Coparenting and Marital Quality Across the Transition to Parenthood: The Role of Infant Sleep Quality

Open Access
McDaniel, Brandon Talmage
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
January 09, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Douglas Michael Teti, Thesis Advisor
  • transition to parenthood
  • infant sleep
  • night waking
  • coparenting
  • depression
  • marital quality
  • parent sleep
  • new parents
The transition to parenthood can be a stressful time for new parents, as parents must learn to take on new roles and responsibilities. Sleep disruption—which has been linked in prior research to parent distress and fatigue—is also common in the early months of the transition. The current study is the first to our knowledge to examine infant sleep quality and its potential influence on parents’ perceptions of coparenting quality at 1 and 3 months of infant age. Participants included 113 families; mothers were on average 29.5 years old (SD = 5.1), and fathers were 32.1 years old (SD = 5.8). It was found that mothers reported more night waking, poorer sleep quality, more depressive symptoms, and worse perceptions of coparenting quality as compared with fathers. We tested a structural model of infant and parent night waking and sleep quality as predictors of parent distress and coparenting using maximum likelihood estimation. The frequency of infant night waking predicted father and mother night waking, which in turn predicted self-reports of parent sleep quality. Poor parent sleep quality predicted elevated depressive symptoms, and finally depressive symptoms were negatively related to perceptions of coparenting and marital quality. In summary, both mothers’ and fathers’ perceptions of coparenting and marital quality appear to be sensitive to the unfolding parental dynamics that take place in response to infant sleep difficulties. This held true even after controlling for parent education, family income, and infant temperament. Therefore, parenting may indirectly benefit from interventions targeting infant sleep problems.