The time to make big parenting decisions isn’t when you’re already sleep-deprived.
As the saying going, failing to prepare is preparing to fail—and new research shows that may be especially true for first-time parents when it comes to making what may seem like insignificant decisions before the baby’s birth. According to a study from Penn State, parents who plan their ideal baby nighttime strategy during pregnancy have a stronger co-parenting dynamic when those sleepless nights arrive.
“It's important to have these conversations early and upfront,” said Jonathan Reader, lead author of the study. “So when it's 3 a.m. and the baby's crying, both parents are on the same page about how they’re going to respond.”
With the goal of improving co-parenting relationships, the researchers looked at data from 167 moms and 155 dads. The researchers soon discovered bedtime battles are especially common among new parents, with moms generally having stronger views about how to respond to a waking baby than dads. (And when paired with sleep deprivation, another new study found that arguments are quite common among new parents.)
“We found that for mothers in particular, they perceived coparenting as worse when they had stronger beliefs than the father,” he explained. But that could be neutralized by having discussions about how to approach, say, a midnight wake-up call before you’re already sleep-deprived.
The study of this particular parenting dilemma is new, but the solution it suggests is not: In her book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, Jancee Dunn suggests parents “prevent future arguments by tackling the big questions about parenthood in advance.” She advises expectant couples to spend as much energy preparing for decisions like bedtime or who will take a sick day when the little one is ill as we do researching car seats and strollers.
According to the Penn State researchers, how a couple decides to tackle baby’s bedtime is less significant than if they tackle it together.
“That seems to be much more important than whether you co-sleep or don't co-sleep, or whatever you choose to do,” said researcher Douglas Teti. “Whatever you decide, just make sure you and your partner are on the same page.”
And it makes sense that there’s no better time for these conversations than during pregnancy, when the parents still have two things they won’t once baby comes: time and control.