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Sleeping for Two: How Sleep Affects Your Baby’s Development

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:

  • Sleep on schedule: Maintain a regular sleep/wake routine, day in and day out.
  • Create a bedtime ritual: Do whatever soothes you most, such as having a bath, reading a good book, listening to meditation tapes, for the last hour or so before bed.
  • Set your bed up for sleep: Make your bed a sanctuary, not a place for work or worry.

But most importantly, get rest, however and whenever you can.


SIDS vs Suffocation: Helping Baby Sleep Safely

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:

  • Another person with whom the baby is sleeping rolls on top of the infant without knowing it.
  • The baby becomes wedged between objects, such as couch cushions or the mattress and bedframe or wall.
  • Pillows or bedding cover the baby’s nose and mouth
  • The baby is strangulated between crib rails or by a window-blind cord
  • An infant is put to sleep face-down and becomes smothered


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:

  • Put your baby to sleep on his back, always—including for nap time or when he’s being cared for at a place other than at home (such as grandparents’ homes or daycare)
  • Be sure your baby’s crib (or other sleep area, such as a bassinette, baby box, play yard, etc.) has a firm mattress. Use only bedding designated for that mattress, and be sure it fits snugly.
  • Keep baby’s sleep environment free of blankets, pillows, bumpers, bolsters, and stuffed animals.
  • Skip sleep positioners. The FDA recently warned that these devices (designed to prop infants to relieve reflux) pose a potential suffocation risk.
  • Never let your baby nap or sleep on a couch or chair, where she may become wedged in cushions or roll off.
  • Have your baby sleep in your room, but not with you, such as in a bassinette, baby box, crib or co-sleeper attached to your bed.
  • Be sure your home and any other place baby spends time is a smoke-free environment. Babies who live in homes with smokers are at higher risk of SIDS.

Learn more about CDC resources and activities about sudden infant death.




Sleeping for two: Getting the rest you need.

“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:

  • Get this one: Progesterone, the same early-pregnancy hormone that, in part, triggers daytime sleepiness, may also cause fractured nighttime sleep. Later in pregnancy, levels of oxytocin (the hormone that gooses uterine contractions in preparation for labor) rise, and may interfere with nighttime rest.
  • Tummy trouble. Nausea, morning sickness (which doesn’t always confine itself to morning), heartburn, and indigestion can all make lying down uncomfortable, interfering with sleep.
  • Sleep disorders. Even if you never had such sleep issues as restless leg syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea, you may find they crop up when you’re pregnant, further keeping you from a good night’s sleep.
  • Growing girth. No way around it, your expanding midsection will make it tougher to settle in comfortably. And as your uterus grows and presses on other pelvic organs, you can expect to hit the bathroom at least once or twice per night.
  • Good old worry. Pregnancy can be a psychologically stressful time for some moms-to-be. Your worries (about everything from childbirth to college) may have you staring at the ceiling more frequently as the weeks go on.

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:

  • Get in bed. You may not be able always to snooze for a nonstop 8 hours, but try to arrange your schedule so that you’re at least in bed and as comfy as possible for that number of hours to up your chances. (That may mean hitting the sheets earlier with a book rather than staying up and organizing baby stuff or decorating the nursery—we see you!)
  • Feather the nest. Getting harder to settle in as your belly grows? Experiment with different pillows, such as a body pillow to cuddle and another at your back for support. Still another pillow between your knees can help keep your hips aligned. You might feel warmer at night now (thanks to increased blood volume), so adjust your bedclothes and room temp accordingly.
  • Think positioning. Although left-side sleeping is doctor-recommended, as it improves circulation, you may want to switch sides to alleviate aches. You might also want to keep your upper body slightly elevated, especially if you suffer from heartburn—another common sleep-interrupter.
  • Think before you drink (water). Of course, you should not limit your water intake during the day—you need, in fact, to boost hydration when pregnant. But don’t gulp a big glass of water in a couple of hours before bed to limit at least some of your nocturnal toilet visits. And get a nightlight for the bathroom so that you don’t feel compelled to turn on overhead lights.
  • Rely on naps. As long as a well-timed nap during the day won’t interfere with sleep at night, these short rests can be a great way to recharge and refresh.
  • As much as you can, get some exercise during the day (best not to do anything that raises your heart rate in the early evening, if possible). This will help you feel more “wound down” and tired at night.
  • Treat yourself! A prenatal massage (either professionally or via a willing partner), a warm bath, a cozy new nightgown or pretty sheets…do whatever you can to promote peace, calm, relaxation and…zzzzzz.
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