The Impact of Paternal Involvement on Child’s Sleep

Paternal Involvement

I’m sure at one point in your parenting journey, you’ve turned to Google to search for the elusive answer to, “How can I get my baby to sleep more at night?”

While there are many things you can try to get more sleep for your little one (and you) each night, one thing you might not have considered is who is doing the majority of child care during the daytime and nighttime hours – and whether that even matters.

While every family dynamic is different and in no way am I putting a blanket statement out there, historically, the overnight responsibility to care for babies has fallen on the mother. Partly due to the fact that, if she’s breastfeeding, she needs to get up to care for the baby.

We often also hear mothers say that they can’t get help from their partners during night wakeups because their partners have to work in the morning, and getting proper sleep is needed. However, this argument is unacceptable, because stay-at-home moms have a job too – a crucial one!

They have to care for, feed, and entertain their baby all day long. And sleep deprivation can hinder their ability to do that, and it could pose a risk for the baby’s life – if mom falls asleep while holding her child on a rocking chair, or isn’t very alert and attentive, accidents can easily occur.

Moreover, studies have demonstrated a link between sleep deprivation and postpartum depression. Ensuring that everyone gets sleep is important, and that requires both parents being involved in all aspects of child care.

When I started working with families, I noticed something interesting: When the father was involved in overnight baby duties, things went much smoother during the sleep training process.

Typically, but not always the case, dad was less emotional and was able to help the family stay consistent in following the plan I laid out for them. Additionally, when mom and dad worked as a team, both parents felt more secure and confident that they were doing what was best for their family.

But when I noticed this phenomenon, it was only based on my experience and I hadn’t read any articles about this, so I went out to look for evidence.

And I found it: In a study published by the Italian Journal of Pediatrics, data suggests that when the father is involved more in infant care, their baby wakes less during the night.

Such fascinating research for a parenting topic that keeps many families up at night (quite literally), so I wanted to share what the study found. In this post, I’ll be breaking down different components of the study, and if you’d like to read the entire findings, I’ll link the research at the bottom of this page.

Let’s dive right into it: Why does having both parents involved impact sleep?

Paternal Involvement in Child Care

How involved fathers are in their children’s upbringing is influenced by many factors, like cultural norms, ideologies, and expectations. But over the past 30 years, paternal involvement has increased significantly (1).

Whether dad has taken on the majority of duties by staying home while mom works full-time, or whether both parents share duties equally, dads, on average, are dedicating more time to being present.

And this is great! Growing evidence suggests that, when a father is involved in his children’s lives, there’s a positive impact on the child’s development, starting as early as infancy.

Additionally, fathers are more likely to interact with their little ones in more physical, stimulating play. They might wrestle with their sons on the floor, or tickle their daughters until they laugh uncontrollably. Fathers also tend to have the role of setting firm limits, where mothers tend to have the role of comforting and nurturing their babies.

The way that fathers and mothers interact with their children isn’t only different during the day, but research and clinical experience has found that dads interact with their children differently at night. And because of that, infants have more consolidated sleep.

Paternal Involvement at Night: How Does it Impact Sleep?

As I mentioned earlier, when fathers are more involved in the care of their children, their children have longer stretches of sleep overnight.

But why is that?

In general, dads find it easier to limit soothing overnight when babies wake up. Mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to comfort their children, especially if they’re nursing.

And when parents soothe their babies overnight, there’s less opportunity for the child to soothe themselves, resulting in more frequent night wakings.

Additionally, when families decide to make changes to their child’s sleep routines or habits, like with sleep training, infants may protest more when mom tries to change their involvement, since mothers typically soothe their little ones.

What does this look like in action?

If mom tends to nurse her baby to sleep each night, any time the child wakes overnight, the only way they’ll know to return to sleep is by nursing. When a family decides to work on independent sleep skills, they may stop nursing to sleep and instead lay the baby down after a feeding, while the child is still awake.

Research suggests that when mom is the one to change these habits, the baby is more likely to cry and protest than when dad does this. In fact, when the father puts a new approach into practice, the infant adapts faster to the change.

Why Does Paternal Involvement Impact Sleep?

