Even with advice, new moms don’t sleep

U. TORONTO (CAN) — Giving new parents sleep advice and support may not result in more shut-eye for first-time moms, according to a recent study.

Researchers studied sleep patterns of 246 new moms in Ontario and their infants at six and 12 weeks old. They found that study participants who received a sleep intervention program, including in-hospital sessions and telephone support, and those that did not recorded the same amount of postpartum sleep. The full findings are published online in the British Medical Journal.


“Moms are always looking for solutions to get more sleep for themselves and their babies and the idea behind this program was to incorporate delivery of strategies to promote sleep into postpartum care,” says Robyn Stremler, assistant professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto.

“Postpartum sleep is complex and these findings suggest that first-time moms have so much to learn with their baby in the first few weeks that fostering maternal and infant sleep patterns may be difficult to do. Health care practitioners want to provide effective interventions to help parents reduce sleep deprivation and fatigue and this study takes us in the right direction.”

Key Highlights

  • Participants reported using many of the suggested strategies to improve sleep and they enjoyed receiving the information from the sleep intervention nurses.
  • Moms in the sleep intervention group, who received the additional nursing support, and the usual care group both averaged 6.5 hours of nighttime sleep.
  • Delivering sleep interventions at the early postpartum stage in-hospital and in the first weeks at home is ineffective in improving maternal and infant sleep, so interventions may be better targeted after the first few months postpartum.
  • There was no effect of the sleep intervention program on maternal depressive symptoms, fatigue, or breastfeeding rates.

For the study, first-time moms were randomized into two groups immediately following birth and followed over 12 weeks.

The first group had in-hospital sessions with a sleep intervention nurse for 45-60 minutes, nursing follow-up support with phone calls at one, two, and four weeks and were given a self-learning booklet on sleep tips.

The second group had access to standard postpartum care in hospital. Then, when the baby was 6 and 12 weeks old, for four consecutive days and nights, participating moms wore an actigraph around the wrist and infants wore them around the ankle.

These devices detected and recorded movement across one-minute intervals, which were then translated by a computer algorithm into sleep and wake times.

The multisite randomized controlled trial was the first to use actigraphy to measure maternal and infant sleep outcomes and the first to have an intervention that focused on new moms and their babies, rather than just infant sleep.

Traditionally, intervention studies have relied on parental reporting of infant sleep, which, for a multitude of reasons such as parent fatigue, might not always be accurate. Using actigraphy for reporting meant data was as accurate and objective as possible.

Source: University of Toronto