom-to-be is more likely to have an accident or have increased clumsiness with delayed reactions, or otherwise compromise her own or her baby’s wellbeing unintentionally. When you’re chronically fatigued, you’re less apt to do good-for-baby things like eat well and exercise. Put simply, when we are exhausted, sometimes we make bad choices.
Poor sleep has been linked to serious pregnancy complications
It’s estimated that 10% of pregnant women suffer from sleep apnea (frequent disruptions of breathing during sleep that can wake you up multiple times per night). Here’s what happens: The continual interruptions of sleep apnea trigger spikes in blood pressure, which in turn reduces the volume of blood pumped by the heart. This may mean that blood flow to the placenta is compromised, potentially compromising good growth. A 2015 study found that the fetuses of women with sleep apnea showed signs of a condition called placental hypoxia—or inadequate level of oxygen in the blood. It’s been implicated in growth delays and fetal distress.
Poor sleep may also inhibit the production of growth hormone (which happens naturally during your sleeping hours). In pregnancy, less growth hormone may also impact fetal growth.
Finally, it’s been well understood scientifically for some time that people who get inadequate amounts of sleep are more likely to gain excess weight, leading to metabolic issues like diabetes. When you’re pregnant, altered, reduced and inadequate sleep leaves you more vulnerable to developing gestational diabetes. In itself, gestational diabetes can lead to low birthweight and other complications. And while the evidence isn’t completely clear, it may also be linked to your baby’s eventual risk of obesity.
How to Improve Your Sleep-for-Two IQ
Okay, so it’s clear you need to improve your sleep while you’re pregnant as best you can. First off, try not to worry too much about the potential harms. While it’s smart to know the facts, stressing over them can have the opposite effect that you want, which is to relax and rest.
Read Sleeping for Two: Getting the Rest You Need for more information on what may be stopping you from getting a good night’s rest. And practice the best sleep hygiene possible, given the constraints of fluctuating hormones, frequent bathroom trips, and a burgeoning belly:
But most importantly, get rest, however and whenever you can.
SIDS vs Suffocation: Helping Baby Sleep Safely
Ask an expectant or new parent what SIDS is and the overwhelming majority will -- sadly -- know that it means the sudden death of a baby before the first year of life. It’s the worst possible thing. It’s not anyone’s fault. And it’s as devastating as it is inexplicable.
But did you know that, while SIDS remains unexplained, some causes of infant death are both explicable and preventable? Too many people confuse SIDS with accidental suffocation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about 3,700 infants (under 12 months) died in the United States in 2015, the last year for which there are statistics. Some of those deaths (about 1,600, again according to CDC stats) are attributable to SIDS. But some were caused by accidental suffocation, often traced to unsafe sleeping environments.
As October is SIDS Awareness Month, we thought we’d offer a refresher on what poses a danger, what doesn’t, and what you need to know:
SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant under 1 year of age that, even after a thorough investigation (an examination of the spot the tragedy occurred, the baby’s medical history, and possibly an autopsy), has no other definition. Basically, SIDS is what experts call a “diagnosis of exclusion.” It’s not anything else, so it must be this. In their grief, some SIDS parents may understandably blame themselves or reach for reasons that it may have happened. Rest assured that, according to the National Institutes of Health, SIDS is not triggered by vaccines, nor is it a result of neglect or abuse.
Accidental suffocation is what it sounds like: something went wrong in how a baby was put down for sleep or a nap, leading to tragedy. There are several ways it can occur:
These deaths have one very important component that distinguishes them from SIDS: They are all preventable.
How to Keep Your Baby Safe
What constitutes the safest-possible baby sleep environment changes from generation to generation (and some aspects of baby sleep are cultural, such as co-sleeping). But the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the CDC, has some basic guidelines to help avoid the worst outcome and allow everyone to sleep easier:
“Get your sleep now! You’ll need it once the baby comes…” If you’ve heard this gem during your pregnancy, you have our permission to roll your eyes, hard.
While you can’t stockpile sleep the way you can diapers or onesies, there’s no doubt that getting adequate sleep during pregnancy is vital to your own and your baby’s health. Pregnancy ramps up the need for sleep like few other periods in a woman’s adult life. Think about it: your body is in overdrive doing the important work of, you know, growing a baby. Your heart is working harder to pump all the extra blood through two bodies, and your kidneys and other organs are also on high alert. Add to that, especially in the first trimester, a surge in the hormone progesterone, which triggers fatigue, and it’s no wonder you’re craving a lie-down.
Getting decent sleep throughout your pregnancy may also have an impact on your labor and delivery experience. A 2011 study in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who’d consistently gotten 6 (rather than an ideal 8-plus) hours of sleep per night in pregnancy experienced longer labors and were more likely to have a C-section.
To Sleep, Perchance…
Okay, so you need to sleep for two… but can you manage it? As tired as you may be, just being pregnant can make it tougher to get your rest. Here’s what may be conspiring against your need to sleep:
How to Rest Easier
Beyond the usual good sleep hygiene rules, such as keeping consistent bedtimes, banning technology from the bedroom, and keeping your room cool and dark, here are some pregnancy sleep tips to try:
Your purchase of a Newton Crib Mattress.