All of these findings are very interesting, but you may wonder why.

Why does a father’s involvement in the care of his child impact sleep so greatly?

There are a few hypotheses:

  • When both mom and dad share baby-care duties, there’s often less stress felt than if just one parent was handling all of the baby responsibilities on their own. Since there’s more support between parents, it provides a calming environment for the baby, which promotes sleep.
  • Research has shown that family stress and marital issues cause sleep issues in children (2). In general, if one parent is primarily doing all of the feedings, diaper changes, and caring for the baby, it can cause a rift in a relationship.
  • When parents share duties during the day, they most likely are in agreement for how to handle night time sleep. And when there is consistency with how the baby is responded to overnight, especially when a new technique or sleep training method is used, the child will adapt faster.
  • Fathers who are involved in the care of their child might influence mom’s behavior at night and encourage her not to rush in to soothe the baby. Allowing babies to self-sooth has been linked to more consolidated sleep.
  • When moms let other people share in the care of her child, there’s often more infant autonomy, versus a mom who assumes the sole care of her child. When an infant has more autonomy, they may develop self-soothing skills quicker than a child who isn’t given any sort of autonomy.

Now that there’s greater understanding about why a father’s involvement in caring for his children can impact sleep, let’s talk about ways dad can get more involved.

Ways Dad Can Get Involved with Child Care

Paternal involvement will vary greatly based on many factors, but here are a few ways dad can get more involved with child care.

He can support mom’s decisions and authority role.

When parents provide a united front, children tend to respect both parents as authority figures. If a father can support a mom’s decisions in regard to her children’s care, especially when it comes to sleep, not only will she feel more supported, but the children will see that dad also wants what’s best for them.

A positive marriage and homelife can impact children.

Knowing that a positive marriage and homelife can impact children and cause fewer sleep disruptions, mom and dad can prioritize their marriage. In cases where parents are separated, maintaining a positive homelife is still beneficial. Having difficult discussions out of the earshot of children is one way to keep a harmonious home.

Mom: Try not to “gate-keep” as much.

Sometimes, mothers may have control-freak tendencies and might exhibit behaviors that drive dad away – a term called “maternal gatekeeping.” In some cases, mothers may feel they are more competent at soothing the infant back to sleep, so they don’t allow, or won’t encourage, dad to help out overnight. In other cases, mom may believe she can care better for her children, so she spends the majority of the time with them during the day. 

And while this isn’t only unfair to dad who may engage less with his child and not be confident with his parenting, it’s also a vicious cycle for moms, taking a toll on their mental health, as they will often forgo meeting up with friends or leaving their baby with someone else.

In Italian, we have a saying that goes, “La mamma  è sempre la mamma,” meaning, “There is nobody like mom,” and, of course, as the person who carried their baby inside her womb for 9 months, there is no bond quite like the mother-baby one.

So while a mom’s involvement with her children is crucial in their development, when a mother “gate-keeps,” it doesn’t allow the other parent to get as involved with caring for their child and can cause mom to feel as though she never has a break.

Of course, there are other ways dad can get more involved with the child care – whether that’s changing diapers, helping out with feedings, or spending quality time with the little ones – but identifying ways in your own home for how to make this a reality is an important first step. 

And moms, that may mean realizing that your partner is an amazing ally and taking a step back to allow him to become more involved.

As every family’s dynamic is unique, focusing on small ways that you can share the load with other caregivers can not only benefit your mental health, but your child’s sleep. And since quality, restorative sleep is vital for everyone in the family, it’s worth every effort.

Here’s to better sleep, one night at a time!



  1. Coleman, W. L., & Garfield, C. (2004). Fathers and pediatricians: Enhancing men’s roles in the care and development of their children. Pediatrics, 113(5), 1406–1411.
  2. El-Sheikh, M., Buckhalt, J. A., Mize, J., & Acebo, C. (2006). Marital conflict and disruption of children’s sleep. Child Development, 77(1), 31–43.
  3. Ragni, B., De Stasio, S., Barni, D. et al. Parental Mental Health, Fathers’ Involvement and Bedtime Resistance in Infants. Ital J Pediatr 45, 134 (2019).

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