Maternal Emotional Distress and Infant Sleep: A Longitudinal Study From Pregnancy Through 18 Months

Liat Tikotzky, Ella Volkovich, Gal Meiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This longitudinal study examined whether changes in maternal emotional distress (depressive, anxiety, and parenting-stress symptoms) predict changes over time in subjective and objective infant sleep. We recruited 226 Israeli expectant mothers (M age 28.8 ± 3.3), most representing the middle-upper socioeconomic class. Maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms were assessed in the third trimester of pregnancy. After delivery (3, 6, 12, and 18 months), infant sleep quality and duration were assessed for 5 nights using actigraphy and the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire. Maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms were reassessed, and maternal parenting-stress was measured at all postpartum assessments. The findings demonstrated significant correlations between maternal emotional distress and mothers’ subjective ratings of infant sleep problems (rs.>16 and,<.46). Latent trajectory analyses indicated no significant effects of changes in maternal emotional distress variables on changes in infant subjective or objective sleep. Post hoc power analyses demonstrated that we had enough statistical power to reject the null hypothesis. The results suggest that mothers with higher emotional distress symptoms—and especially those with parenting-stress symptoms—are more likely to experience their infant’s sleep as problematic. However, our results challenge the assumption that maternal emotional distress symptoms contribute to infant sleep disturbances over time. The findings are relevant to mothers with mild to moderate emotional distress symptoms and must not be generalized to mothers who experience major clinical depression. Future studies should evaluate whether maternal emotional distress interacts with other risk factors, such as infant temperament, to predict infant sleep disturbances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1111-1123
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • Actigraphy
  • Depression
  • Infant sleep
  • Longitudinal
  • Maternal emotional distress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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