An intervention tailored for Black first-time mothers helped increase their infants’ sleep time, researchers have found, a notable result as many studies have shown Black infants get less sleep on average than White infants.
Less sleep has historically put Black children at higher risk for negative outcomes including obesity and poorer social-emotional functioning and cognitive development. These disparities persist into adulthood, the researchers note, as previous studies have shown.
Justin A. Lavner, PhD, with the department of psychology at the University of Georgia in Athens, led this post hoc secondary analysis of the Sleep SAAF (Strong African American Families) study, a randomized clinical trial of 234 participants comparing a responsive parenting (RP) intervention with a safety control group over the first 16 weeks post partum. The original analysis studied the effects of the intervention on rapid weight gain.
In the original analysis, the authors write that “From birth to 2, the prevalence of high weight for length (above the 95th percentile) is 25% higher among African American children compared to White children. From age 2 to 19, the rate of obesity is more than 50% higher among African American children compared to White children. Similar disparities persist into adulthood: rates of obesity are approximately 25% higher among African American adults compared to White adults.”
The differences in early rapid weight gain may be driving the disparities, the authors write.
Elements of the intervention
The intervention in the current analysis included materials delivered at the 3- and 8-week home visits focused on soothing and crying, feeding, and interactive play in the babies’ first months. Families were recruited from Augusta University Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., and had home visits at 1, 3, 8, and 16 weeks post partum.
Mothers got a packet of handouts and facilitators walked through the information with them. The measures involved hands-on activities, discussion, and videos, all tailored for Black families, the authors state.
Mothers were taught about responding appropriately at night when their baby cries, including giving the baby a couple of minutes to fall back to sleep independently and by using calming messages, such as shushing or white noise, before picking the baby up.
Babies learn to fall asleep on their own
They also learned to put infants to bed early (ideally by 8 p.m.) so the babies would be calm but awake and could learn to fall asleep on their own.
The control group’s guidance was matched for intensity and session length but focused on sleep and home safety, such as reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), keeping the baby’s sleep area close to, but away from, the mother’s bed, and preventing shaken baby syndrome.
In both groups, the 3-week visit session lasted about 90-120 minutes and the 8-week visit lasted about 45-60 minutes.