Sleeping like a baby

Any parent will know how exhausting it can be parenting a young infant.

From disrupted sleep patterns – common in the first months of life – to night-time crib-side visits, parenting a young infant can not only deplete energy levels but also cognition and emotional resources.

But that’s not all – it can also intrude on the parents’ sex life.

A new study by Flinders University, published in The Journal of Sex Research reveals that engaging with the baby during those crib-side visits, leads to the biggest disincentive to parents’ sexual frequency.

Using data from 897 parents of babies aged 1-18 months, which was recorded in an online survey covering sexual frequency and satisfaction, sleep, relationship satisfaction, depression and demographic characteristics, the study found that more parent night-time crib visits were significantly associated with lower sexual frequency.

For example, parents who engaged with their infant 0-0.5 times per night on average, reported having partnered sexual activity 4.2 times per month.

Conversely, parents who engaged with their infant more than 4 times per night had sex 50% less often (2.3 times per month).

“These findings suggest that it is not infant or parent sleep disruption per se, but rather parent night-time engagement with the infant that is associated with lower parent sexual activity frequency,” says Flinders University researcher Dr Michal Kahn.

The link between parental night-time engagement with the infant and lower sexual activity frequency was significant regardless of infant age.

“While young infants require lots of external regulation to fall asleep, most infants can gradually learn to regulate themselves to sleep across the second half of the first year,” says Dr Khan.

“As sexual and sleep health both have a major impact on wellbeing, parents wishing to restore their sleep and sexual activity can gradually encourage more independent infant sleep.”

Sexual satisfaction was not associated with parent night-time caregiving, parent or infant sleep, or parent-infant sleeping arrangements in adjusted models, suggesting that satisfaction ratings may not be susceptible to the effects of disrupted sleep in the postpartum period.

This study highlights how the postpartum period often poses a considerable challenge for both parent sleep and sexual activity.

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