In a study looking at the daily lives of new parents, a team led by Penn State researchers found that in general, getting more physical activity and more sleep from day to day was linked with more personal well-being, a better couple relationship and more closeness with their baby. But, it definitely effects new moms and new dads differently.
Fathers who slept more on average than other dads reported lower overall well-being and less closeness with their partner and child. In contrast, mothers who slept more on average than other mothers reported greater well-being.
Additionally, the researchers found that on days when fathers exercised more than usual, there was a lower likelihood of an argument between the couple. But, on days when mothers exercised more than usual, there was a higher chance of an argument.
Mark Feinberg, research professor at Penn State, who led the study, said these differences may be due to mothers often being seen as the primary caretaker.
“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,” Feinberg said. “But, it’s also possible that 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 findings were part of a study that examined how factors like exercise, sleep and different daily stressors affected the day-to-day lives and family relationships of new parents.
Feinberg said that while early parenthood is stressful for parents both as individuals and as a couple, it is also a vital period of rapid development for the newborn child, making it especially important to understand and support parents’ well-being during this time.
“In general, new parents report higher levels of stress, depression and couple conflict, as well as less sleep, companionship and romance with their partner,” Feinberg said. “Ironically, it’s also 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.”
According to Feinberg, the current study is one of the first to explore these stress and resilience factors among new parents on a daily level.