Caring for a newborn is synonymous with sleepless nights.
Research suggests mothers who can steal a few moments of shut eye may be doing themselves the world of good – but fathers doing the same may have a worse relationship with their child.
New fathers were found to experience improved wellbeing, as well as a stronger relationship with their other half and baby, when they spent less time dozing.
Researchers believe new mothers may be more sensitive to the effects of sleep due to their ‘heightened stress and [the] precarious nature of [their] well‐being’.
Fathers who get too much shut eye may struggle to get out of bed due to depression, whereas ‘mothers [have] less flexibility in their sleep time’, they add.
New fathers bond with their babies less if they get too much sleep, research suggests (stock)
The research was carried out by Pennsylvania State University and led by Dr Mark Feinberg, a research professor of health and human development.
‘Some parents are happier or sleep better overall than others, but most parents experience some difficult days and some good days,’ Dr Feinberg said.
‘Most parents already have a good place to start from at least on some days, so it’s a matter of figuring out what works on those days and then doing more of that.
‘This would be an easier and maybe more effective approach than thinking that we have to help someone completely change their routines and emotional patterns.’
The early days of parenthood have been found to increase a couple’s stress levels, risk of depression and tendency to argue, with sex, sleep and relationship satisfaction all plummeting.
‘Ironically, this high‐stress period for parents coincides with the period of greatest vulnerability of young children,’ the researchers wrote in the Monographs of the Society for Research In Child Development.
‘When the provision of a contingent, consistent, and warm family environment has the greatest influence on development and long‐term health.’
CAN MEN GET POST-NATAL DEPRESSION?
Post-natal depression affects men as well as women, with new fathers being twice as at risk of the mental-health condition in the first year as the average male.
First-time fathers are particularly vulnerable, with one-in-ten also becoming depressed during their partner’s pregnancy.
It is more common in men whose partner’s have the blues. Some 24-to-50 per cent of men whose other half has post-natal depression develop it themselves.
Men with the condition are usually spotted three-to-six months after the birth. However, because the symptoms are similar to stress, it often goes undiagnosed.
Postnatal depression may be brought on by a lack of sleep, feeling unsupported or hormonal changes, even in men.
Symptoms often include:
- Fear, confusion and helplessness
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Frustration, irritability and anger
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Physical symptoms, such as poor appetite, headaches and nausea
Fathers who are suffering may be less engaged with their baby and might discipline them overly harshly.
Post-natal depression in men is treated in the same way as women. This includes talking therapies and medication.
Dr Feinberg added: ‘It’s the period when children are most vulnerable, when their brains and regulatory systems are rapidly developing to set the stage for their functioning for the rest of their lives.
‘And when they are most dependent on parents for consistent affection and support.’
In order to better understand how to support new fathers, the researchers analysed 143 women and 140 men ten months after their child was born.
The new parents were interviewed every night for eight consecutive days on what they had gotten up to over the past 24 hours. This included how much time they spent sleeping, working, exercising and doing chores.
The parents were also asked about how stressed they felt and their general wellbeing. And they were quizzed on their relationship with their other half and child.
Results revealed new mothers and fathers differ in how they respond to sleep.
‘Our post hoc interpretation is that it may be primarily depressed fathers who spend, on average, more time sleeping,’ the researchers wrote.
‘It may be that greater responsibility for child care leaves mothers less flexibility in their sleep time.
‘For example, depressed mothers may not have the opportunity to spend more time in bed in the mornings.’
As well as sleep varying between the new mothers and fathers, the results revealed they also responded differently to exercise.
On the days the fathers exercised more, the couples were less likely to fall out. But when the mothers were more active, an argument was more likely.
However, perhaps surprisingly, on the days when the women were more active, they were also more likely to be intimate with their partners.
‘Fathers may resist or feel resentful when mothers spend more time than usual on their own needs such as exercise, leaving fathers to pick up more responsibility for child care – leading to arguments,’ Dr Feinberg said.
‘But, it’s also possible the extra time spent with the child is stressful for fathers, leading fathers to be more irritable on such days and leading to more arguments with the partner.’
The researchers add larger studies are required to determine how the wellbeing of men and women differs during the early stages of parenthood.