The more infants cry during the night, the more dissatisfied parents--particularly mothers--become with their marital relationship, reports a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 21, No. 1). The study suggests that normal infant sleep patterns may be at least partially to blame for the decrease in marital satisfaction after childbirth that past studies have found, says lead author Anne Marie Meijer, PhD, a sleep researcher at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Meijer and her colleague Godfried L.H. van den Wittenboer, PhD, evaluated 127 first-time parent couples who were receiving obstetrical care in 23 practices throughout the Netherlands. Meijer asked the couples to complete questionnaires assessing their levels of insomnia, marital satisfaction, how well they solved problems together, their feelings of parenting confidence (e.g., "I feel comfortable handling my baby") and measures of their baby's sleep and crying behaviors. Parents completed the first set of measures before the birth of their child, and then at two weeks, seven weeks and one year postpartum.
Meijer found that parents' marital satisfaction significantly diminished in relation to the child's crying.
"People who have better marital satisfaction after childbirth have children who cry less," says Meijer.
The effect was especially pronounced among parents who experienced insomnia before the birth of a baby.
"Parents with an already present insomnia may be worse off because they already have [sleep problems], and a child's crying may enhance these problems," says Meijer.
She also found that the more capable fathers felt about handling their infants' needs, the more satisfied both they and their wives were with their marriage.
"A nice thing is that men, and especially first-time fathers, will realize they can do a lot for their own marriages and children," says Meijer.
To that end, she recommends that, before becoming parents, couples learn techniques for calming crying infants. She also suggests that parents with insomnia seek treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
"If you have less insomnia, you function better and it will also improve your relationship," says Meijer.