Pregnancy and parenting digital resource BabyCenter.com and Harvey Karp, FAAP, author of the parent guide The Happiest Baby on the Block, announced the results of a joint survey on the experiences of new parents.
Sleep deprivation is the top challenge for families, say 62% of the parents surveyed—more so than lack of time (48%), money (34%), or sex (26%). Sleep is the main thing parents miss from their pre-child life, more than time for themselves or sex.
Yet since Happiest Baby and BabyCenter conducted their first new-parent survey in 2012, a telling new finding has emerged: Despite having sleep issues, new parents feel mostly positive about parenthood.
“Parents are sharing baby care more equally now than ever before,” says Linda Murray, BabyCenter’s global editor in chief in a release. “While it doesn’t completely make up for a sleep shortage, that kind of partnership means parents are less angry with each other about being tired than they were five years ago.”
On average, parents get 5.7 hours of sleep at night, and more than three-fourths haven’t slept a full 8 hours in months. As a result, 78% report feeling tired or exhausted during the past week. “The data shows that both partners are equally tired—a clear sign that partners are participating more equally in newborn care,” says Murray.
Still, sleep deprivation provokes new-parent anxiety (54%) and frustration (44%). The most-tired parents reported feeling more distance from their spouse (47%) and had more arguments with their partner over time, as their baby grew.
“In the first few months, partners are focused on the baby rather than on each other,” says Murray. “Then life stressors start to intrude—parents return to work, have to find childcare, and so on. Most eventually reconnect, but adjustments need to be made along the way, and communication is key.”
“Exhaustion is a serious problem,” says Karp. “It leads to the same mental impairment as being drunk! In some families it can trigger marital stress, postpartum depression, breastfeeding failure, obesity, and even infant deaths from falling asleep with the baby in an unsafe location.”
In BabyCenter’s 2012 parent survey, 25% of parents reported that their baby slept in bed with them for most of the week. In the latest survey, that number dropped to 20% of parents reporting the baby slept in their bed. “That change gives me hope, because almost 70% of infant sleep deaths occur in an adult bed,” says Karp. “We want to see babies sleeping next to their parents’ bed, not in it.”
In the new survey, parents indicate that their babies wake an average of twice a night, with no improvement between ages 3 and 6 months. “Parents assume that good sleep just happens, and they’re unpleasantly surprised—and frustrated—when their little one continues to pop awake at night,” says Karp. “Baby sleep isn’t rocket science, but safe swaddling, the right kind of white noise, and extra motion are the keys to boosting sleep and reducing the need for sleep training.
“One way for new parents to lessen the stress is to seek help,” adds Karp. “Don’t be shy about asking friends and family to make a casserole, wash dishes, or do a load of laundry.”
Despite feeling wiped out, by four months postpartum 90% of new parents are having sex again. And they say that since having children, the positive emotions far exceed the negatives. They feel more love (86%), joy (71%), and awe (70%). “That rush of love once a newborn is in the house is nature’s way of tempering the effect of sleep deprivation,” says Murray.