Napping Alone Can Stress Out Your Newborn, Study Suggests

Health & Wellness on 11.03.11

Maybe you got a few short moments with your newborn before doctors and nurses whisked the baby off to be monitored after you gave birth, but a new study published in Biological Psychiatry suggests that separating babies from their mothers right away may not be the best option: Babies who were split up from their mothers for one-hour naps showed more signs of stress than those who slept while maintaining contact.

The study looked at a very small sample -- just 16 two-day-old babies still in the hospital-- measuring their heart rate while they slept skin-to-skin with their mothers and while they slept alone to quantify their nervous system activity and stress levels. When the babies slept away from their mother, they showed a 176 percent increase in those levels, and an 86 percent decrease in "quiet sleep duration". 

Science Daily points out that separating mammals from their mothers during lab experiments is "a common way of creating stress in order to study its damaging effects on the newborn brain," but that "separation of human newborns is common practice, particularly when specialized medical care is required."

Biological Psychiatry editor Dr. John Krystal also weighed in, saying, "This paper highlights the profound impact of maternal separation on the infant. We knew that this was stressful, but the current study suggests that this is major physiologic stressor for the infant."

The study's authors write that babies might not be built to sleep as well away from their mothers: "Maternal separation may be a stressor the human neonate is not well-evolved to cope with and may not be benign." Though the topic needs more research, Science Daily suggests that links between stress and separation could lead to changes in the way hospitals care for babies -- and for mothers.

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