Many parents of infants report that fatigue has led to a drop in their sexual activity after delivery. New findings published in the Journal of Sex Research qualify this subject. Researchers found that the number of times parents visited their baby’s crib overnight – as captured by camera monitors above the crib – was associated with reports of less frequent sexual activity among parents .
The arrival of a new baby at home considerably changes the daily life of the parents and can introduce significant tension in the couple’s relationship. For example, research suggests that the demands of caring for a newborn can impact the sexual relationship of parents, possibly reducing sexual interest and sexual satisfaction.
There are many reasons why sexual activity may decrease after childbirth. Physical health factors, postpartum depression, and increased childcare responsibilities are all potential influences. But one of the most common reasons given for not having sex after childbirth is fatigue. This seems plausible since parental sleep satisfaction declines significantly after childbirth, likely due to insufficient sleep while navigating infant sleep schedules.
Researchers Michal Kahn and his team note that there is a lack of research data regarding the relationship between sleep and sexual health. Moreover, this association has not been studied before in parents of young children.
“I’m a sleep researcher and clinical psychologist, and in my clinical work I meet many parents of young children who are absolutely exhausted from the endless tasks at work and at home,” explained Kahn, a researcher. postdoctoral fellow at Flinders University. .
“Many lack sleep, which makes it harder for them to enjoy parenthood and their partnership. They often say they don’t have the time or energy for intimacy, which made me wondering if the links between infant sleep, parental sleep, and parental sexual relationships have ever been examined I found that there was almost no literature on this, so – with my collaborators (Drs. Michael Gradisar and Natalie Barnett) – I decided to check it out.
Kahn and colleagues sought to investigate how various factors related to parents’ sleep might influence their sexual activity during the 18-month postpartum period. First, the study authors recruited a final sample of 897 parents of infants aged 1 to 18 months. In online questionnaires, parents answered questions about their sexual activity, including their level of sexual satisfaction and how often they had sex with their partner in the previous month. They also completed measures of sleep quality, relationship satisfaction, and postnatal depression.
Additionally, the study used a method called self-videosomnography to monitor infant sleep at home for two weeks. Video monitors placed above the cradle were used to detect immobility in the cradle at night. This allowed researchers to measure how long a baby sleeps, how often a baby wakes up during the night, and how often a parent visits the crib.
On average, parents reported having had sexual activity as a couple 3.8 times per month. Parental sexual activity increased with infant age and was particularly low during the first 3 months postpartum. Beyond the 6-month period, older infant age no longer predicted increased parental sexual activity.
The researchers analyzed whether room sharing, parental sleep quality, infant sleep duration, infant awakenings and parental bed visits were associated with frequency of sexual activity. Interestingly, after controlling for covariates, only parental crib visits could significantly predict the frequency of parental sexual activity – more crib visits were associated with less frequent sexual activity. For example, parents who visited the crib more than 4 times per night reported having sex about half as often per month as parents who visited the crib 0–0.5 times per night.
“On a positive note, we surprisingly found no significant association between satisfaction with the sexual aspect of the parents’ relationship and infant/parent sleep or related variables,” Kahn told PsyPost. “So it seems that sexual satisfaction doesn’t change depending on whether the baby or the parents sleep better or worse, perhaps because the parents see this interrupted or short sleep as a temporary and expected phenomenon.”
“Our main finding, however, was that parents who provide extended nighttime care (i.e., visit the infant’s crib more often) engage in significantly less partnered sexual activity. There is many possible reasons for this link (such as physiological or emotional changes that occur upon waking to soothe an infant).
The study authors say these findings are consistent with research suggesting night care can negatively affect mood, increase fatigue and increase depression. Parents who experience sleep disruptions while caring for infants may experience increased fatigue and negative mood, which then hinders their sexual activity. Additionally, fragmented sleep can induce hormonal changes – particularly reduced levels of androgens – which can reduce sexual desire and function.
The results suggest that it is not infant awakenings or parental sleep disturbance that impact sexual frequency. Instead, it’s waking up and engaging with the infant that impairs the parents’ sexual activity – perhaps by increasing arousal, making it difficult for the parents to get back to sleep. and further impairs the quality of sleep.
“In terms of implications, this finding suggests that gradually reducing parental involvement with the infant overnight may help restore their sexual relationship (in terms of frequency),” Kahn explained.
Among the limitations, the authors noted that their sample was not diverse, consisting primarily of white and heterosexual parents of middle to high socioeconomic status. These parents may have had access to support that helped them cope with postpartum challenges, such as paid childcare or cleaning services. This kind of support might have provided the parents with extra free time to compensate for the lack of sleep.
“The main limitation of this study was that it was cross-sectional, which means we know there is a link between more parental involvement at night with the infant and less partnered sex – but we don’t know. why or what came first,” Kahn added. “To understand the causal relationship, we need to perform longitudinal or experimental studies and test whether, for example, the implementation of interventions to reduce parental involvement in the context of the child’s sleep has an effect on sexual frequency.”
The study, “Let’s Talk Baby Sleep: Postpartum Sexual Activity and Its Links to Room Sharing, Parents’ Sleep and Objectively Measured Infant Sleep, and Parents’ Nocturnal Crib Visits,” said was written by Michal Kahn, Natalie Barnett and Michael Gradisar.
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