Long past the days of 2 a.m. feedings, working
mothers are still two-and-a-half times more likely than working
fathers to get up in the middle of the night to take care of the
kids. This is true even among partners who have the same time
constraints and responsibilities, according to a University of
"The biological necessity for (women) to be the
breastfeeder, if they decide to breastfeed, turns into a pattern of
majority responsibility for getting up," says Dr. Sarah Burgard, an
assistant professor and lead author on the study.
So while mothers may willingly take on more responsibility
in the early months of a child's life, Burgard says, it becomes
very difficult to renegotiate those nighttime hours, even when the
needs could be met by either parent. "Women who earned more than
their partners or worked longer hours did not have a reduced burden
of caregiving," she says.
Burgard suggests that new parents can use these findings
to have productive conversations about equitable division of the
night shift early on. Since the early years of a child's life often
overlap with the prime career-building years, she says, it may be
helpful to consider how nighttime interruptions will factor
"Discussions of more equitable caregiving may be a real
step in the right direction," she says, explaining that her own
friends have found the best strategy is to have a plan for who is
on duty, switching off on certain nights. "One partner gets up in
the night, while the other takes over in getting up with the child
and lets the night-shift parent sleep longer."
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