Australian researchers have found that babies classified as severely unsettled are almost 10 times more likely to have mental health issues by the age of 11 than their settled peers.
Dr Fallon Cook, who led the team of researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said it was the first evidence that for some children, mental health problems could start developing as early as infancy, reports SMH.
“It’s quite compelling … because previously they thought that mental health problems might begin emerging in childhood or adolescence,” Dr Cook said.
“It really excites us, because it means we have a really powerful opportunity to develop new interventions.
“If we can deliver those early enough it may be that we are able to bump those children onto a more-positive trajectory.”
While many babies have problems sleeping or crying jags, only a small percentage (an estimated 3.4 per cent in this study) are considered severely unsettled, presenting with multiple and more extreme sleeping, crying, temper tantrums, feeding and temperament problems.
Staggeringly, almost half of this group had reported mental health concerns in the borderline or clinical range by 11 years old.
Dr Cook said one of the reassuring things about the research was that although a quarter of parents with 12-month-old babies reported sleeping problems, “those infants were no more likely to have mental health problems”.
The longitudinal study followed more than 1000 babies in Melbourne from birth to the age of 11.
The research, presented at the annual conference of the Australasian Sleep Association, also found that mothers with severely or moderately unsettled babies were much more likely to report “clinically significant psychological distress” themselves – with 27 per cent reporting distress in the severe group versus 5 per cent in the settled group.
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